by Chris Smith
School dances can be tremendously fun, and incredibly challenging if you are not prepared. You typically have an enthusiastic audience that is ready to party from the time the doors open until the very last song is played.
The following tips are geared toward the mobile professional looking to engage, energize, and rock this particular group.
Tools Of The Trade
You should never expect a school to have a table for you. Although they might, it very well could be a 15-foot cafeteria table with bench seats. Take control over your setup and pack your own! Your company will benefit from always having a consistently professional look.
You will receive an enormous amount of requests throughout the evening without question. Expect most requests to be top 40 tunes with quite a bit of overlap. I suggest setting up a separate table specifically for requests off to the side. Announce in the beginning that you have an area for requests, and remind the occasional straggler to use the request table. This is important because if you break the rule you will have students continue to approach you while you are trying to work.
If you get an obscure request for some Punk, Folk, Alt Rock or other songs that aren’t danceable, beware of the consequences. Most students came to dance, and if you play a dud you could quickly send a packed dance floor to the sidelines. If you come across a request that you know you will not play, be honest and let the student know in a firm but fair manner.
Show Your Personality
Showing up and playing music is only half the battle. If you want to make an impact and really engage this group, you will need to use some “Call and Response.” This is saying something to illicit a reaction. For example, create a rivalry between the guys and the girls such as “All my ladies make some Noise!” “All my Fellas make some noise!” Continue this a few times for louder and louder screams! Use your imagination, and speak in an enthusiastic and high energy voice. Remember you are the “X-factor” that can turn a mediocre dance into a phenomenal event.
Most school dances are held in the school gym or cafeteria. These spaces are big and suck up sound like a black hole. Add to that a few hundred screaming students, and you need some big sound. If you do not have enough rig to do it right, either rent more gear or invest in what you need to get the job done! I recommend a bare minimum of 1 powerful subwoofer and 2 powerful tops depending on the room size, but you would do better with 2 subs and 2 tops for most events. You might do well with something smaller until the next DJ shows up with a thumping rig and steals your client.
Keep It Clean
We live in a provocative society where the lines between decent and indecent are often blurred. The radio is a good barometer for what’s popular, but just because a song is cleaned up a bit doesn’t make it suitable for all ages. If that popular song even in it’s cleaned up state still makes you a little uneasy, err on the side of caution and don’t play it. You may receive some flack from the students, but they did not book you. The faculty and chaperone’s want it to be fun, but most importantly they want it to be clean. Know your music well and play only clean edits of songs. If in your gut you feel funny about playing a particular tune, the answer is simple… “Don’t!”
You should dress professionally but casually. This means no holy jeans and definitely no bow tie. Command your crowd with a big stage presence. “Rock the house” and you will be well on your way to incredibly fun dances, happy students, higher profits, and repeat business!