Monday, June 29, 2009

Miscellaneous thoughts for the month of June

I LOVE writing in the first person! I have another article being published this week in The Wedding Chronicle and in it, I told a story that just cried out to be told in the first person but my editor wouldn't have it. She wants her magazine to be in one "voice" and one point of view. Add to that--the last 26 months of weekly college papers that could not be in the first person either. I'm glad to have my humble blog to write this way.

Last Saturday was an exceptionally long day for a DJ. I was out the door at 6AM for a bridal expo out at Estrella Vista Reception Center in Avondale, sponsored by my best buddies and my best cheerleaders, Thee Wedding Warehouse. In addition to being a vendor at the show, I was the stage manager and sound reinforcing technician and announcer for two bridal fashion shows during the day. There were two other DJs at the show and I was pleased to be competing with two of my professional brethren who charge a proper professional fee and I didn't have to fight an idiot hobbyist or beginner DJ with a ridiculously unrealistic low "special" bridal show price. Those guys won't be in business next year and they may not even make it to the weddings that they book. I've heard way too many horror stories about those kinds of vendors taking the money and disappearing.

I was the only one allowed to play any music at the show. No videographers or photographers or anybody else could show a slide show of their work with music playing on a flat screen TV monitor or anything- they could show it, just no sound. I was the one providing the musical flavor of the show. Sounds simple enough doesn't it? It's a job that can be fraught with landmines. Brides planning a wedding are in a certain mind set- thinking about harpists and classical music and sweet romantic love songs. Those kinds of songs work just fine AT the wedding. While any vendor would probably want to cater to that, the reality is that those songs in THIS time and place would suck the life out of the room. Secondly, I'd almost rather not play any music as a vendor at a bridal expo because I may get only a few seconds to reel in a potential customer and if I am playing song "A" and a bride happens to be imagining song "B" for her wedding, she may consider the fact that I am playing song "A" and extrapolate out that I ONLY play song "A" when I am hired. She'd say to herself, "This DJ is an idiot, he's playing song A!" They are only quickly passing by, making their way to other vendors that provide the goods and services they need for their big social occasion. I won't have time to move on to song "B", "C" or "D" to give her the benefit of comparison.

Another problem with playing music at all is that when a vendor has a bad sales day at a show, it is easy to blame everything else under the sun but their own poor marketing abilities, crummy promotional material, grumpy face, too casual dress, lack of marketing focus. They blame their booth placement in the room, they complain that the promotion and advertising of the show was weak and there was a lack of qualified brides or that the DJ that played music and they couldn't talk to their potential customers. I'm smart enough to know and gauge the proper volume for any occasion, but I don't want to be the one that any fellow wedding vendor could complain about.

Lucky for my lightning fast reflexes and my cracker jack coordination, I pulled it off. I played "the Pink Martinis" for my photographer friend Kym Ventola who was at the show, and mixed that with some other fun music that would add life to the room and still compliment the frame of mind of the potential customers.

I didn't intend to play any Michael Jackson because I just didn't think it was the time and place, but I had several customers and vendors alike make their way over to say hello in the course of the day and quietly ask if I'd play this or that song from Michael Jackson and that it would mean a lot to them. I ended up playing 6 or 8 songs and it always got a response and we had people dancing in the aisles and telling stories about when they performed MJ songs talent shows back in the day and about an old girlfriend/boyfriend that they think of when they hear those songs. I had to bust a move myself when moved upon by that music. I had several people comment on my Facebook page that they didn't know I had such moves! Oh, I got moves you ain't never seen!

Sadly, it seems Michael Jackson lost his way in many aspects of his personal life. Our society probably added to his burden with the way we treat celebrities of that stature. Even in my small-time entertainment career, I've had some people take the fantasy that I try to create on stage, which, in the hands of normal people, is a nice escape for an evening but in the hands of someone a bit more unstable, it has become uncomfortable and I have even been stalked more than once. That experience varied from annoying to downright terrifying! Michael Jackson made his share of weird decisions but I'm not in any position to gauge what kind of pressures he was under and what the reasons may have been or what the motivations people had for their accusations and the things that they would say and publish to sell magazines. I just hope I'm not remembered for my mistakes but rather the good contributions I try to make in the world.

When I finished the bridal show, I had to jet out of there quickly to get to a wedding at the very posh "Sassi" up by Pinnacle Peak in north Scottsdale. I hadn't met the groom. I had planned the music of the wedding with the bride while he finished up some schooling at MIT. When I finally had a moment to go and say hello to him and introduce myself and congratulate him between some wedding photos, one of the first things he asked was if I would play some Michael Jackson tonight. He mentioned a song that he wanted and shared a brief story about why the song was important to him. While I didn't want to tell him that I thought it was a mistake to play at his wedding, I was going through it in my mind- that there would be some guests there with their various delicate sensibilities that would think I was detracting from the order of the day which was to celebrate a wedding. I would look like I was the one who had chosen the song and was trying to memorialize MJ and take peoples minds and hearts away from the bride and groom.

My fear was unfounded. In my 30 years as a DJ, I can't say that I have played a Michael Jackson song at every event, but I can say that I can't think of an occasion where a Michael Jackson song wouldn't have fit in nicely. It ended up fitting the wedding celebration even better than usual and didn't detract from the celebration of a really cool couple. I'm usually pleased when I have 65% to 75% of a room on the dancefloor. I had virtually 100% of the crowd dancing that night. They spilled off of the dancefloor and even behind my speakers and beside my little booth! I think I only played 2 MJ songs at the wedding but it was "The way you make me feel" that got them out there and they stayed the rest of the night.

Thanks, Michael Jackson, for the music. We remember you!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Father's Day

That's my dad, Vance Whipple, on the left and my Grampa, Floyd Whipple on the right. This may have been taken in San Antonio Texas or perhaps in Mexico in the early 70's. I've always loved this picture. It's so familiar yet so foreign to our way of doing things nowadays.Either we don't care about our shoes as much as we used to or we just don't have occasions to wear nice shoes that need to be shined. My life is fairly casual, but I do love the fact that I attend a formal or at least semi-formal function almost every weekend as a DJ. It's one of the things I have always loved about being an MC/DJ is that everybody is dressed up, they are celebrating something, there is good food, music, lights... I love it!

Here's another one. That's my dad, Mr. GQ, with my brother Garry. Garry is 10 years older than me. I was born in '65 so I'm guessing this is about 1958 or '59.
My dad passed away almost 11 years ago. I wish I had the life experience earlier in life that I have now to have more fully taken advantage of his advice on things. That is the problem though, it's life that gives us life experience and it comes whenever it does and not necessarily when we are ready for it.

My dad spent his adult life in retail and was passionate about it. He loved attending the fashion shows in New York and selecting things that he could sell at his store in Northern Arizona. He'd plan a sale or other retail promotion and put an ad in the local paper and arrange the items and he'd be tickled to death when customers would show up to buy the things that he planned for them to buy.

I learned from him that there is a certain percentage of profits that should always be put back in to marketing and other promotions to perpetuate the profits. I'm glad I know how to do that. I'm actually GROWING in a tough economy! I haven't changed the amount of advertising or marketing that I'm doing, but lesser competitors have cut their advertising budgets and dropped off the radar. It appears that I'm everywhere now when I'm simply in the same places that I had been already- I just don't have any competitors around me.

I love the behind the scenes stuff that goes into planning a good social occasion or event. Invitations, food, music, linens, photography, lighting, dancefloors, dancers, ice sculpture, floral arrangements and other entertainment. I love to see the people arrive, full of anticipation and have the good time that we planned for them to have and leave fulfilled and happy. I often get to be the "face" of the event. Attendees will come and thank me for a lovely evening when there were 40 to 50 people that served them directly and indirectly and there were thousands of dollars spent in a more unseen way. I always make sure to get a cheer for the kitchen staff and the matre'd and the bar tender and the photographer etc.

I started my DJ career at a retail promotion in Winslow Arizona out in front of my dad's store 30 years ago. Retail and entertainment go together well. Thanks dad, for teaching me how to shine my shoes and for the education and the support. I miss you.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Planetary alignment

I was in Los Angeles last weekend on DJ duty for a lovely wedding. While I was there, I had lunch at BJs Brewhouse in Brea CA with a high school buddy that I hadn't seen in 21 years. We had recently connected on Facebook and our lunch was the highlight of my trip. We started our careers in music and entertainment together as young teenagers and we used to regularly discuss our dreams for our music and our lives and we are still both in this industry in different capacities.

A couple of years ago, I read the autobiography of comedian and actor Steve Martin. There is a line in there that struck me and I have thought about occasionally since. Remember he is writing as a grown man looking back at a remarkable career and its impact on American culture. He wrote, "When I moved out of the house at eighteen, I rarely called home to check up on my parents or tell them how I was doing. Why? The answer shocks me as I write it: I didn't know I was supposed to." He didn't have a particularly tragic childhood but certainly his parents made some terrible mistakes- I've made my share of mistakes in relationships. When I left home at 17, I left all things Winslow Arizona behind, including home, friends and family, and I didn't look back. The regrettable reasons are too personal to share here. I'm glad to be living in Arizona again getting reconnected to my siblings.

It was such a pleasure to be with and talk to my old friend and it was just as if the time in between hadn't passed- other than catching up on details about our separate adventures over the years. We were just as comfortable as we had been in high school. We both commented on the brilliant value of Facebook. I also regretted the lost time and apologized for that fact I hadn't kept in touch with someone who was instrumental in helping me become who I am now- and I am quite fond of my life and who I am now! The waitress was aware of our reunion and her hostess skills seemed to compliment the experience.

He handed me a self produced CD on which he wrote the songs, played all instruments and sang all the vocals. I'm listening to it as I write. I wish that I was the one playing keyboards on it and singing the back up vocals with him. His CD is entitled "Planetary Alignment". I have played with other musicians off and on in the intervening years. Some have been far more talented that we were at the time, but there hasn't been a group of guys that connected like "Fugitive" did in 1980 and 81 in Winslow Arizona. It's interesting how a chance meeting can turn ones life at right angles or even 180 degree turns. The planets really did align. Thanks Jason! I'm not going to let another 21 years pass before another meeting.