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DJ’ing In The Time Of COVID

The strange and challenging times we find ourselves in. COVID-19 is running rampant. Trumps USA is imploding. The Black Lives Matter movement is, justifiably, exploding. We have uncertainty in the UK with BREXIT. We have an impending NZ election with referenda on legalised Euthanasia and Cannabis. The World seems to be spinning in a craze of uncertainty, dysfunction. We’re being subject to changing climate and ever increasing violence. Amongst all these things, we’re all trying to find some normalcy to cling to. New Zealand seems almost normal due our largely managing to hold COVID at bay, for now.

Why I’m writing this.

As with other of my writings on my website, I expose myself personally. This is just who I am, I tend wear my heart on my sleeve. I want to share my life with my potential clients, give them a sense of who I am. Like attracts like. I’m being invited into some of their, your, most personal moments, Birthdays and Weddings, etc. It seems only right to try convey a sense of myself in what I write. Some of these writings are about me and some about my business.

DJ work.

We’ve all experienced changes, due COVID. In March, April, May and June, 2019, I was working regularly. I had joined the Mesalagroove DJ Agency. Due the agency, I had had a steady supply of interesting DJ work across a wide variety of bars. This includes the likes of Fortune Favours, Dillinger’s and Fox Glove. My favourite was outside, out front, the Macs Brew Bar. We had some cancelations at this venue due inclement weather, and I worked amongst some decent winds and some splattering showers. The Mac Brewery was great, it was on a Sunday and I could take my dog and I developed some cool playlists. It was enjoyable to watch the effect of capturing passers by with a tune, see them stop, buy a beer and sit for a while. The intended purpose of having us DJ’s there. The nature of some of the venues I was working in, and the musical direction for those places, saw me developing a quite different style of DJ’ing. Lots of variations of music to suit those diverse venues. To me, adventurous, challenging and interesting.

Out of the ‘teens’ and into the ’20s.

Leaving the ‘teens’ behind and the idea of the ’20s, was exciting. I had my greatest number of Weddings booked for a long time. I guess I wasn’t alone in my excitement about the ’20s. There was my increasing bar DJ work. There were some challenging and well paid Birthdays booked. The 2019/20 Wedding season saw me DJ for the first times at the Tauherenikau Racecourse, Tauherenikau and Anam Cara Gardens, Otaki, The Lodge, Pauatahanui as well as work at some of my regular ‘haunts’. Namely, The Milk Station, Otaki and The Boatshed, Wellington, to name a few. I also DJ’d Chris Hipkins Wedding At Government House, which was my childhood dental clinic. That was an interesting day, to say the least.

Chris Hipkins Wedding, Government House, Wellington. Pinky Agnew officiating.
Anan Cara Gardens, Otaki. Paula Bennet officiating.
Boatshed Wedding Ceremony on the deck between the Boatshed and Wellington Rowing Club
Milk Station, Otaki. Beat Girl, Andrea ‘The Singing Celebrant’ Sanders officiating.

Road tripping 2020.

In February I had my regular visit to Splore. My post-Splore holiday, this year, on the Tutukaka Coast was amazing. Staying on a friends family’s coastal farm. My first time visiting this area. I want to go back!Maybe next year. In mid-March, the cusp of the COVID lockdown there was a road-trip with a US based cousin and her husband in NZ for 15 days. It was excellent to show of some bits of NZ to them, and I saw a few places I had not visited in a longtime, including Rotorua. The driving was relaxing with the roads being very quiet in the absence of other tourists and logging, and other, trucks .

Splore Main Stage 2020
Whale Bay, Tutukaka Coast

Concert Work.

Pre-COVID I was doing production driving work on concerts and had worked on the John Prine and Bryan Ferry concerts. John Prine R.I.P. (a COVID victim), had me crying side of stage to the lyrics in one of his songs. An incredible musician and performer, his performance will be one I’ll always treasure experiencing. I also drove on the Six60 concert at Hutt Park in January, a massive sell out crowd of what seemed like, predominantly, young Woman. It’s great to see NZ bands selling out huge events and leaves me keen to see other NZ outfits getting a similar chance to shine in the absence of touring internationals while our borders remain locked down.

Splore.

I can’t recommend the Splore festival highly enough. Diverse, friendly, engaging, exciting, child friendly, no one looking at their phones, it is truly brilliant. I have tickets for next February’s Splore, which will likely be an all NZ affair. This, versus the many internationals I have seen in previous years. Splore is for me, as much as anything, an opportunity to watch and hear other DJ’s techniques and to try to work some of their methods into my own work. It is a fantastical social, visual and aural feast and gives me something to take me away from work during the Summer. It is also a congregation of friends I don’t get to see except at Splore. I invariably end up turning down several opportunities to work, mainly Weddings, to head to Splore, and my holiday afterwards, but it is always worth it! I work to live, not live to work.

Splore, one of the Planets best music and art festivals. A huge inspiration for me musically.

New Equipment.

Before the 2019/20 Wedding and party season I upgraded my PA (Public Address) to a JBL rig from my previous HK Audio equipment. I purchased a pair of 2000watt 12″ top boxes and a pair of 1000watt 18″ subs. I’m enjoying the new rig. Upgrading the PA also meant the purchase of a pair of K&M crank up distance rods to set the top boxes above the subs. After an issue with a microphone that had suffered a fall, I upgraded my wireless microphone sets to Sennheiser broadcast quality kits. Quite a step up. Then there was the purchase of a pair of Pioneer CDJ2000 Nexus II media players. The purchase of the Nexus II’s has meant a significant amount of work to reorganise my music to suit how they function and and their work flow. It has been a decent expense buying a collection of 32GB USBs and SD cards to meet the technical limitations of the Nexus. Quite a significant spend and all now largely idle, (barring my use of of the media players and my Rane mixer for Danger Danger – see below), in my lockup as I await the my next non-bar gigs. I’ll talk more about my upcoming and current work shortly.

Income in the time of COVID.

PRE-COVID I also had a steady flow of Airbnb guests that I was sharing my house with. This was good income and company as I form solid friendships with most of my guests and the majority of my guests are, were, long stayers. With COVID, and this was the common experience of all working in the hospitality and entertainment sectors, all my/our work fell to zero. Airbnb became largely defunct. I was very thankful for the Government wage subsidies, as a Sole-Trader, they have been invaluable in helping me live and maintain my business. I detail some of how this was spent below

DJ’ing in Level 1 2020.

Come to level 1 2020, my bar DJ work is picking up and I have bookings for numerous bars part of the DJ agency. I’m DJ’ing 4 nights, 2 weekends, a month at Danger Danger. The 4AM finishes, 6 hour sets are tough but I’m enjoying the technical challenges of bringing retro, recent and current tunes together in a cohesive way. My dance floors are pumping.

Home.

I am currently house sharing with a border, who arrived at the beginning of level 2 (via Airbnb). John, from Portland, Oregon, arrived with a letter of permission to travel from the Government and has settled in for a long stay. Stimulating the economy, I’ve spent some of my subsidy money, income from my tenant and an excess of spare time working on my home in Mount Victoria. The ‘worst house on the street’ it is very much a ‘fixer upper’. However, it’s Sun, it’s views are incredible. It also backs onto the Townbelt (perfect for my dog). It was my late Sister’s home, and is 2 doors along from my family home, still occupied by her widow. Some of the recent sunsets have been stunning, but we have also been subject to some fierce Nor Wester winds and torrential rains.

Nina.

The most positive recent change in my life came in September of last year, 2019, I got Nina, a Border Collie/Labrador Cross. I haven’t been owned by a hound for about 20 years, with my last being a Rottweiler bitch, Kif, (1983-1998).

Nina, Pauatahanui Inlet, Paramata
Nina, Mount Kaukau.

Nina has changed my world. After the loss of my Sister to cancer in 2016, then my Mum in 2017, things were relatively bleak. I closed down emotionally. Nina has woken me up and is keeping me grounded, involved and happy. Having Nina, and an overlapping bubble with her surrogate Mum, Maya, during lockdown was significant. I I would not have come through this period as intact as I have without her and Maya around. I enjoyed my lockdown, it was quiet and restful, lots of sleep, exercise, dog walking and home cooked food. It was a good tonic to one of my busiest Wedding seasons for many years.

The immediate future.

So now to upcoming Weddings etc. Due to the timing of COVID, I only had 2 Weddings left on my books, one in May, that has shifted to October and one in August, which has been canceled and I’ve refunded those clients my retainer. The October Wedding is to be held at Poppies, Martinborough. I know the owners Katie (Poppy) and Shane from my time living in Ohakune in the 80’s and 90’s, as they both come from there. I have yet to work there, but went there for the first time a year or 2 back to eat and check out the venue. I’m looking forward to DJ’ing there. I have a few Birthdays on my books, always a lot of fun. It is especially interesting working up play lists based on the clients tastes.

I have some School Discos on my books. There is a likely Collage Ball. A 90th Birthday. My on going work at Danger Danger. Multiple bar work via the Mesalagroove agency. I’ grateful that it really is steady as she goes. I have a mid-week seasons pass to Ruapehu and time enough to go enjoy some snowboarding. I also get to take my dog, as the places I stay are dog friendly and Nina is a friendly dog.

Pricing.

I’m getting multiple enquiries every week for Weddings, Birthdays, etc. The prevailing attitude seems to be that us entertainers should be giving ourselves away at heavily reduced prices, and no doubt some are. Such is my perception of some of the enquiries I’ve been fielding. I appreciate that many are feeling insecure about their work and incomes, we all are to some degree. Some of the enquiries are people looking to hold Weddings postponed under COVID, some were originally supposed to be off-shore etc. With all this in mind, I’m leaving my prices were they sat last year. I’m not prepared to compromise myself by a race to the bottom of the ‘pricing pile.’

My reasoning.

Not altering my pricing to meet my competition might seem counterproductive to getting work but these are my reasons. A Wedding for me sees me leave my house, for my lock up to load my van, around 9AM the morning of the Wedding. I’m usually not getting home till 3/4AM the next morning. I charge what I’m worth, I charge a price that reflects the $45,000 of equipment I bring to a Wedding. Close to $30,000 spent in the months prior to COVID. I charge to reflect the many hours of prepping my clients playlists/requests. Sorting their music is time consuming and I oft end up buying music. I maintain regular contact with my clients. I site check venues, independently and with my clients, working out the minutiae of layouts and the anticipated flow of the day. I apply these same efforts to any of the functions I undertake but Weddings are especially demanding.

Solo operator.

I’m a single operator, that is, I undertake my work on the day solo. Although there are occasional exceptions to this if a job is big enough I will hire some labour. As to the DJ component, If you book me, you get me. Hire me, get me. You will not get a substitute you may not even have heard from till the week before the Wedding. I had an online ‘discussion’ with just such an operator pre-lockdown this year, chastising him for advertising in a DJ Facebook group for a DJ for a Havelock North Wedding just days away from the Wedding. He charges at least as much as me and that’s his level of service? No thanks.

Stay safe, stay well, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line with any questions.

Me, DJ Max.