Archive for the 35 Things Learned in 35 Years Category

35 Things Learned in 35 Years # 24

Posted in 35 Things Learned in 35 Years on January 31, 2011 by djscottshirley

24) Every Genre Has Great Music

Musical taste is a strange and wonderful thing. Everyone has songs they love – and songs they just can’t stand. Humor columnist Dave Barry received more reader mail after a column on bad songs than he got for anything he ever wrote! This prompted a book, that is one of the funniest things ever written:

Dave Barry hits the nail squarely on the head in this book. But he also strikes a nerve, by naming some of your favorite songs among his list of bad ones. It’s hard to read this book, without taking offense about one of your favorites being labeled “bad.”

So it seems musical taste is not so simple! One man’s bad song is someone else’s sentimental favorite.

For a DJ to be effective, it’s important to suppress any tendency to play his own favorite music, and instead to become a sort of “musical chameleon,” reflecting the varied and complex musical tastes of the unique individuals in the audience of the event.

Each person has their favorite songs, and preferences for certain genres of music and certain artists. And, many of them will have a particular musical genre or artist they really hate.

In a great scene from the 1980 comedy classic “The Blues Brothers,” they pretend to be the band hired to play at a rough honky-tonk bar. The manager informs them, “We like both kinds of music: Country, and Western!”

The resulting chaos is hilarious:

Most people are not as polarized about their taste in music as those bar patrons. The majority of us are pretty tolerant, and will gladly suffer through a song we know somebody else likes – as long as we know we will get to hear what we like too.

It was early in my Party Machine career that I learned a simple fact: every genre and category of music has its great songs – and some real stinkers, too. With a diverse group of people, I can always keep them happy with an eclectic mix of different styles, by playing the truly good songs from every genre.

I always run out of time before I run out of good music.

Take a simple test: think of your least favorite kind of music. Maybe you don’t like rap music, or you just can’t stand country. Now, try to think of some song in that style that’s maybe not so bad. Now try harder. Listen to some songs in that genre. Open your mind, and get a friend who likes it to play some of his or her favorites.

It’s a fact: every genre has great music. At Party Machine Celebrations, we understand this, and can and will play the best of all kinds of music.

35 Things Learned in 35 Years # 23

Posted in 35 Things Learned in 35 Years with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2011 by djscottshirley

23) Listen for the Squawks!

I love to fly. I have friends who are pilots, and have flown with them in small planes on numerous occasions. Today’s lesson was learned from pilots, but has served me well in the entertainment business.

The aircraft must be maintained 100 percent.

Every time a plane takes flight, it has to be perfect from a safety standpoint. 100% safe; if it’s only 98%, the plane must stay on the ground. A little thing like a loose connection could cause a tragic accident. So a pre-flight safety check must be performed before each and every take-off.

And every pilot keeps a “Squawk list.” If he notices an unusual noise or vibration, or that a light bulb is burned out on an instrument, he writes it on the list. Each item that needs attention is called a “squawk.”

And every squawk must be investigated and repaired, before the plane flies again.

This is a great way to maintain anything. With sound, lighting, and video systems, there are many little things that could go wrong. One bad cable could spoil a presentation. So we began tracking “squawks” at Party Machine Celebrations.

Failure to fix squawks can lead to disaster!

By keeping equipment impeccably maintained, and replacing gear as technology improves, we are able to maintain our perfect 100% service record: we have never had an event that started late, or was delayed by a technical malfunction. Never.

In 35 years, we have certainly experienced technical difficulties! But because of redundant systems, the show always goes on, without a delay.

But we don’t have many technical problems, because paying attention to the squawks prevents them from happening in the first place.

It’s part of “the Party Machine Difference.”

35 Things Learned in 35 Years # 22

Posted in 35 Things Learned in 35 Years with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 27, 2010 by djscottshirley

22) Music Has Power!

Music can have an amazing effect on people. It can recall powerful memories. It can create a mood, for relaxation or for celebration. It can stir up deep emotions: feelings of love, or nationalistic feelings of pride.

“Music has charms to soothe a savage breast”

When playwright William Congreve first penned the opening line of The Mourning Bride in 1697, he had no idea we would still be quoting him 300 years later. Nor could he have predicted the massive explosion of different genres of music we enjoy in the 21st century.

In his time there was formal classical music, and there was local folk music. There was no mass communication, no radio, TV nor “the Internets.” There was no means of recording music; in fact, the only way to publish music was the printed page, a technology scarcely 86 years old, at a time when literacy, especially music literacy, was uncommon.

There was Bach and Mozart, Beethoven was a young man, and Brahms, Chopin, and Mahler were not yet born.

He could never foresee the development of American country music, rhythm and blues, jazz, or rock and roll. The rich fusion of African, Caribbean, and Latin music that permeates today’s dance floors was never imagined back then. And who could have predicted hip-hop, even 50 years ago?

Congreve never knew Elvis, the Beatles, nor BeyoncĂ©. He never would have understood the fan following of the Grateful Dead, Phish, Willie Nelson, or Jimmy Buffett’s parrotheads. The concept of George Strait filling an arena with fans on a cold New Year’s Eve, year after year after year, was unimaginable.

And how could you explain Kanye West, the artist formerly and once again known as Prince, or P Diddy to a 17th century man? Or grunge, punk, funk, 80s hair metal, or Lady GaGa? What about Techno, trance, and house music?

Now we turn to music all the time: in our cars, at our desks, while we work and while we play. Digital technology has made music portable and plentiful. Everyone today has an iPod, and can plug in to a unique musical world of his own choosing.

Listening to music of our own choosing is easier today.

We love our music! It’s powerful stuff.

Of course, Party Machine Celebrations has it all.

35 Things Learned in 35 Years # 21

Posted in 35 Things Learned in 35 Years on December 22, 2010 by djscottshirley

21) Knowing The ABCs of DSPs is a Sound Idea

Alphabet soup! It seems everything from government agencies to computer components must have initials. If it has a plug or a “wall wart” it probably has initials.

Audio-visual (AV) technology is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And the Party Machine has always embraced new technologies as they develop, which means learning a lot of alphabet soup.

DSP is the most important one for audio: Digital Signal Processing. All manner of tools are available to improve sound quality.

The RTA (Real Time Analyzer) has existed for many years, but is now more automated. Using a special RTA microphone, a signal from a PNG (Pink Noise Generator, though it is actually “white” noise. WNG doesn’t seem as cool to audio geeks) is amplified until it sounds like a jet engine. The RTA “listens” to the sound bouncing off the room, and automatically equalizes (EQs) sound frequencies to the room’s unique acoustic properties.

This enables a beautiful room like the Texas and Pacific Building (T & P, everything has initials!) to sound great, that would otherwise be a tiresome echo chamber. It also helps to use Party Machine wireless satellite speakers in a room like that, with a DD. You guessed it, another little magic box, the Digital Delay, totally eliminates the echo.

The marble walls of the T & P Terminal in Fort Worth look great, but make it an echo chamber. The magic of DSP makes it sound as good as it looks.

The SPL (Sound Pressure Level) meter is an old tool we have used for many years to measure and control the volume of our sound systems.

Modern electronics also helps us fight the good fight against our old enemies Feedback and Interference. Of course even interference has initials, EMI and RF, and they affect our VHF and UHF wireless systems. So does GSM interference from Blackberrys.

Don’t get me started on lighting technology. Our LEDs are DMX, controlled by OS-X with D-Fi on UHF, OK?

35 Things Learned in 35 Years # 20

Posted in 35 Things Learned in 35 Years on December 20, 2010 by djscottshirley

20) Everybody Has a Story In Them!

We have all heard the quote, attributed to artist and pop icon Andy Warhol, that “Everybody gets 15 minutes of fame.”

The concept has become part of our everyday lexicon. When we grow tired of seeing the latest flash-in-the-pan pop star, we wonder when their 15 minutes will expire!

But we all have a background and a history; events from our past, sports, and hobbies that make each of us unique and interesting.

Party Machine Celebrations always strives to personalize our events, whether it’s a milestone birthday, a wedding, or a bar mitzvah. I like to take the time and effort to learn each client’s “story.”

When Justin Bird first got to know Leilani Taylor, she challenged him to demonstrate how to solve the Rubik’s Cube puzzle. He showed her in short order, and soon they were dating. So when Justin decided to propose marriage, he presented the engagement ring with his own personal style:

"Now that you can solve the puzzle, will you marry me?"

Leilani said “Yes,” and they plan to have an un-solved Rubik’s Cube for Justin’s groom’s cake.

35 Things Learned in 35 Years # 19

Posted in 35 Things Learned in 35 Years, College Traditions, Texas Aggie Weddings, Weddings! on December 19, 2010 by djscottshirley

19) Honor Tradition!

Traditions exist for families, schools, religions, countries and cultures. Many traditions have ancient roots, that have long been forgotten.

One good definition of tradition is “something that must be done a certain way, and nobody can remember why.” Perhaps the most famous explanation of tradition comes from this classic scene from “Fiddler On The Roof,” presented here in its full glory:

I think my favorite part is when he admits, “I don’t know why.”

But traditions add a lot to a celebration. Traditions link us to our past, to our roots, and to our ancestors. They connect us with our faith, with our associations with friends, schools, and clubs…they connect us to each other.

Big Fat Greek Weddings are COOL!

And traditions can be just plain fun. If you have danced the hora at a Jewish wedding, or watched the kalamatiano dance at a Greek wedding (above), or witnessed the Alcatraz dance at a Peruvian wedding, you know what I mean. Traditions add a special element to any celebration.

Many schools and sports are steeped in tradition. Yachting traditions blend the nautical with the military, and there is nothing quite like the blue-blazered spectacle of Opening Day festivities at the Fort Worth Boat Club, complete with the Blessing of the Fleet and the Setting of the Watch by cannon fire!

Yacht Club officers in traditional non-conformist uniforms.

What about a group of Texas Aggies belting out the Aggie War Hymn?

This school has a long list of traditions, from standing up at football games to becoming engaged beneath the Century Tree. We have a Blog category for college traditions, and one just for Aggie Weddings. At one Aggie Corpsman’s wedding, they cut the cake with his sword.

The famous Century Tree at Texas A & M University, where Aggies propose.

Other schools joke that “if the Aggies do anything twice, they declare it to be a tradition!”

Regardless of age or origin, traditions have a special place in our hearts, and will always be honored – in a proper spirit of celebration – at Party Machine Celebrations.

35 Things Learned in 35 Years # 18

Posted in 35 Things Learned in 35 Years on December 18, 2010 by djscottshirley

18) Do Your Homework!

As kids we hated doing homework. So often it seemed like a waste of time, designed to simply keep us busy, and not to instruct. Since the beginning of time students have procrastinated, copied the work of others, and developed enormous type fonts to stretch 50 words into a three-page paper.

Ever wonder if ancient Sumerian school kids claimed the dog ate their clay tablets?

But if knowledge is power, then study is the fuel. There is no substitute for doing your homework – especially since the Internet has made research so easy. Unless your dog can swallow a laptop, there is no excuse.

My friends are often surprised when I tell them how much time I invest in study, research, reading, and continuing education in order to operate the Party Machine.

“But you’re a DJ,” they say, “Don’t you just push ‘play’?”

It reminds me of my friend Rev. Frank Briggs of Lighthouse Fellowship. One of his church members once told him “You only work one day a week, and that’s just for one hour!” As a PK (preacher’s kid) I understood the absurdity of that right away.

But a DJ must obviously keep up with current music. This means reading Billboard charts and DJ publications like Mobile Beat and Disc Jockey News, as well as numerous other sources.

And a sound and lighting technician (another job a DJ does) must keep up with a vast and rapidly-expanding world of emerging technology. Everything from sound mixing and editing to lighting control is programmable. The Party Machine has 4 software packages for sound control, 3 to run lighting, and 5 for audio and video editing. How many professions require you to learn 12 kinds of software?

Think a DJ doesn't need to study? A brief lesson on simple DMX protocol will make you tear your hair out!

There are several dozen of the “jobs” a professional DJ entertainer performs, that would make a stand-alone career. And I often perform the tasks of a wedding coordinator, photographer, waiter, videographer, tailor, baker, bartender, and family counselor.

A career professional DJ is a businessman, which means keeping up with sales and marketing, bookkeeping, advertising, taxes, liability insurance, property inventories, warranties, two vehicles, and seven computers. Oh yes…there’s also the website…and the Blog…and WasteBook…

And keeping it all in good repair. It’s a full-time job.