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DJ Set-Up & Takedown in The Old Days

        Man, has deejaying set-up &takedown changed over the years!   I remember back in the early 80’s when this one particular weekend Dad first brought home 2 little weird looking record players (turntables) and this funky unit he called a mixer.  Then the next week he brought home an extremely heavy amp, an accompanying pre-amp, and two huge speakers.  The following week he then spent money on a table, a microphone, headphones, a surge protector, an extension cord, and what seemed like an endless supply of rca and speaker cables.  The excitement was in the air when he finally announced that he had all of the components that he needed to start a DJ company.  He ordered my brother and I to bring every 12-inch album and every 45-inch record into the side room (now called the DJ room) and he would spend that time hooking everything up.  Bringing all of that music that was scattered throughout the house into one room was a tedious task, but it didn’t compare to the frustration that my Dad was experiencing trying to hook everything up and get his DJ system to work properly.  I figure it must have took him the entire night to get everything working properly that first time and he spent the rest of the night into the wee hoursof the morning playing his records.  I’ll never forget all of the times when he would get home from work and turn his system on and play music for us, even when we didn’t want him to.  You could tell that this was something that he really wanted to do and that this was going to take over our lives in a special way.  But, all true DJ’s know there comes a time when playing music in your house is not enough – you gotta branch out and find a gig.  Playing the music on a system that was already set up in the house was easy; all you had to do was turn it on and get your groove on. However, getting ready for gigs was another thing entirely….
                Anyone can ask my brother Mike & I about preparing the equipment for Dad’s first gigs.  Hearing about that experience alone would’ve forced many people to take up a less stressful hobby, such as bullfighting or cliff diving.  This insight that I am about to give to you on the early years of set-up, gig play,and takedown will more than likely leave you with your mouth agape in astonishment, but it’s also a funny and comical read to see what we had to do back in the day and where we started to get this company to the position where it’s currently at.  Presently, I arrive at each gig an hour early and depending on how much equipment that I have and/or need; I can be set up within 5-20 minutes.  I take the rest of my time before the start of the gig to do any last minute preparations and adjustments and also relax and vision how the night is going to pan out. After the gig is finished, I can disassemble my equipment and have everything in the truck and ready to roll in 30 minutes, so generally a 4 hour gig takes approximately 6 hours of my time and dedication.  Now, allow me to explain how it was back in the early days…
                Let’s say Dad would have a 4 hour gig from 7pm-11pm. He would generally start taking down his equipment in the house at approximately 11am.  Each cable to every piece of equipment had to be labeled according to the diagrams that he drew in his little flip notepad and stored in a purse-sized bag he called the cable bag.  Under no circumstances was there to be any cables or cords attached to any equipment; they all had to be in the cable bag.  When that was done, plastic needle covers had to be put over the turntable needles and the turntable arm had to be tied down to prevent it from moving and the lids had to be placed back over the turntable units.  After that, we had to put the turntables into their appropriate box. It didn’t matter that the two turntables were the exact same brand and arrived in identical boxes; Dad demanded that “Turntable A” went into the “Turntable A Box” and “Turntable B” went into the “Turntable B Box.”  To not do this would draw his ire, and (trust me) you didn’t want that because he had long been stressed during the cable-bagging portion.  Next to go into their boxes were the mixer, the amp, and the pre-amp. The amp was extremely difficult to put in its box because it was so heavy and had uneven weight.  When the boxing was done, it was finally time to load everything onto the hand truck in this particular order – amp – pre-amp – turntable “b” – turntable “a” – mixer – cable bag.  Bungee-cording these boxes together onto the hand truck was also a struggle in itself. When this was finally done, the total weight on the hand truck was well over 100 pounds, and you could understand that a skinny little adolescent like myself had a heck of a time tilting it and rolling it out of the house, off of the porch, and to the back of the van.  This had to be done because Dad gave himself a harder task (so he said) of hand-carrying the huge 4 foot speakers to the van himself and he wanted to be absolutely sure that his other pieces of equipment would not be damaged.  Once I was outside the van with the hand truck, the bungee cords had to be removed and I had to take all of the equipment off of the hand truck in reverse order, and then load it back into the van in the original order! 
                If you were under the impression that my day was finished, I’m afraid you were highly mistaken.  After all of the equipment was in the van, next came the endless milk crates of 12-inch albums and 45-inch records.  Although my Dad had a favorite thin milk crate that consisted of about 20 albums which he generally played at every gig, he wanted to be sure that his other 10 crates full of about 50 albums each were with him just in case he needed something in one of them.   After loading the albums, the equipment, the speakers, the table, the hand truck, and the cooler (gotta have that beer) into the van, approximately three hours had elapsed, and it is 2:00pm already, and 5 hours are left until showtime.  One would expect some kind of break at this point, but that wasn’t happening.  The van had to be gassed up, the client had to be called just to make sure that everything was still in order, and there was always the mandatory stop at the local record store to see if there might be any new 12-inch albums that Dad felt he may need.   It’s funny now that I think about it; I wasn’t really needed for any of those things but my Dad always made sure that I was by his side in an observer role, just in case I would ever want to do this someday (yeah right; like he could see into the future or something).   
                By this time, it is approximately 3:00pm and 4 hours are left before showtime.  This was the time that we had to leave for the gig – four hours early!  The reasoning for this was that my Dad wanted to be sure that we were the first ones to arrive at the location and that once we were set-up everything was in working order. Depending on the rare instance that someone was at the location this damn early to let us in, we would commence to bringing all of the equipment into the venue, (and yes, I had to do the whole hand truck thing all over again).  The most nerve-racking part of the whole day was the set-up at the location.  Time was of the essence and even though we generally had almost 2 ½ hours to get it right, chances are we needed every single minute of that time.  9 times out of 10 Dad would get the wiring wrong on the first set-up try and we would get absolutely no sound coming through the speakers.  He would then furiously work to correct the problem and utilize me to check the various plug-ins and read his handwritten instructions in his little flip notepad.  I can’t even count the number of times that I read his instructions verbatim only to have him yell at me telling me that’s not what he wrote, this cable doesn’t go there, how is that connection possible, etc.  Only by showing him the notes in the notepad that he wrote would he finally settle down.  The second set-up try usually corrected whatever issues that we had previously and allowed us to go into the next phase – organizing the music.
                Each crate of music had to be organized in the way that my Dad saw fit.  It would have been a huge benefit time wise if I could’ve organized the music while he set-up the equipment, but Dad felt that he needed my help during the set-up and even if he didn’t, he was so obsessive-compulsive that he would’ve felt that I didn’t organize the music to his liking anyway.  Dad had to be front and center when it came to organizing the music. Every crate had to be in a particular place and every album had to be in a particular order inside the crates, with his favorite crate out in front for easy access.  By the time this was done,showtime was on the horizon and the party was about to start….
                As my Dad deejayed the event, my particular duties changed based on the situation.  Most of the time I was the music-fetcher; if Dad needed a particular song, I had to find it and give it to him, and I had to do it by the time the song that was currently playing had 30 seconds left to go.  Other times I supplied him with food, opened up cans of beer for him, or do an impromptu sound check.  The most important thing about me at a gig to my father was that I always had to be in the vicinity and within earshot.  After the gig had ended, my Dad would usually “wind down” and make small talk and chat with the patrons for up to 30 minutes, which would secretly infuriate me because I was tired and looking to get the heck out of there.  Afterwards, when we finally broke down all of the equipment, we would follow the same principle as before but somehow we would do it much quicker and it always left me wondering how we were able to break down from a gig so quick but breaking down the equipment from the house took so long……
                By the time we had everything loaded back into the van, it is way past midnight and has been an exhaustingly long day for yours truly. All I can think of is sleep, but my Dad was in that after-gig-mode, which all DJ’s know as the mode that you get into after your gig is done where you are too amped up to be tired and all you want to do is discuss the happenings that just occurred at the party.  It’s funny how we feel that everyone that is associated with us is also in that same mode when it is clear that they are anything but.  Regardless, I would listen to him talk vividly about the party while praying to myself that I hope he doesn’t want to set the equipment back up in the house. Even though I’m dog-tired, I am alright with taking the equipment into the house; but I sure don’t want to set it back up; not at this hour.  Please – anything but that!  Have mercy for the weary… all I want to do is go upstairs and fall into bed (oh - yeah Dad, that woman in the red dress was looking at you all night…..)
                Finally,it is approximately 1:00am, we’ve been grinding for 14 hours, and everything is out of the van and back in the DJ room in the house.  Dad is still candidly talking about the gig and thanking me for my hard work like he’s giving an Oscar speech.  I am leaning on the hand truck and using it to support myself and keep from falling over due to extreme fatigue and sleep deprivation.  I am leaning on Dad’s words but all I want to hear is that one phrase…. Anyway, Dad finally gets done talking.  He looks around at the equipment in the room, and with a nod he smiles and says, “Go to bed son.  You’ve had a long day.  We’ll set this up tomorrow morning……”
                Thank you Dad! Goodnight!

5 Comments to DJ Set-Up & Takedown in The Old Days:

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kids party venues northern beaches on Wednesday, April 17, 2013 1:09 AM
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