Do you really know how to use your mixer?

How To Use A Mixer

For over eight years did I lug around the gear to gigs, primarily using it as a conduit for easy microphone use, but I didn’t really know how to use a mixer.

My Traktor S4 had a mic input, but for the longest time I couldn’t figure out how to adequately use it during gigs. My second use for the standalone 12 channel mixer was enabling greater flexibility of audio connections. Many a time did my mixer get me out of a jam because I didn’t have the requisite adapters to hook into the house sound system. In addition it enabled greater volume control across various zones, where I ran TRS to the house system and RCA to my mixer which powered my own speakers.

Alas, it wasn’t until Rob came along and walked me through the standard options I had available.

Peaking Levels

The first thing he taught me was that you want your levels peaking just above the ‘zero’. That was news to me, as I always pushed my gear until I was flashing yellow. While there is still headroom, you want the flexibility in the event the source signal increases (eg. your song gets louder) or if multiple sources are combining (eg. you’re playing two songs at the same time). Anything above zero or ‘unity’ and your mixer is actually boosting the output, and vice versa for anything below it.

Mixer levels

Worse enough you’ll see guys living in red, clueless or ignorant of the fact they’re likely ruining the quality of sound and potentially damaging equipment. Below is a visual demonstration of what happens to sound when it is boosted too loud. The equipment you’re using literally can’t make it any louder. You lose the peaks, they slam up against the upper limit and flatten out, thus sounding like crap. Stay out of the red folks 🙂

 

Clipping waveform

Setting Your Gains

Now, how to set your gains! You can blast your music all over the venue to see where you start clipping out but this is practical and an amateur move.

To set the gain on your mixer without actually blasting your music there is a feature on most mixers called PFL or Pre-Fade Listen. It allows the signal to pass through and activate the volume meter (those pretty lights) without actually having to hear anything. If you have a Behringer Xenyx mixer like many folks do, activate PFL mode on the upper right of your master fader, then hit the solo button on the channel you need to set your gain on. Now you can adjust your levels without the venue going deaf! Setting PFL

Set your channel fader at zero and adjust the knob up top which you can see in the image below. If you are running into line 5/6 or 7/8 via two TRS cables, you can instead use the button to increase or decrease your level input. I now use these channels and finesse the out from my controller.
Inputs and Gains

Proper Inputs

Now for another rookie mistake: routing your controller or music source into the ‘Mic’ input instead of ‘Line In’. For many mixers the Mic input is the XLR input (the one with three small holes as seen up top). These inputs have greater ‘sensitivity’ to audio signal, meaning that the weaker signals microphones generate are heavily amplified compared to the signal your controller is sending. Your audio will sound much worse by routing your controller into a Mic Input. You want to use the TRS input, preferably ‘balanced’ cables (seen below). TRS Balance vs UnbalancedDon’t have TRS cables? Grab some patch cables!

Jocko Willink’s Extreme Ownership & DJ Applications

Extreme Ownership:

On Extreme Ownership… “Everything that happens on your watch you are responsible for. Whether your teammates, subordinates, leaders, doesn’t matter. You can always have done something differently to change the outcome.

Always take responsibility.”

Thus is the premise of Jocko’s framework for operating. Most of his principles fall under this umbrella and can be found in the DNA of various other thought leaders, Ray Dalio to name just one.

After reading through Jocko Willink’s ‘Extreme Ownership’ I recapped each chapter. This helps me process and retain the books I read, but for those who just want some takeaway’s before spending the ten hours, read on.

Decisiveness and Uncertainty:

Being decisive and making decisions proactively, you will sooner get to your goal. ‘Wait and See’ hardly increases your available info. There is no 100 percent right solution. The picture is never complete. Waiting for 100 percent right and certain solutions leads to delay, indecision, uncertainty, and an inability to execute.

For every decision (or change in direction) you make, your accuracy gets better. So while your first change might make you worse off in the short run, each successive change in direction becomes more and more accurate, increasing the likelihood of reaching your goal every iteration, compounding your learned knowledge over time.

DJ Takeaway: Personally I get sucked in and lose track of the bigger picture. Macro project planning consistently gets lost in the fray of sticking my nose to the grind-stone. Macro project planning needs to happen on Mondays, Micro execution of tasks throughout the week scheduled in advance on Mondays during planning.

Discipline Equals Freedom:

Every decision you make impacts all subsequent decisions. Habits and choices you make early in the day have a compound effect on your entire day.

Discipline starts every day when the alarm clock first goes off in the morning. So much rests on that decisive moment. The moment the alarm goes off is the first test; it sets the tone for the rest of the day. The test is not a complex one: when the alarm goes off, do you get up and out of bed, or do you lie there in comfort and fall back to sleep? If you are mentally weak for that moment, and you let the weakness keep you in bed, you fail. Though it seems small, that weakness translates to more significant decisions. But if you exercise discipline, that too translates to more substantial elements of your life.

DJ Takeaway: How many times have you heard “How you do anything is how you do everything”?

Everything you do is exercising a muscle. If you put your heart into only the ‘good’ clients (higher paying, perhaps) and half-ass the shitty ones (unruly, or cheap perhaps), your quality muscle is being worked half as much. You will slip up with the quality clients out of habit, whether you intended to or not.

Instead imagining holding the bar high for every client. Your high bar will get better over time as a result, and those knee-jerk habits you’ve developed will make it easier and easier to uphold that bar.

Prioritize and Execute:

Relax, look around, make a call.

It is essential for leaders to pull themselves back off the firing line to enable them to maintain the strategic picture. It becomes far easier to determine the highest priority effort and change direction.

  • evaluate the highest priority problem
  • lay out in simple, clear, and concise terms the highest priority effort for your team
  • develop and determine a solution, seek input from key leaders and from the team where possible
  • direct the execution of that solution, focusing all efforts and resources toward this priority task
  • move on to the next highest priority problem. Repeat
  • when priorities shift within the team, pass situational awareness both up and down he chain
  • don’t let the focus on one priority cause target fixation. maintain the ability to see other problems developing and rapidly shift as needed.

Stay at least a step or two ahead of real-time problems. Through contingency planning a leader can anticipate likely challenges that could arise during execution and map out an effective response to those challenges before they happen.

DJ Takeaway: Running through contingency scenarios at events where things go awry will elevate not only your ability to side-step potential issues but increase your baseline quality of services. Knowing what to do if anything happens will give you greater confidence that YOU GOT THIS.

  • What if my laptop crashes?
  • What if my controller malfunctions?
  • What if one of my speakers stop working?

And the more confident you are the better your sets will be since you’ll be more relaxed.

Leading up and down the chain of command:

Take responsibility for leading everyone in your world, subordinates and leaders alike. If someone isn’t doing what you want or need, look in the mirror first and determine what you can do to better enable this.

DJ Takeaway: If clients just don’t understand, you haven’t done your job to adequately convey what it is you’re about. And maybe they’re just the wrong client. But if they’re confused or uncertain, its most likely on you. You haven’t polarized yourself enough.

Check the Ego:

You can’t let personal agendas supersede the mission.

DJ Takeaway: Self explanatory. DJing is about playing what people want to hear. Unless you’re spinning in niche clubs, most of DJing is reading a crowd and playing what folks want to hear. Not what YOU want to hear.

Simple:

Complexity compounds issues that can spiral out of control, further exacerbated by complex plans and directives. Keep things simple so everyone first understands and can easily course correct when shit goes crazy.

Simple, not easy.

DJ Takeaway: Are you planning an incredibly complex series of events for a client’s wedding? Do you have to break down & setup speakers in between the cocktail hour and reception? Maybe temper your expectations on what is reasonable to accomplish during a stressful event and instead bring along a second audio setup, second pair of hands, or both.

Cover and Move:

Help them so they can help you. Work as a team, even if you are ‘at odds’. Rising tides raise all ships.

DJ Takeaway: You may technically be in competition with all DJs in your area but guess who will also be your greatest assets? Network, help each other, filter out those that don’t reciprocate, grow. Expand this to all vendors in the industry and your calendar will fill up in no time.

Managing Teams & Other Highlights

Decentralized Command:

It is impossible to manage more than 6-10 people, especially when things go sideways.

Junior leaders must be empowered to make decisions on key tasks. To be able to do so, they must know what to do in addition to why they are doing it. This will enable them to make judgement calls with the overall goal in mind. If they don’t understand why, they must ask why. They will be more likely to ask why if it is engrained as a habit to speak up, and to lead in a way in which your subordinates are encouraged to speak up.

No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders:

If a team is underperforming, do not blame team members. How could you better situate the team? Could you motivate them in a different way? What is it you could do differently? Maybe a member of the team is a cancer, but what are you going to do about it?

Believe:

You must understand and believe in the mission. If you don’t understand or believe it, you will not be 100% focused to drive towards success. If you don’t understand, ask questions until you do. Ensure your team understands, get feedback and refine your clarity until they do.

Conclusion

Ultimately it boils down to looking at reality, accepting what is, and either changing it or accepting it. There is always something you can do if you don’t like something. It may not be fair, but fairness will not change the outcome. Only action.

I’ll be posting additional book recaps over the coming weeks. I already have preliminary notes on David Bayles’ Art & Fear, Ray Dalio’s Principles, and Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.

Want to read the books but not read them? Subscribe and you’ll be notified as soon as I publish them!

What Should You Charge? DJ Pricing Template For Weddings

DJ Pricing

Recently on a webinar in Phil Morse’s Mobile DJ Blueprint course the question of DJ pricing came up, as it does often. I mentioned theweddingreport.com as a source for researching prices in your area and using that as a baseline for setting your packages across the board, not just for weddings.

Here’s how I approached the situation when I first began doing weddings, YMMV.

Weddings

The average spend on DJs for weddings in my area was right around $1100. Location: Southwest Connecticut, USA

  • My first wedding I charged $800; I knew the couple through my corporate job I had at the time. I was transparent it was my first wedding, but they had seen me before and were comfortable with that.
  • My second wedding I charged $950; I’m good friends with the groom’s brother which is how I got the lead. They knew it was my second wedding, and I priced accordingly.
  • My third wedding I charged $1290 (my target full price); another contact through my corporate job.
  • My fourth wedding I charged $1740 (a premium as it was on NYE); this was a cold lead that came through Gigmasters.

I knew my services were better than the average DJ’s, so my target was $1250, just above the aforementioned ‘average’ rate of $1100.

I however charged less for my first two gigs because I’ve never done weddings before, I didn’t feel comfortable charging full price when there was a decent probability I’d be rough around the edges. I’ve never done it before, so the clients got a reduced rate for the risk they were taking on.

But I didn’t enter the foray of weddings until I had been Djing for YEARS. IMO weddings should be down the line for all the new DJs. Cut your teeth on less stressful gigs before having someone put their trust in you for such a big day.

Other Gigs

I did some more research and found that DJ pricing for basic corporate gigs float around $800 (70% the wedding rate), and basic Mom n Pop gigs around $550 (50% of the wedding rate). Those ratio’s might be a good place to start in your location once you find out what avg wedding DJs get, as I found that anyone charging less around me wasn’t really worth their salt.

DJ Pricing Calculator

I asked a few friends scattered around the country about their DJ pricing, then compared to the data on the website and ratios I came up with. Using that as a rough framework I created a  DJ pricing tool that will provide estimates on what rates might be in your area. Check it out and let me know how it works for your area!

Behind the decks view of getting more gigs.