If your business is anything like mine, the bulk of events for spring, summer, and fall are done outdoors. While some DJs do not embrace nature and working outside, others thrive on their ability to master events such as outdoor weddings, block parties, pool parties, car shows, festivals, charity runs, graduation parties, field days, cookouts, family reunions, and many more not listed here. With setting client expectations and some advance planning, outdoor events can be a boon to your business.
The first step is to set client expectations and gather data. Will the event be rain or shine? How will power be handled? Is there an indoor facility that can be used in the event of bad weather, or will an alternate date be needed? Is there a way to check weather? How does cancellation/rescheduling work?
What I do is ask the client when they are selecting dates to choose an alternate date if the event cannot be moved inside. We also select a time by which a call must be made to avoid billing the client. Once we leave and hit the road, the client is liable for the full event fee, regardless of the rain date. This allows the client to assess the weather situation and determine if they will get wet or be unsafe, something that can happen in our part of the country quite suddenly.
Next is to determine how safely you can operate in wind, rain, and sizzling heat. Speakers are usually on tripods and can be knocked over with enough wind to force them down. If the heat is very high, the event goers, your staff, and you run the risk of heatstroke. If the rain starts, how much rain can your system handle before it becomes unsafe to continue? How can you protect yourself?
This piggybacks into the client discussion, in addition to planning how to protect yourself and your crew. A rule of thumb that our company uses is two-fold because we have movie screens that can be in the air. If the wind is over ten miles per hour sustained, the screens cannot be put up. If the winds are forecast to gust over fifteen mph, the screens cannot go up. If the wind will be over 15 mph sustained, then it becomes unsafe to put speakers in the air on tripods. Tents can fly, so our tent is weighted with 40 pounds of tent weights.
With heat, hydration and protection is the key. In the Deep South, especially during July and August, it is possible to have high 90+ degree temps with high humidity, creating the perfect cocktail for heat-related illness. What we do is have fans, coolers of ice and water, and sunscreen available for our staff. The client also will usually provide some of these items for their guests, and we urge them to do so. If they get hot, then it is off to the air conditioning to cool off and relax.
If, event after all prevention measures have been exhausted, you find yourself playing in rain, this is where pool lifeguard rules come into play. At the first sign of thunder, it is time to shut down, unplug power, and seek shelter. If it is just a drizzle up to a medium rain, we cover our speakers and gear and keep going, looking out for puddles that can present a problem with power and sound cables. If weather warnings start, it is time to pack up and seek shelter, and there is a priority for breaking down. Cables, tents, and plastics can be left behind. Electronics and speakers get packed first, tent second, tables and cables last.
You need to make a checklist for outdoor event items. Your checklist will not only contain items that protect you and your equipment, but should also contain some items for crowd control. Here are some:
10x10 popup tent, water/sun resistant, better is water proof and sun-blocking
Tent weights, at least forty pounds (a requirement for several cities in North Georgia that have outdoor festivals)
Side walls (helps block wind and rain)
Small electric fans
Cooler for ice and water
Towels (wipe the sweat, put in the cooler and use for cold compresses)
Cones and yellow “crime scene” tape (help direct traffic and block traffic)
55 gallon drum liners (giant plastic garbage bags that cover over 90% of known DJ speakers, also handy for fast rain ponchos)
Long lengths of rope (secure anything that has to rise into the air)
Weights to tie the rope off
Bright, visible extension cords
Plastic cable runners (to use if cords are in a walkway and present a tripping hazard)
Battery-operated lights (if tearing down at night, power may be an issue when you unplug and put away power cords)
A stool or chair (you need to rest)
A way to monitor weather. We use smartphones and have weather apps installed.
Velcro (ties off items fast)
Scissors (cut Velcro and rope)
Tarp(s) (if you need to cover and all else fails)
Keep in mind some of these items might not be "wedding-friendly". Work with your venue or wedding planner to coordinate on outdoor specifics!
A special note for power: We plug into shore power whenever possible, but a recommendation made by many other DJs here has been the Honda EU2000 generator. If you use a generator, please make sure to take gas for it and to crack the vehicle windows open!
Above all else, common sense rules over everything. Play safe, be safe.