Everyone has lived through the train wreck of a music fail during a belly dance performance. It disrupts the flow of a show and leaves the belly dancer looking unprofessional and awkward no matter how well the situation is handled. Sure you can smile and play zills for a while to buy time, but who wants to listen to 10-15 minutes of zill playing after your music goes kaput?!
Until now, I have been at the mercy of my client’s stereo systems and most private party clients do not hire a professional DJ. Sometimes it works just fine and other times it is a disaster. I have tried to anticipate every issue that could arise and plan for it, but in the end, I am always defeated with inconceivable, novel methods of music disruption.
If I want clear, reliable sound, then why do I rely on my clients to handle such an important aspect of my show? As the entertainer, any sound issue regardless of fault reflects poorly on the belly dancer. Listed below are 3 main ways your performance can be ruined when you are not master of your music. Unfortunately, as a professionally performing belly dancer in Sacramento, I have experienced many of these musical pitfalls and hope to at least bring them to attention for dancers who have been so far luckier than I with client provided stereo systems.
- Provided stereo is not loud enough or distorts sound at high volumes
Most people do not listen to music in their home at rock concert volumes so what is good enough for casual listening will not work for a performance. Some dancers and clients are also unaware or forget that sound waves are absorbed by the body. A home stereo system can be plenty loud with 5 people in a room, but after cramming 50 people into the same room for a party, the stereo is suddenly not very loud anymore and when cranked “up to 11”, distorts your dooms and teks.
With quiet or distorted music, the audience suffers through the performance with you. Straining to hear the unfamiliar Middle Eastern music makes it much easier to lose interest, start a conversation, fidget with a cell phone or make way to the drink table.
Belly dance music at private parties does not need to be set at ear bleeding levels, but it should be loud enough to discourage talking during the show, cover up breathing noises (including the panting from the dancer at the end of her performance) and keep the audience engaged with clear, reliable sound.
- User Error
It is hard to believe that in this day and age people still grab CDs by the data surface, but it happens frequently in my experience. One greasy fingerprint can make a CD skip or even stop completely in the middle of an awesome shimmy section.
The designated (untrained) sound technician can also manage to scratch, drop or spill liquid on a CD during the 20 second walk to the stereo. Finally, if the CD makes it to the stereo unscathed, there are more possibilities for user error including playing the wrong disk in a multi changer, accidentally leaving the stereo on repeat or shuffle or playing your music through a bizarre equalizer setting that could make your music sound horrible. Imagine finishing your grand Oriental entrance and the next song is either a repeat or a Kelly Clarkson single!
I have tried to get around this issue by merging my performance set into one long song, but obvious answer fate had was to make my CD just stop in the middle (darn those fingerprints!). Then I was faced with the decision to fast forward through 15 minutes of music or start from the beginning.
- Disk Error
Ah the dreaded disk error! Sure your burned CD plays fine on your stereo system, but will it work on your client’s stereo? Even if you ask them about burned CDs, it is conceivable that they have never tested your exact make, model and batch of recordable CDs. Even with backup CDs, now your carefully planned custom song mix is out the window and the performance has been delayed!
- iPod or other mp3 player to the rescue?
Unfortunately, your iPod is not the perfect solution either. Your iPod model might not work with their specific stereo, your client might be iPod challenged or dial into the wrong song, get stuck on the screen lock, etc. All of these issues cause delays and unnecessary irritation.
It would be a dream come true to hire a 30 member orchestra to accompany me to all of my performances, but until I win the lottery I need to rely on other methods to master my music. In my stereo wish list, I want to find a set up that will reduce user error, be portable, easy to set up and cheap!
Not so brilliant idea #1 – Detailed written instructions for the client/designated DJ
Result #1 – Obvious FAIL
Brilliant idea #2 – Various $50-$100 iPod speaker docks with remote control
Result #2 – Stereo not loud enough. Distortion at high volumes. Remote control did not work from more than 5 ft away. Louder models broke during transit. Mono sound. – FAIL
Brilliant idea #3 – Aiwa 300W home stereo shelf system with remote control
Result #3- The CD reader broke on one of its first gig trips down to the Bay Area as it was jostled in my trunk from the potholes on highway I80. Now I have a cord to connect my iPod into the receiver. Disconnected speakers provide great “stereo sound” as opposed to “mono sound”. Disconnected speakers are a pain in the rear to transport with the heavy receiver, a suitcase of costumes, a sword, cane… Still have an issue with client needing to push play on the iPod since the CD player is broken. Definitely loud enough for a house party, but not near loud enough for larger or outdoor venues.
So far the last brilliant idea I had has been working, but is 50 lbs, takes up a lot of space and difficult to transport. It is time to bite the bullet and buy a professional sound system. Although a professional sound system does not fit the “cheap” description on my wish list, it is a necessary expense for the sound quality I want. For the price of a Bella or Sim Moda Evi belly dance costume, a nice portable PA system can be bought. Isn’t a great sound system more valuable than having 3 red costumes? So I sold some costumes and am ready to make a sound investment in my belly dance business.
Stay tuned for the next blog where I’ll interview Clifford Brown III, owner of Brown Audio Solutions and Services, jazz trumpet musician and sound technician, for some helpful advice on portable PA systems suitable for any belly dance performance.