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30 Years - Doing What He Loves
DJ Michael

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Long Island Oceanbleu North Fork Hampton Gurney Martha Clara Vineyards Shelter Island East Hampton Point Sound Event Lighting
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"Life is a gift, so go out and celebrate", Michael's mother would often say.  Michael Variale of East End Entertainment, is celebrating 30 years as a professional wedding and special event disc jockey. Twenty-five years ago, he never could have imagined making a career out of being a DJ.  

 

Michael is certainly not your stereotypical DJ. Michael graduated St. Anthony’s High School, received his bachelors degree from SUNY Cortland, Masters in elementary education from Dowling College and was a school teacher for 20 years. 

 

Michael’s vast knowledge of music all stems from his home environment.  Growing up the radio was always on.  His parents would often be singing and dancing to 50’s & 60’s Doo-wop, American Standards, Motown and Disco.  Like most kids, he really did not have much appreciation to listening to his parents’ music.  However, after awhile he grew a liking towards their music.

When he went out on the town, it was about going to a place with great music.  Some of his favorite places were Canoe Place Inn (CPI), Dockers Waterside Restaurant, The Seaport, Images and Webster Hall.  Enjoying this wide variety of music built a solid music foundation and one of the keys to his success in the business. 

 

Professional DJ Debut     

In the Fall Semester of 1991 at SUNY Cortland, Michael and his college housemates were bouncers at City Limits, a local Cortland college bar.  Michael recalls, being a bouncer was very boring. He would often ask Karen, the bar manager, if he could practice before the bar opened.  He was permitted to practice for one hour before the bar opened, from 9-10pm, and then it was back to being a bouncer.  After returning for the Spring of 1992 semester, Michael heard the regular DJ failed out and was given the opportunity to DJ on Wednesday, Friday & Saturday nights.  Michael hand carried a milk crate of 100 cds, about a half mile, up and down the hill to the DJ booth.  The booth was certainly not hi-tech.  It comprised of 2 Sony Discmans, Radio Shack 2 channel mixer and microphone.  A few bar napkins were placed underneath the Sony Discmans to prevent the song on the Compact Disc from skipping.  All in all, it got the job done.  The elevated, enclosed DJ booth was Michael’s sanctuary.  He played a mixture of classic rock, classic happy hour tunes, and the new artists at the time like, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and No Doubt.  Michael was given a one dollar and hour promotion to $7 an hour or $28 from 10p – 2am, to be the DJ.  Michael realized playing music was so much fun and no longer had the urge for adult beverages.  He completed his bachelor’s degree in 1993 and returned to Long Island to start his teaching career. 

 

Getting the Gear:

Michael had a little over $4,000 saved in the bank. He spent just about all of it to purchase two new Sony Discmans, Radio Shack mixer, a Crown amplifier, Shure wireless microphone and a pair Electro Voice (EV) 1503 speakers.  He would have purchased the EV 1803 but, they didn’t fit in his cousins Toyota Celica.   Michael’s dad did not think it was a wise purchase.  He recalls saying, “Dad, where can you start your own business with $4,000? If it fails, I will have an awesome sound system for the house”.  Needless to say it worked.

 

It’s About the  Music:

The success of any event is having the right music.  Acquiring music was an expensive task and was a lot different than downloading an MP3 file.  One of the benefits of growing up in Lake Ronkonkoma was that there was an awesome music store called Record Stop.  Anything that was hard to find, Bruce and Mike at Record Stop, would have it. If the needed song was not on a greatest hits or a compilation, Michael would have to purchase the entire Compact Disc (CD) for $18 or double CD for $30 just for that one song.  His CD collection was enormous and very heavy to transport the flight cases.

Early Lessons Learned

Michael’s dad taught him a few key concepts;  play the music at an appropriate volume and know the age of the crowd.  At one of his first events at the Sons of Italy Lodge in Hampton Bays, in which his grandfather and uncle were founding members, he was blasting freestyle artists like TKA, Corina, and the Cover 

Girls.  His dad walked over and said, “Mike, look at the crowd. These people are senior citizens; you have to play the music that they want to hear.”  Try the 50s and 60s music.”  Just like that, people were dancing to Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Elvis, Dion, Four Seasons, Four Tops and Temptations.    Michael also learned that the term dance music is defined differently by literally everyone. Early in his career, Michael realized the keys to a successful event are being musically prepared and knowing how to read the crowd.

 

Hamptons DJ Debut

In Michael’s DJ career there were three business owners that helped propel his business in the Hamptons, Larry Hoffman of Dockers Waterside Restaurant, Chuck Herman of Canoe Place Inn, (CPI) and Scott Rubenstein of East Hampton Indoor Tennis and The Clubhouse Hamptons. 

During the Summer of 1993, he made his Hamptons debut at Dockers Waterside on Saturday’s from 2:00 – 10:00p.  At Dockers Waterside Restaurant, Michael was encouraged by Larry Hoffman, owner, to motivate the crowd through music and not over the microphone.  This advice inspired him to create his own unique style that is sophisticated and fun. Every once in awhile he will still pop in and spin his summer fun tunes along with reggae covers and deep-house covers. 

 

For the Summers of 1995 & 1996, he went on to mix dance classics from the 70's and 80's in the Classic Disco Lounge, at the legendary Canoe Place Inn (CPI), in Hampton Bays.  The CPI has been totally renovated to host special events again in 2022.  Maybe a return to CPI is in Michael’s future.

 

In 2000, Scott Rubenstein, of East Hampton Indoor Tennis, hired Michael to DJ the Annacone 2000 Fundraiser.  It was his first of many star-studded events in his career.  The tented gala took place in the present location of The Clubhouse Hamptons (see ad after story).  Since then they have collaborated on many events. 

 

​Event Music Theory

While Michael was DJing events on the weekends, he also was an elementary school teacher for 20 years.  He learned that there are some similarities between the two jobs.  For example, creating a lesson plan is similar to creating a wedding outline. There are certain objectives that should be completed by a particular time.  The more prepared, the better the results are in both occupations.  In addition, a students’ attention span is about 7-10 minutes, then they need some sort of change. For adults it expands to 10 to 12 minutes, before mixing in and out of music genres.  While playing within any music genre, sometimes quick mixing songs is a very effective way in keeping the dance floor energized.   This DJ technique allows more songs to be played throughout an event. It also keeps the crowd energy level high without talking on the microphone.

 

For Michael, preparing music for a wedding or special event is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  Each song represents a piece of the puzzle. The edges symbolize the special requests and specialty dances.  The different areas represent the variety of music genres.  The artwork of being a DJ is knowing how and when to mix a song or music genre into an event. This is why music knowledge, preparation and knowing how to read the crowd are essential to any successful event.  Music sets the event in motion and the positive vibes stay in motion with each song played.

 

Building the Team

Michael has surrounded himself with an amazing team.  Michael’s mother would also say, “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.”  The core members of the team have been with Michael for over ten years. In 1995, Michael would sometimes be subcontracted as DJ to play with a band his cousin Joe played trumpet in.  Over the years, he became friends with the members of the band including, Jonny Ray (guitarist/vocalist), Eric (vocalist/percussionist), and George (percussionist/DJ), who have been now part of East End Entertainment since 2004.

That same year, through Michael’s teaching colleagues began offering string ensembles with Sara, Meghan, Kristen & Christine for wedding ceremonies and cocktail hour. A few years later, he added DJs JR, David, Dan, and Bill into the mix.  For Michael, it’s comforting to know, that he has a wonderful and reliable team.  Many of the other vendors are familiar with their faces and appreciate the professionalism that is exemplified at each event. The goal is to focus on the quality events and not quantity. 

 

Listening to the needs of the clients:

For Michael, being DJ encompasses many vital roles.  The music is the heartbeat of the party that is filled with emotions.  In addition to playing music at the right time, there are a multitude of questions that need to be answered prior to an event.  Many of these questions are listed on his custom event outline form. Many clients rely on his experience to help customize the flow of a wedding or special event.  During the planning process, Michael will listen to the goals of the client and gather all the information.  He wants to make sure that each has its own unique flair.  For Michael and the client, a venue walkthrough is very helpful.  During this time, Michael listens to the clients and offers his thoughts.   He might notice that there might be a need to add additional sound support in other rooms with wireless speakers, or inform parents where to stand for the first dance. 

 

A few years ago, four months before Alyssa and Andy’s rustic décor themed wedding at Pellegrini Vineyards, they had an idea of using pallets as a DJ front board.  Michael brainstormed a few ideas and created his first décor front board, North Fork Rustic DJ Booth.  It was from their wedding Michael began designing other themed DJ front boards to match the décor of other venues, like Hamptons Beachwood White and Montauk Driftwood Grey.

 

Conclusion:

Michael is ever grateful for all the friendship he has made and continues to make as an event professional.  Michael said, “It makes it really easy when your office for the day is either overlooking the water, a vineyard, an orchard, a golf course or an estate.  On top of which, I get to collaborate with many industry’s best professionals, who makes the client’s vision a reality.” It’s no wonder why people have been relying on Michael’s expertise for 30 years and counting.    

 

THANK YOU                                         

 

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