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Friday, February 02, 2007

iPod, therefore iDJ
Digital music player offers alternative to living, breathing DJ

By Valerie Singleton
The Daily Times-Call


DJ Ken Fisk works at a Boy Scout Pinewood Derby in Aurora. Fisk, who enjoys dressing the part and entertaining at events, owns an elaborate digitized mobile DJ system. He also has an iDJ — a mixing board with two iPod docks — that he rents to budget-conscious brides and grooms.
Times-Call/Jamie Haverkamp

AURORA — Professional disc jockey Ken Fisk has turned the other cheek and opened his ears to the music technology some believe threatens his livelihood.

“DJs initially freaked out because they thought they were gonna get replaced (by iPods), and some of them probably did get replaced — the ones who just sat there and pressed ‘play,’” says Fisk, a wedding specialist and mobile DJ.

Fisk, 18 years into this business, knew better. He bought an iPod. He built his own elaborate, 90-pound digitized mobile DJ system — a 19-inch computer monitor, a keyboard, a wireless mouse, numerous hard drives, an amplifier and a mixing board.

Six months ago, he took the experiment one step further when he bought an iDJ. The small, two-channel mixing board docks and plays two iPods, making it a veritable robotic emcee. In fact, Fisk — who, with his wife, Christine, runs wedding entertainment and photography company A & J Entertainment in Aurora — incorporated the tiny machine into his business as an alternative to his personal emcee services.

“The iPod thing is a whole new market,” says Fisk, who charges clients $175 (plus setup fees) a day to rent the iDJ for use at events. “The bride that wants the iPod system, typically, she has a staff of people running it for them.”

The iGroom or iBride yearns to control each aspect of his or her wedding. Clients who have rented Fisk’s iDJ say they liked playing their own esoteric playlist at their event and appreciated the price, about $800 less than the lowest rate Fisk charges to emcee a gig. Perhaps most important: iEvents spare revelers cheesy or unenthusiastic human DJs.

But Fisk likes a good challenge. That’s why he buys computers, despite his Donald Duck temperament and an aversion to gadgets and gizmos. He’s so confident that humans and iDJs can coexist that he’s willing to make himself an example.

The Colorado Professional Disc Jockey Association — an organized group of about 400 professional DJs across the Front Range — exists, in part, to ensure that technological advances never replace human DJs.

The CPDJA also emphasizes the importance of professional education and training, the primary element that Fisk says gives legitimate DJs an advantage over an iPod or iDJ.

“He was a person,” says Shannon Von Eschen, a 23-year-old Niwot woman who hired Fisk to entertain at her and her husband, Jason’s, 2003 wedding reception. “I like that he was there and he had his own personality. He did everything that I asked, but he wasn’t robotic about it. There’s always technological problems. I felt that if the music wasn’t working, he would figure something out.”

But Fisk doesn’t try to talk clients out of using the iDJ. After all, the system still earns him profits. Compared to some DJs Fisk has watched — he recalls one young DJ who neglected his emcee duties for his biology homework — an iPod would be a preferable form of entertainment.

Fisk, who recalls his own musicless, lackluster wedding reception, hopes to renew his vows with Christine in the coming years. He will hire a DJ, because, in his opinion, there truly is no substitute for human entertainment.

“It’s one of those so-called ‘glamorous’ jobs, but it isn’t,” Fisk says. “Try carrying this 90-pound box.”

Who needs a DJ?

Professional DJs receive intensive training.

Ken Fisk spent years honing his craft by taking voice and speech lessons and learning proper breathing and microphone techniques and the technical specialities required of someone who handles musical equipment. A good DJ gives that for which the customer pays, whether it be an interactive experience with karaoke, trivia and music or a hands-off wallflower.

On average, a DJ will charge from $600 to $2,000.

Numark’s iDJ, on the other hand, sells for as little as $150 through some retailers. Other devices — such as speakers, a microphone and at least one iPod — must be bought separately. Just beware ...

Playing illegally downloaded music in a public place can cost a pretty penny.

Sharing unlicensed music carries a $1,000 fine.

Time is NOT on your side.

“I didn’t even eat,” Shannon Von Eschen says, referring to how busy and distracted she was at her wedding reception. “There’s so much to do on that day, and you want to greet everybody. I don’t remember all the music that was played. That’s not what was important. It was sharing joy with your family.”

Valerie Singleton can be reached at 303-684-5319 or by e-mail at