When Rick Web walks into the party, there is no plan and no setlist. There’s him, the music and the crowd. Surrounded by hundreds of people, he reacts off the energy of the audience and feels his way around the music.
Web, a senior studying mechanical engineering, began his career as a DJ at age 13 with nothing but an iPad. Now, he’s one of the most popular DJs in Athens.
Web holds thousands of dollars worth of equipment for the ultimate rave experience. Speakers, subwoofers and LED lights cover every inch of his room, stacked in the corner and under his bed as a temporary storing place before the next event.
“I have over 20 grand worth of equipment, and (that) is only half of it. I have another four speakers and two subwoofers sitting at home and another lighting rig and two other controllers,” Web said.
For a two to four-hour show, the real work comes before and after. Each subwoofer weighs 85 pounds, every speaker is 63 pounds and his mixer case is 70 pounds. LED lights are another 10 to 20 pounds, and he carries up to six of them with him for each show. On top of it all, he has two bags of cables. Each setup and teardown session takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.
The music is the easy part. Though Web separates more than 20,000 songs on his laptop in to playlists like “#MOMS,” “Hip-hop CLEAN” and “Dinner Country,” he never comes to an event ready with a setlist. He relies heavily on the reaction from the audience to tell him what to play.
“You have to be able to read an audience, read a crowd,” Web said. “I always get told I have a really good eye.”
Reading a crowd isn’t something that comes exclusive to Web. Many DJs, including Scott Kutil, go into an event with the expectation that they will adjust the music at any moment.
“It's all trial by error. I take that information and kind of just wing it throughout the night and find songs,” Kutil, a junior studying music business, said.
Kutil worked as a sound technician for Rock the House Entertainment out of Cleveland, where he learned the art of being a DJ. Although he just began mixing this year as a co-founder of Brick Life Entertainment, he’s covered several events around Athens.
Contrary to Web, Kutil chooses not to include spectacular lighting in his shows. He would rather the audience focus on his skill as a DJ.
“My number one thing is that I don't need any extra flashy (lights) because my No. 1 goal is to woo a crowd with my DJ skills and being able to mix different songs,” Kutil said. “I don't need extra flashy things to get people to be amazed and have a good time.”
Lighting and sound preparations also pertain to a completely different aspect of performance: theater. Whereas a DJ can walk in without a plan, the theater industry begins preparing months in advance.
Nathan Arnold, a junior studying theater scenic design, started designing a set six weeks ago that won’t be up until mid-November. He must go through the process of hand-drawn designs and 3-D renderings on an application called Vectorworks before the set can even be finalized. He also has to keep in mind his budget and the materials needed.
Set design is not a solo effort either.
“Once the concept for the set design is in place, you bring in the lighting designer, sound designer and the costume designer,” Arnold said. “A lot of their work has to be fit into the set.”
When all is said and done, Arnold will have gone through dozens of designs and renderings, corrections made by directors and designers, and a non-stop months-long process before the show will make its debut.
“It takes a lot of work and time,” Arnold said. “It is hard work and at the end of the day, you have to get it done.”