My DJ Story
Foreword My name is Michel Lalonde. I am the owner and operator of Sound.wav Rentals, a Sudbury Ontario based business I founded in 2015. I am a father, a husband, a musician, a "sound man", a business man, a DJ and an Emcee. For 7 years, I've provided DJ & Emcee Service and sound & lighting services in and around the City of Greater Sudbury.
In February 2022, I made the decision to undertake a new project - a blog for my website. Having never written a blog before, I found myself stuck as to what I should write and share. I figured it may be best to start with my journey into this business.
I want to thank each and every person who has been a part of my story, most importantly my wife Francine & daughter Sophie, my parents Luc & Jo-Anne Lalonde, and my best friends Kristina, Pat, Shauna & Christian.
Thank you for taking the time to indulge me on this new venture, Michel Lalonde
Chapter 1 - "The Musician"
I've loved music since a very young age. We always had the radio on in the house growing up, and my parents has a sizeable music collection, consisting of cassettes and CD's that I still have in my possession today. I recall spending hours listening to three albums when I was around the age of 8 - Boy Power (a compilation CD with a variety of popular artists of the late 90's), the Space Jam soundtrack, and Genesis' 1983 self titled album.
At the age of 11, I saw a band play at my school. I cannot tell you the name of the band, nor the songs they played that day, but I remember getting home that evening and telling my parents I'd like to learn to play the drums. There was a fascination in this instrument, and I wanted to get to know as much as I could about it. For my 12th birthday, my parents got me drum lessons. I recall during my first lesson getting behind a 1970's era Gretsch USA Custom drum set that was owned by my drum teacher, Denise Vaillancourt. The first thing I noticed was a pedal on the floor, and asked Denise what it was for. She chuckled and said "that's the kick pedal for the kick drum", and I responded "I though that drum was just to display the logo". I was not off to a great start. After a few months, I improved as a drummer - learning the basics and being able to play a few select songs (the first of them being "Just Like You" by Three Days Grace). I also got my first drum set, a Yamaha Reydeen 5 piece with a Tasmanian Devil sticker on the bass drum (if anyone has any leads on where that drum set is now, I'd love to know!).
I continued to dive deep into my parent's music collection, and now being heavily influenced by great drummers like Neil Peart (Rush), Phil Collins (Genesis, solo), Stewart Copeland (The Police), Liberty Devitto (Billy Joel), Tyler Stewart (Barenaked Ladies), Don Hentley (The Eagles, solo), and Alex Van Halen (Van Halen). I took lessons for almost two years, and then branched out on my own, learning by sheet music and by ear. In my teens I joined a new high school band, Le Bistro, headed by a teacher named Renee Dupuis. Those 4 years helped shape me as a performing musician, and open my eyes and ears to new styles and tones in music, outside of my heavy 1980's rock influences. I was very fortunate to work with an array of talented musicians, and perform at a number of large events, like Melomanie (french led music display at the Frasier auditorium in 2008), Fcube (had all regional French catholic high schools together for one large event in 2008), and FESFO.
From high school, I formed a few bands, often with one of my Bistro colleagues and best friend, Pat Wright. For 5 years, I played the Sudbury bar circuit, staff parties, charity events, and the occasional outdoor event. The pay was not great (I once got paid with breakfast), but I loved the company and the music we played. One of the biggest highlights was playing with Barry Miles at Summerfest in 2013 as the opener to headliners Dean Brody & Dallas Smith. In 2013, the gigs were starting to become harder to get (many bars preferred to pay DJ's who were cheaper and had a large array of music, to the annoyance of myself and fellow musicians), and I noticed I was having some challenges playing the drums. I started to experience pain in my right shoulder and forearm. After a few months of not seeing improvement, and suffering in my playing, I decided to see my doctor, who informed me I had tendonitis, and that I should cease activity that would aggravate it. Naturally, I ignored my doctors recommendation and kept playing. Shortly after that decision, I could barely play for 5 minutes without wanting to scream in pain.
With my playing musical career seemingly behind me (at the ripe old age of 23), I was left with a tough choice - what do I do with all this equipment? At that time, I had four drum sets, 35 cymbals, 25 microphones, 6 sound boards, 8 speakers and two subwoofers (and that's just the equipment I can remember off the top of my head). As a "gigging" musician in Sudbury, I had gotten tired of arriving at venues that didn't have adequate equipment for our uses, and had used my earning from events (and a LOT of my day job's paycheques) to purchase equipment. I had grown somewhat attached to this gear, which held memories, but needed to find a way to justify keeping and using it. I decided it may be a good idea to rent my equipment to performing musicians. At the time, options were limited or very expensive, and considering the pay wasn't great at venues (the phase of "play for the door" hit Sudbury hard), I thought I could help fill a need in the market. I started working for a few local bands, helping with setting up my equipment and acting as their "sound man" for their gig. They'd helped me load in and out my gear, and I'd charge $100 or less for the whole thing. I later realized I was bringing roughly $10,000+ of equipment to these events and may never recuperate my investment - but I didn't care - I still got to do what I loved.
One such rental gig was for the EZRock 105.3 Canada Day Talent Show. A friend of mine was performing and wanted to bring a rig for his audition. I packed up my equipment and made my way to Science North. Not knowing much of this event prior, I expect a number of young adults with their bands auditioning. It was more in fact a kids talent show, and my equipment and presence was a bit of an overkill for such an audition. Nonetheless, we waited in line for him to be called, and in that time was spotted by one of the stations employees - Promotions and Programming Director for EZ Rock Mike Allard. He was intrigued and impressed with my equipment, and the fact I could use it, and told me to get the contact information for Q92's Promotions Director Michelle Russell (who was one of the judges) for a future job opportunity. A few weeks later, Michelle contact me with such an opportunity, and after an adventure of it's own (a story for another time), I was hired as a remote technician! Being a lifelong listener of each station, I was pumped at this opportunity to explore another side of the musical world. As a remote technician and later the Community Coordinator, I had the opportunity to be a dozens of events and concerts in the community. I got to meet with Finger 11, Monster Truck, The Sheepdogs, Platinum Blonde, Sass Jordan, Big Wreck, LoverBoy, and more. I even had the opportunity to takes pictures in the press pit during ZZ Top's and Kiss' concert at the Sudbury Arena, and introduce The Sheepdogs on stage at Uranium Days in Elliot Lake.
Thanks to a station colleague (shoutout Bryan), I was hired at the in-house sound person at Cousin Vinny's in Hanmer. My two years at this venue really helped develop my ear as a sound engineer, and provided me the opportunity to mix for over 75 bands, including Mama Kin (Aerosmith Tribute), Rory Gardiner, Carl Dixon (Coney Hatch), Toe Jam Tequila, Mimi O'Bonsawin, Bluez Brotherz, Goodnight, Sunrise, Vintage Slang, etc. I continued to work on the side with other local bands for smaller shows as well, and started renting my equipment to a larger scope of clientele, including DJs and weddings. At the same time, Vinny's was looking for someone to DJ between the band sets.
Chapter 2 - "I'll Never Be A DJ"
"I'll never be a DJ"
I said this phrase more times than I can count. As a performing musician, I HATED DJs. They could come in with a laptop with "burnt" music, and make more money than a 4 piece band with $30,000 in equipment and years in mastering their craft. Even worst, local bars were turning to DJs since they had a bigger discography, and cost less to the bar (paying one guy $250 for the night vs $500 to a band). My first paid gig in 2008 as a drummer was $400 for two nights. One of my last took place in 2013 and I was playing for free at the Sudbury Market. The future of Sudbury's music scene was changing, and so too would my view on DJs.
With my injury side lining my drumming, I believed my future in music was going to be in sound engineering. I loved working with live musicians, and facing the challenges of each gig. Between Cousin Vinny's and my own side business dealings with other local acts, I was comfortable. I would get the odd request to rent equipment for school dances, weddings, rally, and a number of other events. At each event I would setup, test, and monitor my equipment to ensure everything was in good working order, and often would leave and return to collect everything when it was over. On two occasions, I was invited to stay, and that changed the future of my business. The first event was my cousin's wedding (which happened to be my first wedding as a guest). It took place at the Quality Inn in Downtown Sudbury, and had around 100 guests. My cousin had asked to borrow some speakers to have a pre-made music list play, and was going to have a friend who was going to monitor the list as the night went on to keep the party going. I purchased my first "DJ light" for this wedding, as I wanted it to look cool and feel more of a party. As the night went on, it was apparent that this person was not quite monitoring the music well, as there was sometimes up to 10 seconds of silence in between songs. I felt bad sitting and chatting with family, as I wanted my cousin to have the best music experience possible, and felt at the time "maybe I could of done better".
The second event was a student organization's themed party at the Caruso Club (lower hall). I received a call the day before the event, as the organizers had hired a DJ, gotten room uplighting, and even a clear table for the DJ - but forgot to get speakers! Luckily, I was available for their event and coordinated to setup the following day. After setup, I recognized a number of guests and was invited to stay for the evening. The party started, and what transpired next set me on the course to becoming a DJ.
The hired DJ would repeatedly leave his equipment unattended and allow other people to walk up and change music at will. His music selection was the furthest thing from the theme of the event, and although the crowd did dance for most of the evening, there was an air that the party wasn't quite the "vibe" the organizers had hoped for. By the end of the evening, the DJ was so intoxicated that he could not find his way to the exit without assistance. I received my pay for the event, and asked the organizers how much the DJ was paid, to which they shared was nearly 3 times the amount I did. I was mortified. Not because the fact the DJ had made more than me, but the quality of work and professionalism being provided for such a high price. It was in that moment I began to ask myself if I could not provide a better service than what seemingly was available in our City from DJs my age. I had an appreciation and understanding of music, as a sound man I knew how to make it sound good, and as a business person (my parents had opened up their own business, Valley East Snap Fitness, in 2012 which I also worked for), I knew how to sell and promote with confidence. With these skills, it was perhaps time to explore being a DJ?
I inquired with the owner of Cousin Vinny's if he would be ok if I DJed in between the band sets on the weekends in which I was the sound man. He agreed, and offered to pay me a bit more than my usual fee to do both duties. We had an agreement that if things weren't working out (a.k.a if I stink as a DJ), they would find other arrangements. I quickly turned to my vast CD collection and started the long process of digitizing my collection. Finding myself short of popular genres of music, I proceeded to buy entire CD collections I would find on Kijiji and yard sales, as well as using other legal methods of procuring music (as I wanted the best quality in music to play). As with the first band I saw when I was 11 that got me into drumming, I couldn't tell you what I played as my first set as a DJ (though I feel like "Pump the Jam" was in the mix, as a local favorite). What I did experience was the same thrill and wonderment as seeing that first band play, and I knew it was the start of something life altering. Over the next several months, I continued to build my music collection, doing research into popular music for a variety of events, and DJing almost every weekend. I learned very quickly which songs worked and didn't work with my crowd, to take requests on the fly, and which songs blended well one into another. I would spend my time during the band sets figuring out what may be best to play during my next DJ set.
I also started Youtubing DJ fail videos, as I though the best way to learn is by not repeating others mistakes. While in this rabbit hole, I fell into a category I hadn't quite explored - Wedding DJs. Being fairly new to the DJ world, and recalling my cousin's wedding, I didn't quite feel confident to take up this task, and wanted to talk to the pros in the industry to see if it was an avenue worth exploring. I was able to get in touch with the CPDJA, the Canadian Professional Disc Jockey Association, who put me in touch with the Regional Team Leaders for Sudbury at the time, Cheryl & Denis Savoie (Red's DJ). In meeting with them, I learned more about the dos and don'ts of wedding DJing, and the high standards the CPDJA DJ's were held to. After a few hours on conversation, I was sold. I would become a member of the CPDJA, and work towards becoming a wedding DJ.
I created my logo (that I still use to this day), website, Facebook page, business cards, and magnetic decals on my car. I also sold some of my PA equipment for lighting equipment, as I wanted to ensure to set the right vibe for future events. With my music lists up to date, my equipment up to task, and my insurance and CPDJA membership paid - it was time to start advertising my services. I was successful in booking half a dozen weddings within the first few weeks of advertising (I was late in the season - it was April and my first wedding would take place in June). There was just one problem - I hadn't actually DJed and emceed a wedding before, nor really paid attention to the proceedings of the day when I was a guest at my cousin's wedding. CPDJA to the rescue! I was able to shadow Denis during a wedding at Laurentian Lodge in Elliot Lake, three weeks before my first booked wedding. We left at 9am, vehicle loaded, and spent the next 18 hours executing every step required to take on a wedding day. Denis was gracious enough to share all the steps he undertakes prior to a wedding - the initial meeting, music selection and important detailed itinerary of the day's celebration. I have thanked him, and will continue to thank him for the guidance and support he showed me that day and going forward, as I quite literally would not be where I am today as a DJ without him. With all the pieces of the puzzle now in place, it was now time for me to start my venture as a Wedding DJ!
Chapter 3 - "2015-2019"
July 18th, 2015. Leah & Aaron I loaded my vehicle - a 2010 Volkswagen Golf City - with all the equipment I imaged I would require for my first wedding (even the front seat was full). Two powered speakers, one (150 pound) powered subwoofer, a handful of dance lights, wireless microphone, two laptops, and many many cables. I made my way to the Espanola Legion to setup in the early morning (the reception wasn't starting until late afternoon, but I wanted to be ready). I rehearsed my speaking notes for the evening, which included the Grand Entrance and speech announcements. I was nervous as the Grand Entrance had 7 couples, with 7 separate songs for each. Overall, I felt ready for the evening, and ready to overcome any hiccups that may come along the way.
There were a few issues that came up. First, the Grant Entrance order was changed right before we were set to start (in reverse order that I had in my notes). In my haste to make the changes on the fly (instead of requesting a couple of minutes to make the adjustments I needed), two couples came in with the same song, and I forgot a couple and had to announce them AFTER the bride & groom. I felt mortified, and my confidence definitely took a hit. After dinner, the speeches started. When the best man came to speak, guests cell phones came out to record. Unknown to me, due to my wireless microphone being a few years older, and due to me being further away from the podium (I was in the back of the room and the head table was at the front), interference would cause the microphone to cut in and out. Thankfully, I had set up a wired microphone at the podium as a backup, and requested the best man switch microphones in the middle of his speech. The special dances proceeded without a hitch, and the party went as smooth as planned.
I reached out to my clients to thank them for booking with me, apologized for the issues which took place, and to get some valuable feedback. I wasn't expecting a glowing review due to the errors listed above, but they left this review on my Facebook: "Mitch did a fantastic job at our wedding! He was at the reception hall to set up extremely early. There were a few hiccups along the way but he always solved them quickly. He was also a fantastic MC and actually pronounced our last name right!! He rolled with all the last minute requests and never once treated me badly because of it. He busted his butt off for us and worked with our budget..we greatly appreciated it! I didn't want the music to end!! Such a great party!!!!!!!!! Thank you thank you thank you!!!!! Definitely recommended!" It was my first review! I had achieved a 4 out of 5 star review on my first ever wedding. This is the only 4 star review of my DJ career to this day, and one of my proudest, as that wedding set the tone for me as a wedding DJ moving forward, and pushed me to make some important adjustments.
A few days after that wedding, I made my way to the music store and purchased a new Shure wireless microphone, so to never encounter interference issues at future events. I then developed my Client Information Sheet, which was to act as my guide for the duration of all events I DJ (and a tool I still use to this day, although it has evolved over the years). My subwoofer also proved too heavy to carry alone (I deadlifted it for that wedding, but almost threw my back out in the process), so I purchased a compact dolly. I also learned to confirm all details with my clients a week prior to their wedding, and to assist in lining up the wedding party for the Grand Entrance in order to confirm my information is correct. I also implemented "Text Your Request" - which had guests text me directly, which helped me to keep better track of the requests I would receive at future events.
The next five years would see my business grow than I ever imaged! Between 2015 and 2019, I performed at 92 weddings, 25 not-for-profit events, 30 corporate events, 20 school dances, and 10 private events. I also worked 50 times as a sound engineer, and rented out our DIY package on 24 occasions. I received well over 100 five star reviews on numerous platforms, and was recognized as one as the top three DJs in Sudbury by ThreeBestRated.ca. I continued to grow and learn as a DJ, and to improve my skills as an emcee and business person. From my clients, to fellow vendors (shoutout to two of my best friends through this experience, my work wife Shauna & her real life husband Christian Barrette of Sawyer Photography & Videography), to fellow area DJs - I have been fortunate to work and get to know some incredible people on this journey.
2019 was a big turning point for me and my business. I had decided not to take over my parents business, Valley East Snap Fitness, and was contemplating becoming a DJ full time. I redesigned my website to have a more modern and sleek look. I invested in a new sound system (the Evolve 50 by Electro-Voice), a new Shure SM58 wireless microphone, and started programming my dance lighting, which would be a game changer for my business. I had a very optimistic view for 2020, but COVID had a different plan for us all.
Chapter 4 - "COVID"
2020 started with a lot of promise. I had a record 28 weddings booked, and had just landed a monthly "gig" with Momondays Sudbury. I had also been recognized as one of the top 3 DJs in Sudbury for the second straight year by ThreeBestRated.ca. Fast forward to March 15th, 2020. It's 12:01 am. I'm at the Forest Ridge Golf Club in Chelmsford, Ontario, with one hour left of music to play for the night. It also happens to be my 30th birthday - I'm supposed to visit my parents, my sister and my grandparents with my wife & daughter to celebrate this milestone. People are smiling, laughing and dancing their heart out, but you can feel it in the air everyone is worried about the same thing - COVID.
I packed up my car that night, thanked the bride & groom, and started the 25 minute drive home. I can't help but wonder when the lockdown will start, and when the next time I'll get to DJ will take place. Two days later, on March 17, 2020, Premier Ford declared a provincial state of emergency, and began to order the closure of certain businesses and facilities. This closure affected not only my DJ business, but my day job as Manager of Valley East Snap Fitness. I now found myself laid off, and not sure what the immediate future would bring.
The first month flew by. I enjoyed the time at home with my wife and daughter, and took the occasion to recharge and to start planning some home project. Money concerns started to grow, but thankfully the government had announced CERB, which would help us get through this time. In April, I would spend my days landscaping my home and working on my health, and the evenings promoting and growing my business. I followed up with past clients to get more reviews, made social media pushes to grow my number of likes and followers, and revamped my Recommended Vendors section on my website in order to assist all those affected by the lockdown to promote their businesses for when we would be allowed to reopen. I was even invited by Ici Nord de l'Ontario do do an interview regarding the impact of COVID on the wedding industry (click HERE to listen).
Despite my efforts, it was apparent that the lockdowns were going to continue, and the cancellations and postponements for 2020 events were starting to grow. With some restrictions lifting in July, I was able to return to work at the gym, and started to promote a Wedding Ceremony package in the hope to have some business. On August 6th, I DJed my first wedding ceremony in almost 6 months. I would end up DJing 9 wedding ceremonies, and providing sound services for the Indoor Tennis Club and Spacecraft Brewery. The end of 2020 was also the start of a new job with the City of Greater Sudbury, and leaving Valley East Snap Fitness after 8 years. In 2021, I would team up with Sawyer Photography & Videography for their podcast on "How to plan a COVID wedding". I would become the Regional Team Leader for Northern Ontario with the Canadian Professional Disc Jockey Association. I would become a finalist in the Ontario Wedding Association Awards, be recognized as one of the top 3 DJs in Sudbury by ThreeBestRated.ca, and win my second straight Sudbury Community Awards Platinum rating. I would participate in my first ever DJ Conference, and continue to do interviews with the press regarding COVID and weddings (click HERE for an example). On the DJ front, I performed at 15 weddings, and rented equipment on 2 occasions. I still experienced a high volume of cancellations due to restrictions, but things were starting to look up!
And what for 2022? As I write this, we have lifted most restrictions in Ontario, which has grown the hope that this year will be better than the last two. After a far too long hiatus, I was finally able to start playing the drums again with little to no pain. On the business front, I have 25 weddings, and a handful of staff parties and other events booked for the year. I have attended my second DJ conference, have once against been rated a top three DJ in Sudbury, have made significant changes to my services and packages, have grown my social media strategies (you can now find us on TikTok, Youtube, as well as Pinterest), and have started a blog.
I continue to be optimistic of what the future will hold, and look forward to continue to service the City of Greater Sudbury (and beyond) for years to come! Thank you for taking the time to read my story! Michel Lalonde