The perfect playlist in a pandemic

Sherman (Ricardo Reyes)

The song of stay-at-home orders continues to rock out on every radio station. Because of this, DJs have had to make an abrupt makeover to the concept of a gig.

Jake Sherman, who DJs with Washington Talent Agency, is managing the transition well, and one of his favorite parts about DJing is bar and bat mitzvahs.

“There’s always a moment in the party where, you know, the guests come in for a party, there’s an opening dance, everyone is unfocused, finding a seat,” Sherman said. “But then, the child comes in for introductions. Everyone is focused on them. That is an electric moment. Everyone is there for that child. And I can see it, because I’m on stage right there behind them looking out at everyone who is there for them.”

Sherman started DJing in 2013 while he was studying business. He now uses his degree to run the marketing department at Washington Talent while still DJing for the company of more than 100 musicians. “I love it, I like the people, I love that we deliver happiness every weekend,” Sherman said.

Then the economic earthquake of COVID-19 shook up the company. At first, there was a huge decrease in bar and bat mitzvahs.

“Everyone in the industry was like, what do we do? The buzz word was pivot. We have a lot of people and we’re starving for work,” he said.

But the sun came out, quite literally. “Things started to open up as it got hotter, for outdoor events,” Sherman said.

Today, bar and bats look different than before the pandemic.

“In any party now, I separate myself [and DJ station]. I wear my mask the second I go to load up,” he said. “I will tell you, the few that I have had? People sometimes forget we’re in a pandemic. It’s interesting to see people still find a way to celebrate the milestones in life, whether it’s marriage or a mitzvah.”

People will dance from a distance, often with a mask on. Though it’s difficult to be sure guests have fun when you can’t see their faces, it’s a challenge Sherman’s willing to tackle.

Recently, his company entertained for a backyard party, where they streamed the service for more guests to join virtually. So far, Washington Talent has had about 20 virtual events like this, where they send a videographer out to set up two to three cameras. About 15 to 20 people will come in person, while 50 to 75 will join on a Zoom feed.

“We manage who can see the feed and allow them to come in and pin them to the screen, and control the audio and visual of it all. So it’s double duty work,” Sherman said.

After the party, they create highlights of the day and record messages to share.

Even with all these safety precautions, there’s still a line to tiptoe across. “We have to make sure we’re safe and the customer is having the experience they want. No one’s ever had to stop because they felt so unsafe yet,” Sherman said.

Mike Pachino, a DJ also and member of Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation, can understand the sentiment.

To accommodate safety concerns, he’s pivoted from being a DJ and emcee to a virtual event producer. Since lockdown, he’s orchestrated more than 70 virtual events, including what he calls ZOOMitzvahs.

(Courtesy of Mike Pachino)

For the online parties, Pachino turns homes into television studios. He sets up cameras for multiple angles, arranges audio and lighting, offers a tech dress rehearsal and creates a post-montage.

Pachino keeps guests upbeat with family-friendly songs while they dance around their living rooms. “Then, I’ll lead interactive games, keeping the crowd moving, smiling and having fun,” he said.

Even with all of the creative options DJs are offering, Pachino doesn’t believe things will return to normal for a while.

“I don’t believe that things will go totally back to normal until we are all vaccinated,” he said. “Most of my clients have postponed their service or party to the spring or fall of 2021.”

And boy, does he hopes that comes soon.


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