Visuals 101

I get a fair number of emails asking about where to start as a VJ, and since my site is more geared towards people that are already doing visuals, I thought I'd write a brief summary of how to get started.

You have the choice of mixing from VCR's with a video mixer, using a computer with VJ software, or combining the two.  The latter choice is preferred, as having a VCR and video mixer allows you to sample movies, TV, & other sources and mix/key in with the output from various programs.  Also, should you wish to take a bit of a break from your long night, you can always throw in a tape of premixed work and go grab a drink, or have a little nap.  

this page is under construction, so not everything is here at the moment...
I'd suggest joining some of the mailing lists on the previous page, and reading through the archives for a lot of invaluable information.

What are the essential tools I need to get started?

- a decent computer: minimum suggested config: Celeron 500 w/64 Ram, a few gigs HD.  A video capture card is a good idea, and if it has NTSC or PAL video output (composite or/and S-Video) it saves you from getting a dedicated RGB to NTSC converter, as not all video projectors will accept RGB from your computer.
Although, having a dedicated converter gives you more options, such as screen zoom & more. Later on, you can add a MIDI keyboard and beef up your computer with more goodies, but this is a good start.

- a video mixer and a minimum of 2 VCR's: expect to pay a minimum of $500 USD for a basic video mixer.  Do a keyword search on ebay or get one at a local video store or mail order it via the shops that advertise in the popular video magazines.

- a video camera: So you can shoot your own footage, get live DJ and crowd shots, & more.

- a video projector: Actually, you can rent one if you can't afford it.  Get the highest ANSI lumens you can afford - 500 is a decent minimum (this will run you approx $2,000'ish)

How much do I charge? 

Obviously, this depends on your experience, connections, and what you plan to provide.  When I first started out doing visuals approx 9 years ago, I frequently did free shows, because it gave me an outlet other than my bedroom where I was able to get good public feedback as I built up my repertoire.  Now I typically won't go out the door for less than $500.  I still do free parties for fun occasionally, but as I've now spent approx $100K on equipment (mainly lasers), this has become more of a business, and I have to run it as such.
Our starting price is usually around $1000, and goes up substantially depending on if we bring lasers, and how much preparation / custom work is required.  Be aware, if you quote low just to get in the door and get the gig, it will be hard for you to raise the price later on for future gigs.
Many factors contribute to establishing a good price point
-Do you have competitors in your area? - If so, what do they charge?
-How big is the party? - The bigger the party, the bigger the budget.
-What exactly do you intend to provide?  - More equipment, more dollars.
Do I get a deposit from the promoter? - I've always been a very trusting person, and don't usually take deposits.  However, if the party doesn't get as many people as they were expecting, you may find yourself running around at the end of the night trying to get paid.  We've all been burned before, and it will happen now and then.  A good bet is to initially establish a good rapport, and tell them upfront you expect to be paid midway through the night.  This gives them a chance to conserve initial resources, and pay you from the door receipts.  If you have never heard of the promotion company, be aware that there are some fly by night people out there, and you may wish to modify your deposit/pay strategy accordingly.  Don't be afraid to turn down gigs if it doesn't feel right.  If you have out of pocket expense such as a projector rental, you may wish to request this upfront, to protect yourself.
PS: Here's a good thread on how much to charge on VJ Forums.

Where do I find work?

Go to your local record stores, collect flyers for parties in your area, call up the info line numbers, and give a little spiel about your services, and suggest they call you back to find out more.  Having a demo tape with some cool video mixes to music and a web page about you and your services is also a good plan.

A couple of key things to remember:

Don't promise to much! - This sounds obvious, but I've done it myself, and seen it happen with friends.  It goes like this: you chat with the promoter and hype up all the possibilities.  Then, for whatever reason, you don't have time to do the custom computer graphics, or DJ titles, or something else you were hoping for falls through.  Make a proposal that you are able to follow through on.  If the show goes well, you'll likely get hired back in the future, giving you a chance to expand your arsenal of show options.  If you fall through on one or more key things, the promoter may be a bit mad, and pay you less, since you didn't provide what you promised.  

I just made up a little diagram showing some possibilities for your equipment set-up.
Obviously, there are infinite choices, but at least this should give you some idea.

more for this section coming soon....

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