Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Interview With the Penguins' Gamenight DJ

Last month, I wrote a blog post about Nicholas' successful campaign to get the Pittsburgh Penguins to change their goal song to Andrew W.K.'s Party Hard. Surprisingly, someone still reads my blog occasionally, saw this post, and asked if I would be interested in interviewing Vinny Karpuszka, the team's gamenight DJ. The answer was a resounding yes.

So here is my interview with Vinny who was extremely gracious in responding to my questions.

First, how did you become the Penguins game night DJ?

A lot of luck and knowing the right people. Back in 2006 I joined the local audiovisual/broadcast technicians union and as my luck would have it I caught word that the Penguins were looking to bring a couple of fresh faces onto their in-game entertainment crew. I mentioned this to one of the guys I was working with at the time and he said “well I run the audio board for them, I’ll put in a good word for you”. A few days later I got a phone call from the guy who did the crewing saying I got a “glowing” recommendation and would I be interested in training to be the new DJ. I said yes and here I am today.

What exactly are your job duties at the Penguins DJ? I'm sure it's more than just press play on a song during a stop in play.

Pretty much all of my job requirements revolve around the music that is played at the game. I load all the music files into the software that I use, Click Effects ProAudio, and from there I’ll set in and out points for each song and then make sure the audio levels are peaking at the right spots. I’ll queue up songs for during walk-in, in-game promo reads, tv time-outs, intermission, and whistle stoppages. I create and edit the warm-up playlists and if there isn’t a clean version of a song we want to play I’ll edit that as well.

I also have an Instant Replay 360 machine that I use for sound effects and a few other show elements. I submix myself on a 12 channel audio console that is fed to the main audio board in the control room, which is then fed to the house.

What is your typical game day look like? Specifically, how early do you arrive before the game and how long after the game do you leave?

I get to the rink 4 hours before puck-drop. Every game my producer prints out a format that lists every element we'll be running throughout the game. I'll go through the format and queue up the songs I'm going to use for those elements, and then I'll get my free-whistle songs ready as well. I'll then build my walk-in playlist and if I have some prep time left over I'll browse through Spotify to try and find new songs to use. After that we have our crew meeting, rehearse a couple of in-game elements, and then we have our dinner break. I'm back up in my spot about 10 minutes before doors open. After the game is over I play a couple of walk-out songs, turn off my gear, gather my personal things, and I'm out the door. Typically if it's a 7pm game, I'm out of the building a little after 10pm.

My friend Nicholas started a campaign to get the Penguins to use Andrew W.K.'s Party Hard as the goal song. Were you involved in making this decision?

No, I was not involved. That decision went all the way up the corporate ladder. Seriously. A lot of us on the gamenight staff were well aware of everything that was going on on Twitter in regards to getting the goal song changed to “Party Hard” but I think everyone of us never thought it would actually happen.

Another friend and I are trying to attend hockey games at each NHL city. We're more than half-way through. Anyway, I've noticed that rock is the predominant music played at most venues. So this is a long way of asking how much input do you have in the type of music you play? If Mario comes by, says he's feeling nostalgic for home and wants you to play some French-Canadian lullaby, would you have to play it?

Well he is the boss, so to answer your question, yes, I would, haha.

I do have some input into the music selection, yes. I have a great working relationship with my producer and he trusts me to play the music that’s expected from management without having to look over my shoulder and tell me what to play.

I’m not surprised to hear that rock music dominates NHL arenas. In my opinion, hockey and heavy metal are a perfect match. The speed and aggression of metal totally compliments the sport of hockey; it’s like chocolate and peanut butter.

I've seen that DJ Bonics sometimes serves as a guest DJ for Pens games. What is your relationship with him? Do you have a rivalry at all?

My producer books him from time to time to liven things up a bit. It adds variety. I like it. I’ve never met him but I hear he’s a great person, and he’s having a lot of success right now being Wiz Khalifa’s live DJ, so good for him. He’s an actual DJ, you know what I mean? He’s syncs beats and time signatures, reads and reacts to the crowd, acts as a hype man, scratches records and creates loops...he’s a performer. That’s what a real DJ is. I like to think of myself as a music director: I’m picking a song to match the mood of the game at that given moment.

Do you have a favorite moment or memory at a Pens game? (Mine is attending game seven of the Penguins-Sabres playoff series in Buffalo where Darius Kasparaitis scored the game-winning OT goal.)

The most memorable game I ever worked was Game 1 of the 2008 opening round series against Ottawa. The year before that in ‘07 Ottawa was a juggernaut and bounced the Pens in 5 games. Fans were disappointed but weren’t surprised just because almost the entire team never experienced playoff hockey before and everyone seemed just happy to be there. But in ‘08 the Pens were rolling and Ottawa was coming into the playoffs with no momentum at all.

So back in the Mellon Arena days, and currently at CEC, the main usher will blow a whistle to let everyone know that the doors are now open to the public. I swear, that night of Game 1 against Ottawa in ‘08, when that whistle blew, you could feel the energy. I’m not kidding dude, it was something else. You know that saying “there was electricity in the air”? Well maybe it was the old, faulty wiring of Mellon Arena I felt, but goddamn it man, I felt something. That building was alive the second they opened the doors. As soon as fans hit the seats you could feel the buzz, and this was 90 minutes. before the opening faceoff.

Anyway, Gary Roberts scored like 20 seconds into the game and it was pandemonium after that.

Finally, do you get to hang out with Mike Lange at all?

I’ve ridden the elevator with him a couple times, does that count? I’ve never really talked to him but everything I hear about him and how he is as a person is extremely positive. The local media and team employees refer to him as “Hall Of Famer” for good reason.

Thanks again to Vinny for sharing great answers about his job. You can also follow him on Twitter at @theironmoth though don't expect any inside news when he's on the job. According to Vinny, "I mainly just retweet pro wrestling gifs and other stupid stuff, but every once in a while I'll put up a link to some metal I'm currently enjoying."

You can also see Vinny's playlist from the Penguins' March 4th game.

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