MUSKEGON, MI – The music industry has seen a lot of changes in the past 40 years, and Muskegon native Tom Schalk has kept up on them all.
Schalk, 60, has been a professional DJ in the Muskegon area since 1976, entertaining at proms, weddings, parties, fundraisers, dance halls, car shows, and “just about every kind of event you can think of.”
Growing up in a music-oriented family, Schalk first became interested in DJing in fifth or sixth grade. While attending Laketon Elementary, he would bring 45s to lunch and play the records for his friends. Sometimes, he’d also play the bongos – but that didn’t turn into a career.
Schalk, a 1975 Reeths-Puffer High School graduate, had his most recent gig at the Reeths-Puffer prom on Saturday, May 6.
The school district has a special place in heart. All three of his sons – Jason, Justin and Corey – also graduated from Reeths-Puffer. Schalk was an assistant baseball coach for elementary- and middle school-aged athletes for 13 years while his boys were in school.
His first official DJing gig was a dance at Reeths-Puffer Middle School. Between then and now, he’s entertained at thousands of events.
“We haven’t had very many gigs where we didn’t bring the house down,” Schalk said, while recently sitting in the Whitlow’s Forerunner banquet hall in preparation of DJing the weekly TGIF Fun Dance.
The dance has been a standing weekly gig for Quality Sound DJ Service for about 30 years, although it hasn’t always been held at Whitlow’s. It attracts singles and couples around 30 years old and up.
While rock ‘n roll is Schalk’s favorite, he likes every genre. He’s kept up with music trends by following Billboard charts, taking requests and keeping a steady line up of school dances and proms.
“How do you explain the change in the music? It’s all good,” Schalk said. “There’s been a lot of change in the dance attitude – it’s a little more risky now.”
When music is playing, Schalk can hardly help but dance, moving his feet and shoulders to the beat even when sitting.
“I do a lot of dancing,” he said.
Along with the changes in music and dancing, there’s been huge advances in technology and the equipment DJs use. Schalk started out with a turntable and records. Later, he used tapes, and then CDs. Now it’s mini discs and digital songs on his laptop.
“The new technology with old school works pretty well,” he said.
The various generations of his DJ equipment have been set up at events like the Seaway Run, March of Dimes and the Northside Summer Spectacular.
In the early 1980s, Schalk was the music director at Crayon’s Cocktail Lounge, which no longer exists. In the mid-1990s, he owned Cobe Hall in Twin Lake. He gave up the hall after about a year of working up to 20-hour days.
While many of the events and venues Schalk has entertained at have come and gone, he’s not going anywhere any time soon.
“I don’t plan to retire,” he said. “I enjoy it still. If I can do my service, I’m gonna do it because it’s still a lot of fun.”
“When you’ve done this many gigs, it’s hard to put into words,” Schalk said.
He credits his success to the support of his friends and family.
“They made it happen,” he said. “I was so fortunate.”
In addition to the DJ business, Schalk has owned a painting company, Tom’s Custom Painting, for about 30 years.
Painting is the week-day job, and DJing is the weekend job, he said.