Meet the DJ
Incredibly hard-working and inspired by a life-long love for music, Leo Washington, the man behind Texas-based DJ entertainment company Next Level Entertainment, puts a focus on high-quality service and unique events…
Leo Washington grew up in Monroe, Louisiana, where, a bright student, he made the honors list throughout his time at elementary school and junior high. It wouldn’t be until fifth grade that he would discover his love for music and, despite cutting his DJ chops in Atlanta, GA, go on to operate a successful entertainment company out of Texas, using his strong work ethic and commitment to professionalism to provide an excellent service for clients across the state and beyond.
Despite his eventual successes, life didn’t always go to plan for Leo, with the aspiring young DJ often relying on pure self determination to see him through. It was during his school days when his parents split, and his life was turned upside down.
“When my parents decided to go their separate ways, things changed dramatically; we went from middle class to below poverty overnight,” he explains. “However, I was always determined not to let my present situation define who I wanted to become in the future. I appreciate where I came from, and it taught me many life lessons. My grandfather instilled in me the belief in doing a job and doing it well – I still believe in that to this day.”
Harnessing this determination, Leo picked up music during fifth grade, though he soon discovered that he’d already missed out on listening to many genres, leaving him plenty of catching up to do: “We were only permitted to listen to gospel until I got to high school,” Leo tells us. “I missed all of the great music of the seventies, eighties and nineties. Imagine what happened to me when I first heard Earth, Wind, and Fire, Prince, Heavy D, Run DMC…”
Pursuing his love for music of all kinds, Leo started out playing the trumpet but, in time, moved over to the French horn. He even bagged himself a spot in the ‘World Famed’ Grambling State University Tiger Marching Band. And it was during this time that Leo “fell in love with all different varieties of music” and, he tells us, “recognized that I had a knack for spotting a hit before the song even hit the radio,” providing him with a skill that would prove key to his future success as a DJ.
With experience as a musician and a cross-genre love for music, Leo began his DJ career in 2001, when he attended a close friend’s wedding and found himself in awe of how the DJ – Lorenzo “The Jam Man – King of Old School” Brown – was working the crowd. Leo then introduced himself and complimented Lorenzo on his performance, before asking if he would show Leo how he too could DJ so effectively. “I had never seen someone command a crowd the way he did,” says Leo. “That was my defining moment.”
Though Lorenzo thought Leo was joking at first, he agreed to meet him at his next gig, where Leo turned up “early, cup empty and ready to learn.” Convinced that there was something different about the young Leo, Lorenzo took him under his wing and Leo spent a year and a half learning and buying equipment. This period of expert mentoring ensured that Leo was well prepared when it came time to go out on his own.
“I started as a DJ that mixed and blended songs,” Leo says, “I could never get the art of scratching down like my good friend Jason ‘DJ Slow Motion’ Bufkin, so I concentrated on putting together the best mixes possible to keep people dancing and coming back for more.” These days, Leo plays a whole range of venues and events, including weddings, birthdays, proms, school dances and corporate events. He adds, “in Texas you can be on the top floor at a chic, members-only event or performing a wedding in a country barn – we do it all!”
‘We’ is, of course, Leo and the team at Next Level Entertainment, who are committed to quality service: “I consider myself more than a DJ; I consider myself an event production specialist,” he explains. “I mean, Next Level Entertainment does more than the norm; we design light shows and we entertain the guests. We don't just sit behind the booth and push buttons.” Coordinated events, personalized monograms, photo booths and MCing are all part of the service that Leo provides and he says that “it doesn’t matter if the event is big or small, you will receive a quality package from Next Level Entertainment.”
The music Leo plays at his events is equally as varied and diverse as the service he provides. Though his personal preferences are eighties/nineties R&B, hip hop/rap, and Old School, Leo says he doesn’t particularly have “a favorite genre to play at any event because I learned at the beginning of my career that it’s not about me, it’s about the people that hire me.” Three songs Leo does love to spin, however, are ‘Don’t Stop Believin’, ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ and ‘Shout’, because he loves to see “people not give a care when they sing… It doesn’t matter your background or your status, it’s all about letting it go and having a good time.”
Leo tries to stay ahead of the curve, offering personalized, full-room uplighting packages that transform would-be boring venues into exciting party spaces! To achieve this unique service – which he believes separates Next Level Entertainment from other DJ providers – Leo studies the venue’s architecture and incorporates lights that are computer-controlled via DMX and battery-powered. This enables the company to deliver a different and personalized lightshow each and every time. Leo and his team also offer top-notch MC and mixing skills – another winning element of the service the company provides. “When all of the services come together at once, we produce a great product for our customers,” he says. “We believe it is not the amount of toys that make you different, but talent and expertise…”
With years of experience under his belt, Leo has provided lighting and DJ entertainment for countless events. But one of his most memorable times DJing was at his first ever country-themed wedding, which took place on an actual farm, inside an old Civil War era barn that was brought down from upstate New York and reconstructed.
“The groom asked me if I would mind wearing cowboy boots and jeans, and I said, ‘sure, why not.’ I had never worn boots anywhere – period!” Leo laughs. “This turned out to be one of the best weddings that I have ever DJed. The guests danced to everything I played that night; the floor stayed full.”
What makes the event perhaps even more memorable, however, was the fact that Leo had to deal with an unexpected bout of bad weather. A storm – possibly a tornado – was coming and he made an announcement, warning the guests and letting them decide what to do: “I said, ‘we have two choices: shut it down and everyone leave, or I can keep on playing and you can keep on dancing and we all get blown away’ – they said keep on partying!”
Perhaps that’s just how they do things down in Texas, a place where Leo has been welcomed with open arms by the state’s leading DJs and entertainment companies. “Relationships are built on mutual respect with others who take the same stance,” says Leo. “Locally, the first guys I met were Brandon Steward and Jay Taylor of Steward’s Productions. We have developed a great mutual respect for one another; Brandon and I share a lot of the same values for ourselves, our companies, and our families. We both believe in giving people quality productions and performances.”
When he isn’t putting on events or speaking with like-minded entertainers, Leo does give himself some down-time. He loves golf – “my wife calls it my expensive hobby” – and even used to play on amateur tours, on one occasion even winning a tournament. The church also plays a big part in his life, although Leo does not force his views on anyone else, and realizes that, out of all these things, family comes first.
“The most important thing is my family; everything else can fall but my family cannot and will not,” Leo explains. “I refuse to let my children grow up without a father in their lives. My wife – my best friend, my backbone – is all I need to see after the late nights and long weekends.”
While his devotion to family, commitment to hard work and courage to follow his passion may be traits handed down to Leo by his grandfather, his success is all his own doing – and he sure has some advice for the up-and-coming DJs out there!
“Practice the three Ls – look, listen and learn – and they will take you a long way,” offers Leo. He also emphasizes the importance of learning from a mentor: “Get with someone who knows what they are doing; pay attention, take notes, and do things that make you stand out to the person that is training you,” he says. “Most of all, be respectful; treat everyone you meet as if they own the building. Don't worry about the money; what you are learning is how to make money.”
Despite being a man that has built a successful business that provides quality services, Leo Washington has never forgotten where he comes from; remaining devoted to his family, his faith and his love for music of all types.
“I am just happy to have a career that has lasted this long, a great wife who gets what I do, and people who are willing to take their time to see who Leo Washington truly is,” he enthuses. “I am passionate about what I do, and I do what I say I am going to do.”
You can’t ask for any more than that, right?
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