Being a DJ Is a Real Job! by Stu Chisholm

June 27, 2008 by Stu Chisholm

For the outside observer, a peak inside a DJ’s workaday worldThe other day, a friend called me at about noon and said, “Hey, do you want to go to the movies? I’ve got the day off and I’m bored.”

“No,” I said, “I’m busy with work.”

Then my friend of 24 years said, “What work? You only work one or two days a week!” Welcome to my world: the world of the professional mobile DJ.

This exchange got me thinking: If a close friend thinks this way, what are the chances that my clients do, too? After all, that is how it looks to a casual observer! I only jump in the van and go to a job on weekends. The rest of the week I’m at home…doing all of the things that nobody sees.

In reality, I put in close to 70 hours per week working on my DJ business. And yes, it is a business, with all of the work associated with other small businesses. The only real differences are that I don’t have to drive to my job (except for the weekend parties), punch a clock or answer to a boss beyond my own clients. I set my own schedule, but if I neglect anything important, my business could fail and my job would disappear. I can’t blame any board of directors or supervisors for bad decisions. My success or failure is in my hands, and no matter how successful I might be, it can evaporate in an instant if I lose focus.

Way More than Just a Party Hat
At a party, I’ve got to be the fun, personable and sometimes downright crazy host, keeping the energy and excitement levels high. In my home office, that part of my personality has to take a back seat to the disciplined business jack-of-all trades. As a single operator I wear all the hats: I’m the secretary who answers the phone; the salesman who makes the pitch to customers who call or e-mail; the engineer who builds the systems and maintains the equipment; the buyer who procures the gear, music and supplies; the accountant riding herd on the finances; the mechanic who maintains the vehicle; the IT tech who enters data, maintains the websites and gives clients “customer support”; the file clerk in charge of the “mail room,” filling requests for information packets, writing and mailing contracts and making runs to the P.O. box; the advertising director designing and placing all of the advertising and promotion; the writer who scripts the events and, on occasion, contributes to a DJ trade publication; the producer who edits and occasionally remixes music; and the “gofer” who schleps the tuxedo to the cleaners, picks up the office supplies and other errand running. All of these activities being punctuated by the ringing telephone, client meetings and trying to slip in lunch and dinner!

In this light, it can sound a bit overwhelming! Yet, if broken down and placed into an itinerary of sorts, it can be done, and done well. My typical week looks like this:

MONDAY: Office day. While I generally start each day by first checking for phone and e-mail messages, on Monday I then attack any and all paperwork that needs to be done. This means writing up and mailing out contracts and requests for information, adding the client information from the weekend’s parties to my client database and sending out a thank you card and review. I’ll also make follow-up phone calls to potential clients. Next, it’s time to enter all of the music that came in over the past week into my music database, which I use in my performances and my clients can view online. Most importantly, Monday is also when I pull out the paperwork for the event(s) coming up on the weekend after next. This gives me a two-week time window to familiarize myself in detail with the event specifics, add any needed music to my buy list and plan my party itinerary.

TUESDAY: Equipment and music production day. Each weekend when the equipment goes out, it gets jostled around. It picks up dust from people dancing, or from being outdoors. There are software updates to be made, batteries to be replaced and the occasional modification or addition. On most Tuesdays this isn’t an all day pursuit, so I then consult my “to do” list and work on any productions that are on my schedule. This can be something as simple as tactfully removing a cuss word from a popular song to mastering and duplicating 250 CDs that a couple or organization wants to hand out as souvenirs at an event.

WEDNESDAY: Errand and promotion day. This is usually the day for runs to the dry cleaners, post office, office supply store, etc. If there’s an oil change to be made or other vehicle maintenance required, it gets attention on hump-day. I also think “promotion” on Wednesdays because this is when I might visit a banquet hall, bridal boutique or other vendor I’m promoting (or wanting to promote) with. This has been true of Wednesdays since I first began my business and drove all over town putting my cards into those free ad racks at the supermarket! Once back at home, I turn my focus to calling magazines, bridal show organizers or other people I’m advertising with, working my website, etc. I also try to fit in some writing, since advertising and promotion stimulates my creativity!

THURSDAY: Music day. During a typical week, my desk gets loaded-up with CDs. I also have a substantial backlog of non-priority material, mostly vinyl records, that need to be listened to and databased. The music is crankin’! If I need to make a run to the music store, or visit any online music stores, it will happen today. While listening, I gather information about each song, such as the style, BPM (beats per minute) and chart info which will later be entered into my database the following Monday. Thursday is also the day I contact my clients for this week’s party or parties to go over the details of the event, Google a map, etc.

FRIDAY & SATURDAY: Gig day / mop-up. On most weekends I’ll have an event scheduled and like to use the time beforehand to go over the details, names of the bridal party (if it’s a wedding) and various activities. I’ll also be packing my tux and primping! When I do have a weekend day off, I’ll use the time to tackle anything that didn’t get finished over the week. It’s also a good idea to schedule client meetings on these days, since a lot of people can’t meet during a weekday.

SUNDAY: Reserved! Yes, Sunday is the one day of the week I reserve for myself! On rare occasion, if a client can’t meet with me during the week and there’s no available Saturday, I may schedule a meeting then.

I can only imagine what my friends who own a multi-DJ company go through! Add scheduling and training responsibilities to all of the above, and multiply things like equipment maintenance and music library updates by however many DJs they have, it would take quite a team to pull off!

When I worked at GM in the β€˜70s and early β€˜80s, I never worked as hard as I do now! Yet I’ve never loved my job as much either. Being a people person and music maven, it’s the intangible aspects of being a DJ that provide the biggest rewards. Nobody ever got rich in the mobile DJ business-just check the Fortune 500. It’s a sure bet that DJs who have a long career love their work! It’s a job-a REAL job-and like any other would suffer if I took time to goof off when I should be working! If you’re not a DJ and know one, or any other type of self-employed person, keep this in mind before interrupting their day. If you’re a potential client, then keep in mind the tremendous value that the professional mobile DJ represents!

Stu Chisholm, a mobile DJ since 1979, has also been a nightclub DJ in suburban Detroit. He has also done some radio, commercial voice-over work and has even worked a roller skating rink! Stu attended the famous Specs Howard School of Broadcasting and has been a music collector since the age of seven.

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Stu Chisholm Stu Chisholm (45 Posts)

Stu Chisholm had been collecting music since he was about eight years old and began his DJ career in 1979. After much hard work, trial-and-error, and a stint at the Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts, he studied the DJ arts with famous Michigan broadcaster, Bill Henning, at a local college. Stu interned at Detroit’s rock powerhouse, WRIF. To his radio and mobile work Stu later added club gigs at Detroit’s best venues, and voiceover work. He has shared his extensive DJ experience through his Mobile Beat columns, as a seminar speaker and through his book, β€œThe Complete Disc Jockey: A Comprehensive Manual for the Professional DJ,” released in 2008.


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