I have the pleasure of working with a lot of different DJs here at Jerry Bruno Productions in Cleveland. On a couple of occasions I’ve heard of DJs who wouldn’t take a job because of a personal moral conflict with something to do with that particular client. Has the job of turning a profit for your DJ business ever been at odds with your personal moral code?
Those of us in the entertainment industry have never been accused of being pantheons of morality. Yet, the people I’ve met in the DJ community are some of the most caring and respectable people anywhere. Still, I’m sure at some point we all have accepted or performed at a gig that might have been for a respectable (or at least legal) organization that, for some reason didn’t quite line up with our personal ethics.
I’m not talking about extreme examples. Any worker has the right to refuse working at a job they feel goes against their personal beliefs. Obviously as a black man, I would feel pretty uncomfortable being the DJ at a Ku Klux Klan rally (and something tells me I wouldn’t get the job even if, for some twisted reason I wanted it). But there are many entertainment-needing organizations whose missions you may not personally agree with that aren’t considered dangerous splinter groups on the fringes of our society. Organizations that may be respectable but still may be politically polarizing. How about Djing for them?
Would you DJ an event for a pro-choice event if you personally follow the right-to-life movement? What about a gay wedding? An interracial one? A Democratic DJ entertaining at a Republican convention?
Many business-owning DJs might say “yes, why not?” We’re in the entertainment business, not politics, right? It’s not like clients call and ask for the DJ’s voting record. By the same token most of the events we entertain at (thankfully) never require us to know anything about the personal religious or political beliefs of our clients. If they did, we all might run fleeing from reception halls far before the last dance.
Other professions wrestle with moral dilemmas like this all the time. What about the defense attorney obligated to defend someone she knows is guilty? Or the doctor who took a vow to save the life of someone he knows has hurt other people? OK, so DJing is not a life or death business. But I’m sure I’ve performed at many events that had guests in attendance that I was called on to entertain who may have just walked out of a voting booth trying to outlaw my marriage, my lifestyle or my rights. The difference is, I didn’t know it. My clients might frown on me polling their guests before each reception. But what if, like the lawyer or the doctor, I did know it?
We’re forced to go through personal “separations of church and state” all the time in business. How many times have we heard the phrase “it’s not personal, it’s business”? If that’s true then one might think any for-profit DJ should take every legal opportunity for a paying gig despite the specific organization or individual the gig is for, right? Following the same logic, it wouldn’t seem to make any financial business sense to take a gig that doesn’t make a profit for the company. Work for charity for example.
There’s just one problem. We work in the “personal” business. Entertainment is personal. One definition of entertainment is “an amusement or diversion provided especially by performers”. What’s considered “amusing” or “diverting” (and, thus, entertaining) can be different for everyone. It’s a personal thing. My passion for entertaining is also personal to me. And like so many other performers, I can’t always separate my personal belief system from my professional endeavors. Nor do I necessarily want to. I think my passion for the things I believe in makes me a better performer. I strive to be a performer who is (and has) a personality. While I have no intention of ever marching into a wedding reception carrying a picket sign or wearing a “Make Love, Not War” T-Shirt, I do believe that a DJ can be performing artist with heart and opinions – not just a button pusher in a suit. I know there are many of us who share that personal passion who would choose not to entertain at events we feel morally at odds with, despite the pay. Part of being a responsible citizen, business owner and artist is standing up for what you believe. I think any of my clients would respect that.
But before I get too far up the mountain of my moral high ground, rest assured I believe in the almighty dollar just as much as the next guy. After all, I can’t support any of the causes I believe in, let alone pay the bills if I’m broke and out of business.
So I’ll probably take the damn gig. Just don’t expect me to wear a hood.
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