A DJ AND AN EDUCATOR, RYAN KELLINGHAUS HAS A TRULY UNIQUE VANTAGE POINT ON SCHOOL EVENTS
At Mobile Beat we’re always looking for new perspectives on issues of interest to DJs and ideas that have an impact on the industry as a whole. In this interview, we talk with a DJ who is also an assistant principal and teacher. Ryan Kellinghaus, of Bracken County High School, in the Cincinnati area, brings unique insight, an insider’s view, if you will, to the subject of DJs and school events.
Mobile Beat: Ryan, please share a little bit of your history, as a DJ and an educator, with our readers.
Ryan Kellinghaus: Well, I’ve been a DJ for about 20 years, and when I first started DJing I was just a solo operator; just independent, kind of a weekend warrior. I did business through word of mouth, friends, and referral. And after the first several years, I started working for talent agencies as a subcontractor, working for other companies…in the late ’90s I actually took a partnership and ran a talent agency for several years. And I booked everything from bands and musicians and magicians and caricature artists to DJs; but primarily DJs…
…The reason that I left the business, as far as running the talent agency at that time, was because my wife and I had our first two [kids], and the lifestyle was just becoming a bit difficult. And I had a few different opportunities and started teaching and loved it, it was a passion. But I never stopped DJing. For the last 20 years I’ve always been a DJ. Whether I was running my own business or I was working for somebody else, I never quit.
So I continued to DJ and then continued to teach. And then I guess it was around 2003, I came to a crossroads where I was working with somebody who moved out of town…He was booking me, and then all of a sudden I lost that. And I could have gone to some other agencies and continued as a subcontractor or I could have just taken over the business and continued it. And I decided to take over the business and continue it.
At that time, there were just a couple other DJs who had been working with that company as well, and one in particular that continued to work with me. That was in 2003. And now, I’m at the point where…I think of us more as a cooperative than a company. But there’s six of us: Brian, Tom, Avious, Jake, April, and myself, under the name 513DJ. So I have a lot of perspective across the business, from being a solo operator to being an owner-operator. At one point in time, I had a couple of DJ systems that I had DJs come in and run, as opposed to subcontracting to a DJ who had his own equipment. So I’ve done a lot as far as how you can run a DJ business. I knew that if I wanted to make 513DJ viable and continue to do it, I had to bring in other DJs who were experienced. It had to be a win-win situation. And really, the biggest reason for me doing it was because as a single operator, it’s very difficult to spend the kind of money that it takes as far as advertising and marketing and a website and everything that it takes to run a DJ business, a good, successful DJ business, that you really need to get more income. You have to develop that. And the best way to do it is just to bring in experienced people and develop win-win relationships.
So I’m very, very open with all my DJs. I’ve got DJs who have been with me since the beginning. Tom’s been with me since the beginning. And they’re all professionals outside of the DJ business. For instance, Avious is a high school music teacher. And we all have different backgrounds. It’s another thing I take pride in, is that I make sure people understand we’re not a cookie-cutter DJ service.
But it’s a cooperative of sorts. So I’m earning a commission off of every gig that I book for my DJs. I handle all of the sales consultations. It’s become difficult, now that I’m an assistant principal, I’ll admit. But I find that a lot of my customers are willing to meet with me on Sunday afternoons, so I do a lot of my sales meetings on Sunday afternoons. Just about every Sunday I’ve got at least two or three sales meetings. And then of course I stay very busy on Saturdays.
But I book the gigs and I make a commission. My DJs are happy; I’m happy…I make it very clear that there’s no contractual agreement between me and my DJs as far as my expectation of them. At any point in time they can book events on their own. In fact, I encourage them to, because I want them to want to make more money and I want them to want to do things on their own.
I also tell them that they can work with other companies if they want, as long as they let me know if they are working with other companies so that I’m aware of it, because I never want a situation where I could be talking with a customer who’s talking with another company who’s also talking about the same DJ. What I’ve found is that none of my DJs do that.
I only had one DJ at one point in time that was doing that, and he quit doing it because he enjoyed doing business with me so much more and the way with my business philosophy and how we do things, that now he’s just kind of solo with me. And I have DJs who will give their 513DJ business card to a lead of their own. In other words, they like the fact that I handle the sales end of it. And we have a very nice website with biographies and testimonials on there.
M B: Bringing in your perspective from the other side of the school equation, what do administrators and teachers expect out of a DJ that maybe a lot of DJs aren’t doing?
R K: Well, it’s really tough sometimes to walk a fine line…First, I want to point out that probably 90 percent of the business that I do is weddings…it’s still only a small percentage of our business. But I’ll tell you from experience as a teacher and as a administrator and a DJ and a parent, I fall into all those categories, that it’s tough.
Of course, the biggest thing on an administrator’s mind is safety at the dance. They want to make sure that kids are safe. They’re concerned about grinding and lewd dancing, and they’re concerned about language in the music. And honestly, they’re really concerned about the same things the chaperones and the parents are concerned about.
Now, teachers are a little bit different. Teachers are much more concerned sometimes, depending on the teacher you’re working with…The teacher’s the one who often does the hiring, because you’ve got a junior class sponsor or a senior class sponsor. And so a lot of times, the teacher is in charge of finding the DJ and they’ll involve the students. And it’s very important to them that the students have fun. So the teacher and the students want you to play current music and they want you to play all the things that students want to hear; but at the same time you have to be really careful because you’ve got administrators and parents who are concerned about content and language and safety…
So you have to come into it prepared, with really good answers to those questions. You have to be prepared to say we use only radio-edited music. If you spin video, you have to say we go through all of our videos and make sure that the content is appropriate. And hey, if you hear a song that you don’t like or you think is inappropriate, please immediately let me know and I’ll mix into something else right away.
If you need anything throughout the night; if you need me to make a special announcement, if you feel like things are getting a little out of hand with kids, I’ll make an announcement for you. I’m not microphone-shy. And if you want me to throw in a slower song or throw something in to kind of bring the energy down a little bit, which honestly as a DJ I hate. I can’t stand when I’m at a dance and I’ve really got everybody going. I mean, that’s why you’re there, is to get the energy up and get everybody dancing, having a great time. And then you’ll have an administrator or teacher come over and say, can you turn things down a little bit? They’re getting a little out of hand.
But you always have to walk that line between making sure, because if the kids don’t have fun, at the end of the night, if the kids don’t have fun, they’re not going to bring you back. Because they listen to kids. We listen to them. We listen to their complaints. If they get 10 kids after the dance come up and say, man, that DJ was horrible, they’re not going to bring you back. The next year, they’re going to look for someone else; but they’re still going to have the same kinds of demands as far as the content and the same concerns.
M B: We’ve had that experience at some dances recently, that on the one side of the equation we weren’t playing enough of the kids’ requests, and on the other side of the equation we were playing too many of them. So it’s that in-between level of keeping the kids happy but not playing music that’s distasteful…
R K: Right. At the end of the night, the most important thing is was the customer happy, regardless of what event you’re doing; whether you’re doing a wedding or a club or a school or a corporate event. At the end of the night, was the customer happy?
And in this case, with schools it’s not just “a” customer. Your customers are the kids as well as the teacher and the administrator.
So it can be really tough to walk that fine line. Honestly, what you really have to do is you have to spend a lot of time…
If you’re subscribing to a music service, you have to make sure that you’re subscribing to a radio-edited music service and there is absolutely no chance throughout the night that there’s going to be a slip. You’ve got to make sure that you know your music well…
And then also, there are certain sing-along songs, you might want to ask the administration about. For instance, “Get Low” is a song that the kids will sing the original words, not the edited words. And so you’ve got bring those things up in advance.
A lot of schools will ask students for music requests and then send you a list, right? And I’m surprised sometimes at
the list that I get because it’s so obvious that the teacher did not look over the list before they sent it to me. I mean, there will be songs, the name of the song alone should be an indicator, you know what I’m saying? And sometimes it’s not always obvious that a song is definitely not appropriate, even if it’s an edited version, definitely not appropriate for a school. But sometimes it’s very clear. But it’s important to go through the list…because a school or a teacher might send you a list and just assume that you’re going to go through and take off songs that are not appropriate. And so it’s important for you to really go through that list and not assume just because there’s a song on that list that it’s going to be okay to play it…
M B: Got you. You said all of your disc jockeys have their own gear and everything like that. How about your personal preference? Tell me what your tools of the trade are.
R K: I use Serato, and that’s what I spin video with…I used VirtualDJ in the past and there were a couple features that I liked. I liked the jukebox feature. If I needed to walk away and put it on autopilot for a minute or if I was playing dinner music, I still like that feature. And I’ll actually open up both software programs when I’m at a wedding and use one piece of software for one thing and then use Serato for the rest of the night.
I use Serato. I spin vinyl. I’ve got a couple SL-1200s. And I use two Bose L1 systems with four subs. And I love to spin video. I just recently bought…a Denon MIDI controller that works with Serato and I’ve been really happy with that. [possibly DN-HC1000S] So I use that in addition to the vinyl. And I use a [Rane] TTM-57.
M B: Where do you see things going for you? I mean, you’ve got your “day job” but you’ve got obviously a very strong “night job” as well, so to speak. Which way do you lean; and what kinds of gigs are you aiming for?
R K: Well, honestly I had already made the decision a couple years ago. There have been six of us now for a few years. And we have different price structures. When I send someone our rate sheet, I explain that rates are based on demand, availability, equipment, and experience, but it’s mostly demand and availability.
And so I increased my rate partly because I really only want to be out a couple times a month. Being out every weekend is just too much, as a teacher it was too much for me; as an administrator it’s even more difficult. On weeks when I have to do a wedding on Saturday and then I have my sales meetings on Sundays, it’s about an 80-hour week for me, because thereÕs always one or two nights each week when I’m after school to supervise something.
…But I’ve been really excited. I’ve had some great opportunities, especially over the last 10 years of my 20-year career.
Over the last 10 years I did Drew Lachey’s wedding and Jessica Simpson sang on my microphone, and that was pretty exciting. I got to spin with Bronson Arroyo. For a few years I was doing the UC Bearcat fan jams in Fifth Third Bank Arena.
And that first year was pretty exciting because I got to spin right next to Bronson Arroyo with his band playing, and it was ESPN, and that was pretty neat…
…I was joking with somebody the other day. I said, I’m going to be this 60-, 70-year-old geezer back there spinning on my 1200s in the nursing home because I just enjoy it too much to give it up.
M B: Is there anything else you want the other DJs out there to know about Ryan Kellinghaus and your careers on both sides of the turntables?
R K: You know, if there’s one piece of advice that I have, it’s that talent is useless if not dependable. And it’s the one thing that I come back with with all my DJs and even with my students, that work ethic part of it, showing up on time is late, and early is on time; having a good work ethic and coming through, and your word is your bond. And when you always come through on what you say you’re going to do, you’re going to be successful. MB
Filed Under: Issue #141, Profiles
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