Part 1*: Points to ponder as you consider declaring your independenceSo you’ve decided to take the plunge and become a “full time” mobile disc jockey (cued “heralding trumpets” can play now). Finally…with the security of 9-12 months of contracts for future bookings all neatly signed with their deposits in the bank, you’re feeling ready; confident and determined to make a go of it. You’ve always dreamed of DJing as your sole source of income: working only on weekends for pay that’s equal to or better than a 40-hour day job and having the rest of the week to yourself…your own boss at last! How well I remember feeling that way. Let’s call it the honeymoon phase.
I politely gave two weeks notice to the retail music store where I worked in early June of 1979. Yes, I realize, that’s about two years before Beyoncé was born. Having played at local dances and parties part-time since 1973, I played my first gig as an official “full-time music professional” on the 4th of July, 1979. Independence Day indeed. Now, 28 years later, I can honestly say that it never feels like work when you truly love what you do for a living and I have no regrets at all. But before I paint it all as roses and butterflies, let me first divulge a few of the occupation’s realities, perils and pitfalls before finally revealing the real secret of full-time DJ success.
Sweet Dreams Are Made of These
You will need to master a lot more than just DJ skills if you want to survive and also thrive full time in this business. Plan now to also become a combination of marketing expert, brilliant publicist and shrewd advertising executive. It would help to also develop superior computer skills, including proficiency with DJ sound editing and performance software, Quick Books or Quicken accounting software, FileMaker or other database software, MS Word and Photoshop. Add some internet savvy and an understanding of website design and the ins and outs of search engine optimization. (When you master that last one, please call me, collect.)
You’ll need to gain knowledge of the small claims process, and the parts of a legally binding contract and why each is important. You should work on developing powerful negotiation techniques (mostly for money bargaining negotiations with clients, since DJ hostage situations rarely occur) and you’ll need to be good at “reading” people’s minds over the phone before you’ve even met them. It also helps to cultivate relationships with lots of other vendors and every function manager in your area. You’ll need to be very organized and keep database records of everything. It helps to have a DJ Master Schedule, a Past Master Schedule, a Client Mail List, a Function Halls File (with address, phone, directions and contact person) and a Vendors File (including photographers, video companies, Justices of the Peace, florists, bakeries and even other DJ companies). Suddenly, you’re working 7 days a week, 12 to 16 hours (or more) a day. Eat healthy and work out regularly to stay fit, because sick days don’t exist. For full-time DJs, it’s no play…no pay.
About the Money, Honey…
Next, marry someone who loves you and music (hopefully in that order), and who accepts that you’re never going to be there on a Saturday night. They’ll have to understand that you’re going to buy lots of stuff they don’t think you need (voltage regulator, miles of cables, noise-gate/limiter/compressor, complete back-up system, a generator, etc). If possible, choose a spouse who also has a career they enjoy with an excellent salary, family health-care plan, dental benefits and a 401K. In general, to avoid most spouse-related business expense arguments, make sure you make a lot more money than your mate does and yet never mention it.
Be prepared to get liability coverage for yourself and each DJ you hire, as well as a good insurance policy for all your DJ equipment (good = coverage at home, on the road, at gigs and in a locked, alarmed vehicle, with no more than a $500 deductible). Joining a DJ organization like the A.D.J.A. or the N.A.M.E. will make affordable DJ insurance more easily available. When I first started, these organizations did not yet exist and only Lloyd’s of London (the oldest insurance agency in the world) would offer worldwide, any location “professional usage” coverage on my music collection and all my gear, at the astronomical premium of 25% of the total replacement value!!
The Name Game
When naming your DJ service, make sure it’s not already the name of someone else’s company in your state or anywhere else you will be likely to perform. Check this fact out with your home town and state business records database first, then protect yourself by registering a trademark for both your company name and your logo. No, you can’t trademark that convenient clip-art based logo! It’s a cheap enough one-time expense to have your own logo designed, and it will help you be taken seriously by clients and instantly recognized amidst your “stock logo” competitors.
The same thing goes for your website: It’s easy and free to check which website domain names are available by going online to register.com/domains to see if the .com domain name you want is available or already taken. Don’t think you have to use your company name for your website domain name. If your business is called “Frank Furter’s Amazing DJ Productions” (too long for a URL) you may prefer a domain name like www.HotDogDJ.com (which I discovered is actually still available at this time, if you think that name cuts the mustard).
You may need to obtain a booking agency license (if you plan to eventually grow to be a multi-op DJ company). In my state of Massachusetts, it’s not legal to act as a booking agent without a license and a $1,000 surety bond. If you are going to have more than one system and numerous DJs, you’ll also need to think about how you plan to recruit, train, equip, evaluate, encourage, reward and most importantly, keep your DJs.
As you work hard to expand and grow your DJ business, keep in mind that many great DJ companies who spent years establishing close relationships with function facility managers have also painstakingly groomed and trained a staff of talented DJs who later suddenly quit. Now, they are your competitors who have worked regularly at all those facilities and know exactly what you charge. Without any remorse, recent defectors will then pull out all the stops to woo the function managers and quote slightly lower prices in an attempt to steal your established accounts. For this reason, many DJ companies require their new DJ trainees to sign a “no competition within a 50 mile radius for 5 years after termination” agreement before they will even hire them. File under “protecting your assets.”
Takin’ Care of Business
There are numerous pros and cons to having your own DJ employees as opposed to using only freelance DJ sub-contractors, who all own their own gear and music and are free to work elsewhere at will. A healthy number of exclusively employed “staff DJs” will create constant pressure on you to make sure everyone has enough work. If not, they’ll walk. A staff of only freelance sub-contractor DJs means dealing with schedules that are not under your control. Every one of them may be booked already on their own when you get that call for a lucrative Saturday night wedding on a popular date next June. “Sorry,” you’re forced to tell the client, “but every one of our DJs is booked already for that date.” This truthful statement creates an image of being a very busy and popular DJ service, but your company doesn’t make a dime.
*For Part Two, get a copy of Mobile Beat’s annual Gear Book.
Michael Edwards is the owner of AllStar Entertainment , a licensed & bonded musical entertainment agency located in Andover, MA. A of the Mobile Beat Advisory Board and the American Disc Jockey Association, he was recently voted by former brides to the list of “Best of Boston” DJ services in The Knot magazine’s “Best of Weddings 2007” national survey. Full-time since 1979, Mike is one of 20 AllStar DJs at his agency (www.getadj.com). Contact him at BostonsBestDJs@aol.com.
You will need to master a lot more than just DJ skills if you want to survive and also thrive full time in this business.
Full Time Do’s & Don’ts, Version 1.0
Do: Register your business (with city and state officials)
Don’t: Just print up some business cards (“Instant DJ”)
Do: Research your company’s name, domain & logo first
Don’t: Modify another DJ name with a slight change (ie: Acme Music, Acme Sound, Acme DJs, Acme To Go, etc.)
Do: Invest in a legal music library and DJ subscription service(s)
Don’t: Copy someone’s hard drive or download music illegally
Do: Join a DJ organization and get liability and gear insurance
Don’t: Tell clients you are fully insured when you are not
Do: Sell yourself based on your talent, experience and value
Don’t: Sell by putting down or undercutting your competition
Filed Under: Business, Issues from 2008
Leave a comment