Managing a DJ Business in a Rural Area By: Patty Zion

April 8, 2008 by Mobile Beat Staff Writer

You’re among friends, but the scenery is different. There are more deer than people. You can go out for some nightlife at a “club” – the Odd Fellows, the Eagles, or the Moose. You can buy any DJ equipment you dream of – over the phone! Welcome to the country!
So you’ve chosen to build a DJ business in a country environment. With a little creativity and a lot of business sense, you can be successful. But be sure you know the realities of country living. Here are some common ideas about people who live in the country: 

Rural people are backward and uneducated. FALSE. Of course some are, but many have higher educations and keep in close touch with current events.

Rural people don’t know the new music. FALSE. Music television and the Internet have changed this, and now many rural people stay right on top of trends.

Rural people choose to live in the country. TRUE. They often make this decision because of the slower pace and less crime

Income and cost of living are generally lower in rural areas. TRUE. Many people earn minimum wage or slightly more.

With these points in mind, a rural DJ business will need to stand out in order to succeed. The number of entertainment jobs remains small, while expenses and the number of competitors remain high.

One way to remedy this is to diversify by adding extra services. Karaoke is an obvious choice, and it remains highly popular in the rural areas. You can use much of your existing equipment with karaoke, and for a reasonable investment, you can probably double your business. Other possibilities include family entertainment such as magic, clowning, juggling, singing acts, and balloon twisting. These will require a large investment of time and talent, but only limited financial capital. My husband and I found a wealth of jobs by developing a singing DJ act, which uses our karaoke songs and equipment. We added a touch of balloon twisting as a novelty segment of the act.

Once you have diversified in one or more ways, you’ll quickly reap the benefits. Every service you add will bring more locations in which to entertain, and you may find more of those rare and valuable weekday and weeknight bookings. Every dollar you spend for advertising will now yield a bigger “bang for your buck,” since you’re promoting many services at once. Much of your equipment will also do double duty, therefore returning your financial investment more quickly.

However, you must actively seek out establishments that can afford a higher price. Larger businesses, even in rural areas, often have a Christmas party and a summer picnic for their employees, and can probably afford a higher entertainment price than smaller businesses. Private clubs usually charge higher prices and therefore a have larger budget than smaller venues. Seek out these potential customers to produce more income.

Other entertainment opportunities include fairs, festivals, campgrounds, and nursing homes. (Yes, some will occasionally pay for entertainment). However, you must spend money and time to locate these organizations and businesses, and to promote your business to them. You will also need to target your advertising to the needs of the venue. It would be silly to promote dances to nursing homes! Instead focus on the entertainment they’re looking for. Try designing flyers and business cards for these specific markets.

This brings up the question of free shows. In rural areas, we encounter many non-profit agencies, churches, nursing homes, and friends, who ask us to perform for free. Each DJ must deal with these requests in his or her own way, but the number of people asking for freebies can be overwhelming. This occupational hazard can consume valuable time and talent. We’ve reduced the number of requests by creating our own rules. For instance, we never do a free show on a Saturday, because it would definitely cause a loss of needed income. And we do most or our free shows for those nursing homes and other businesses that support us financially. Use your own judgment. This question could cause conflict in a small community; but in every case, you must consider your finances and the limits of your time and energy.

Public opinion of you and your business is crucial in a rural area. Rural people have fewer businesses to rely upon, and therefore often notice and remember more about business owners. Watch your comments about local people; the person you’re speaking to may be a friend or relative! You should also keep family values constantly in mind, especially when playing for a family audience. Even at private clubs, children may be present early in the evening, and one obscenity can alienate dozens of potential customers! Drinking on the job falls into the same category. In our business, we choose not to drink on the job. We believe it is an issue of ethics as well as image.

Flexibility on the job will enhance a rural DJ business. Be flexible in selecting musical styles, as many rural people still enjoy country music and oldies. Since there are fewer clubs to go to, people cannot always find a club that plays only their favorite style, and you’ll encounter a wide mixture of musical preferences at each club. An argument may even occur among the audience members concerning country vs. rock, or even a racial issue. Prepare yourself to handle these disputes with grace and professionalism. Play sets of various musical styles, and let the evening progress naturally. Unless your audience consists of teens, avoid limiting your selections to the newest music. Rural people may consider this insulting. Play requests, vary the style, and let the reaction of the audience guide you.

The audience reaction will also help you to know if you are presenting yourself in an appropriate country style. Most residents of rural areas love to sing, dance, and enjoy themselves. However, you may occasionally meet an audience full of very reserved country people, who look like cardboard cutouts glued to the chairs. In this situation, examine your interactive style. Country people tend to take offense at extremely outgoing DJ’s. A high-energy approach, considered by city people to be entertaining, may be viewed by country people as obnoxious. Consider toning down your style and encouraging audience members to become the stars of the show.

Show professionalism in your appearance, music selection, attitude, and equipment quality. Rural areas are filled with DJ’s who use inferior equipment, have very limited musical selection, pay little attention to their appearance, don’t bother to pre-plan the formalities of a wedding or party, and fail to keep up with current trends and information. You can set yourself apart by using top quality equipment, subscribing to DJ magazines, attending DJ shows, and keeping a professional demeanor at all times.

There will be many DJ’s in your area, but don’t let that discourage you. Our small town has about 20 DJ’s. This has little bearing on our business, since we appeal to a wide variety of audiences and events. We also refer another DJ if we’re not available for a particular booking, but we use extreme caution when doing this. The DJ we recommend must be professional. Rural people truly appreciate your recommendations and referrals, because it’s harder to find a quality DJ in a rural area.

With all these points in mind, it’s clear that managing your DJ business in a rural area will be a challenge. You will probably charge less for the same service that the city DJ’s give. All of your advertising and promotions will reach fewer people, and therefore be less cost effective. You will travel further for each job, and there will be fewer large parties and events where you can perform.

People in your audiences will expect you to serve as not only their entertainer, but also their pal. You will need to give a lot of personal attention and camaraderie, and if you meet them on the street or at another show, they will expect you to remember them. Worse yet, if you grew up in the area, they will remember your high school antics, and maybe even hold them against you!

But working in a rural area also has its rewards. You’ll have more freedom to play some old favorites. You may also have freedom to make a few more mistakes, as rural people usually forgive easily. They may even show their appreciation by helping to promote your services. This is the supreme compliment! Rural people trust and value their friends’ opinions.

Another advantage to working in the country is that you will see the same people at a lot of your shows. You’ll quickly learn their musical tastes and will be able to play their favorite songs without being asked. Trends last longer, and many people will enjoy hearing the same songs for years.

Now that you know the common pitfalls of rural DJ work, you’ll be prepared to create a dynamic and successful business. The rewards of performing in the country far outweigh the problems. By constantly searching for new ways to meet the challenges, you will double and triple your DJ business. And when you meet the big city DJs, you can speak plainly about music here in the boondocks. They may be surprised to hear that we don’t use gramophones any more!

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Mobile Beat Staff Writer (228 Posts)

This is the general editors account for Mobile Beat Magazine and Website. Who reads Mobile Beat online and in print and attends Mobile Beat events? DJs, VJs and KJs to start with, especially those who own and operate mobile entertainment services. They provide music, video, lighting and a myriad other entertainment choices for corporate events, wedding receptions, dances and innumerable other gatherings.


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