Adding That “Something Extra” That Sets You Apart By Stu Chisholm

March 24, 2010 by Stu Chisholm





In much of the discussion about how today’s DJs can survive and even thrive in a down economy, most pundits advise us to focus on “what makes you unique.” At first glance, this might seem like a “eureka!” moment, yet upon further reflection, exactly what is it that you think of as unique to yourself? For instance, I’ve always been proud of my verbal and vocal abilities, and work hard to maintain a level of aptitude so that I can be ready for any situation, such as a call to do a voice-over job for a commercial project, or the narration for a local video production. Yet for all my work, I can name several people who, in my opinion, are better. They inspire me to up my game. They also illustrate that this attribute isn’t truly “unique.” No matter how great my voice or delivery might be, nobody will be interviewing me on Good Morning America because of it. Or, more realistically, hiring me over a good DJ charging far less cash for their performance.


A comprehensive look at your business and, in particular, your performance, might reveal that there is nothing that you’re doing that other DJs are not. Most of our “uniqueness” is wrapped up in putting our own spin on all of the traditional activities that mobile DJs have been doing since the dawn of the industry. A fun twist on the bouquet and garter toss, or a well-choreographed grand entrance are all good things, but none of that will ever put you in the “world class” category. That cool, new light that everyone is talking about will soon be in every DJs arsenal.

In our search for that “something extra,” many of us have bought all the latest books and DVDs, such as Peter Merry’s The Best Wedding Reception… EVER, Scott Faver’s famous DVD series on games, or maybe even a little book called The Complete Disc Jockey. All of these are jam-packed with excellent information, but as you study them, you must realize that hundreds-even thousands-of DJs across the country and in your own town are also reading or watching them! All of this information is external, available to every other entertainer. Yes, they are important, but they only go so far!


Being a great entertainer, and a unique one, does not require you to be the Einstein of the industry; you don’t need to invent “the next big thing.” In chapter one of The Complete Disc Jockey, I outline how you can make the most of your own unique gifts and talents. The only truly unique features we have are our personalities. They’re as individual as faces. I’ve heard some people say, “Well, I don’t have a very strong personality,” or “My personality doesn’t really stand out.” From the time we’re little kids, we hear the much-repeated mantra that “Some have it and some don’t.” But this is a myth, much like when we were told “You’ll catch your death of cold!” (The common cold is a virus, and has nothing to do with temperature.) Whether you realize it or not, you not only have a personality, but it is as distinct as your fingerprints!

People in theater know that, when you’re on the stage, movements need to be exaggerated; voices need to be projected. Inflections and expressions simply must be bigger, so that people in the seats can follow the story being presented. The same holds true for your personality; you need to draw it out and make it “bigger.” In short, simply use what you’ve got to its fullest potential.

Which brings me to another book: Personality Radio by Dan O’Day. Originally written for radio air talent, I’ve found it invaluable for my mobile career. Not only does Dan view the personality as something innate in everyone, but he also thinks of it as a muscle, which will only become stronger with exercise. People who have what they once thought of as weak personalities have gone on to become famous actors, sportscasters, TV personalities, broadcasters and, yes, even top-shelf mobile DJs. (Look for Dan’s book online, now available as a digital download.)


I agreed to help a colleague promote his DJ service at a recent bridal show, since he’d done the same for me some months earlier. It was a small affair with only three other services. Since I wasn’t stuck in the booth the entire time, I got a chance to meet with and study each one. One thing immediately became clear: they were all saying (and selling) the same thing. They talked about their gear; they talked about their music selection; they talked about their lighting… but none of their faces stood out. Except for my friend, none had truly unique attire-every tux looked like the last. The only area where they were truly different and competitive was PRICE. They seemed intent on racing each other to the bottom of the price barrel!

This is in sharp contrast to another colleague of mine who never discusses his equipment, unless it’s when he’s alone with other DJs. At bridal shows, he’s physically shaking hands; he’s complimenting the engagement rings of the brides he’s speaking to; he’s dressed in an emerald green tux with a matching bowler hat (or some other stand-out attire) and he’s always quick with a joke or interesting anecdote. Nobody remembers what speakers he uses; it’s all about his relationship with them. He draws them in with nothing more than his personality, and that is what keeps him in high demand. I once asked him what his secret was, and aside from his sharp, quick-witted sense of humor, he swears by his improv classes. He’s also taken some courses in acting. Both of these perform a similar function to Dan’s book, bringing out the most in one’s personality and helping an entertainer think in new, more engaging, and entertaining ways.


I’ve always been a night owl. Even though I don’t do much nightclub work anymore, my body clock won’t allow me to change. Because of that, I watch a LOT of late-night TV. One night I was watching The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and it dawned on me that he was the embodiment of Roy Hanschke’s philosophy. Roy is well known to DJs who’ve attended Mobile Beat shows for his seminar entitled “Entertaining with Your Voice.” Ferguson, I realized, depended less on his stellar guests and more on his own ability to entertain with nothing but talk! In fact, one night I saw him talk so much that one of his scheduled guests had to be bumped to a later show.

All the late night comedians do this to an extent, but Ferguson is in a class all by himself. Despite his “handicap” of having a thick Scottish brogue, he uses his voice and expressions to maximum effect. His inflection is big, his expressions are big, his gestures are theatrical, and he never passes up even the traditional comic stand-bys, such as having an underlying gag running throughout his patter.

Someone once said, “I never pass up the opportunity to watch someone who is the very best at what they do, even if what they’re doing has nothing to do with me.” She understood that it isn’t as much the product as it is the process. If you would be one of the greats, then watch them. Learn from them. Take in their discipline, technique, focus, intensity and everything surrounding the performance. Make it a part of your regimen, or simply use it to inspire.


Ultimately, it is when we combine all of these ingredients that we become something truly unique. Anyone can buy a killer light show, sound system and music library. Anyone who is a music fan can put together a good selection for dancing, and as long as the music selections are strong enough, they don’t even need any real mixing skills to do an average wedding. These are just the trappings of the job. What differentiates us is how we’ve invested in ourselves.

There is also no definitive start and end point. This isn’t like a class, where you sign up and start on one day and finish on another, or a product that, once purchased, is always there. It is an ongoing process. Chops are perishable items! Education and inspiration are the food for our personalities and performances, and like food, must be consumed on a regular basis. So nourish your creativity. Build on your unique gifts and let those gifts shine through. The next time you go out to a comedy club, a night at the theater or just sit down to watch Jay Leno, keep a notebook handy. Jot down what impresses you. Take a class in acting, improv, stand-up comedy, voice-overs and other entertainment fields. And above all, never stop learning!

Until next time, safe spinnin’!

Stu Chisholm Stu Chisholm (52 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, “The Complete Disc Jockey: A Comprehensive Manual for the Professional DJ,” released in 2008.

Filed Under: 2010, Mobile DJ Business