The Business of Being in the DJ Business

Alan Dodson

By Alan Dodson, “Wedding Wizard”

We are all in the entertainment business: its 99% business, and 1% entertainment. We must understand our business, our suppliers’ businesses, and our customers’ businesses. The reality is, as musicians, our music is our product. We need to understand where our product fits into our markets, and where our product delivers value and returns to the purchasers of our product. Kenny Rogers “ask” is about $75k, but he’ll sell out every show pretty much anywhere he goes. If the numbers are right, no venue minds paying Kenny’s fee because they make more money than he charges. It’s simple arithmetic!”

- Mister MOJO, MOJO & The Bayou Gypsies

 Success as a Professional DJ

DJs who hope to make careers in an increasingly competitive and rapidly changing performance world, an understanding of how that world works is crucial.  It’s important to recognize that success as a professional DJ requires more than technical training and practice.

They must become fluent with emerging technologies, social media and modern business practices. Networking is very different now than it was 5 years ago. It’s faster, and in some ways can be a negative, because young people today expect to be successful yesterday. You cannot just go to the retail store, purchase all the equipment, load up your music collection and say “I’m ready!”

Listen to the Veterans

That rose-colored glasses view of business building is apparently becoming an epidemic. Newer DJs have trouble realistically imagining the paths their careers are likely to take.  They need to imagine the life that they hope to be living five years after they start on their business journey.

What they need is to hear from the seasoned veterans about what those years are like. And they need to realize that there are ways they can create professional opportunities for themselves with careful planning, appropriate training and education and with a clear business plan.

Playing music and making a living from playing music are not the same thing. When it comes to getting your DJ business into the marketplace, you have entered the domain of DJ Business Economics 101, and the first lesson is: The Supply of Existing Mediocre DJs Is Greater Than Any Demand For New Mediocre DJs.

There are Two DJ Worlds

There is the world of pure performance, which involves the creative side of things, mixing, practicing, and performing, and there is another world which must come into play IF you truly want people to hire you…the DJ Business.

Even the utterance of these words turns many people off. Some people want to be musical purists, play only on turntables, have that “special skill” that “perpetuates the craft” and there are some people that perform at every opportunity “because they enjoy it.”

But, if you want to be in BUSINESS, you must act like a business person.

Be Honest About the Odds

If it seems that I am saying that the odds are against you, and so why even bother trying to make a living from as a DJ, you are getting the wrong idea. Through years of teaching event professionals the business of events, my concern is to be honest about the odds.

Once we know what it really takes to compete in the DJ and events industry, we can at least look at the realities we must face, and decide if we want to step up and do what is necessary, or simply go back to having an enjoyable hobby.
Attend to legal business matters. If you plan to operate your business using a name other than your legal name, you will need to file a fictitious name statement or doing-business-as (dba) with your local government. Contact your local municipality for the specific requirements.

You may also need to secure a tax ID for your business. In most cases, as a sole proprietor, your social security number is all you need. Corporations would need its own tax ID. Some states that tax services will require a separate sales tax ID number. Contact your state’s department of commerce and industry.

Find out and be sure to meet the specific regulations that pertain to operating in your town and county. You will need to obtain a business license from your local municipalities virtually everywhere. . Also, there may be other regulations that affect your business. Go to your local clerk’s office and ask them what you need to do to start a business from your home. And if you have employees, make sure you know and follow all the regulations that pertain to them.

Also join NAME or the ADJA and get insurance.

Maintain a legal music library! Join music pools and services that provide music specifically licensed for public performance.

American music is something the rest of the world wants to listen to. Our job is to make sure they pay for it.” – Jason Berman, RIAA

There are basically three types of people in this world.

1. Those who make things happen.

2. Those who watch things happen

3. Those who stand around and ask “What happened?”

Which type will you be? I like to make things happen, so when someone says “What happened?” I can tell them.

Just remember as you go out to sell yourself or your company to a prospective client, “People don’t buy DJ Services or Music, they buy emotions!” As DJs we have the power to create emotions with music and as a Master of Ceremonies, create emotions with our words!

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