Find the Fire in Your Belly!


By Stu Chisholm, “The Complete Disc Jockey”

In my last installment, I spoke about a great performance winning out over even severe technical difficulties and other shortcomings. But what about that great performance? Where might that come from?

By The Numbers

Many DJs learn their craft by playing “follow the leader”; going to seminars and expos, reading DJ websites and trade publications (thank you!), taking special courses or workshops, and talking with fellow entertainers. And really, there is no bad way to learn.

The danger with the above is that you are never the first; you’re duplicating what others have invented and/or found successful. You’re not innovating, you’re imitating. And again, that’s not to say that’s bad! We all do it to an extent; nobody reading this invented being a DJ! But what is it that separates us from other DJs? What puts one DJ on a dais in a Las Vegas ballroom giving a seminar and another DJ in the audience?

Accept No Imitation

When it comes to our performances and overall businesses, we can learn from other fields. We’ve all been to that restaurant where the food was “okay” and service lackluster. We might go back someday, but it’s not a priority, and more likely an accident of convenience, such as a client wanting to meet there or where your social group schedules a meetup.

On the other hand, I’ll bet you have at least one restaurant that you always enjoy and might even go out of your way to take your date or family to. Maybe it’s your “hangout.” How much more money have you spent there?

Similarly, if you’ve ever gotten a massage, you may have had one that you thought was “okay”, while another made you feel incredible. Which one are you more likely to make another appointment with? Food. Bodywork. “Meh” and “Wow!” What’s the difference?

It Comes Down to One Word…

That word is “passion.” I remember when I began my service, it was all I could talk about! My wife got bleary-eyed with my descriptions of how I wanted my console to look, what cool lights I wanted, how I was going to run a wedding and some new routine I had developed. My friends did, too. In those days, it was far more than a job; it was an obsession. It excited me and it showed.

And it DOES show.

How many times have you been to a show of some sort and felt like the entertainer was “phoning it in”? Or you found yourself mentally listing all the ways an act could’ve been better? Did you sense connection or distance? Did you think that entertainer was there for you or for the paycheck?

Hey, I like to get paid like everyone else, but if you’re a working DJ, you know that there are a whole lot of ways to work less and make far better money! So what keeps you in the field? Does it still excite you to head out to a gig, or are you thinking about “getting through this”? Be honest with yourself: are you a hack, or does being a DJ light your creative and emotional fire? Because I can guarantee you this: your clients can tell.

Our Image As An Industry

When you’ve announced to friends and family that you’re a mobile or club DJ, what was the reaction? Yes, you may have gotten encouragement, congratulations and support. Friends and family can often be sycophants; they won’t criticize you to your face. But strangers (or your teenage daughter) may have shot you some eye-roll, laughter and told you how “cheesy” that is. How often have you been asked what your “real job” is? Or had someone tell you about the horrible DJ they’d seen somewhere? This should tell you that our ranks are filled with wannabes, hacks and passionless followers.

The “fire in the belly” is that passion that drives you, and by extension, your clientele feels it, too. Like the smile you wear, happy or not, when you answer the phone because you know that people can hear that smile, people can also sense your passion. It energizes them; it energizes your audience.

Passion is the difference between an ”okay” concert and a great one. It’s the difference between a world-class chef and the cooks at the all night diner. No matter how polished your act may be or how great your rig is, are you really, genuinely “fired-up”? Is your attitude one of “I can’t wait to get to that gig”?

Career Lighter Fluid…or Dowsing A Campfire

If you didn’t answer with an enthusiastic, “YES!”, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate. How long has it been since you’ve been to an expo? Or invented a new routine, changed your patter or even updated your material? Does entertaining still occupy your thoughts, give you a feeling of satisfaction and excitement? Or is it simply a job?

Yes, we all have the occasional slump; those times when motivation hits a proverbial pothole and life’s other intrusions distract us. This is normal no matter how passionate you might be. But if you’re consistently thinking about everything other than your business and performance, it might be time to do yourself and our industry a favor and hang up the headphones.

Do something that DOES fire up your passions!

But if you’re here reading this, my guess is that you just need a bit of a recharge. In that case, it’s time to extract yourself from your comfort zone. Get in touch with that inner DJ who was just starting out and didn’t yet have a real “act”. Maybe take a look at your routines… have they become TOO routine? It might be time to start with a fresh sheet of paper and throw down some new ideas. Do whatever it takes to stoke those fires of passion, because our clientele can sense it. And they talk.


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