Getting Paid

by Stu Chisholm

Lost in all the discussions about a DJ’s worth are the nitty-gritty details about actually collecting our paychecks.

For the past 31 years, I seem to have lived a charmed life when it comes to dealing with honest clients. My policy has always gone against the typical business grain; I put a date on my calendar with only 25% down and then accept the final payment on the day of the event. (I can almost hear the business types slapping their foreheads now!)

This is actually an improvement! When I first started out, my “deposit” was a flat $100.00. But I wasn’t oblivious to what the business-savvy were teaching, and, to be honest, got a real-world kick in the pants when a franchise came into town and told my clients that they could hire them, eat the lost deposit and still save money. Yes, they actually did that.

Time to Re-tool

So I did re-tool, but always from the client’s perspective. For my own protection, though, I now have some stipulations, one of which is that I cannot accept personal checks for said final payment.

I have a true merchant’s account, so I’m able to accept credit and debit cards and, in short, have made it as easy and flexible as possible for people to pay me. One of the optional tools you can get with a merchant’s account is TeleCheck®. This allows you to verify that the funds are in the client’s account and, further, to place that amount on hold to assure that the check you’re accepting gets paid first. It’s a great tool.

Beware of Pitfalls

Last week, though, I got another real world lesson on a pitfall that none of the business types would’ve fallen for, but we DJs just might: dealing with everyone in the same manner.

We’ve all done those events for our own families, or for good friends or even long-term clients, and because we’re close to them, we’ve always gone the extra mile to make those events perfect, right? Consciously or not, we might show up a hair earlier, or set up just a little bit of extra lighting we might not otherwise, or simply be more personal when we make our announcements and presentations. Oh, and we might do one more thing for them: violate our own policies on payment. “Oh, don’t worry… I’ve known you for years… a check will be fine!” If you ever hear yourself uttering those words, STOP! Take a step back and give the logical portion of your brain control!

Our payment policies, usually scavenged or adopted via a business course, school or otherwise borrowed template, were developed over time and based on real world experience. Some of that knowledge was hard-won, meaning that those policies were developed after a business took a hard financial hit! The idea, then, was to pass that information along so that others don’t make the same mistake. Yet mistakes are made, and all because we make exceptions.

We so-called “experts” are not immune to this. Two weeks ago, I did the third wedding for a friend I’ve known since the 1990s. (I also did her second wedding.) When I worked the bar and nightclub circuit, she and her friends were regulars. I’ve done weddings for her cousins and siblings as well as assorted friends. In short, our friendship is measurable in decades. So, at the end of a very long, grueling-but-fun reception on a day where I also acted as the officiant (pastor) for her ceremony, when I was offered a check as final payment. I made an exception.

When the predictable happened, suddenly my good friend, who I worked very hard to avoid any references to her last wedding, including pulling up her playlists so that I could avoid any songs that had been played back then, stopped returning my phone calls. Texts and e-mails went unanswered. As I write this, it now looks like I’ll be taking my friend into collection proceedings.

Have You Learned Your Lesson?

I only have myself to blame, of course. But I began to think about how many other DJs might do the very same thing? DJs like to give. We give of our time and talent; we share our music and enthusiasm. It seems to be a part of our nature and, in general, makes us better DJs. I write today to simply remind my colleagues as to when the giving stops: NEVER violate your payment policies! If your family and friends truly care about you, they’ll understand.

Stu Chisholm – The Complete Disc Jockey

Stu Chisholm of Stu & His Crew Professional Disc Jockey Service in Michigan, has has worked in several areas of the DJ Universe.

He’s been a radio, mobile, club and roller skating rink DJ in the Detroit area since 1979, and done commercial voice-over work, as well.

Stu has been a keynote and featured speaker at DJ trade shows in the U.S., Mexico and Canada. He is the author of the book, “The Complete Disc Jockey” and is a regular columnist with Mobile Beat Magazine.

To contact him, email You can grab Stu’s book at