Has Internet Music Buying Made Us Vulnerable?

by Stu Chisholm

Have changes that allow obtaining music to be easier than ever before actually hurt our profession and made us victims of consumer convenience in a never-before imagined way?

In this article I’ll chart the course of music buying options over the years, starting with the constant struggle I had keeping up with music when I began my DJ service years ago.

Before the internet, a DJ had little choice but to listen to a lot of radio, spend some time watching MTV (back when they played actual music), and subscribe to an industry trade paper such as Billboard® and the gone-but-not-forgotten Radio & Records.

Using these tools, I would assemble a list of the tunes I needed and, once or twice a week, head out to the stores in hopes of finding them.

Record Shops

For all but the first four years of my career, my main destination was a local music retailer called Record Time, and its passionate, well-informed owner, Mike Himes.

Mike seldom failed to have all the biggest hits in stock, and best of all, he had great prices. I recall telling him that my business wouldn’t be possible without his.

Music Subscription Services

Over time, music services came along to help DJs keep current at reasonable prices. One company, Hot Hits, used to supply jukebox operators.

I remember the first time they agreed to supply me with CDs after nearly a year of cajoling, bargaining and otherwise being a pest. Soon other services that had been traditional suppliers of radio and jukebox operators got into the act, seeing a whole new market.

Mobile DJs finally had some choices about who and where to obtain their music from. Over the years I’ve tried all of the subscriptions services, and still subscribe to two of them.

Internet Music Stores

Next came internet sales. It took a while, after the original Napster went legit and the record companies began to realize that this was the future of music retailing.

Whatever the services might miss, or be slow to pick up on, a DJ could visit any number of websites and instantly buy what they needed. I’m no exception; I have accounts at Rhapsody, iTunes and Amazon.com.

The End of An Era

What was wonderfully convenient for DJs did have a consequence. My trips to Record Time and other retailers dropped from twice a week, to once a week, then to once a month, and finally to whenever I happened to be driving by and stopped in on a whim.

I wasn’t the only one. Once a traditional weekly destination for DJs and collectors across the entire Southeast Michigan area, Mike’s client base stopped coming.

Unbeknownst to me, and I’m sure most long-time Record Time patrons, Mike had been barely hanging on for several years.

It was with a sense of nostalgia, empathy and more than a little guilt that I stopped by Record Time on its final day of operation. There were lots of familiar faces as other DJs stopped by and Mike was his jovial self, yet it was obvious that all of us were more than a bit sad that an end of an era had arrived all too soon.

Today’s Biggest Challenge for DJs

These were the thoughts running through my mind when, today, a colleague forwarded an e-mail from a bride who had elected to use an iPod for her wedding reception. She was trying to haggle the DJ into renting her his PA and doing “a little bit of emcee” duty. Of course, she was “on a budget.”

In the grasp of a down economy, having to compete with iPods, competitors who compete on price alone and everyone vying for what, in some areas, is a shrinking number of events, it’s hard not to ask if the handwriting is on the wall; are the days of the truly professional, full-time mobile DJ numbered?

This is a fair question. When researching an article, I contacted dozens of DJ companies across the Midwest. The thing that surprised me most was the number of formerly full-time DJs who now had day jobs! In fact, it’s what drove me to write “The Complete Disc Jockey.”

Differentiate Yourself from an iPod

I’m a firm believer that audiences prefer the personal touch and, for that reason, there will always be a demand for DJs, emcees and live entertainers.

Another certainty is that change is constant. We, as an industry, need to keep our collective ear to the ground and be ready to adapt, improvise and overcome.

For information on building a music library, check out this article by Stacy Zemon!

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 DJStuCrew@gmail.com. You can grab Stu’s book at TheCompleteDiscJockey.com.