By Gregg Hollmann, “Party Professional”
Dear Aspiring Female DJs,
You may have heard that the DJ industry is a male-dominated field and that your chances of success are slim to none. Well, I’m here to advise you otherwise.
Who am I? I am a DJ company owner based in Central New Jersey and a former President of the New Jersey Disc Jockey Network (2013-2015), our state’s professional disc jockey association. As an active participant at national DJ conventions, I am familiar with many of the DJ industry’s success stories – both male and female.
I’ve always been vexed by the scarcity of female DJs. Perhaps just 5% of DJs are female. While the job is mildly physically demanding and you may need to lift up to 75 pounds or so – I don’t think this should be a deterrent for most of you. If physical strength is a concern, today’s DJ equipment is more lightweight and compact than ever. Worst case, you can utilize an assistant for load-in and set-up.
One complaint that I’ve heard voiced by female DJs is that club owners and companies are mostly interested in hiring based on looks and sex appeal. In fact, at this past week’s DJ Expo in Atlantic City, a female disc jockey by the name of “DJ Unladylike” voiced just that concern.
While it’s true that a small percentage of clubs and companies hire on looks and sex appeal, most hire based on skills and talent. In other words, can you rock a party? Also, realize that females are not alone as victims of discrimination in the DJ industry. Through the years, I’ve observed many decision makers draw false conclusions about DJ performers based on the factors of age, race and physical appearance. I had a past prospective client request “a hunky younger DJ” for their 55+ retirement community. I’ve spoken with prospective clients who requested that their DJ entertainer NOT be of a particular race. I’ve personally been rejected for jobs because the prospect thought that I looked like an accountant and not like a DJ. The most outrageous sexist request that I’ve ever received was from a mother who specifically requested a large-breasted female dancer for her son’s Bar Mitzvah!
I’ve always stated that our company is a talent-based service, not a modeling agency. In hiring, I’m looking for individuals who are exceptional entertainers – be that exceptional music mixers, exceptional emcees, or both. So long as they are well-groomed and physically able to meet the requirements of the job, their gender, sexual orientation or skin color is of no concern to me. This philosophy is evident in our company staff photo which resembles the United Nations with all of its diversity.
Our company has employed several female DJs through the years who put in quality work during their time with us. We’re proud to currently offer an emcee named Jamie Herman – Jamie is an exceptional interactive entertainer. The truth be told, skilled female DJs and emcees are in short supply. Thus, if you are a female DJ with a passion for music and entertainment and the skills to back it up, I’m certain that many DJ company owners (myself included) would love to hear from you!
You – as a female DJ – are relatively rare, and thus possess unique niche marketing opportunities. For example, as a wedding DJ, you could appeal to brides who feel more comfortable working with a DJ who can relate to their feminine side. Spin your female DJ status any way you wish if it can help you to book more gigs!
So whether you choose to work for a DJ company, spin at a bar/club, or blaze your own path with a DJ service of your very own…. ladies – I’m here to tell you that you can be successful!
Female DJ Success Stories
If much of my letter has sounded theoretical to this point, I would like to cite a few real life case studies to hopefully inspire you.
Betsy Fischer – Betsy is a colleague from New Jersey who was crowned “DJ of the Year” at the 2015 DJ Times DJ Expo in Atlantic City. She is the owner and lead performer at “Betsy Fischer’s Groove Lounge” based in southern NJ. To learn more about Betsy’s story, visit http://www.groovelounge.net
Ali Gruber – Ali’s skills came to my attention via a Photo Booth operator colleague who saw her spinning on real vinyl at a wedding in Asbury Park NJ. To learn more about Ali’s unique success story based on a passion for music, read my interview with her at http://ambientdj.com/ambience-a-nj-dj-blog/308-interview-with-dj-ali-gruber-a-unique-all-vinyl-wedding-dj.html
Jodi Duston – this New Hampshire-based DJ evolved her traditional DJ service into a niche service catering to the LGBT market. Read about Jodi’s niche marketing success story at http://ProMobileDJ.com/2015/07/how-to-book-more-same-sex-weddings-an-interview-with-dj-jodi-duston/
Michelle Lee (aka DJ Shelly) – I had the pleasure of working an event with Philadelphia-based Michelle Lee of Sounds by Shelly (http://michelleleeentertainment.com/sounds-by-shelly/). I was in a support role providing karaoke services and had the opportunity to observe Michelle emcee and spin at a high degree of difficulty corporate event. Shelly was featured in the Mobile DJ Success Stories column in the most recent issue of DJ Times Magazine. Importantly, Michelle is an advocate for females in the DJ industry. For example, she filmed a video of herself performing the “two speaker carry” and has requested equipment manufacturers to offer female-friendly gear.
Randi Rae (aka The Mitzvah Maven) – a mobile DJ industry icon and former Star DJ performer, Randi Rae is particularly well-known for her contributions in the bar/bat mitzvah scene, both as a performer and educator. I am one of Randi’s grateful students. Decades later, Randi has transferred her enthusiasm for entertainment to senior citizens at assisted living facilities and nursing homes. While I’m not certain of the exact figure, it’s safe to say that Randi is personally performing at hundred of these events per year – sometimes logging 3 or 4 parties in a single day! She stays mobile by using a very portable Alesis PA system that she wheels around like a piece of luggage. It was a touching moment at this past week’s DJ Expo to see Randi receive a plaque of appreciation from peers and a standing ovation. For more information about the Mitzvah Maven, visit www.djrandirae.com
Linda Leigh – Linda Leigh is a former rave DJ based in the Philadelphia area who specializes in underground dance music and is also well-versed in a wide range of eclectic musical genres. Linda chaired two successful seminars at the recent 2016 DJ Expo in Atlantic City. She is the consummate hustler, working her way into bars, clubs, and lounges – and building up followings. Her DJ sets are always creative and impeccably mixed! You can catch Linda every Sunday night at Trenton Social or every week on Burst Radio!
Shani Barnett – Shani, aka DJ Chitown Shani, is a Chicago-based DJ and Emcee. While I don’t know Shani well, I’ve seen her speak and perform numerous times and have great respect for her abilities. She is a quadruple threat as a skilled club-style DJ who can definitely hold her ground against the boys, a fantastic emcee, a great dancer, and a savvy business person. To hear Shani’s advice to aspiring female DJs, listen to Jay Brannan’s interview with her below.
Stacy Zemon – Stacy Zemon is a former Mobile and Radio DJ who evolved her career into the DJ education market. She was the founder of www.ProMobileDJ.com and the author of several highly regarded educational books that have assisted thousands of upcoming DJs (including me!) to improve their businesses. These books include The Mobile DJ Handbook, The DJ Sales and Marketing Handbook, The Mobile DJ MBA and The Mobile DJ Entrepreneur. I’m proud to be a monthly contributor at ProMobileDJ.
These success stories above are just the tip of the iceberg. The point is to illustrate that it is possible for female DJs to survive and thrive! Other female success stories who I’d like to shout out are: Jodi Harris (aka the CEO of Fun, Las Vegas), Tara Feeley (Tara fuses traditional DJing with her gift of singing, New Jersey), and DJ Dayna (based in Ohio, but known for performing on cruise ships).
Will it be easy? Of course not. Creating a successful business requires an immense effort, and females may need to work even harder to gain acceptance in this male-dominated field. As previously mentioned, sexism and discrimination do exist in pockets of the marketplace, but they can be overcome with determination. If you do encounter sexism, try not to take it personally. You need to have really thick skin in the entertainment field regardless. Doing sales work? Add an extra few layers of skin for the rejection that you will inevitably face.
Ladies, if you are committed to becoming a successful DJ, focus on developing your skills. Talent and skill trumps all, and just like the lyrics from Fat Joe’s new song go, you’ll go “all the way up, nothing can stop you!”