By Stu Chisholm, “The Complete Disc Jockey”
Times were different when I first considered writing my book, “The Complete Disc Jockey.” The bottom of the economic barrel had fallen out. A whole lot of DJ businesses failed, their owners hanging up their headphones and going off into new careers. Some of the full-timers who remained took up day jobs and, to my shock, none were jobs that had any relationship with DJ work! Some long time DJ businesses were virtually on “life support.” I decided that it was time to toss my colleagues a lifeline.
Whenever I have a problem, I tend to go first to my book shelf before firing up Google. Pondering an unrelated problem, looking at my shelf, I noticed something odd for the very first time: one whole row of books was on radio! The rest of the books contained exactly two volumes on being a mobile DJ, and that was about all. Yet over my career, I’d done a whole slew of DJ jobs, from roller rinks to raves, strip clubs to classic car cruises, but my bookshelf contained nothing on these. Only partially represented due to my inclination to dig deep were some items that I think of as the “DJ periphery” – related jobs that require some of the skills a DJ has, but don’t involve playing music. These include operating the board in a recording studio or live concert, doing voiceover work, installing sound and lighting for nightclubs and a host of others. Where were those books?
When my editor suggested that I collect together the articles I’d written to that point into book form, I had the mythical “lightbulb moment”! I offered a counter-proposal: how about a book that tied together all of those other types of DJ jobs in a single volume? And why not also include some ideas on how to expand a DJ business beyond spinning tunes so that struggling DJs could at least maintain their bottom line without being forced to take other work? This was the genesis of the book.
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
That idea also spawned my very first appearance as a presenter at the Mobile Beat show in Las Vegas back in February of ’08 (can it REALLY be that long ago?) with my seminar: “Supplement Your DJ Income… WITH DJ INCOME!” While I certainly cannot take credit for the tidal wave of things DJs do beyond spinning tunes these days, whatever part I played in it got a huge response! Reading the DJ forums, it seems like it’s a rare thing for a DJ to not offer video services, photography and/or a photo booth, uplighting and monogram projectors, and sometimes special productions such as the MarBecca “Love Story.” Having more to offer clients means having more ways to make money!
I have no doubt that this is how some companies pulled through the brutal crush of the recession, especially in the hard-hit Midwestern states of Michigan and Ohio. In areas not as hard hit, such as the western United States and Canada, DJs looked at “upsells” to not only survive, but expand! And this trend continues to this day. In some ways this makes me happy, having so many of my colleagues, now my friends, join me on the “other side” of the recession happy and healthy. But in another sense, I’m dismayed.
See, back in the ‘70s, before being a DJ was something I considered doing, I had been a photographer. It was a great way to help myself pay for college, and I had the advantage of being on the yearbook staff on a Christian campus, with the main Church right up the road. A few low-cost ads in their wedding bulletin and, more importantly, the “he’s one of our students” buzz among the flock there led to a somewhat steady stream of wedding work. (These were the days when photography required chemicals!) Being a wedding photographer is exhausting work. The days are long, and there is a whole lot more interaction with the clients before, during and after the event. I did so much of it, I became totally burned out on photography. Today, I’m a DJ. I don’t WANT to do photography again! I don’t want to go back to that life, nor do I want to shell out a small fortune for a photo booth, lug it around and maintain it. I considered it when I was in survival mode, but it’s nothing I wanted to add to my full-time lineup. My hat is off to all the hearty souls who do!
I’m a DJ, not a decorator. When I was considering doing uplighting, as I’d suggested to my readers, another colleague was selling uplights to many local venues! This could potentially set up a situation where we were competitors; venues who referred me could resent my costing them a sale, our relationship could suffer and those referrals could dry up. Besides, I really didn’t feel like lugging-in even more equipment than I already do. So again, my suggestions on this topic became more of a “do as I say, not as I do” proposition. Ditto monograms and gobos and a lot of other add ons.
So while I commend those who do all of these extra things and manage to do them well, along with maintaining a quality DJ service, I’m here to say that as I revamp my business from top to bottom, my focus will remain on my sound, my performance and my customer service. I have great relationships with vendors who, if a client really wants a photo booth, do nothing BUT photo booths! I happily bring them together. The same can be said of uplighting and a ton of other services, from dunk tanks and bounce houses for the summer picnics, to harpists, bagpipers, pianists and string quartets for wedding ceremonies or dinner music at receptions. In this way, I can both serve my clientele and still maintain my focus, quality and sanity! So by all means, do what works for you, but don’t just do it because everyone else is. Or because I told you to do it.