By Stu Chisholm, “The Complete Disc Jockey”
Once a mobile DJ accumulates a good sized amount of gear, they often find themselves really having to consider the “mobile” part of the mobile DJ equation. How do I get my show to the venue? And how do I get my gear from my vehicle to the stage and back? What follows are some thoughts from a fellow road warrior.
On The Road Again
There are many factors to take into account when purchasing a vehicle for your DJ business. Will it be used only for the business? How large is my rig? Will I be carrying back-up gear? Is my back up to crawling while loading gear or do I prefer to stand and use hand trucks or dollies? What about cargo control; are there places to secure straps and bungee cords? How much will it cost to operate and maintain my vehicle? There’s more, but let’s start here.
Your main goal is to deliver your equipment to each gig safely. All else is supplemental. So, first things first, I’m going to assume you’ve cased-up your gear to make it suitable for travel. The next thing is to find the vehicle that will accommodate all of it comfortably, with enough room to spare for any emergency back-up gear, plus the odds and ends that you may not use all the time, but need on occasion, such as a PA for wedding ceremonies, extra mic stands, long runs of cable, etc.
Gear must be “truck packed”, meaning that each case is packed tightly up against its neighbor so they don’t bang around during transport. If there is empty space remaining, some or all of the cases may need to be secured using the aforementioned straps and bungee cords, so having E-track installed so that straps, bars and tie-downs can be used is handy, if not vital. Moving blankets can cushion light boxes or loose gear, too, not to mention preventing scratches. Another thing to consider: the small “vehicles” we use to haul our gear from car to the venue’s door, like Rock-N-Roller carts, hand trucks, etc., will also need a place to be stowed. (And either strap them to a wall or place them upside down or on their sides so they don’t roll around when the vehicle is moving!)
Any vehicle that also serves as the family car may need to have removable seats and sliding side doors or tail gates. It goes without saying that it may end up being a bit larger than the average ride, but with the newer, smaller speakers, consoles and lights, this isn’t always the case. You’ll need to judge that for yourself, too, but remember to plan ahead for expansion when doing so! You may decide to add bigger (or more) speakers or more lights somewhere down the road.
Do you plan on keeping it in a garage? If so, then a cargo trailer might be the best way for you to go. These also have the advantage of being able to fit in most parking structures or glide under awnings that some venues have. The downside, of course, is that ducking them around obstacles, driving backwards and finding a parking space can sometimes be tricky, not to mention securing the trailer when not in use. Again, a lot will depend on your individual situation.
At one time I used a standard work style van, and having learned that moving road cases on hands and knees was no fun, opted to buy a moving van with a pull-out ramp. This, like a full-sized trailer with a pull down rear door, enables you to stand inside of it and take full advantage of trucks and dollies. The downside is those awnings, which sometimes don’t give me the ten-foot clearance I need. DJs encounter this problem far less than the backing and other quirks associated with trailers, which is why I took this route.
To mark or not to mark; that is the question. Opinions differ on this, but my personal experience tells me that the rewards far outweigh the risks. Having a nicely marked trailer, van or box truck gives your company the kind of “street cred” that no cheesy magnetic sign or non-descript minivan can. I easily get more phone calls from my van than my website. (Full disclosure: when not in use, it is parked on a fairly busy suburban roadway. Your mileage may vary.)
Yes, I have had things stolen. Although my gear is fairly secure, in the 20 years I’ve owned my box truck, one jacket and one pull-out ramp are the total losses to date. Contrast these to the tens of thousands of dollars in gigs generated by a one-time graphics investment of just over $1,000.00, and the choice is a no-brainer! I highly recommend not only getting graphics to promote your business, but doing a bit of research and getting good, high quality lettering and/or graphics! Like me, you may be a one-person DJ working out of your apartment, but when it comes to your vehicle, you can look just like the “big guys”!
As your vehicle gets larger and more professional, costs may rise as well. You will notice significantly lower mileage when towing a fully loaded trailer! A box truck costs more to run than a van, and a van usually costs more than a sedan. Trailers and box trucks will go through brake pads and parts far more often, and there’s inspection fees, higher license plate costs and other fees if your vehicle or car/trailer combination exceeds 8.000 lbs. While it’s tempting to skimp on what may be perfect for your situation due to these fees, a single broken speaker or missed show can harm far more than your wallet! It makes sense to accept these costs as a part of doing business and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing you and your gear will get where you’re going safely. Until next time, safe driving!