11 Mistakes New Wedding DJs Have No Idea They Make!
Let's face it, the wedding DJ industry has a poor reputation. Everyone has a DJ horror story to tell whether it was their event, or just an event they attended. So much so that while a DJ is still the best all-around entertainment provider you can get, people are starting to shy away from them. When they do want a DJ though, they only want to spend a fraction of what a professional DJ should be making. Why? Because everyone and their babysitter calls themselves a DJ now!
Here are the top 11 mistakes new DJs have no idea they are making.
1. Proper Training
We live in a time where people think watching YouTube tutorials and attending Udemy is enough for you to go out and do something professionally. Just because you own a laptop, watched some videos, slap DJ in front of your name, and have a business card or a website, doesn't make you a DJ. DJing is a culture, it's a lifestyle, it's a unique skill set that you earn through practice, tutelage, passion and dedication. Unfortunately for many industries (ours included), "fake it, til you make it" is the new motto. I mean how hard can it be right?
Go watch 10 YouTube videos on crocheting and then make me a blanket that you would feel pride in charging me money for. Every time you need to start over, you just messed up on someone's event. Every time you need to go back and re-watch a video for clarification, you just messed up on someone's event. How long would it take you to make me a blanket? How many times did you mess up? That's how many peoples events you ruined, and that's how long it took you to learn at the very least to DJ an event with a passable result.
YouTube and Udemy have their merits, but it is not proper training or education. It is a way to pique your curiosity and interest in a particular subject or field and give you some insight into gear, programs, basic operation and features. It is not professional training. If you want to be a DJ then, join a DJ company for training and experience, or pay to get trained properly. Clients should not have to worry that the professional they hired is learning their skill and trade on their time and dime.
2. You're Either a Professional or You're Not
Decide if you are a professional or a hobbyist. No one says you have to do this full time, but pick a side. Get a business number, a GST number, and liability insurance! "But, you only need a GST number if you make over a certain amount per year". Yes, you are correct however there are a lot of companies out there that will not hire you without one. There are many schools and venues that will not hire or refer your services if you do not have liability insurance. What's the purpose of offering a service if you can't offer that service to the people you need to be offering that service to?
This is really cut and dry, if you are going to offer a service and charge money for that service you need to be a business. Whether you are incorporated or a sole-proprietor makes no difference, you need a business number. You are either doing business legally or you are doing it illegally, there isn't a grey area here. If you are not a legitimate business yet you offer services for money, then you are part of the problem not the solution.
Step up to the world of professionals as an independent, or go work for a professional company. There is nothing wrong with just wanting to DJ as a hobby or part-time. Companies are always looking for quality DJs. There is however something wrong with pretending to be a business or a professional when you're not... and there are labels for people like that. DJs have a bad enough rep already. Some of you may be thinking "too late", but it really is never too late for positive change.
3. Be Transparent, Honest, and Ethical
Doesn't matter what you do in life these 3 things can change the foundation of your business (and your life).
Transparency - Lack of hidden agendas and conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making. Basically, don't try to pass yourself off as something you are not.
Honesty - I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that this needs no definition. If you believe in your services and abilities this shouldn't be an issue because your honesty is your sell.
Ethical - Equitable, fair, and just dealing with people that, although pragmatically flexible according to the situation and times, conforms to self-imposed high standards of public conduct. Simply put, you do the right thing even if it is more difficult, costly, or inconvenient.
So what does all this mean to you? Well, think about business practices that you have come across that you didn't like.
Example: How do you feel when gas stations raise their prices on the long weekends? Or how car companies force you to negotiate the 'best' price instead of just giving it to you upfront? Ever buy a used car and they 'forgot' to mention that oil leak? There are a lot of businesses out there that have some shady business practices and sad to say it but DJ companies are among them. Strive for better. Do better. Be better!
4. What's The Back-Up Plan?!
Accidents occur, people get sick, people die, life happens! Every day, every hour, every minute, bad things happen to good people. How can you possibly think you would be exempt from this? Prepare for the worst so that life can go on for everyone else. You have anywhere between 20 - 500 people counting on you to show up and bring the party! So what are your backup plans?
As a professional it is your responsibility and duty to stand behind the services you offer. You ever experience a company that didn't stand behind their product or service? It doesn't exactly give you an 'I want to recommend or refer them to a friend' feeling. As an example I will never buy AKG products ever again because of one pair of headphones I bought. I am also happy to tell anyone and everyone to not buy from them either. Not exactly what you want for your company.
Get into the practice of planning for your 'what ifs' now, so it'll become second nature later when you begin handling more, and larger events. "The show must go on" is an entertainer's motto and creed. Is it yours?
5. Professional Policies
Without proper training and experience DJs have to rely on the experience they get from their events and make these policies up as they go (fake it til you make it, remember).
You will come across all kinds of different policies when you undergo professional training, and/or work for a professional DJ company. For example; having a proper dress code, and not drinking or doing drugs at events are great examples of good policies to adopt. Not having a solid set of policies in place for shows and your back office are one of those mistakes that can very quickly kill your reputation. This is where the trained and initiated break away from the pack of basement and weekend warrior DJs because good policies come from personal experience. The more experience you have the better and quicker your policies get implemented.
6. Own Your Gear!
Professionals own their tools. Yes, this is costly but these are the tools of your trade! You think golfers rent their clubs? You think fishermen rent their rods? Professionals know their equipment inside and out. You need to know everything that your setup is capable of, everything that could possibly go wrong with it, and how to fix it. What happens if you show up and you can't rent the gear you need? You might be telling yourself, "I pre-order my gear and put a deposit down to guarantee it". You think orders don't get misplaced? Mixed up? Input incorrectly? Deleted? See Point #4. Rentals should be your backup plan not your primary plan.
Another issue in renting primary gear is that it might be completely new to you. Not to mention, you have no idea what condition it is in, or it's history. Sure they might test it before giving it to you, but what happens when you get to your event, plug it all in and it doesn't work? Let's start with refunding the client for ruining their event and hope they don't drag you and your company too badly online. As for the rental company, they will refund your money.. maybe. I mean they did test it and as far as they are concerned it worked before you got your hands on it. With so many untrained DJs out there, who have no idea about leveling, peaking, or clipping they might just assume the same of you and charge you for the repairs.
I once rented a blacklight cannon for a larger than normal school dance, I got to the venue, plugged it in, and the light bulb literally exploded. They charged me for the rental, the repair, and I also had to refund the client for the light (I didn't have to, they honestly didn't even notice, See Point #2 Ethical). End result, I did nothing wrong but because it was working when I got it, I must have done something. Thankfully it was just a light and an extra blacklight at that. Imagine if that had been my mixer, or a speaker. Point is..it happens! So when it does (because it will), be sure that it isn't something major.
Understand that I'm not saying renting gear is a bad thing, in fact, it is mandatory for somethings. As an example; I don't own a spotlight, so if my clients want one I tell them I will have to rent it. I also tell them it would cost them more for me to do that and that if they want to rent it and bring it, I will set it up and operate it for them. Transparent, honest, and ethical. You will be amazed how far these things go in making your clients feel better and reducing your stress. BTW, that school with the blacklight mishap still books me twice a year to this day, 6 years later. I'm not just making these things up.
Why would you ever do this? You run the risk of having to cancel, or put a possibly unfamiliar/untrained DJ on your event! To be quite honest I'm not sure which is worse. If you have 2 setups, do 2 shows! If you have 4, do 4! The idea of "oh, i'll just rent gear" or "we will have enough DJs by then" is not a business plan, it's a risk you are taking with someone's event. Unless you tell your client that you are fully booked but that you can rent gear or hire another DJ to cover their event and leave the decision up to them, you are not being transparent, honest, or ethical (See Point #3). This is not your show, this is not your event, so who are you to take risks with the trust someone placed with you?
When you overbook yourself you are literally gambling on everything working out at another's expense. Problem is, sometimes everything works out and it goes off without a hitch. This now becomes even more dangerous because when it works out for you once, you continue to believe that it will again and that this is an OK practice. It's when it doesn't that it is to everyone's detriment and no one more so than your client.
No amount of refund can give your client back their day. There is no reason anyone should ever gamble with someone's event in the hope of a payout. This is an industry practice that really needs to stop. Again, do better, be better.
8. Too Big, Too Fast
The larger you get the more overhead and risk you take on. Congratulations, but you have to understand that means you need to charge more for services or you need to cut back in other areas (not recommended). Charging more isn't a bad thing but remember this is an industry full of DJs who don't pay taxes, have no overhead, rent their gear, and pirate their music. If your reputation and name isn't enough to justify people paying more to have your services, you are looking at an uphill battle. Be patient, grow your brand, build at a pace that is healthy for you and your staff.
I've run medium companies that do 8-12 shows a weekend and large companies that run 15-23 shows a weekend! You want to talk about stress and not growing at a rate that is healthy for everyone involved? I'm here to tell you that (for me) small (4 shows or less) is the sweet spot and that small isn't a bad thing! Being smaller means I can do better quality shows because I have more time to spend on the preparations and details. I also run no risk of not being able to staff or equip my events with the very best DJs and equipment. Top quality, low stress... small isn't a bad thing. Less overhead, less advertising costs, less staff turnover, I mean sure you make less money by doing less shows, but this way you prevent yourself from turning your business into a business that is all about getting business. If you got to 10 setups, just imagine how much time, money, and effort you now need to put forth just to make sure those setups get used. That's a full time job all in itself, so now you need more staff to ensure the events get the same attention and dedication you are known for, or they will begin to suffer. I've seen it happen, and still do.
Growth is amazing and something you should strive for, just be sure to do it at a healthy pace and remember, with more overhead and costs comes a higher price tag to pay for it all. Be OK with knowing you can no longer compete with the smaller companies, and that's fine. Foundation is key to maintaining growth. Spend the time building up the core and base of your company so your growth is solid and you can charge what you need to without having to cut costs on the things that made you big in the first place.
Ego is the number 1 DJ killer. I have seen many great DJs in my time downward spiral because of the 'DJ ego'. Thinking they know more than everyone else, including their clients. There is a difference between being knowledgeable and being egotistical. Knowledge is the ability for a person to tackle a particular problem using a set of information and interpersonal skills. Ego is a person's mind set with a set of knowledge, that they are better than others, without the realization of others importance. Basically knowledge is to the benefit of all, and ego is to the benefit of self.
I hear stories all the time about DJs who won't play requests, DJs who only play 'techno', DJs who have no regard for who hired them, the people they are performing for, or what is asked of them. Then turn it all around and blame the crowd, or the host for their failure. Great DJs understand that great shows requires constant communication and observation as well as experience and knowledge. The moment you stop doing these things is the moment you let your ego get the better of you and cease to be great.
No one is saying you can't recommend suggestions based on your experience to improve the event or your contribution to it, but keep in mind that you are just that, a mere contributor to the event, not the event itself. Stay humble.
10. Take Requests (and play them)!
I took a single penny and stashed it away every time someone told me that they were at an event where the DJ didn't take or play requests and that is why the penny is no longer in circulation. Yeah, it's my fault cause I have em all! This issue is beyond idiotic. You have people who are literally telling you what they want to listen and dance to, but are like 'No...I think I'm going to play this'. Really? To who's benefit is that line of thinking? Is it knowledgeable (all) or is it ego (self)? Better check yourself before you wreck yourself!
I mean I get it though, just Google 'DJ request' images. There are hundreds of memes about not taking requests. It's only natural that DJs would think it isn't a good thing to do. I'm here to tell you that you couldn't be doing yourself or our industry a greater disservice though. I have had people come up to me at the end of the night telling me how great a DJ I am. So I ask them, "what makes you say that?", and they all say the same thing, "you played our requests"! That's it! Play for the people my friends. Be great!
11. Stick To Your Pricing!
Your packages and pricing should reflect what you can afford to offer as a professional service (see point #2) covering all your overhead/operating (bills, rent, staffing, taxes, etc), and personal costs (salary/wage), with enough left over for company growth. Whatever that number is for you, stick to your price! Discounting becomes a drug because it is so easy to get a quick fix, and like a drug, it hurts you in the long run. Plus, it creates bad business habits too.
Here is a very common DJ mistake that leads to poor results: Let's assume you do one event a night. Someone comes looking for a 'reasonably priced DJ' and for whatever reason you discount $200 or even $400 off your price just to get the booking. Two months later someone inquires about services for full price on that same date. Do you, A) Book them and then try to rent gear and find a DJ to cover, B) Book the bigger event and then cancel the discounted one or C) Tell them you are booked?
If you answered A, B, or C you missed the point. If you hadn't discounted your services in the first place A, and B wouldn't have even been options. If you answered 'C' good for you but now you are left with an underpaying show, and the knowledge that you could be making more. Will you still be able to give 110% knowing that, or will you give them a discounted show effort? When you charge what you need to 'C' becomes your only option and you happily tell them that because being 'fully booked' feels good and sounds good too.
Please don't misunderstand me, discounts and promotions are great! The question has to be though, why are you offering it? Is it fear based, or because it makes sense?
Here is another typical wedding industry example: "Off season" discounts. Why? Are you offering a lesser service? Are you doing less work? Why should someone who is having an event in March pay less for the exact same service you offer someone in July? Remember the gas stations in Point #3? Ask yourself this; Would you be okay if your boss came up to you and said, "January is slow so I want you to work the same hours, with the same work load, but I'm going to pay you $200 less per day. Cool?" Are you going to go to work happy? Are you going to be giving your work your full effort and attention?
The only reason everyone does it is because it is a 'standard of practice' within our industry, even though it makes no sense. If we want better results we need to start doing things differently. By the way, you ever see a 'SALE' or 'DISCOUNT' sign at a Ferrari dealership? Nope. Why? Because they offer a premium product 365 24/7. What kind of product do you offer?
Thank you for reading, my apologies for the length and if it comes off a bit too passionate in some areas. If this helps anyone out there learn, grow, and become better at what they do so they can offer better services to clients, and improve our industry and reputation then it is all worth it! Everything starts by setting an example for everyone around you to create a difference. Go be that difference!
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