For those who have dreamed of going from an infinite iPod playlist to playing live on the ones and twos, the bar and bat mitzvah party scene is a great place to get your start. Setting up a DJ business takes practice, planning and professionalism, but it beats baby-sitting and burgers.
The Journal turned to two local experts to help you get started: DJ Elan Feldman of Elan Entertainment, a 21-year-old economics major at Claremont McKenna College, and DJ Chris Dalton of C.D. Players Entertainment, a 36-year-old entrepreneur who began his career as a teen talk show host in Detroit.
It might seem like a daunting task to turn a hobby you like into a lucrative business, but both DJs say it isn't that hard.
"There are some formalities, like creating business cards, buying insurance and buying equipment," Feldman said. "But the hardest part of starting a DJ company is finding a market. DJing is one of those businesses that a hobby can be a real business, too."
Start by asking your parents to help you buy a DJ system as an investment. Spin every opportunity you get, even if it's just to perform for friends at their events for no cost. Practice makes perfect, and if you do a good job, word of mouth goes a long way for these events.
Referrals do wonders. If you have already worked one bar or bat mitzvah party, chances are the parents know other parents from the Hebrew school who need to hire someone to DJ their child's event.
"All of my business involves referrals," Dalton said. "I don't spend anything on advertising. One time, I put an ad in the Yellow Pages, and it almost put me under."
Having your own Web site or establishing a presence on Facebook or MySpace doesn't hurt, especially if the student is doing the research. But parents don't necessarily turn to a Web site for information about hiring a DJ for their child's special day.
More important is a professional-looking business card. You can expect to spend about $65 for a box of 1,000 cards if you order them through a designer or retailer. But it's also possible to get print-it-yourself packages from office supply stores for about $15.
Be sure you bring cards and any other marketing materials to the event. If the adults like what you do, there's a chance they will pass your card on to someone else and get your name out.
Feldman prefers Apple products, saying that he's found them to be the best and easiest to use.
"I have several DJ programs; the most popular right now is Traktor," he said. "I like to use an iPod, because I feel more involved with the party when I'm not hiding behind a DJ booth."
Dalton brings a DJ rig with him that uses dual CD players, much like a vinyl turntable. He uses a tracker scratch with a laptop and will even break out an iPod as a backup to make sure those special moments go without a hitch.
For speakers, Dalton swears by Mackies and JBLs, which he considers to be the most dependable available. He also prefers American Audio mixers, which he says last up to three years.
Some DJs say shelling out a few hundred dollars a year for insurance purposes is worth the expense, while others say it isn't necessary. Those who do carry insurance say it provides venues and clients alike with peace of mind.
Most of your expenses will come from investing in new equipment.
"I upgrade my equipment annually," Dalton said. "It can cost a minimum of $10,000."
Labor is another a big cost. It's possible that you will have to pay dancers and assistants based on the size of the party.
And then there's transportation. You may have to start shelling out for travel expenses, depending on your level of success. Given fluctuating gas prices, consider your transportation costs as part of your price quote.
Check to see how others in your area structure the rates they charge.
Dalton charges a flat fee of $925 for four hours. But Feldman, on the other hand, doesn't have a set rate.
"I consider the type of event, its length and the financial situation of the customer before I set my price," Feldman said.
Generally, if a party lasts longer than four hours, the customer will be paying more for that luxury.
If there are issues with the synagogue or hall where you need to set up -- for example, there isn't enough room for dancing -- go with the flow.
"I teach everyone to give yourself an hour of prep time to make sure everything is OK," Dalton said. "I work very well with everyone and make sure that everyone working for me understands that we are a team and that there is no 'I' in the word 'team.'"
When dealing with pushy or demanding parents, it is imperative to figure out what they want well before the party starts so you aren't hit with any last-minute issues. Micromanaging takes the fun out of the event for all parties involved, so before the day of the event, it's important to come to an agreement on party details (for example, what time the cake comes out, what time dancing starts, if anyone is going to light the candles or give speeches and when, etc.).
Remember to handle parents in a professional manner, because you need their referral.
A good DJ must be confident, engage the crowd and never forget that the event is to celebrate someone else's personal moment, not to showcase his or her ability to entertain.
"Before any party, I meet with the client to discuss and plan the event. All my parties are fully customized. So these meetings serve as an opportunity for the family to tell me exactly what they are looking for and what type of music to play, as well as how the order of events should play out," Feldman said.
A good DJ should understand his/her audience and keep current with popular music trends. Clean radio edits for certain hip-hop songs don't hurt, especially because b'nai mitzvah kids often have little brothers and sisters at the party.
A great DJ must be able to guide the party in the right direction based on what the parents and bar or bat mitzvah student want. But then a little musical spontaneity never hurt anyone, and the variety will probably keep partygoers out on the dance floor clamoring for more.
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