Inside The Business Life of a DJ

November 17, 2010  |  

Cocoa Chanelle is a DJ at Hot 97 in New York

by Sheryl Nance Nash

The deejay can make or break an event. The right music sets the tone, creates a mood, emits emotion and has the power to leave an indelible mark on the memory. Deejaying is not just about spinning records. It’s an art form, a passion and a business that can also be quite profitable. A six figure income is not unusual. According to the American Disc Jockey Association, while rates vary greatly, a four hour booking for a  DJ on average pays $1,200.

Those who are in it, say there’s no other place they would rather be. “When I bring up what I do in a conversation everyone is like, ‘oh, that’s awesome!” says Will Curran, a junior at Arizona State University, who has been deejaying for a few years, and whose company Arizona Pro DJs has expanded from just a DJ business to an entertainment, production and planning company targeted to teens.

Relative newbies and veterans alike say the DJ business just keeps getting better and better thanks to technology. “With the advancement of technology, you can carry your entire music collection on an external drive. There are now speakers with built-in amplifiers, so you don’t have to carry a 60 pound amplifier. You can do more, with less to carry,” says John Young, a member of the American Disc Jockey Association, who has been in the business for more than 20 years. Vinyl turntables are becoming extinct.

The game has definitely changed. “Technology is not only the driving force behind the industry, but it has also made the craft much more readily accessible to people who would like to learn,” says Zach Loczi aka DJ Loczi. “When I started, you had to buy all the equipment and you had to buy each song you wanted to play on a vinyl record. If you wanted to play the song back to back then you had to buy two records (each record cost between $4-$12). Today, you can buy a laptop and download MP3s for free or at most $1 per song, then plug it into a sound system and you are technically a ‘DJ’,” says Loczi, who has deejayed at high-profile events like the official Grammy’s After Party, Madonna’s Closing Tour party, New Year’s Eve Millennium Ball Drop and has worked with the likes of Black Eyed Peas, The Rolling Stones and others.

He recently kicked off his once a month Studio Saturdays from San Diego’s Ivy Nightclub in the Andaz Hotel, where he makes himself virtually and instantly available to a worldwide audience. An hour of audio from his live set is recorded and available for download free of charge. His performances are broadcast live via Ustream.tv.

“Social networks are huge in the DJ world. We are now able to promote, market, and develop online personas that may or may not be true, but regardless have international reach and can literally make or break a career,” says Loczi. Blogging, tweeting and websites decked out with bells and whistles also go a long way in building a following.

Technology has also lowered the barriers to entry. “Technology allows an individual with no background and no blending, scratching and mic skills to buy a cheap DJ system and charge a ‘peasant’s fee’ which cheapens the market and devalues our profession,” says Young.

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