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February 1, 2014IM -
by Bob Popyk, member Local 78 (Syracuse, NY)
Quite a few years back, I did a column about competing with mobile DJs for gigs in your local market. Nothing has changed. If you’re a casual-date musician, nothing is worse than losing a gig to a guy with a sound system, recorded music, and some patter. You take music lessons, spend thousands of dollars, and practice for years to become a professional musician, then someone right out of high school puts together a playlist of recorded tunes, gets some sound equipment, and starts stealing jobs right out from underneath you. Those gigs they’re grabbing include weddings, corporate events, private parties, clubs, and more. Mobile DJs are everywhere. There are more of them than there are bands. They’re becoming more prevalent than pizza shops, replacing live music with one person playing recorded songs on discount-store speaker systems for less money.
At least that’s how it seems. The only trouble is that perception is not reality. Have you caught one of these guys recently? My suggestion is to go to a wedding where one of the better mobile DJs is working, or maybe a hip club. You could be in for a jolt. You might find that the one-person DJ show is charging more than a four-piece group. And he or she has enough equipment to fill up a good-sized U-Haul truck. Also, it might not be just one person. It could be a technician and an entertainer-host.
Before you think that those DJs are stealing the good gigs, find out how you can compete in areas they can’t. To do that, you also have to compete in their areas of expertise as well. And to compete, you need to find out who you’re competing with. There are the DJs who sing (and even play) along with the recorded music, entertain, and get the audience involved. Many of these guys provide constant entertainment, cater to the audience, and have sophisticated lighting equipment. They bring along fog machines and confetti guns, and they charge big bucks.
If you’re going to compete in the “big bucks for entertainment” category, what can you bring to the party? What can you do that’s really exciting, different, and creative? The DJ thing isn’t as easy as you may think. Many DJs bring as much equipment as a band carting around three Hammond B-3s, six Leslie speakers, five drum sets, three big guitar amps, plus a complete PA system. It’s a lot of stuff. And they play nonstop. They get the audience involved.
What about you? When you take a break, is anything going on? You could easily record your group as you play each set, or bring along prerecorded music of your band, and then play through your sound system on the break. How about lights? It’s not enough just to play well any more. You have to look spectacular. And audience involvement? If you don’t know what’s hot right now, you’d better learn quickly. Infiltrate their industry. Find mobile DJ magazines online. See what tunes they consider hot right now. Find out how they involve the audience, and how they get their work. See what niches they go after. Find out where the better-known ones are working and go see their shtick.
Do you have a marketing plan? How about your promotional materials? Are you getting your name out there? Do you have a state-of-the-art website? Are your business cards and brochures up to date? Do you have them at all? Do you have t-shirts and CDs to promote your band? How about a decent video you can put on your website and YouTube? The DJs do … at least the ones that get a lot of work. Do you have sophisticated voice mail and utilize social media to the nth degree?
Are you using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other sites to your advantage? And, this is important: do you have a particular niche where you can excel as a band, an orchestra, or a single? Maybe somewhere where the mobile DJs aren’t a factor?
Most people would rather hear a live musician than a recording. They’d rather hear a band than listen to tracks on a sound system. That’s in your favor right away. Promote yourself and your group in ways that DJs can’t. “Live music is best” is not just a slogan. It’s true. Many people think DJs are cheaper than a band. Very often they’re not. At least not all of them. And even if they are, your talent and everything else you can bring to the party can run rings around the button pushers. You’re a union musician. You’re a professional. If you’re going up against a DJ, you might want to check on how you can compete on the entertainment side, as well as the talent side. Your bookings might increase dramatically.