Exit Strategy: When the Music Stops

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Lisa Kasberg of I’m a Girl DJ Entertainment in Fullerton, Calif., and a former Female Entertainer of the Year, has decided that retirement is just around the corner.

As in, later this year.


Yes, in 2016.

“The idea of retiring has been in the works for me for a while,” says Kasberg. “I had my children later in life and, as I noticed my twin girls growing faster than I could ever imagine, I decided to start making plans to be done.

“On the long-term side, I made some wise real-estate investments about two years after I started my entertainment company. As soon as the company started to prosper, I decided to expand my investment portfolio beyond DJ equipment and things for the company by buying up real estate.

“And at the same time I started a retirement fund. These two moves—the real estate and the retirement—were probably the smartest things I could have ever done for my future, and I’ve now held onto those homes for just about 20 years.”

For lots of mobile and club DJs, a quick calculation of their finances will reveal that they can retire in about five years—that is, five years after they die.

Surely, each of us would love to be lying on a beach in the Caribbean by the time we reach the ripe old age of 65, sipping on a cocktail.

Yet, in reality, will we still be spinning tunes until we’re 80-years old… or until we’re no longer strong enough to even set up sound-and-lighting gear at a party?

Are DJs planning to eventually sell their businesses and retire on the profits? Or pass their business down to their son or daughter?

Have we invested a portion of our income in bonds, or started a 401(k) or purchased stocks?

Or are we simply purchasing PowerBall tickets and hoping for a miracle?

Adam Tiegs in Seattle, Wash.—America’s 24th best state in which to retire—is probably like the typical mobile DJ. While Tiegs does indeed have a little bit of a security fund plus a life insurance policy, he’s honest in saying he has no substantial savings, no 401(k), no IRA and no stocks to fund his future retirement.

In fact, Tiegs is still climbing out of debt, though he says he does have a few exit strategies.

Those future plans involve “helping out as a tech for audio, video or lighting for local AV companies, becoming a wedding officiant or even a catering or sales manager with local partners I’ve had in the industry,” he says.

“Yes, I am guilty of purchasing lottery tickets, but they do help fund education here locally, so I’m all for that. And I have met with many financial advisors and will work with one or two, as I hope to have extra money as things get paid off in the next couple of years.”

According to a study by WallHub.com, Rhode Island is the worst state for retirement. Their ranking compared the 50 states plus D.C. using 24 metrics across three areas: Affordability (adjusted cost of living, taxation on pensions and Social Security income); quality of life (number of golf courses, museums, and theaters per capita, air quality, elder-friendly job market); and healthcare (life expectancy, quality of public hospitals, number of healthcare facilities per 100,000 residents). Predictably, Florida placed at the top of the ranking, while the state of Maine ranked 30th.

“Long term, my wife and I are planning on buying a piece of land and building a half-dozen cabins on a lake for retirement,” says Michael Mahoney of M&M Entertainment in South Portland, Maine. “To get there we are building our businesses. My plan is to start booking other DJs while she coaches business owners, so we would then have the ability to bring folks to the camp for retreats.

“So far we’re about halfway to our financial goal for that property.”

Living in Maine, Mahoney rationalizes that if he and his wife buy right, they should be able to keep taxes low.

“Technology is such,” he says, “that we will likely be able to live totally off the utility grid—with solar panels, well water, LP gas and wood for heat—which would result in making a simple living here pretty stress-free.

“We’ve invested in an IRA as well. I’ve been a single operator for 20 years, so my growth plan is still very new. I don’t plan on selling the business at this point, but that depends on how things go with hiring out other DJs.

“If that turns into something of substance, I’ll want to groom someone to take over, and arrange a plan to transfer ownership.”

Although he’s not yet ready to pull the plug on his prosperous DJ career, Ray Martinez of Ray Mar Productions in Goodyear, Ariz.—the 11th best state in which to retire—is already making plans.

“Last year, I turned 60 years old and I’m in my 42nd year of spinning,” he says. “Yes, I’ll admit that after 42 years it is in fact starting to take a toll on my body physically, but that’s why someone needs to make a careful exit strategy.

“I’m not quite ready to hang it up yet, mostly because I know I’ll miss the great friendships I’ve made in this career. But thanks to Rob Peters of Rob Peters Entertainment in Boston, there are ways to make money during the week and I took his advice by purchasing a franchise from Bubble Parties.

“My first year I did two parties, just getting my name out by marketing a division of Ray Mar Productions, calling it Bubble Parties Arizona. Last year, I did 20 Bubble Parties, and this year I plan to double that.”

Martinez explains that doing Bubble Parties during the week frees up some of his weekends for the first time in his career. It’s sort of like starting an early retirement from DJing.

“I also cater to assisted-living homes and retirement homes, where I can bring entertainment to active adults and seniors for one or two hours on the weekdays, and the pros and cons actually balance out,” he says. “The cons are the money is not as lucrative as doing weddings, and I still may put in 10 to 12 actual performance hours in a week. But the pros are I get many of my weekends back to spend my family time with my wife, children and grandchildren.

“And I would give up the money any day to spend more time with my family— something on which you cannot put a price tag.”

Martinez has also become an ordained minister, and has begun concentrating on booking more wedding ceremonies through his third company, called Two Hearts As One Weddings.

“It’s nice to still attend a wedding and have the DJ give you the mic,” he says. “I am still in front of an audience, and, hopefully, by the words I say in the ceremony I can make a difference in the lives of the newlyweds as well as any married couples in the audience.

“Luckily for me, my wife Zoila works for American Airlines, and with the travel benefits we’re fortunate to travel around the world. If I were to continue full-time as a DJ entertainer, vacations wouldn’t come that easily. So if the good Lord allows me to make it eight more years to celebrate 50 years in entertainment, I would be grateful. And if I don’t make that milestone, I’m honored to have performed for audiences around the country and have so many great colleagues that have helped me to achieve the success I’ve had in this industry.

“By the way,” adds Martinez, “60 is the new 40, so I’m only 20—meaning I’m getting a new resurgence of energy to keep me going hopefully eight more years and actually call mine a 50-year career.”

Mark Haggerty, director of operations for Denon & Doyle Entertainment in San Francisco, Calif.—the 15th best state in which to retire—says he plans to continue DJing until they day they take away his headphones and microphone.

Even so, he’s been making plans for his retirement for the past two decades.

“I’ve invested money all along the way to last about the last 20 years,” Haggerty says. “In my portfolio, I have two funds that are similar to a 401(k), I have gold, and I have stocks plus a regular 401(k) plus real estate. It’s amazing how fast the money adds up, because even despite the stock market going up and down there’s still a lot of money in there.

“I figure I need to get it around $2 million for a realistic retirement.”

Both of Haggerty’s daughters have been working for Denon & Doyle for a while, he says, and each has carved out a role they are comfortable with and enjoy.

“They may not choose to pursue this as a career, but I’ll leave that up to them,” he says. “Brian and Sue Doyle—the company owners—are probably passing the business on to their kids at some point, but that’s still a long ways off.

“Currently, if I bring out more gear than just a sound system and a few lights, I’ll bring along an assistant. I’m still very strong and can lift a 100-pound truss base plate over my head, but the question is: ‘Do I want to?’

“Although, I do enjoy the physical part and believe that’s what helps keep me in shape.”

Two months ago, Joe Martin of All Star DJs in Wichita Falls, Texas—the seventh best state to retire—turned 65 years old. He’s now receiving Social Security, but due to the investments made over the span of his career, he’s now tapping into his additional income and living comfortably.

“The savings/retirement discussion is one that’s very near and dear to my heart,” Martin says. “I actually spoke to a room of DJs at a DJ convention about 10 years ago on the topic, and I’ve been making many posts on DJ boards for 15 years.

“I got my first stock for a high-school graduation present in 1969, and I opened my first IRA almost 40 years ago. And since starting my DJ business in 1971, I’ve accumulated stocks, bonds, mutual funds and investments in metals.”

Of course, Martin is not fully retired, as he continues to work about 12 nights a year, but after saving and investing for 45 years, he’s finally able to replace his full-time DJ income 100-percent.

“I’m now living life totally debt-free, due to my stocks, mutual funds, corporate bonds, municipal bonds, metals, and oil and gas royalties,” he says. “Being the son of a banker, I knew the importance of saving/investing at an early age in order to reach a comfortable retirement later in life.”

Martin suggests that DJs wanting to plan for retirement read Money Magazine and the book The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach, while watching CNBC and Fox Business News.

“This is the type of information that should be taught in schools,’’ he says, “but is rarely taught.”

Back to Lisa Kasberg in California, once she realized she wanted to retire she says she also knew she had to try her very hardest to create a company that was sellable.

It was quite a task but ended up being a smart move. “I knew selling I’m a Girl DJ would be almost impossible—because it was all about me—so, four years ago, I launched a new entertainment company called Cheers Entertainment, which operates alongside IAGDJ. It’s bigger, better and most importantly does not have my name associated with it.

“I started growing the business by offering more services, like lighting, photo-booths and live entertainment. It didn’t take long for the company to grow and carry a great reputation, but the beauty of it all is that potential clients have now begun calling in looking for entertainment, but not for me personally. My plan is working.

“So for now, June 25 will be my very last event. Although this might be quite a stretch for most DJs, my husband I decided we both want to be more available to our children, and the only way to do that was to leave our line of work. I’ve sold the two properties I bought back in the ’90s in Los Angeles and we both will now able to retire from our current professions.

“And I’ve also successfully sold my company at a great price, when everyone around me said it would be impossible to do so!”