The Plight of the Part-Time DJ
The DJ career of Dean Goninen began when he was in high school, before he had a driver’s license.
“Thankfully,” says the former owner of Ultimate Entertainment in Dickeyville, Wis., “I had an older brother who was willing to drive me to my first couple of gigs.”
Throughout college and the next 25 years, Dean continued to DJ part-time—first during a career as a radio DJ and later as operations manager for Lifeline Audio Video Technologies.
“I mostly booked one event per weekend, with 15-20 Saturdays throughout the year—plus a nearly 10-year span that I played for a singles dance at a local hall every Sunday night,” he recalls. “I must have been younger and hungrier in those days, because I was also working a morning radio show, which had me on the air at 5 a.m. every Monday morning.”
We asked mobile DJs from throughout the country—those who started as a part-time DJ and later transitioned to a full-time career; those who started out part-time and are still only weekend warriors; and those who continue to equally balance DJing with a “regular” job—about the positives and negatives of balancing mobile DJ work with another career.
What challenges do part-time DJs face, including having less time with their families, avoiding conflicts with their work or school schedule, etc.?
Although Dean Goninen’s working hours—balancing time as a broadcast DJ as Dean Michaels—plus doing mobile DJ work on the weekends were sometimes tough, he says the extra money was necessary.
“Because, as I said, I was only just a radio announcer,” he says with a chuckle.
“But during those early years it did bridge the gap when it came to bills, while in later years it became my family’s ‘fun’ money. We would use that cash to spend on fun things to do, or for purchases we wouldn’t normally take out of our family budget. We could do that guilt-free.”
Goninen said his part-time work in the mobile DJ business also provided him with many lessons in business that later came in handy in both his personal and his professional life—from purchasing his first pieces of equipment and upgrading gradually over the years, to marketing and dealing with different types of people, whether customers or other vendors.
Of course, there were aspects of the job that eventually led this part-time mobile jock to eventually abandon his weekend DJ work.
“The greatest downside certainly was the time spent away from my family on weekends and holidays,” he says, “It was often frustrating to see my family head out for extended family visits, while I was loading up to head to a wedding gig. My son was born on New Year’s Eve in 1999 and, of course, I was booked for an event. I had to have someone fill in for me that night, and that was the last year I ever booked that date.”
Goninen moved from working during the week as a radio jock to working at Lifeline Audio Video in 1999, and immediately it was a match made in heaven.
“One great benefit of working at Lifeline was it gave me a chance to test new equipment,” he explains. “I could take the latest equipment on the road, plus it was good for my employer because I had good feedback to give customers on that new equipment.”
“I always said over the years that I was working that I would have an awesome sound system someday that was paid for by someone else [my clients], and as it turned out I had the majority of my equipment sold two weeks prior to my last gig.”
In Chicago, K.C. KoKoruz of The Keith Christopher Group started DJing part-time when he was still in high school. His brother had worked as a mobile jock in college, but eventually had hung up his headphones to become a graphic designer.
On the other hand, KoKoruz found success turning his part-time DJ work into a full-time career that has so far lasted 20-plus years. But he says it doesn’t really mean much to a client these days whether the entertainer for their special event is working part-time or full-time.
“The most important thing to clients is that their DJ is available to them when they need them to be,” he says. “If a part-time DJ trains their client by being upfront from the beginning about their availability and the client hires them anyway, there’s no problem.
“That being said, I don’t believe a part-time DJ can give the same level of service as a quality full-time company. I personally believe that a client gets a part-time commitment from a part-time DJ company.”
Then again, KoKoruz admits that being a full-time DJ doesn’t mean that the client will necessarily get a better end-result. “It simply means that the client will ‘in theory’ get service on a full-time basis as needed,” he says. “I do know a lot of very talented part-time DJs who like to keep it part-time, and I also know a lot of full-time DJs who I wouldn’t hire to play background music—let alone someone’s wedding.
“While there’s a certain percentage of full-time DJs who loathe part-time DJs, I don’t. I acknowledge that even at half of my current pricing it’s an incredible way for a person to make a lot of money on a weekend while doing something they love to do.
“Some full-time companies feel these DJs are keeping the industry down, while I simply view it as the client simply doesn’t see the value in hiring a full-time company and as such, so they get what they pay for.”
Over the past 20 years, the challenges for Jerry Bazata of Jaz Music and Entertainment in Ogunquit, Maine, to having what he refers to having a “dual career” definitely has a negative impact on social and family time.
“Giving up family weekends away or your daughter’s performance in theater is one example,” he says. “Since a typical day in the office starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m.—along with two or more evening events per week to attend on behalf of the company—leaves me little time to take an event during the week.
“Early on, I established parameters to which I would devote the number of hours needed to run a successful and profitable DJ business.
“For many like myself, the types of events I can accept are limited to nights and weekends; therefore, you are often much more selective in responding to inquiries from wedding couples, general parties, school events and corporate work. Primarily, I can only accept contracts for weddings and events on Saturdays and Sundays. “
During weekdays, Monday through Fridays, Bazata cannot perform due to family or work obligations, so he often refers inquiries to other DJs, who then become part of his network and a valued business partner.
“Conversely, I also limit the months during the year in which I’ll book events and the number of weekends during that month I want to accept a gig,” he says. “We know as DJs that we not only have to take into account the time for the event—which in most cases is an entire day—but the time prior to the event to properly prepare and plan. Often during wedding season that means late nights, which sometimes means past midnight in my home office/studio, then several hours of sleep and then off to my full-time job.
“Over the years, I’ve repeatedly read about the conflict between full-time and part-time DJs—specifically that many of us aren’t dedicated and take this more as a hobby than a profession.
“Yes, there may some truth to that. However, I consider both my careers as professional, and devote time to educate myself on trends, marketing, sales management and technology to stay current and informed.
“The part-time DJs that I know and have met over the years embrace these same core values. Just as I’m required to attend industry events for my full-time job, it’s equally important to attend and be part of industry events in the entertainment and wedding industry.
DJ/entertainer Brian Zutter has been operating Brian Zutter Productions in New England for over 25 years. With a degree in information technology, this certified project-management professional says he enjoys using his years of computer knowledge and planning skills to impress his DJ-service customers with his organization skills and attention to details. His company’s mission, he says, is “to be the recognized leader in the mobile disc jockey business.”
Zutter, based in Windham, Maine, says having two careers is better than having just one. “It’s not for the faint of heart, though if you’re dedicated to your primary career, then you have to dedicate that same amount of time to your DJ-business career,” he says. “My primary career is a program manager for a major medical-device company, while my second career is running Brian Zutter Productions.”
Over the past 27 years, there are many techniques that helped Zutter to manage both of his careers.
“With just one career, a life balance can be an issue, so having two careers can make it twice as difficult,” he says. “The only advice I can give is to ensure you treat your family with the upmost respect with regards to your time.”
Zutter reiterates that there’s no such thing as a part-time job. “Both of my working environments are not merely jobs,” he says, “they’re careers.
“It’s easy to recognize your primary work as a career,” he continues. “You might be an electrician, lawyer, doctor or factory worker, and these and many more careers take time and education to master.
“Yet the DJ business is no different. If you look at your DJ career as a part-time hobby, you’ll gain only part-time or hobby success out of it.
“I understand that DJing is fun—that’s why I started down that path. However, to ensure your customers are provided the best service, your DJ work must be focused. The old saying goes ‘half-hearted effort yields half-hearted result’—do you want half-hearted results for your DJ customers?”
In conclusion, Zutter says he’s found his “dual career” to be beneficial to both him personally as well as to his family.
“I believe that there are aspects of everyone’s careers that are not totally fulfilled,” he says. “Having a second career, especially as a DJ, can be fulfilling the social aspect that’s often missing in many careers.”