The Great Outdoors: DJs Are Booking More Open-Air Gigs Than Ever – Here’s Why

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It’s graduation time again… meaning plenty of ceremonies and parties on tap for mobile entertainers to play. So we decided to ask DJs from around the country about the status of outdoor parties in the 21st Century.

Have they changed in recent years? What’s the best way to book them? Are discounts offered? And does this market compare to regular indoor gigs?


We were able to reach DJs from both coasts, plus a couple inland jocks about their outdoor bookings.

Down in Fairhope, Ala., Jason Bishop of Code 3 Entertainment says that summers along the Gulf of Mexico tend to be hot and humid. While this may tend to result in fewer inside events such as wedding receptions (due to the need for formal attire), it does open up his calendar for each gigs.

“Our summer events have actually stayed consistent here in our market,” says Bishop. “Our outdoor events in the summer tend to involve water, such as a pool party or beach parties on the beautiful Gulf. Meanwhile, we don’t see many summertime weddings due to the heat.

“Instead, it’s… no shoes… no shirt… no problem.”

In order to help book more of these summertime beach parties, Bishop says it’s important to both develop relationships with venues and to also target the possibilities of beach parties on a website.

“Having a good website with clear, detailed pictures of people actually having fun is essential,” he says. “We get a lot of referrals just from our website. Sure, weddings are our bread and butter, so we tend to show a great number of wedding photos, but you have to be sure to post photos of other types of events you do as well, just so your potential clients can see your wide range of flexibility as an entertainer.

“You might be the best party MC in town, but if the potential client only thinks you do weddings, you might not get the call.”

As for developing profitable relationships and networking with facility managers, Bishop says his company was able to get a gig for his city’s annual July 4th fireworks show simply by showing up for an impromptu vendor meet-and-greet with facility managers.

“At this venue we’ll have a captive audience of thousands,” he says, “so it will be a great chance to pull out all the stops and hand out tons of business cards.”

As far as pricing for outdoor parties and community events, Bishop says he does give a bit of a discount, since they require less time setting up and tearing down equipment.

“I always qualify the client about their event,” he says, “because sometimes they will need lighting and might not realize it. Over half of our clients come here for vacation and really aren’t familiar with sunset times here or available lighting at rental houses.

“If I feel they need some lighting, I’ll suggest it. It makes for a better time when we ‘bring the club to them’ anyway. I just want smiling bodies on my dancefloor.

“We simply price our outdoor parties lower than indoor events, such as weddings, due to them being far less complex from an equipment and client management perspective.”

Over on the West Coast, the production manager for Denon & Doyle Entertainment in the San Francisco Bay Area says that probably 75-percent of the 65 gigs he performs at each year are either outdoor or at least partly outdoors. With that amount of outdoor gigs, Mark Haggerty is able to warn us about the negatives of playing outside and in the elements.

“I was just thinking about how many times we play outdoors and my gear suffers a bit from things like dust and the sun,” says the Pacheco, Calif.-based Haggerty “Also, keep in mind sound ordinances and surrounding neighbors.

“If your clients haven’t gone and done their homework—or just choose to ignore those things—their party could be shut down. Most places have an absolute end time of 10 p.m., or maybe 11.
“I just did a wedding in Yosemite last weekend, and no worries there because I could crank it until 10 p.m. as loud as I want. Tonight, I’m doing an outside ceremony and inside reception. The negative there is the extra sound system I need to lug – although the clients will pay extra for that.”

Up in the Seattle, Wash., market, Adam Tiegs of Adam’s DJ Service says he absolutely loves summer outdoor events—except when it’s too hot or raining.

“They can be challenging, yet rewarding,” he says. “I do have some facilities that refer me, but typically the clients who book me already have a location chosen. Based on the rules of the venue, size of event and the amount of coverage they would like, that determines what route to go with sound.

“I typically include dance lighting with all events unless it’s unnecessary [daytime]. I do require a covered area or tent for myself and my gear [on my contract], so my clients understand what they need to provide me [inside or out].”

As far as upselling his music for a party outdoors, he says he never really has had to consider that.

“I provide the same service no matter where the event takes place,” says Tiegs. “These events pay the same in this market, and I don’t know why anyone would charge more or less for an outdoor event unless they needed extra reinforcement or were providing something significantly less than they would indoors.

“I would think they already cost the clients more overall because they have to pay for tents and other extra things an indoor facility might already provide.
“Although I think we are a little different here in the Northwest—we actually have four seasons and the summer is the nicest, but still have a Plan B in case of bad weather on any outdoor events.”

Over on the East Coast, Scott Goldoor of Signature DJs in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., says the number of their outdoor events has remained essentially the same over the past few years.

“However, this year, one of our accounts has provided us with about seven or eight additional parties,” he says. “This particular one is a private country club that books us for member pool events. We provide entertainment for adults and children alike—games, activities, contests, trivia—and often will coordinate with the pool director to do pool games and contests.

“Most of these specific events are four hours in length. Of course they’re weather-dependent; however, they can always move things indoors since they plan on having an elaborate spread of food, BBQ and grill specials and such for their members.”

Goldoor says his company also does about a dozen outdoor parties with a local public swim and golf club. “This club books us and pays us directly,” he says, “and most of their events are corporate parties, swim events and schools that bring a certain grade or entire school for an end-of-year party. We entertain at these events from two to five hours, and sometimes six hours. This is mostly just music and dancing, with lots of announcements, but not as many games.”

Back in the center of the country, K.C. KoKoruz of Chicago’s Keith Christopher Entertainment Group says that outdoor events haven’t changed so much in recent years other than the fact that technology has enabled DJs to provide more services outdoors.

“I remember once watching a 45 record curl up like a shrinky dink at a summer picnic, and being terrified that all of my records would do the same thing,” he recalls. “Also, the problem with today’s technology is that a lot of summer events have gone the way of the iPod. Summer picnics that used to have a fun soundtrack supplied by a DJ have gone that way—and the change in the economy also hasn’t help that market either.

“On the other hand, however, with pop culture beginning to once again embrace DJs, that’s made having DJs very popular at outdoor social events for country clubs, pools and hotels with outdoor dining and lounge areas.”

As for booking outdoor gigs, KoKoruz Says there’s no specific way to book them different than any other event. “Ask your corporate clients if they’re having any summer events,” he says, “and if you live in an area that has outdoor cruise ships you can approach them on a wholesale basis as well. You simply need to keep grinding.”