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What Am I Paying For?

A Peak Inside the Administrative Side of the DJ Industry
By Mark Ricche

DJs get asked this question all the time when they are approached by clientele. A customer will want us to explain where all of their “expense” is going.  It would seem that a DJ’s fee simply ends up in the DJ’s pocket.  To defer such an impression, I use to defend my position by providing a laundry list of reasons why a consumer was getting their moneys worth. But it just seemed to go in one ear and out the other.  Unlike a doctor or lawyer who spends years of schooling to master their craft, I am a mere entertainer.  Folks don’t particularly make a connection between my rate and my years of experience. They are not aware of my personal investment in equipment or the expense of owning a video catalog or the upkeep on an ever expanding music catalog, or even the rental fees to store all of these items. I thought I’d take the time to explain in lay mans terms what it is you, the client, are paying for before you spend your hard-earned money and sign that dotted line… only to discover that you could have had used a cheaper company.

What’s the difference between a good DJ and a cheap DJ?  I shall utilize the medical analogy I began above to provide you with a clear and concise explanation of why cheaper is NOT better.

Have you ever heard of a professional surgeon undercutting the competition or providing a coupon day for his patients?  No, of course not.  A doctor takes pride in knowing he is a professional with years of experience and charges what she knows she is worth.  Would you actually consider going to a doctor that is offering a “two for one” special.  Wouldn’t you frown on such a practice and wonder what kind of charlatan might be cutting you open.  Now, of course, we are not talking surgery here, we are talking entertainment.  But the same premise applies.  Surgery, for most people, is hopefully a one-time deal.  You want to get it right the first time!   Might you not want the same for your wedding day or child’s Bar Mitzvah, or your 50th Wedding Anniversary party?  After all, these are “one time” events as well.  So when considering why one DJ is cheaper than another, you should first investigate why the company is so desperate for business that they are willing to cut their pay check in half.  This isn’t a practice you, yourself employ.  In fact, when your boss adds to your workload you expect to be well compensated with a raise, don’t you?  The concept is no different for those of us in the entertainment field.   And just to let you know, when companies cut costs, it always means cutting services that you didn’t even know were being taken away from you.  In this business you do get what you pay for.

Just a few months ago I received an e-mail from a client who informed me they weren’t willing to spend any more than $500 on their wedding entertainment.  Imagine if someone came to your workplace and told you that they wanted your top of the line performance for a project that would require 25 to 35 man-hours or more and that they only wanted to pay you a rock bottom rate. You’d probably be insulted and tell them to take a hike.  You consider yourself a professional, correct?  Your time is valuable.  A week’s worth of your time doesn’t come at a discount.

The following was my response to the potential client:

“Escapist Entertainment’s regular charge for a wedding is $1500.  This price covers two people at the event (an MC and a DJ). It also covers a personal, one on one meeting with the bride and groom at their home to organize the event. We also provide constant email contact to make adjustments as details evolve. There is also the acquisition of special music for the ceremony and /or the reception. …..even a fancy light show... basically the works!  There are obviously many man hours a DJ puts in prior to the event which is all covered in the total cost.

Now, if the bride is willing to fore go many of these traditional components we may be able to help her under her current fiscal situation.  She would have to understand that $500 only covers the event itself.  That would include one DJ/MC and a basic sound set up without any lights. We would also only use music we already have. Any special requests would have to be acquired and burned to a CD by the bride and groom prior to the event (with a correct set list attached).  Meaning, we won't be testing the CDs prior to the event, so if the entrance song is listed incorrectly as #3 then that is what the couple will be entering to.   

The couple would also have to understand that we would arrive only 15 minutes prior to the event and that they would have to provide a typed "script” for the event with everything they want read aloud in proper order.  We would require the script to be emailed a week prior to the event since we would not be spending any time discussing details prior to the event. Thus, we need the script, in its final form, 7 days before we show up.   Again... the $500 rate only covers the event itself.  

We are a professional entertainment company that specializes in the perfect event with over 15 year experience (another thing folks are paying for). We also respect a client’s individual financial restraints as long as they respect the fact that we are a business and that you get what you pay for.”

Needless to say I never heard back form the customer.  Nor did I expect to.  Nor do I really want to.  This event had “disaster” written all over it.  My business partner and I didn’t see this function as being the best way to promote our interests.  And yes, every DJ is looking for more business. What better way to acquire it then by showing your guests that we are at the top of our game.

So what exactly are you paying for aside from experience?  Well, before I approach that topic I think it important to first and foremost discuss experience itself.  This is by far the most important component of the client’s bill.  What if the power goes out, or the sound system freezes, or an inebriated relative starts a fight or the best mans speech is going in the wrong direction.  A professional, experienced DJ is trained to handle so much more than just the music selection, keeping the dance floor packed, and delivering service with a smile.  They are the Master of Ceremonies for your entire party. They are the guide if you will.  Would you tour Venice, Italy with a novice tour guide who keeps looking at his map to guide you through the maze of canals… and hopefully back to your hotel?  Of course not!  You want to relax and truly savor the elation of a day as special as a wedding or anniversary reception.  You don’t want to have to concern yourself with details.  That is what you are paying us to do; to keep you at ease as we do all of the dirty work.

Putting the software component aside for now, there is also the hardware element that makes up a DJ company.  All of the professional DJ companies I associate with have well over $10,000 (some over $100,000) worth of equipment that they have stored in a warehouse that requires monthly rent.  What this means is that you would have to pay, close to $7000 to $8000 out of pocket to purchase the necessary equipment yourself and then hire someone (a relative perhaps) to run it.  Ever see the top of a DJ deck before?  (Ever fly the Space Shuttle before?)  The manual alone would take you three hours to master.  But have no fear.  That is what you are paying us for.

Do you really want to haul in $8000 worth of equipment and run cabling for projection video screens and set the proper frequency for your mics so that you don’t pick up CB radios?  Have you ever tried to set up your own home theatre system before?  We do it in less than 90 minutes, three to five times a week! That is what you are paying us for.

Can you look out at a crowd that is filled with multi-generation guests and know exactly what songs will hit the spot without loosing the rhythm of the evening?  That is what you are paying us for.

Do you own a handy music catalog of between 10,000 and perhaps 500,000 songs and know exactly how to find what you need in 3 minutes or less?  Just imagine using I-tunes to download a catalog of half a million songs at a dollar a piece.  That is what you are paying us for. By now, I am sure you have caught my drift.

So the next time you put pressure on your DJ as to why he or she is “expensive”, try and think of it from his or her perspective.  If you can’t afford the best then maybe what you are looking for is the cheapest.  And if you are looking for cheap, just remember that you do get what you pay for and sometimes that does mean nothing.  Oh yes, I have heard of plenty of horror stories of DJs that never showed up to the event.  It could happen to you, so make sure you choose wisely.

Mark Ricche Escapist Entertainment/ www.escapist-entertainment.com

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