Like promoting your own events, setting up a mobile DJ business deserves its own book, and can turn into a full- time job. To recap what we mean by mobile DJing, we are referring to being a DJ for hire who has everything necessary to provide the music and lights for a party – have disco, will travel. As a mobile DJ you’ll play Christmas parties, birthdays, children’s events, weddings, retirements, church socials, civic ceremonies, and so on.
Many DJs successfully run such an operation either in addition to their nine-to-five job to earn extra money or alongside another musical endeavour, typically a club DJ residency or trying to break through as a music producer (see the final chapter). In the first case, mobile DJing provides a useful second income and something fun to do that can be very different from the day job, and in the second, mobile DJing provides a steadier, more reliable income than chasing dreams of DJ stardom.
Is mobile DJing for me?
It’s common to hear wannabe club-style DJs dismiss mobile DJing as beneath them, not ‘real DJing’. But considering the level of professionalism and knowledge needed just to maintain and use all the equipment properly, such comments do the craft of the mobile DJ a disservice. Mobile DJing is a skill in itself, and you’d be surprised how many famous DJs started their careers this way.
While DJing a church hall for an under-elevens crowd may not feel as glamorous as headlining a festival, there is still a right way and a wrong way to do it, and the DJ who takes the time to learn how to give people what they want in these situations sets him or herself up well for a career in front of more discerning and glamorous crowds. And anyway, to the rest of the world, petty distinctions between this type of DJ and that type of DJ mean nothing.
When a family member, or your boss, or the girl or boy next door says to you, ‘Hey, you’re a DJ, will you do my party for me? How much do you charge?’, what are you going to say? You may find yourself agreeing to do it. That’s how many DJs end up playing their first mobile event – they take on the challenge, find they quite enjoy it, and realise it slots in nicely alongside whatever else they do. For some, it turns into all they do. The truth is you’re far more likely to earn an income, even a living, from this type of DJing than any other type (and if you become a good wedding DJ, for instance, you can easily earn in a weekend more than many DJs earn in a year).
Getting the equipment
A distinction between the mobile DJ and other types is that the mobile DJ is always required to bring all the gear with them – sound, lights, the lot. While you probably already own a controller or mixer and decks, generally you won’t have a PA system or lighting rig at your disposal.
As we mentioned earlier, it is better to rent than to buy, at least at the beginning. When I started mobile DJing while still at school, my friend and I bought a very cheap DJ rig from an ad in the paper, but as soon as we were asked to play better venues, we looked up the local hire shop and started to rent equipment (our rig really wasn’t up to much, it turned out). In renting, you avoid the commitment of spending money on something you may end up using only infrequently, you can usually afford to rent better equipment that you could afford to buy, and you get to try different rigs out to see what suits you.
Make sure you see a hired PA working, and that the company shows you how to set it up and break it down. even better, see if they’ll bring it to the premises and do that for you – you’ll avoid the need to provide transport, and they may even agree to come and take it away again at the end. This is a godsend, especially at midnight when you’re on your own.
Whether from your own possessions, the local hire shop, borrowing, or cobbling together from friends (and the classifieds…), here’s the essential stuff you’ll need:
- A DJ controller/laptop/CDJ set-up. Whatever you usually DJ on at home will almost definitely be fine here, so don’t stress about whether it’s good enough for mobile. If your DJ set-up embarrasses you in public (but you know you can use it well), get a flight case and DJ with it inside – instant pro look for even the cheapest controller.
- A PA system. The most important of your hire shop requirements. The headline figure here is how loud it is, which is measured in Watts, shortened to W, so 500W is a 500 Watt PA system. A good rule of thumb is five watts per person, so very roughly a closed 100-person venue needs a 500W PA system. (open air and the bets are off – start exponentially adding power depending on variables as wide as the size of the open space and the predicted wind on the day.) Good PA systems tend to have floor-standing bass speakers and separate units for mid and high frequencies which go on poles or tripods. Size matters – there is no such thing as a small, loud PA system. It’s physics.
- Lighting. lighting comes in two types – mood lighting and moving lighting. The former is usually used to make walls, the DJ booth and stages look more interesting, the latter is aimed at the dancefloor to add some visual dynamics and encourage people to dance. Modern lighting is lightweight, powerful and reliable, and has features such as sound-to-light (so you don’t need a traditional lighting controller to get the lights in sync with the music) and remote control. Strobes, lasers, smoke and more can be hired or bought at a fraction of the cost of a decade or so back. You’ll also need the correct stands and trusses.
- A DJ booth, console or stand. True, you could hope the venue can lend you a table. But from the point of view of looking professional and saving your back from stooping for hours over a too-low table, a DJ stand that you bring yourself to assemble and break down is preferable. You’ll need to think about its facade, too, and many DJs take black sheets plus some kind of front piece to tidy up their set-up once it’s all cabled up and ready to go.
- A microphone. A dynamic mic, sturdy and with the correct lead to plug in to your equipment.
- Tools, casing and accessories. Things like heavy duty gaffer tape for making trailing wires safe, flight casing to move all the gear around safely, decent extension cables, and both enough tools and the knowledge of how to use them to make quick repairs to all of this stuff as required.
In addition to the above, many mobile DJs carry a separate audio mixer to sit between their DJ gear and the PA where they plug in their microphone and a back-up music source, although you may be able to get away with plugging these in through your existing DJ gear. Having a separate mixer gives you the chance to tweak the eQ of the room separately from your DJ controller or mixer. Whether or not you go down this route will depend on how flexible your DJ set-up’s inputs and outputs are, and what kind of inputs and control your PA system gives you.
Finally, you really do need a back-up system – a small extra DJ controller, a spare laptop, a CD player, a DJ app on your iPad, whatever. It’s all down to you at mobile gigs, so being prepared is essential.
The business side of mobile DJing
If you hire yourself out as a mobile DJ, you are most definitely in the DJ business, unlike maybe playing a couple of hours in a local bar every now and then where things may be a bit looser. As such, you need to make sure you do what’s relevant to you out of the following to protect yourself and your audiences, and to be able to command the right fees for what you do:
- Register your business. Depending on where you live, there will be rules you need to follow to trade legally, and you’ll have to follow the right business and tax laws as well as probably registering the name of your business. Get the advice of an accountant.
- Obtain any required public performance licences. Again, this will depend on where you live. Venues often have to have licences, which may cover you, but mobile DJs get asked to play in all sorts of places, and you may need some kind of licensing anyway.
- Obtain sufficient insurance. It’s unlikely your home insurance will extend to covering your DJing endeavours, and venues often require proof of personal liability insurance before they’ll let you play. luckily there are specialist companies who offer both property and personal liability insurance for DJs.
- Get a contract template. You’ll need a contract template that you understand and know how to use, which you can then fill in and get signed off by anybody who books you. Not only does this look professional, but it is essential to make it clear to your clients (and to remind you) what you are and aren’t providing, and at what cost. It gives you something to use in the case of any dispute over payment (if you’re asked to carry on playing, for instance, past a set time, your fees will be outlined clearly here).
- Join a DJ association. Professional associations tap you in to an immense source of experience, and can offer you discounts on DJ insurance, access to contract templates, and periodicals that will help you stay up to speed and educate you properly on the industry. Attending their events will help you network with other DJs and industry professionals, and as an added bonus, being able to put their logo on your website will tell the world that you’re a professional – especially if they have a code of conduct you can sign up to.
Advertising your services
In addition to the things we’ve covered already in this section of the book, mobile DJs have several other ways to help them bring in the work. As mobile DJing is a recognised service and there is existing demand for it, it’s less about hustling for work and more about making sure that when people are looking for you, they can find you.
Advertising your business annually in local listings magazines, websites and directories is a good idea. Printing posters or cards that can be displayed in workplaces and local shops is always worth doing. Over time, establishing relationships with local hotel managers, wedding shops, event planners, schools and large local businesses can make you their go-to DJ. (Hint: when it comes to businesses, make friends with the people who run the HR departments. They tend to be the people who get lumped with organising office parties.)
As long as your website is good, you’re using social media properly, and when you play, you’re doing a great job (word of mouth and recommendation are still the most important promotional tools you have), over time these steps will ensure that whatever part mobile DJing is to play in your overall DJing career, you’ll get the gigs you’re looking for.
One characteristic of those gigs, though – along with all the other gigs you’re likely to get as a result of following what’s been written in this book so far, of all types – is that those gigs will be local to you. But if your dream is to DJ around the world, and you’re prepared to do whatever it takes to get there, there is another route. It’s that route that we turn to for the final chapter of this book.