So you want to be a DJ . . .


You’ve danced your last on the bar or bat mitzvah circuit and moved on to high school. But that doesn’t mean the party has to end.

For those who have dreamed of going from an infinite iPod playlist to playing live on the ones and twos, the bar and bat mitzvah party scene is a great place to get your start. Setting up a DJ business takes practice, planning and professionalism, but it beats baby-sitting and burgers.

The Journal turned to two local experts to help you get started: DJ Elan Feldman of Elan Entertainment, a 21-year-old economics major at Claremont McKenna College, and DJ Chris Dalton of C.D. Players Entertainment, a 36-year-old entrepreneur who began his career as a teen talk show host in Detroit.

Starting Out

It might seem like a daunting task to turn a hobby you like into a lucrative business, but both DJs say it isn’t that hard.

“There are some formalities, like creating business cards, buying insurance and buying equipment,” Feldman said. “But the hardest part of starting a DJ company is finding a market. DJing is one of those businesses that a hobby can be a real business, too.”

Start by asking your parents to help you buy a DJ system as an investment. Spin every opportunity you get, even if it’s just to perform for friends at their events for no cost. Practice makes perfect, and if you do a good job, word of mouth goes a long way for these events.

Getting Hired

Referrals do wonders. If you have already worked one bar or bat mitzvah party, chances are the parents know other parents from the Hebrew school who need to hire someone to DJ their child’s event.

“All of my business involves referrals,” Dalton said. “I don’t spend anything on advertising. One time, I put an ad in the Yellow Pages, and it almost put me under.”

Having your own Web site or establishing a presence on Facebook or MySpace doesn’t hurt, especially if the student is doing the research. But parents don’t necessarily turn to a Web site for information about hiring a DJ for their child’s special day.

More important is a professional-looking business card. You can expect to spend about $65 for a box of 1,000 cards if you order them through a designer or retailer. But it’s also possible to get print-it-yourself packages from office supply stores for about $15.

Be sure you bring cards and any other marketing materials to the event. If the adults like what you do, there’s a chance they will pass your card on to someone else and get your name out.

Equipment

Feldman prefers Apple products, saying that he’s found them to be the best and easiest to use.

“I have several DJ programs; the most popular right now is Traktor,” he said. “I like to use an iPod, because I feel more involved with the party when I’m not hiding behind a DJ booth.”

Dalton brings a DJ rig with him that uses dual CD players, much like a vinyl turntable. He uses a tracker scratch with a laptop and will even break out an iPod as a backup to make sure those special moments go without a hitch.

For speakers, Dalton swears by Mackies and JBLs, which he considers to be the most dependable available. He also prefers American Audio mixers, which he says last up to three years.

Cost

Some DJs say shelling out a few hundred dollars a year for insurance purposes is worth the expense, while others say it isn’t necessary. Those who do carry insurance say it provides venues and clients alike with peace of mind.

Most of your expenses will come from investing in new equipment.

“I upgrade my equipment annually,” Dalton said. “It can cost a minimum of $10,000.”

Labor is another a big cost. It’s possible that you will have to pay dancers and assistants based on the size of the party.

And then there’s transportation. You may have to start shelling out for travel expenses, depending on your level of success. Given fluctuating gas prices, consider your transportation costs as part of your price quote.

Rates

Check to see how others in your area structure the rates they charge.

Dalton charges a flat fee of $925 for four hours. But Feldman, on the other hand, doesn’t have a set rate.

“I consider the type of event, its length and the financial situation of the customer before I set my price,” Feldman said.

Generally, if a party lasts longer than four hours, the customer will be paying more for that luxury.

Setup

If there are issues with the synagogue or hall where you need to set up — for example, there isn’t enough room for dancing — go with the flow.

“I teach everyone to give yourself an hour of prep time to make sure everything is OK,” Dalton said. “I work very well with everyone and make sure that everyone working for me understands that we are a team and that there is no ‘I’ in the word ‘team.'”

When dealing with pushy or demanding parents, it is imperative to figure out what they want well before the party starts so you aren’t hit with any last-minute issues. Micromanaging takes the fun out of the event for all parties involved, so before the day of the event, it’s important to come to an agreement on party details (for example, what time the cake comes out, what time dancing starts, if anyone is going to light the candles or give speeches and when, etc.).

Remember to handle parents in a professional manner, because you need their referral.

Playlist

A good DJ must be confident, engage the crowd and never forget that the event is to celebrate someone else’s personal moment, not to showcase his or her ability to entertain.

“Before any party, I meet with the client to discuss and plan the event. All my parties are fully customized. So these meetings serve as an opportunity for the family to tell me exactly what they are looking for and what type of music to play, as well as how the order of events should play out,” Feldman said.

A good DJ should understand his/her audience and keep current with popular music trends. Clean radio edits for certain hip-hop songs don’t hurt, especially because b’nai mitzvah kids often have little brothers and sisters at the party.

A great DJ must be able to guide the party in the right direction based on what the parents and bar or bat mitzvah student want. But then a little musical spontaneity never hurt anyone, and the variety will probably keep partygoers out on the dance floor clamoring for more.

The Headache of Resolutions


Blame it on the Mesopotamians. About 4,000 or 5,000 years
ago, they came up with the meshuggeneh idea of New Year’s resolutions.

And what was their most common pledge? To return borrowed
farm equipment. “That would be a pickax or a sickle,” says Danny, 12, who
studied the Mesopotamians last year in his ancient civilization class.

But today we can’t simply return some borrowed tool, toy or
casserole dish. No, we North Americans feel compelled to annually reinvent
ourselves as perfect physical, intellectual and emotional beings. We feel
compelled to promise to shape up, to learn Aramaic or read the 100 top
English-language novels, to be more patient.

And so, as soon as the ball drops in Times Square, we plunk
hundreds of dollars down at Weight Watchers and 24 Hour Fitness. We enroll in
university extension classes and buy “Ulysses” and “The Great Gatsby.”

But less than a week later, up to 90 percent of us have
reverted to our formerly overindulgent, ignorant and short-fused ways. Why do
we even bother making resolutions?

“Relentless optimism,” Jeremy, 14, suggests.

“Self-deception,” Gabe, 16, says.

“Social pressure,” Zack, 19, adds.

“Why do we diet?” my husband, Larry, asks rhetorically,
knowing that it’s human nature to want to improve oneself.

And it’s human nature to want to divide time into manageable
and meaningful segments, marked with appropriate rituals.

And that’s what New Year’s Eve is — a symbolic milepost, a
fresh start, another chance that this year, magically and mysteriously, our
resolutions will stick. But there’s nothing magical about Jan. 1. In fact, the
Mesopotamians, like the ancient Jews, celebrated the New Year in the spring, to
coincide with the rebirth of the land. That’s why they almost unanimously
resolved to return borrowed farm equipment, which was needed for planting the
new crops.

And there’s nothing magical about change. As Judaism teaches
us, we’re all continuously engaged in a bitter, millennia-old battle between
yetzer hatov, the good inclination, and yetzer harah, the bad inclination.

Spiritually, we know that change doesn’t happen without
prolonged and painful soul-searching. For us Jews, that happens during the High
Holidays, with the process beginning a month earlier, on the first of Elul.
During this time, we are commanded to confront the people we have harmed or
injured during the previous year.

We must formally and sincerely apologize, make concrete
amends and refrain from repeating the behavior. We must also contend with the
promises we have broken between God and ourselves. We are held accountable for
our actions, or inactions, which determine nothing less than “who shall live
and who shall die.”

Psychologically and experientially, we know that change
doesn’t happen until we hit the proverbial rock bottom –  until life slams us
up against a brick wall or brings us abruptly and humbly to our knees, forcing
us to confront our demons and wrongful deeds, our addictions and afflictions.

New Year’s Eve is the only secular holiday, save our
birthdays, that specifically marks the passage of time.

Perhaps it’s that intimation of mortality, combined with the
knowledge that once again we’ve made no one’s year-end Top 10 list, that
triggers our desire to revamp ourselves.

And in our fast-track society, where everything is open 24/7
or only one click away, we want that transformation to be instantaneous and
painless, like those diet advertisements that promise permanent and immediate
weight loss with no exercise.

But the Federal Trade Commission, much to my husband’s
delight, is clamping down on those bogus advertisements. And it’s our turn to
clamp down on this bogus ritual. Let’s institute truth in advertising and call
New Year’s resolutions by their real name: New Year’s wishes. An opportunity to
dream, to fantasize, to visualize a “before” and after” us. A shot at the
self-improvement lottery, with, like the California SuperLotto Plus, a one in
more than 41 million chance of winning.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have many more habits
I’m willing to break. Over the years, I’ve quit smoking, worked myself down to
my pre-pregnancy weight, given up caffeine and Diet Coke and changed my
sedentary ways. (Of course, nobody’s asking if I want to give up carpool
driving, grocery shopping, bill paying and serving as the family’s human PalmPilot.)

I don’t know about you, but I’m saving my serious repenting
for the High Holidays, where substance and sublimity trump slapdash
superficiality.

Still, given the expectation of a New Year, however
arbitrary and inauthentic, and given the grim state of the world, I think some
frivolous resolutions, or wishes, are not out of order.

Personally, for 2004, I’d like to eat more vanilla ice
cream, occasionally oversleep, read some trashy novels and spend more time
needlepointing and, as my kids constantly urge, “chilling.”

But not, I assure you, before returning the pickax that’s
been sitting in the garage.  


Freelance writer Jane Ulman lives in Encino and has four sons.