Anyone can be a DJ, can’t they?

It’s a conversation I overheard at a party recently. Two young lads bragging that “anyone can be a DJ….after all, you only need a laptop and a few lights….”

Well technically, yes…..and no!

It’s not quite the dream job you might expect it to be, let’s put it that way.

I remember many years ago going to parties where a DJ was working and thinking it was the ideal job for me (and I’ve been very lucky….it really IS my dream job!). 

BUT….it’s a lot more than just picking up a laptop pre-loaded with ripped tunes and a few lighting effects from e-Bay.

It’s not only about the night itself (I wish!). There’s a lot of preparation, admin and heavy lifting that goes into each and every party that I personally provide.

How so?

It’s complicated. Let’s break that sentence into relevant pieces….

“You only need a laptop…”

A laptop isn’t good enough. Laptops are electronic, they can and WILL break down at some point (it’s a fact of life and I know this from bitter experience). You need backups…several of them! I carry TWO MacBooks which are clones of each other, plus an iPad and iPhone which can carry the party on if needs be (and if it get’s to that stage….there’s a serious problem somewhere!)

Yes, these days you do technically only need a laptop and some music (oh….bring back the days of vinyl where real knowledge and skill was needed!). My personal collection is around 35,000 tracks at the moment and I know most of them intimately. That’s a lot of songs to memorise and know how to transition from one to the other. Even worse, it’s 70 years of music (I cover anything from the 1950s to the current chart….and HAVE to know each and every decade and genre for my job to work correctly).

As an aside, to legally work in the UK, you MUST have the tracks on your hard drive….streaming is against the law! Thank our antiquated copyright laws and the terms and conditions of the likes of YouTube and Spotify for that. Anyone using streaming services is acting illegally and are probably also cutting a lot of other corners!

The music is the heart and soul of any party.

Yes, it’s easy to get hold of a laptop full of ripped music….do you know what song mixes into the next though? Have you listened to them all and know the quality, transition options, BPM and musical key? (it matters…believe me)

Without the music (and of course, decent quality speakers to play it on)….things are going to be bad from the start.

Yes, you can get speakers for around £100 each (trust me…I started out with them may years ago and they sounded awful!). My current speakers cost £2,000 each, and I have four of them.

“…and a few lights”

Well yes, lighting can be cheap and cheerful (again…that’s how I started out).

Lighting can help to enhance the party, especially if it’s “controlled”.

This is where things get very complicated. You see…DJ lighting comes in.a LOT of different flavours. You can buy “dotty” effects and cheap lasers for £30 on the web, but run a lot of them together and things get very messy! They also have a tendency to go wrong!

Professional DJ lighting can cost from several hundred pounds to several thousand…PER FIXTURE!

Why do we pay this much? Bitter experience….there are certain brands which work and will last the course, and others which absolutely won’t.

And then we come to controlling the lighting. Most lights come with their own built in programmes. If you’re only using those lights…brilliant – it’s an easy night. However, most parties require the use of several different brands and types of lighting, which if using their own built in programmes go off and do their own thing. Now whilst a customer might not pay too much attention to this…think along the lines of the first dance at a wedding. Do you really want laser dots on your expensive dress?

No…..I didn’t think so!

So, there’s another option called DMX (Digital Multiplexing). It’s a complicated technology to get your head around but in a nutshell means that you can control each and every lighting fixture individually. You can “tame” them to do exactly what you want them to do (as in colours, on and off, motion…the options are endless).

It takes a LOT of time to programme light shows in this way (believe me, my poor wife has endured many an evening with flashing lights in the lounge whilst she’s been watching the TV!), all to create the perfect atmosphere for your party.

What these two lads didn’t think of though…

It’s a lot more involved than just turning up with some speakers and lights and making the party work. There are a LOT of other things to consider as well if you’re going to take this job seriously!

  • Insurance: Yes, it’s a boring subject. But….what happens if something goes wrong in today’s litigious world? Most venues now want to see proof of this!
  • Transport: Using the family hatchback isn’t an option with the amount of kit and backup we have to carry… it needs to be insured for the purposes of a mobile DJ (which trust me….is one of the dearest insurance categories known to mankind!)
  • Music: It’s the biggest outlay we have. We HAVE to have pretty much every track released, even though 80% of them are never played. Although I don’t pay the same 99p that you do from Amazon or iTunes….it’s still one hell of a lot of money going out of the bank every month.
  • Equipment: Yes, you can get it cheaply….but will it last the duration of the party and is it safe to use (there are all sorts of stories on the web of cheap lighting catching fire!). We also need duplicates of EVERYTHING you see on the night to ensure the party continues no matter what goes wrong! Some of my speakers and lighting cost in excess of £2,000 each!
  • PAT Testing: It’s not a legal requirement (but try telling the insurance companies and venues about that). The equipment has to be tested every year to ensure it’s safe to use, and at roughly £1 an item (each fixture is actually TWO items because the lead and the fixture itself count as individual items), it’s not cheap. Most venues now want to see proof of this, as do the insurance companies.
  • Storage: The kit needs to be stored somewhere, preferably secure so that a break-in doesn’t affect future parties. This alone can be £200-£300 a month!
  • Admin/Back Office: Believe it or not….it’s not only about turning up on the night. Online event management systems, accounting packages (even the accountant themselves) cost money….this all has to be paid for!

Then, and only then can you earn money from this job….and that’s subject to Tax and National Insurance…..which under current HMRC rules may have to be paid in advance depending on the previous year’s profits.

In conclusion…

“All you need is a laptop and some lights”

Yes…technically you can do the job like that. However, to really create a party with long lasting memories, it takes one hell of a lot of financial and time investment to get it right!

I actually got involved in the conversation which was the inspiration of this post. At the end of the party, they were ready to go home to bed…I still had 90 minutes of work to do in packing the disco away and loading it into the van, returning it to storage and cleaning and prepping it for the next party. I also explained as I’ve done above, exactly what’s involved financially and time-wise in the real work of a professional DJ….their jaws hit the floor!

So… a laptop and some flashing lights all you need to do this job…….I wish!

Trust me….I’m a DJ!

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