Do you enjoy spinning tunes, making people happy, and earning a steady stream of supplemental income?
Then a mobile DJ business could be the perfect side hustle for you.
What does it really take to be successful as a mobile DJ?
I asked my friend Ken Holbrook, owner of North Shore Entertainment, a Boston-based mobile DJ business, how he got his start playing music for money and what you need to be successful in the competitive DJ-for-hire industry.
This is not just great information for anybody looking to get their start as a mobile DJ, but also how to turn your passion into a long-term source of sustainable income.
How did you start your mobile DJ business?
I got my start as a mobile DJ as I was finishing up my degree at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting.
I got a job as a mobile DJ working for a large company.
They had many DJs and I worked alongside them for a few months before being sent out on my own.
After a couple of years of working with that company I actually moved out of state and had to take a break from the business.
When I came back to the area I had a lot of friends and family asking if I was still doing events. At this point, I could not do gigs because I hadn’t acquired my own gear yet.
After seeing a horrible DJ one night, I decided it was time for me to get back in The Game and start my own company.
At the time the DJ that did my wedding, Bruce Shannon, was moving and trying to unload his gear.
It was almost as if the timing was meant to be.
I connected with him, purchased some of his gear and he reconnected me with another DJ I hadn’t seen in years, DJ Terri.
He also leant us his business name along with a few contacts before he left.
And that’s when North Shore Entertainment officially become ours.
What equipment do you need as a mobile DJ?
There are a lot of options for mobile DJ equipment.
A lot of it comes down to personal preference:
- Do you want to work with CDs?
- Do you prefer vinyl or a much more simple system (e.g. DJ with your laptop)?
- Do you want to offer lighting, photo booths, etc.?
The options are almost endless for what you can provide.
These days you can even drop a pair of iPods in a mixing dock if you want an even simpler setup.
Primarily, you need at least two sources to play music from, such as turntables, CD players, or a laptop with multiple channels to mix.
You need a mixer to blend it all together. You’ll also need a good set of speakers and microphone to do your MC duties.
With today’s technology, your setup can be really simple.
How do you get the music for your mobile DJ business?
For my company there are three main sources for music.
You have iTunes, of course. It’s easy, convenient and has a ton of music.
I also subscribe to a monthly service, the same one many radio stations use to acquire all the new hit music that comes out.
Then there is the hard-to-find but still very handy record store for CDs.
I never did take to carrying around vinyl records!
Do you operate your mobile DJ business as a sole proprietorship, S-Corp, or LLC?
My business is run as a sole proprietorship. At this time it made the most sense for us.
What do you need for licensing, legalities, or insurance to operate as a mobile DJ?
We had to register as a business with the town that we are based in. North Shore Entertainment is licensed in Tewksbury, MA under a DBA.
Insurance is always a touchy subject with mobile DJs.
Some guys will tell you they don’t need it, it’s a waste of money. But I’m not one to take those chances.
Insurance is a must.
Liability is pretty key, should a speaker fall on someone, or someone trip over a cable, we have to be covered.
And you’ll also want to be covered for possible theft.
There’s a lot of money invested in equipment. It just doesn’t make sense not to be covered in some way.
How much money do you typically make per event as a mobile DJ?
Events vary greatly on location, event type, and quality of performer.
A typical 5-hour wedding for us brings in $1000 in the Boston area. That same event could be $600 in say, Albany, NY.
The same event from a different company could also run you $2000 in the Boston area.
The prices really are all over the place, but the saying holds true: You get what you pay for.
If you pay $400 for a 5-hour wedding reception DJ, you are going to get $400 worth of service and probably a disappointing wedding reception.
I’m not saying you need to pay that $2000 company to get the best event but you do need to shop around.
The best price is not always your best option.
What is a day in the life like for a mobile DJ working an event?
For a typical event I arrive an hour early.
I like plenty of time to scope out my setup, especially if it’s a location I haven’t been before.
I also like time to meet with the event coordinator to make sure all our notes and timelines for the day match up.
Once we make sure we’re all on the same page, I’ll set up the gear, make sure everything is running tight, run some sound/mic checks, and we’re ready to rock.
During the event we’ll always be in contact with our coordinator, especially for weddings where there are constantly different things going on such as dances/pictures/cake cutting.
There is constant communication between myself, the coordinator, and the photographer.
How do you market your mobile DJ services?
There are many ways to market yourself, from social media, to online search engines and event listing sites.
You definitely need a website and a strong Internet presence in today’s market.
You can also sign up to attend wedding expos, set up a booth, and get some exposure.
Of course, there is still the option to place ads in the phone book or your local newspaper.
What is your long-term goal with your mobile DJ business?
Ultimately, I would love to DJ full-time someday.
I have so much fun doing it and we’re always meeting great new people and going around to great venues across the state.
You can’t argue with having fun and making money, can you?
At the end of an event nothing beats a new bride and groom thanking you for a great job and seeing the look and their face knowing you just had a hand in making their night one they won’t ever forget.
Do you have any funny mobile DJ stories to share?
I don’t know if I have any truly funny DJ stories, but I do have a “shocking” one.
Sometimes we don’t always work in the best conditions.
I was doing a boat cruise one summer night out of the Boston Harbor and I was set up in a small corner on the lower deck.
About an hour into the cruise, I noticed the floor was wet around my feet.
When I mentioned this to the crew they said “Oh that, yeah this boat leaks, it’ll be fine though.”
I’m standing in a puddle of water operating electrical equipment, I don’t think this is fine!
But everything was fine, though.
The boat stayed afloat and despite the tiny concern of electrocution, I didn’t miss a beat and the none of the guests knew a thing about the water problem.
They all had a great time and kept on dancing the night away.
Looking for a DJ to play your wedding, quinceanera, or corporate event in the Boston area?
Check out DJ Ken of North Shore Entertainment!
James K. Kim
James "Jim" Kim is a commercial real estate agent with Cushman & Wakefield / Pyramid Brokerage Company in the Capital Region of New York, specializing in retail, office, and industrial tenant and landlord representation.