FLASHBACK ARTICLE FROM AUGUST 2010
How much should an entertainer charge? What’s a fair price for us and the client? Why are these questions so hard to answer? In today’s economy, we’re so used to hearing “I’m on a budget” and seeing other DJs compete on price only that we’re no longer phased by what many call “lowballers.”
Don’t let the “hard times” fool you; Even ten years ago, when the economy was strong, one would not hear from a client that they have an unlimited budget.
Is there a magic formula? No. Are there guidelines on a minimum? VERY MUCH SO.
When I originally wrote this a year back, it was meant for my school market. However, you can change the numbers and factors for a wedding, corporate event, or even a simple bubble party, and the results would apply to your specific case.
Break out your calculator and consider this the algebraic proof of “Get What You’re Worth.” What you’re about to read is what I’ve explained to many schools…
Homecoming and proms have become a more elaborate affair every year. Extravagant venues, Hollywood-quality décor, and even 5-star food can be seen at many of these dances. Unfortunately, the cause of the dancing, the DJ, sets up a tacky two-speaker system and a small tree with a light show that was decent back in the mid-90s. Ouch. What an eyesore. It’s not the school’s fault; DJs are all the same, right?
Often, I’ve talked to too many schools that have hired a DJ who charges $300 – 500 because he’s a former student or teacher or does it on the “side.” But what else is out there? What if there’s a DJ company that does more than send a random DJ with a Top40 list, push buttons, and tell students to wave their hands in the air like they just don’t care??
There is, and we won’t raise our hands because we DO care.
School entertainment companies are a rare gem. Many DJs specialize in weddings, schools, corporate events, and backyard parties. There is nothing wrong with this, but the school business is a completely different animal than weddings. Our companies do all these events, but we have a dedicated staff that handles nothing BUT school dances. 4 Schools Only has a different structure than our wedding sector does.
School entertainment companies deal strictly with schools. We work daily with many issues that only a school dance can bring in: Appropriate dancing, music mediating between students and administrators, making the best out of available power, but most importantly, being 100% the success of your school dance!
100%, I said. Food, venue, and décor are important, and I won’t deviate from that. These items are important to set the mood of the dance. If the right vendors are hired, you’ve successfully set the right mood. The proper entertainment will take that achieved ambiance to the next level. Kelly Suit uses the following example: Would the dance be successful if the DJ didn’t show up? The mood is set thanks to the right vendors, but what will students do now? No DJ means no dancing. No dancing means no one stays. No one stays means no food is eaten, décor and venue layout are not enjoyed. On another level, If the DJ shows up but is AWFUL, or his equipment continuously trips the breakers, what percentage of success for the dance itself did he/she achieve?
But what if the right DJ shows up? Great setup, sound, beautiful light show– and the right crew to make everything work! Students dance the entire night, eat ALL the food, take lots of photos with the décor and thank the venue staff and administrators for a well-done job. The next day, the dance is the talk around school and ticket sales for next year look bigger than this one! What percentage of success would you place on the scenario mentioned above?
Our market has a few high-end companies and many $395 DJs. Schools call all the time asking for a price between $395 to 595. When I ask them why not go with last year’s DJ, the list of complaints rolled out, including lack of sound for this many kids. At $395, they’re lucky the DJ showed up! So what is a dedicated school entertainment company worth? The truth is in the numbers. Let’s take a look:
Here’s a cost breakdown for a small DJ package that can handle around 500 kids. Your numbers may vary, but in our case we have 500-2000 kids per dance.
• Two speakers = $800/each (there are cheaper ones, but you get what you pay for. $800 is a very conservative number for a system that can handle 500+ kids.
• One Sub = $1500
• 1-year music subscription (multiplied by the last five years) = $1,200
• Trussing (to hang lights from)… At the cheapest, $2,000 for a small setup
• A small light show consisting of 4 LED floods and one centerpiece effects light = $1000 This is a very SIMPLE light show with no special effects. Just the basics.
• Clamps & cords = $200
• Jessica Lunsford Act = $80 per employee (This is a Level 2 Background Check required in Florida)
• Cheap Mixer = $300
• Cheap CD Players = $300
• WIRED (not wireless) Microphone = $100
• Tripods for speakers = $100
• Console to hold everything together = $200
• Controller for lights = $500
The total comes to $9,080. Keep in mind, I didn’t add in gas, a $2 million insurance policy, other business expenses, or even A COMPUTER. All rental companies charge at least 10% of the cost. This means that to rent out this system at 10% it would be $900. In the last three years, this number has averaged to about 20%. We’ll stick with a low 10%.
What does this conclude of our $395 DJ?
$900 is $505 more than $395. This means the DJ either 1) values his skills at NEGATIVE $505 or 2) He’s bringing out low-grade equipment that won’t serve justice to the students.
Not to mention it’s not possible to run a business and provide effective equipment and service at $395. Even if they were booked 52 days of the year, that’s $20,000…. Barely double of what it costs to purchase the equipment, not including the costs of running a business itself. Read those numbers again because I just proved to you that several DJs value themselves at a negative dollar amount or bring equipment that will not allow them to do a proper job for the task at hand. Even more mind-numbing is that the numbers I gave you are for lower/middle-end equipment. Most school companies bring out a much more sophisticated system. We didn’t discuss special effects, large video screens, or other add-ons.
Think back on the scenarios I gave you on the success of the dance. Is that success worth more than $395? Talent ALONE should be worth more than that if the dance depends on it. In this market, you’ll see numbers from $1500 for a small setup to $20,000 for a large setup.
We’ve talked about equipment, but what about service? A school company brings the following talent:
1) DJ / MC Hypeman who knows the music daily
2) CUSTOM edited music library. FCC standards are NOT school standards. A proper DJ will remove the four words that the radio plays that do NOT belong in a school dance.
3) Jessica Lunsford certified. This is a level-2 background check for the DJ that is REQUIRED by the state of Florida.
4) $2 million insurance policy.
5) Proper knowledge of electricity. You want to maximize the use of each outlet (power drops are not cheap) while leaving headroom in case of a surge. Having everything shut off in the middle of the dance is not good!
6) Marketing! The company should provide custom commercials / audio drops/lunch “jam” sessions to promote the dance!
7) A limit! Every school is different, and at some point, the DJ setup can be too much or not enough. The right team should be able to design a setup to fit your needs 100%. Overkill does nothing for the dance except pull away from it!
Schools are wising up and researching DJs. Eventually, they will know enough that the first question they ask should be, “Are you a dedicated school company?”
In conclusion, these dances need to be treated as a business. Whether or not they are fundraisers, schools need to be in the black, not the red, but one cannot remain cheap to turn in a profit! A “$395 DJ” cannot bring in the excitement via service AND equipment to make students say, “I WANNA COME BACK NEXT YEAR!” There are competing schools, many on the same date, that want the same business they want; remember that students will attend each other’s dances. When a rival school has a dance on the same date, your school wants students and their dates to attend their dance.
FLASHBACK ARTICLE FROM AUGUST 2010