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The first time I ever spoke at a DJ Convention, I was talking about the importance of having an on-going training session and I made the quick and bold statement: “Talent moves on.”
This was ten years ago and I had just suffered three body blows to my company. In the span of two years I had lost three unbelievable DJs. You know the type: they are your top referral earners, the banquet halls love them and the rest of your staff looks up to them.
When the first one left I was mad. When the second one left I was resigned to the fact that you can’t keep the top talent on staff (they’ll eventually want to leave.) And when the third one left I was ready to quit. Honestly. I had just finished paying off a loan that I had taken out to buy out my former partner at Elite Entertainment (he was the 2nd superstar to leave.) And now I was ready to walk away. There had to be a better way to make a living I thought.
Then something happened that changed everything. A guy walked into my office who was perfect. He asked if I was hiring. He had all the raw tools I look for. Good looking. Outgoing. Stage experience. Etc etc. This guy had it all. Plus he could sing.
So I was staring at another future superstar. But why would I train this guy and get him going if he was just going to follow the others?
In last month’s article I posed some questions about keeping a superstar DJ on staff. In ten years I have come to the realization that it is not an inevitably that your front line talent is going to leave someday. Saying so only takes the burden off of us, the owners and managers. It’s like when you are half way through a lame gig and you say to yourself, “Nobody could get these people dancing.” That’s the perfect way to shift the blame. When I say that, I correct myself and say, “There’s got to be some way to get these people dancing.” Now it becomes my job to find that way. It’s the same thing with great DJs. There’s got to be some way to keep them happy and on your staff. Having said that, now, it becomes my job to find that way.
First of all, don’t assume that every great DJ has the entrepreneurial spirit. Not all do. In fact I would argue that the talents that make up a great DJ are often in conflict with the traits it takes to be an owner. Great talent often likes to be the superstar. They like being the big fish in the pond. If they leave, they start out on their own and then they are the only fish in the pond. Plus, great DJs are often unorganized, Type A, spontaneous type personalities. They need someone to help get them to the gig (I mean that figuratively although there have been times, because of lost licenses or broken down vehicles, that I you could take it literally.) If you posit yourself as the “helper”, it’s less likely that they are going to look to leave.
So how do you get them to stay? First of all, set the right example. I’m a firm believer that deep down inside most people are ethical and have a conscience. If you set an example as a good person, it is much harder to go behind your back and mistreat you. But if you act unethically, even if it not towards someone specifically on staff, than it becomes much easier to lie to you and eventually do you wrong. During those years when those guys left me, I wasn’t leading by example. And while my behavior wasn’t directed at them, they were aware of it. It’s a lot easier to lie to a liar than it is to an honest person. I learned that the hard way and now I live my life much better. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I haven’t had any similar exoduses.
I think it’s also important to treat everyone on staff individually. This is one of the things I took away from Joe Torre’s book (Joe Torre’s Ground Rules for Winners) Torre writes:
“I always say that you can’t treat each player the same way because everyone is different, but when it comes to team rules, you must treat everyone the same . . . you may teach, motivate and relate to each person differently, but you apply basic standards of conduct across the board.”
This book is an excellent read by the way. In preparation for this article I thumbed through it and re-read the sections I’d highlighted when I first read the book 9 years ago. There are some management credos in there that I have adopted and live by (and I’m not even a Yankees fan.)
Part of treating each DJ differently is paying each DJ differently. There is nothing wrong with your superstar(s) making more, sometimes way more, than everyone else. I remember years ago when Troy Aikman was coming up on a new contract, Jerry Jones said in an interview, “you gotta keep your money happy.” At the time Aikman was leading the Cowboys to three championships in four years. He was that team’s money. So who is your “money.” And do you keep them happy?
I talk to a lot of business owners who tell me “ego” is the number one problem on their staff. And I always agree. “Ego” can be a huge stumbling block to managing a Multi-Op. But what most business owners won’t admit, and what I have come to understand, is that the biggest ego problem is often our own. Sometimes it’s the threat of a superstar eclipsing us on staff that causes us to act (consciously or subconsciously) adversely towards that person. There are better DJs on my staff than myself. That’s a statement not a lot of Multi-Op owners will make and it’s a reality that not a lot of Multi-Op owners will allow to happen. If you don’t want to be surpassed by your staff, then don’t be surprised when your top guys leave. They’ve hit their ceiling and it’s time for them to move on. But if you create an environment where they can pass you, in fact they are celebrated when they do, then you have a much better chance of them sticking around.
This is a topic I could write about and speak about for days. In fact I am putting together a seminar entitled “Keeping All of Your Great DJs” which I have offered to the powers-that-be at Mobile Beat for consideration in Las Vegas in February of 2009. I welcome all input on this topic, pro and con. I see it as one of our biggest challenges in managing a Multi-Op. I am proud of the talent I have on staff and I hope each and every one of them stays with me until their DJing days are over.
Mike Walter is the owner of Elite Entertainment of New Jersey and a nationally recognized expert in the area of multisystem company development and staff training. You can contact Mike at

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