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The modern American Dream…get rich and make your mark quickly. Thousands jump into the MDJ industry each year. Ironically similar and in many ways to the same demise as those drawn into the California gold rush.
Almost like clockwork as the popularity of wedding bands waned the influx of MDJs began. However humble the beginnings for MDJs may have been, much like the sleepy simple life of the distant California outpost, it wouldn’t take long for a media-charged generation to clamor for their piece of the American Dream.
The catch phrase of “entrepreneurial spirit” or “instant wealth” seemed to justify whatever means necessary to pursue the goal.
San Francisco had only a few hundred residents prior to the 1849 gold rush. Similar to the few hundred MDJs that were among the first to pioneer the MDJ industry away from roller rinks and sock hops, into organized social settings like weddings.
All it took was a chance discovery by John Marshall on January 24th, 1948, the whisper of gold, and President James Polk‘s statement:
“The accounts of the abundance of gold in that territory are of such extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by authentic reports of officers in the public service.”
The gold rush was born and California would virtually change overnight. San Francisco would soon average 30 new houses and two murders each day. Real estate plot that cost $16 in 1847, sold for $45,000 just 18 months later.
In the mid 1980s, MDJ companies could not build and staff MDJ systems fast enough. The deficit being created by the fall in popularity of local bands created an artificial demand for MDJs to fill the void. If there were ever a time to correlate as the initial MDJ gold rush it would be 1984 to 1992. During this time period there was little to no references made to part-time or full-time MDJ status. Everyone seemed to have MDJ work. I have been asked by many, what it really means to be full-time. Imagine saying goodbye to a “regular paycheck” from a day job in 1991 because you could see a future with seemingly limitless heights. More on that later…
Enter the gear supplier:
Just as the California gold rush needed tools for the trade…so did MDJs. Sam Brannan became one of the richest people of the California gold rush without ever mining for gold via a masterstroke of marketing and a keen understanding of supply and demand. Brannan ran through the streets of San Francisco shouting about Marshall’s discovery. As proof, Brannan held up a bottle of gold dust. Brannan recognized opportunity in selling the tools to miners and set out to buy every pick axe, pan and shovel in the region. Metal pans that sold for twenty cents a few days earlier, Brannan was selling for fifteen dollars. In just nine weeks he made thirty-six thousand dollars…in 1849.
MDJ suppliers recognized an opportunity to design gear to address a MDJs specific needs. Prior to the MDJ gold rush, most equipment and lighting was simply carried over from bands. DMX512 was initially created in 1986 by the United States Institute for Theatre Technology and revised again in 1990 to allow for more flexibility. Speakers, mixers and amplifiers were all becoming more MDJ friendly. By this time the MDJ gold rush was well on its way and suppliers already had greater numbers of potential customers. Volumization played a big role in the rapidly expanding MDJ industry. More potential customers equaled more potential sales which equated to greater profit margins. Making the equipment and lighting more “attainable” would simply entice more MDJs to stake their claim.
The epidemic and pivotal point:
Gold fever gripped Americans like a fiery fever fanned by newspapers. Accounts of farmers leaving their fields, merchants closing their shops and soldiers leaving their posts served to further the gold fever to epidemic proportions. Unlike most of the world’s gold is embedded in hard rock. However, California gold was largely accessible to anyone with a few simple tools and a willingness to work hard.
California became a part of the United States just a few days after Marshall’s discovery. The gold rush came before any governmental legislation could be established. California gold was easy to find, easy to get and free for the taking, making the California gold rush unique and very similar to MDJing.
The MDJ gold rush was born out of an unlikely set of circumstances that intersected: cultural vanity, music popularity, music format change, waning popularity of local bands, increased complexity of music, ease of entry, combated job market, recession and anarchy due to the lack of any specific laws or regulations to foster industry structure.
The MDJ gold rush offered the opportunity to simply “exist” with a landline as a MDJ and your calendar would fill up.
To be continued…
Dude Walker can be reached at

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