Profile: Iain Baker
After well over a year of polite pestering, I’ve finally succumbed to [Pro Mobile Editor] Eddie Short’s persistent requests to share my story in the magazine. Word to the wise, if Eddie emails you or sidles up to you at a DJ event and says how good it would be for you to put pen to paper then just smile and agree. Seriously, he’s like The Terminator, only more dogged. He will get his man (or woman) eventually!
My DJ journey started around nineteen-eighty-something when vinyl was king. In fact, I put the blame squarely at the feet of records for my recent double hernia op! Music has always been my religion and the record counter at Woolworths was where I’d regularly worship.
My older brother Stuart must take the plaudits for introducing me to DJing. He and his friend Damien set themselves up as DJs at about the age of 16 with the purchase of some second-hand kit. This included one (yep, just the one!) full range Cloud speaker and various light boxes. A trip to Tandy to procure rope light provided the garnish on top!
I looked on at their new venture with envious eyes. However, I didn’t need to wait long to get in on the action. Stuart and Damien’s dalliance with DJing was a brief one, brought to a shuddering halt when Damien went and got himself a girlfriend. I made my move, buying Damien out of the partnership with my brother thanks to a business loan from the bank of Mum and Dad. I was just 14 and a world of DJing possibility lay before me. Heady days indeed!
So two teenage brothers set out to change the face of modern entertainment armed with some record decks, a few lights, and a solitary speaker (perhaps playing in mono was our USP, I forget now!). Back in nineteen-eighty-something the country’s stately homes, castles, and barns had yet to embrace the opportunities that hosting weddings and events would later bring. So we did our thing in the village halls, working men’s clubs, and hotels that most people would then turn to for hosting their events. I’d love to time travel back to 1989 and tell them what weddings of the future would look like: “A fountain of liquid chocolate?! Are you insane?!”
Fast-forward to 1993 and University in Leicester beckoned. Whilst I’d still journey home to Kent on weekends for the occasional gig, I was now DJing solo after Stuart moved on to his own studies and one of a succession of girlfriends claimed his weekends. However, music’s call was too strong to resist for me, even whilst at Uni, and I signed up to the Student’s Union Ents Crew. Whenever bands came to town I would be part of a team of student skivvies at the beck and call of their roadies. In between studies I’d spend my days emptying articulated lorries full of sound and lighting kit for the likes of Pulp, Blur, Black Grape, Weezer, Paul Oakenfold, The Orb, Manic Street Preachers, and a very young Radiohead. We’d get paid a few quid, get to see the gig, and we’d always get given a band t-shirt! Happy days!! As the Brit-Pop scene exploded I got to see a host of bands and artists up close in front of just a few hundred sweaty souls.
Sometime around the late ‘90s, as I settled into the first of a succession of sensible and grown-up desk-based jobs, I figured I’d pretty much left my DJing days behind me. I was still taking on gigs at the weekend, but certainly no longer gave it the energy or impetus I had previously.
This continued well into the next decade, and in 2008 I found myself planning my own wedding (nope, we didn’t have a DJ!) whilst working in the high octane, sexy world of plumbing and drainage as a Marketing Manager. As you can probably tell, I wasn’t in thrall to my job. Perhaps recognising this, my employers did the kindest thing they could do and made me redundant in early 2009. The timing was lousy as I’d returned to work from my honeymoon just a day earlier and my wife Julie and I were expecting our first child.
At this point I’d never considered turning my long-time hobby into my main source of income, let alone making anything like a sustainable career out of it. However, I invested my redundancy money wisely... actually, who am I kidding, I bought DJ boys toys! Fortunately, I did also do a few sensible things with my cash, including investment in a van and a professionally put together website. I then put my marketing background to good use, targeting some local venues I thought I might like to work at, with varying degrees of success. I also joined a local networking group to try and generate referrals and work for my fledgling new business. In short, I wasn’t dabbling anymore, it was time to take things seriously!
Around 2010 I made a decision that would prove critical to my business. I signed myself up for one of Derek Pengelly’s first DJ training days and, looking back, that remains the smartest money I ever invested in my business. I invested in me! It also set off a chain of events that led me to meeting some great industry professionals, people I’m delighted to now call my friends.
Derek’s wedding-based seminar day opened my eyes to the possibility of contributing more to a couple’s day than merely being their evening DJ. I’m now regularly entrusted by my couples to look after them for their whole day. This invariably involves taking care of music not just for the evening party but also for the ceremony, drinks reception, and wedding breakfast. I also often assume the role of Master of Ceremonies, introducing the speeches and generally guiding the flow of the day making sure that everyone knows what is happening and when. That’s when I find that I can really make a connection with couples and their guests.
It was following Derek’s workshop that I made the decision to specialise in weddings. As well as taking care of music throughout the wedding day I also now offer my couples all the usual extra stuff such as mood lighting, starlit dancefloors, dry ice for their first dance etc. Plus some unusual stuff like my sign (pictured below). I didn’t want to invest in LOVE letters as everyone seemed to be doing that. So I had this custom made by Will Tudor and his talented team at Little Gem FX.
Being a full-timer is hard work, no doubt. However it can be extremely rewarding and has launched my job satisfaction through the roof! I’m a big advocate of bringing ideas to a couple’s wedding day. I try and meet all my couples before they book me and even if they decide that I’m not the right DJ for them, they’ll come away with a shed load of new ideas for their wedding. If I can get a couple excited about the possibilities for their day then it’s been a good meeting. On the day of the wedding itself, it’s my job to bring their vision to life. With a bit of imagination, even something as seemingly mundane as the cake cutting can be transformed into something special that involves both the bride and groom and their guests.
Derek taught me that having the right equipment will get you so far, but if you want to stand out from your competition then you need to invest in yourself. The road Derek helped set me on would lead to greater reward both financially and in job satisfaction terms than anything I can recall. I owe Derek more than I can ever repay.
As I look down the barrel of yet another busy wedding summer, I’m optimistic for what the future holds for my business. I’ve built up some good relationships with some wonderful venues across Kent, my websites both perform well, and I also enjoy a steady stream of referrals from fellow DJs and happy clients. I want to focus my energies on soaking up even more wedding ideas to share with my couples and continue to refine and improve their experience of booking me from the initial contact through to the end of the day and beyond. I’m also working on a vintage-inspired DJ booth to fit in with the well-established trend for simple, ‘shabby chic’ weddings.
The full article can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 84, Pages 17-22.