I have strong memories from my earliest years, living in what was then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), of family weddings with celebrations featuring drunk relatives releasing their inner John Travolta. I also remember watching people gather to marvel at dancers with rather better coordination, moving with complete abandon, barefooted, on dusty ground to the rhythms produced by African drums. Humanity’s love of music and of dancing has been a constant, always there and seemingly just one of those things that would always exist.
I never took what I did for a living for granted. I always thought that by continually striving to be the best possible DJ I could be, as long as I was physically able to load up a van and that I was truly motivated to work my tail off to entertain groups of people, I had a ‘job for life’. In March, however, our way of living came to a complete stop. There has been some activity since the summer, mostly in bars, but by and large all events celebrating anything from a child’s birthday to a wedding and so much more have simply been cancelled or postponed. Some of it will come back, a huge proportion of wedding bookings have been postponed, but a great deal has also been lost forever. It’s hard to imagine any of 2020’s Year 11 Proms ever now taking place. And we have definitely lost those events for landmark birthdays and anniversaries as well as a huge number of corporate events. All of it income now lost for good.
Whether you are a part-time DJ, a full-time wedding specialist, a multi-op or an agency, the impact on our industry has been huge. The entertainment sector has been devastated by coronavirus and mobile DJs, I would argue, are the beating heart of our industry. Let’s face it, what we do is a passion – why else would we be the first to the party, the last to leave and the only sober people at the end of the night (well, hopefully, most of the time)? We are the living embodiment of doing what is known as ‘a calling’. We do all our own accounting, marketing, customer service – there are so many bases we cover as a self-employed DJ, our passion is so much of our lives and creates a huge amount of work for us to do. So this change in fortune has been nothing less than earth shattering.
For these reasons, I thought it would be a good idea to touch base with a number of fellow mobile DJs who I have met over the years, as well as a few I haven’t, to find out how this year has been for them and what they are doing to get through it. My first call was to Brian Mole. Brian is an award-winning wedding DJ, a huge advocate of the mobile DJ industry, and what I would call, a ‘DJ’s DJ’ [as would many of his peers, he won this year’s ‘DJ’s DJ’ award – Ed]. He is also the person who in one informal demonstration at a DJ event a few years ago, inspired me to spend a lot more time honing my mixing skills!
Like many full-time DJs, Brian did receive support thorough the government’s self-employment income support scheme. This helped him to deal with postponements and cancellations, pretty much a full-time job right into mid-year. As the administration settled down, he and his wife, Helen, took advantage of the very reasonable weather we saw over the summer months and explored much of the UK from the campervan they had invested in last year. Since then, he has managed to source a job driving, delivering supplies to care homes across England. A born optimist, Brian has made the most of the break in routine, visited new places across the UK and found an alternative way to pay his bills. However, during the call it was obvious that he is desperate to get back to doing the job he loves: being a DJ.
My next call was to Pat Mulligan, a full-time DJ and wedding host based in Bradford. Pat’s diary was fully booked for 2020, with all events (bar three cancellations) now pushed into 2021 and 2022. Very early in the first full national lockdown, Pat launched a Facebook group – Mulligan’s Virtual Bar (now called Venyu). The group has been a phenomenal success, gaining more than 30,000 members, and hosted a variety of online performances from both DJs to live musicians. The page’s activity has slowed down significantly since the end of September as Pat’s view is that, being a free enterprise, it has become difficult to continually ask performers to take to the page for no payment.
More recently, Pat has been managing a building project on his house, something he describes as extremely therapeutic! As someone who has been working in the entertainment industry in one form or another since the age of 15, he is another DJ who is very keen indeed to get back to work. His personal view is that we could well see a gradual return for the industry in the Spring, and this is likely to take the form of small parties which will slowly increase in size.
“I really think that our industry is well placed for a return,” Pat tells me, “and the people amongst us who are most comfortable providing entertainment will be needed more than ever. With the advent of ‘re-purposed’ dance floors, I think we are going to have to be adaptive and provide more of a show – whether that be in the form of an interactive quiz or DJing with a saxophonist (as just two examples), we will need to do more than simply be the guy who turns up and plays ‘Build me up Buttercup’”. Pat has some fantastic ideas about how we, as DJs, can adapt to the new environment going forward and will be writing about precisely this in our next issue – keep your eyes peeled for that article!
DFC Lancashire is one of the largest and busiest DJ agencies in the UK with an extremely full calendar. I got in touch with both Adam Boasman and Robin Kershaw, DFC Directors, to find out how they have managed the workload.
“We’ve been really very busy all year,” says Robin. “Like everyone else, we were hit with a wall of postponements and we had to re-allocate over 750 events into the next two years. This will bring us unique challenges as events start to return – in fact, we will need to recruit more DJs just to cover the additional workload.”
“It’s certainly been an interesting year," Adam continues, "one that will challenge so many businesses in the events and wedding sector. A year that promised so much but delivered so little. 2021 and 2022 will be without doubt the busiest two years the wedding industry has ever seen, we just need to get there. At DFC we have been as proactive as ever and learnt new skills such as live streams / video production and artist development. Weddings will come back, although maybe not as we know them for some time. We are ready though, and are already training the next generation of new talent including wedding hosts, artists and DJs.”
Shaun Easton is another dyed-in-the-wool born entertainer. Based near Tonbridge, Kent, Shaun has really pushed the envelope and his company has been involved in some huge events, including his own show, Tropicana Nights. His business’ last event was in March, the day before the UK went into full lockdown, at the indigo venue, part of London’s O2 Arena complex. It was a huge ‘80s-themed retro party featuring guest DJ Pat Sharp (keynote speaker at 2019’s Pro Mobile Conference).
“It’s been a devastating year,” Shaun explains. “My business has, of course, taken an extreme hit. Essentially, I have now closed. Without events, I’ve had no income to pay for the warehouse which housed all my equipment. So, I have moved out and moved the kit on in order to survive. I have tried several things to get going again, including two outdoor festivals, all fully COVID-safe with room for 4000 people, which were effectively closed before they could happen by my local council. This was another loss of much needed money; it was a risk, but one I thought was worth taking. Fortunately, my dad always told me to be a saver, so I am pretty much ok for the moment. And I can see a time when we’ll be back doing what we do best, which will be an opportunity for me to slowly rebuild. But for now, everything I have built over a long and highly rewarding career has all gone.”
Iain Baker is another Kent-based DJ. He works with a small, select, number of other DJs providing bespoke and highly individualised services for weddings as well as other celebrations. When I called Iain, he was outdoors – not relaxing in the late autumnal sunshine, but working on a section of his garden now dedicated to permaculture. As well as digging out a pond, he is building an eco-system in order to improve his environmental impact.
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 104, Pages 40-44.