While the 2014 holiday season was pretty typical for Mark Ashe of Marx Entertainment & Events in Enfield, Conn., he says his DJ company did in fact realize a slight increase in the number of gigs performed.
“A couple new clients came along due to our increased marketing efforts,” says Ashe. “Still, I’m not sure if we’ll ever see it like it was during the heyday, when I can remember doing holiday parties 35 days in a row without a break. It’s certainly not like that anymore.”
Luke Renchan in Pawtucket, R.I., says his company—Luke’s DJ Service—did much better than the previous year. “Budgets were up and people were booking events seven days a week,” says Renchan. “We’re also now finding many holiday parties booked into the first week of February, as many people like to wait for the holiday rush to be over and slow down.
“We realized more upsells options, too, with companies adding photobooths, lighting and even game-show options.”
With the U.S. economy generally on an upswing, how were DJ profits in 2014 compared to previous years? We asked jocks from around the nation how their number of end-of-year party gigs compared with those in years past.
While Scott Goldoor in Pennsylvania says he did about the same amount of holiday parties as he performed for in 2013 and Jerry Bazata in Maine says he did zero parties the entire Christmas season, Blake (“DJ Sticky Boots”) Eckelbarger in Indiana affirms that his company saw a significant uptick in the number of parties in 2014.
“Although we don’t market towards holiday parties specifically, a couple of our clients went full-out, booking the biggest package we offer,” explains the owner of The Music Place in South Bend. “This was a welcome change from previous years, when companies wanted to go as cheap as possible.
“Those clients’ willingness to spend more money sent our profits up substantially, especially when factoring in upsells they included such as uplighting and larger sound systems.”
Ray Martinez of Ray Mar Productions in Goodyear, Ariz., says that, without question, Christmas parties in 2014 were on the rise. In fact, Martinez says he had more events this past December than he had during the previous three years during that final month of each year.
“Surprisingly, I had more weddings and other Christmas events, besides corporate parties,” he says. “In particular, I had two new companies—Sonoran Technologies and Damco Distribution Services—and both were total opposites, one being in Arizona and the other in California.
“The one in Arizona had maybe 60 people and wanted a slew of games to be played, including an Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest and a ‘Bust A Move’ dance contest.
“The other one in California had 300 people. We did our famous ‘12 Days of Christmas’ sing-along, during which we got management to sing, and then we had a scavenger hunt, during which I asked for particular items in order for the guests to win centerpieces.
“Overall, both parties went well and have already expressed interest to have me back again for this year.”
Up in Seattle, Wash., Adam Tiegs of Adam’s DJ Service claims he was bound to have a happy new year indeed. With the best November and one of the best Decembers ever, he says holiday parties brought in over $10,000 each month—“not bad for a solo DJ,” he quips.
“All of my gigs in both months were corporate or fundraisers, with only one wedding. Lighting is still my side specialty and is what clients are drawn to, if it can have an effect on their event.
“It also helped to have an event that required my assistance with fulfilling a rider for a performance group called Bandaloop in which we needed ecology blocks, a generator, a forklift, a boom lift, a lighting designer, a production manager…and then some.
“And for that last event, I booked two events with one of the client’s business partners. So when you’re able to do fun things with lights—gobos, color via battery-powered and wirelessly controlled fixtures, etc.—and do a good job working with clients, people will notice and you’ll get more business.”
Back up in the Northeast, Charles Bernard in Plymouth, Mass., reports that during the months of December 2014 and January 2015, DJX Studio was “jamming like Bob Marley” every weekend, with a handful of midweek and morning jobs as well.
“Those two months really slammed,” says Bernard, whose company now boasts five full-time DJs/MCs. “Every event has a client sitting, watching and wanting the same sensation as they’ve seen that night. Each team member reached out, connected with venues they performed at, and secured nine holiday parties in December plus four in January.
“Then add in Macy’s, banks, a credit union, Foxboro Stadium, an electric company, and connecting with clients via Facebook and handwritten thank-you notes. It’s nothing but lovin’ at DJX.”
Bernard says the ingredients required to deliver his ideal 2014 holiday season included love for the craft, sincere elbow-rubbing and remaining professional onsite.
“We never actually have to work,” he says with a slight chuckle. “It was simply time-consumption, with the green being the byproduct.”
While Sean “Big Daddy” McKee of James Daniel Entertainment in Stamford, Conn., says their holiday season 2014 season was their busiest in a long time, he credits the uptick in business more to diversification—such as adding a casino division—than anything else.
“As everybody knows, December used to be the big money-maker month that would help get us through January and February,” recalls McKee. “That’s not been the case for a number of years, but since diversifying to other divisions such as AV and lighting and casino, this past December was one of our biggest in five years.
“We did 45 casino events—half of which had no DJ—and all in all we did over 120 events in the month.”
As a result, McKee says the profits are finally coming back. “That being said, marketing helped a lot, too,” he explains. “Also, my casino leader is amazing. I have eight events booked for December of 2015 already, just because we stayed focused and worked hard.”
East-coast celebrity DJ Carl Williams says he spent so much time traveling between Orlando and his hometown of New York City during the last two weeks of 2014 that he often felt like he was mimicking the early radio years of radio jock Tom Joyner—whom they called “The Fly Jock,” due to the fact he traveled from Dallas to Chicago every day.
Still, Williams admits that the corporate-holiday-party circuit is still not what it used to be years ago. “Today, certain industries such as construction and healthcare had great budgets,” he explains. “And although many companies are seeing their bottom lines increase with fewer employees, they had more intimate events for their team members where a DJ was not required.
“I followed up with some past brands, and some of them decided to treat their folks to a night out on the town at a nice restaurant, or to the owner’s home with catered food or a comedy-club experience. There weren’t many big holiday parties at The Ritz-Carlton or the Waldorf Astoria like the old days.
“Nowadays, companies are afraid to have these types of high-end events, in fear of the potential backlash they may get on social media websites. The worst PR that could happen to a company is the perception of spending thousands of dollars on a luxury-hotel holiday party, while people are still looking for work.”
Of course, Williams says the perennial challenge for holiday parties is the difficulty of encouraging employees to “let loose” during such an event.
“Holiday parties are great events, but it can be hard to get employees to dance at for three or four hours,” he says. “No one wants to get too drunk and become the talk in the break room the next day. So there needs to be engaging activities to help members to network and interact with each other.”
For this reason, DJ Carl says it’s great to be able to add upsells—when financial feasible, that is. “One of the ways that companies can engage their folks is to provide the photobooth experience,” he says. “For school events, uplighting can help their experience, too. However, I find that providing live entertainers and dancers to move throughout the room to energize the guests really works best for corporate holiday parties.
“The only problem is companies don’t want to pay a fair rate for these types of upsells. There is so much competition with other DJs or agents giving their products and services away for literally nothing when one includes the time to prepare for an event.”
This past year, Williams says the only companies he found willing to spend big fees were those in the very heart of New York City. “There was definitely a sense of shopping around,” he says, “and HR departments know that they can get away with this because there’s a high expectation from the executive teams to be under budget for payroll and special events.
“Companies have fewer employees and are making more money. There are more DJs to compete with who are giving more amenities away for lower prices. Brands know this and selling to them takes a lot more effort.
“I don’t know if companies will be able to have over-the-top holiday parties like they used to 10 years ago. The future is definitely unclear with new technologies, such as streaming music services that make it easy to hear music in the background, as you network with fellow work colleagues.
“Is this the start of a non-DJ holiday-party revolution?”