Michigan-based DJ Corey Rusch has a familiar story. His dad, a member of a band, saw the popularity of live acts declining, so he turned to DJing to keep working paying events. Along the way, the son got into the DJ act, too.
“My dad, Dean, started Rusch Entertainment with his band [Ceyx] in the late ’60s and early ’70s,” explains Corey of Freeland, Mich. “Now in his sixties, he still plays with the band—which to this day is still very popular for weddings all over Michigan—though whenever the band wants a weekend off, he still DJs.”
As for Corey, he recalls DJing for his own first gig when he was just 12-years old, following right along in his dad’s footsteps. “My dad’s band was playing a New Year’s Eve event for adults while I was the DJ for the kid party in the other room,” he recalls. “I’m now 34-years old and entertain at close to 150 events a year on average, while my dad performs at that many as well, and my brother Casey has even been involved with DJ work.”
Many parents complain about the next generation of kids, and as mobile jocks many of us might wonder if the next generation of DJs will maintain the standards we’ve developed ourselves.
So, we polled DJs to ask if their children are planning to eventually take over their DJ business. And, if so, who’s choice is it? And how are we grooming them?
Similar to what happened with Rusch’s dad, Dave Dionee got his start with DJing as a way to supplement his income as a radio announcer. By the fall of this year, the owner of Dionee Entertainment in Gorham, Maine, will have been involved the DJ industry for 40 years.
And along the way, Dave’s sons Joe and James have joined their dad in the business. “In 2000, my oldest son Joe started working on the college radio station at The University Of Southern Maine, WMPG,” Dave says. “Shortly after that, he indicated to me that he had an interest in becoming a wedding DJ. And 10 years later, my other son, James, joined the family wedding DJ business.
“Both my boys have maintained the standards I’ve developed over my decades as a wedding DJ here in Maine. They show up at least two hours prior to our contracted time. They use only top-notch equipment. They’re properly dressed. They respond to inquiries by clients quickly by email or phone. They are both 100-percent dedicated to making our brides and grooms happy leading up to and on the day of their weddings, and they maintain a professional approach and attitude towards the wedding DJ business in every way possible.”
Between Dave and Joe and James, the family members do a combined 150-plus weddings every year.
“My reminders and advice to the two of them have become less necessary and pretty much unneeded—and unwanted, of course,” Dave says with a chuckle. “I have no plans on slowing down or retiring anytime soon or in the foreseeable future, but Joe and James will eventually take over the family business. They both take a great deal of pride in being a part of Dionne Entertainment. They’ve put in the time it takes to improve and gain experience, by being out in the field and practicing the art of being an excellent wedding DJ.
“I’m proud of Joe and James, and I’ll have complete confidence in handing over the business to them when the time comes.”
Over in the Midwest, K.C. Kokoruz of The Keith Christopher Entertainment Group in Chicago has been helping his 15-year-old nephew Will get started in the mobile DJ business.
So far, he says Will is in love with the thought of someday having his own DJ business, though he says he’s not quite ready to call this a career path.
“It may end up being my future career, but who knows right now,” says Will. “You could say that DJing is a family thing, though. My father Kurt worked for my uncle in high school and in college, DJing parties all the way up until he and my mom got married, when he hung up his headphones.”
For Will, DJing started when his dad was organizing an Easter-egg hunt at their church when he was only 11 years old, and his uncle was asked to supply music for the event.
“Before it even began, my Uncle Keith was teaching me how everything worked and asked me if I wanted to DJ it,” recalls Will. “I was hesitant on saying yes because I was scared I’d make a mistake. I had no previous knowledge going into it, but my uncle let me pick out the music and do the basic mixing.
“After the Easter-egg hunt I thought it was really fun and wanted to practice, so I saved up my Christmas, birthday and other random money. My uncle and I went to Guitar Center and I got my first glimpse of that glorious DJ section at Guitar Center. I messed with all the controllers and ended up purchasing a Pioneer DDJ-WeGO-K.”
For Will’s next birthday he ended up getting a laptop, a hard drive and headphones, and he says he was off, “messing around, thinking I was the best DJ ever. I kept DJing the Easter-egg hunt at my church for the next two or three years, and I DJed my sister’s Girl Scout dances as well as other various events for my church.”
In order to acquire more knowledge of the industry, last year Will attended Randy Bartlett’s “1% Solutions Microphone Training.”
“At first, I was shy because since I was the youngest person there, but it really helped me get on a microphone and boosted my confidence to be able to MC parties and events in the future.
“I also attended DJ Times’ DJ Expo in Atlantic City with my uncle, and met so many really nice people and learned so much.”
By the end of last summer Will had purchased a Pioneer DDJ-SX2 controller, and earlier this year he had saved up enough cash to buy his own set of JBL EON 615 active loudspeakers, and now he says he’s ready to start doing parties and events near his home for kids his age. So… will Uncle Keith now have some competition for DJ events throughout the Chicago market?
As a 37-year veteran in the DJ industry, Mark Ashe in Enfield, Conn., has experienced his son Nick becoming integrated into the family business, MARX Entertainment & Events.
“Whether it’s spinning at an event, on social media or introducing a new product to the market, Nick has his hands in it,” Mark says. “At MARX, we have two different divisions. On the entertainment side, he’s the vice-president of operation, and in our events division he’s our creative director. At 23-years old, he’s even involved in spending and marketing decisions.
“Nick was never intentionally groomed for this, as I have always pushed my kids to simply follow their dreams. But his interest started when he was 17, and has progressively grown leaps and bounds over the past six years.”
As much as MARX Entertainment is an advanced and successful entertainment company, Mark says that much of their success actually stems from his son’s vision and connection to the younger generation.
“He’s very open to some of our ‘old-school’ standards that’ve been successfully developed over the years, but he also brings crucial input and execution of his own ideas, allowing his creativity to shine and our company to continually grow and prosper.
“I feel that any parent that owns a business would love to see their children become involved and eventually take over, but I also feel that doesn’t always happen. Fortunately for me, my son is young and ambitious, very knowledgeable of this industry and eager to continue learning.”
Mark doesn’t yet have any plans to eventually retire from the DJ industry, so he has yet to investigate the inheritance-tax angle of passing his business down to his son. And as far as worrying about Nick someday rebranding the company or carrying the business along the way his father always has, he’s not concerned at all.
“In fact, we just went through a major rebranding and he contributed significantly,” Mark reports. “The resources and connections I’ve established over the years will always be available to him, and I have 100-percent trust in his decisions.
“And for that, I am blessed.”
While his sons are only 13 and 10, Gregg Hollmann of Ambient DJ Service in East Windsor, N.J., says he’s already inviting both Zackary and Max to help out their dad, and at the same time learn about the DJ business.
“My goal is to ignite their entrepreneurial spirit,” explains Gregg. “Zachary, my 13-year-old, has assisted at community events in packing the SUV, unloading, setting up equipment and even participating in group line dances, and I hope to get him on the mixing board soon.
“Max, the 10-year-old, has helped in the office and assists with filing and preparing client playlists on my DJ software. I’ve also brought my sons along to a DJ association meeting so that they can learn more about the industry, and I’m sure it won’t be long before I introduce them to DJ Times’ DJ Expo in Atlantic City.”
As Zach and Max move into their teen and college years, Gregg says he would love to give them the opportunity to work as DJs and MCs at his company. If nothing else, though, he says it would be a great opportunity for his boys to earn and save far more money than they’d ever make working at the typical minimum-wage job.
“My hope for my sons is that they either attend college or enter a full-time career that makes them happy,” he says. “Should that career be as a mobile DJ entertainer, I’d welcome them into my company with open arms.
“But the life of a mobile DJ—working on the weekends and living in a surreal non-stop world of parties—is an alternative lifestyle of sorts that I would never want to impose on my boys. Secretly, though, I hope for them to become entrepreneurs and someday run their own companies.
“Corporate America is a cruel and unreliable employer. The most empowering aspects of owning one’s own business are the job security and unlimited income potential. I’ve also watched with concern today’s youth racking up huge college loans, and then failing to find meaningful employment after dutifully obtaining their degree.”
When Kevin Porter’s son Braden was only three-years old, the owner of Elite Entertainment in Rock Hill, S.C., started calling him the “vice-president of operations,” hoping to begin instilling within him a passion for mobile DJing. Kevin’s happy to report that the DJ bug is finally starting to hit him.
“He’s 10-years old now and he wants to take over my business when he gets old enough,” he says. “Even at 10-years old, whenever it’s possible he comes and helps me set up. He has his own DJ system here at the house, he wants to come to our business meetings—though I don’t allow him to as of yet—and he’ll even come on occasion with me to sign a contract.
“Even at his young age, he’s already learning about different types of music. In fact, earlier this month while watching The Grammys on TV when they were honoring Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire, all of a sudden my boy said, ‘I hope they do ‘September,’ and I suddenly had a proud-father moment.”
Back over in the Midwest, Dean Goninen, formerly of Ultimate Entertainment in Dickeyville, Wis., is likewise wondering if his son Adam might eventually choose DJing as a future career. Dean owned Ultimate Entertainment from 1984 through 2008, when Adam was only eight-years old, yet his boy does remember tagging along during quite a few set-ups and events.
“Because of my current full-time job in the audio/video integration industry, he is still around this type of equipment,” Dean says. “Technology and computers are his interest, and when he was 13 or 14, he starting asking more questions about my former company and how that all works.
“I told him if he really wanted to learn about it, I would reach out to a couple of my friends who have DJ companies to see if he could help them out to find out for himself what it’s like. For two years, he either worked as a ‘roadie’ for the DJ side or assisted with a photo-booth.
“The photo-booth ended up being the best experience for him, as it had less pressure than DJing a wedding, yet still required him to talk with guests and assist them through the process. At the end of the gigs he saw the result of his hard work through the awesome photos in the photo-memories book.”
When Adam was 15 and a freshman in high school, he heard someone in his class talking about a school dance and how they couldn’t afford a DJ. He talked with his dad about borrowing equipment, and suddenly he had his first gig.
Of course, Adam soon found out it’s good to have a father who can be around to give helpful advice—and to be around when things don’t go as expected. “At one gig, he was running music from his laptop, but I had assembled for him a group of current music CDs to use as a Plan B,” recalls Dean. “As we were leaving the house, I asked again if he wanted them and he said that he’d be fine. I knew it was a bad idea, but the best lessons are learned firsthand.
“Sure enough, his software glitched with 45 minutes remaining in the dance and while the gymnasium was hopping. He waved me over, and I suggested he throw a CD in the player, so he could buy some time to reboot the computer.
“Of course, he didn’t have anything with him, but I had two CDs in my backpack, so I handed him one… while I was smiling. Not another word was said until the drive home, when I asked how things had gone. He said that he’d take me up on the collection of CDs next time.”
Dean says his boy has done about a half-dozen school dances over the past year and really enjoys it. “I believe he’s reached the point where he realizes it’s not a super-easy gig and he’ll need to get better in some areas, and in particular his microphone skills,” he says. “I’ve now offered to set some equipment in our warehouse and do some training on mic skills and equipment troubleshooting.
Dean says the life skills Adam is acquiring by speaking in front of his peers, being well-prepared, managing an event and handling equipment are invaluable at his son’s age.
“And for me, there’s also something very satisfying seeing my son follow through with a passion that was a part of my own life for so many years.”