New York City — It was while playing keyboards in a seven-piece disco cover band out of high school — they were called “Afromative Action” — that Brian Buonassissi learned that he couldn’t pay his bills in a band of that size.
Then he met Karl Detken, at the time a Pioneer DJ executive, who convinced him to give DJing a shot. “He had a local karaoke residency at a club on Friday nights that I started co-hosting with him and then the club decided to start an open-format dance night,” says Buonassissi. “Not married and with more availability than him, Karl had me DJ these on Saturday nights.”
At first, Buonassissi says he “absolutely” sucked. “I knew music, but couldn’t mix myself out of a paper bag. Karl introduced me to some mixing legends who gave me some tips and I just practiced and practiced. Patrons in those early days were very gracious. Finally, I turned a corner with my skills and caught the DJ bug.”
Eventually, Detken took him under his wing and brought him into the Pioneer DJ corporate fold. He managed all the trade-show demonstrator programs, and after a reorganization he moved into sales. “My boss at the time, Neil Altneu, encouraged me to open my own mobile business, so I could really grasp the needs of the mobile DJ and be able to sell more effectively,” says Buonassissi. “This turned out to be a game-changing decision that altered the trajectory of my life forever.”
Sharing $500 between seven guys in a band twice a week had put Buonassissi in major debt really fast. “Making $500 for myself in one night at the club was a turning point,” he says, “but when I got my first $1,500 private event booking, that’s when I knew that I could legitimately make this a career.”
Today he owns B-Boy Productions, with branches in Destin, Fla., Huntington Beach, Calif., and New York City. The origin story goes like this: While at Pioneer, he was still DJing on the weekends and, through his Pioneer connections, he began doing celebrity/high-end private events, movie launch/wrap parties, TV shows, and celebrity birthday events.
“I had so much business coming in via word-of-mouth that when I left the corporate world, things really took off and I hired three guys—two of which are still with me to this day—to fill the demand.”
Then he received a job offer to move to Florida for an entertainment director/nightclub residency at the second-largest club on the state’s panhandle. He jumped on it. “We broadcast live from the club on the radio,” he recalls, “and my name was being blown up on radio ads daily, which helped with private-event bookings.”
His Florida business, needless to say, took off. Today, he has nine DJs on staff there along with rentals, photo booth and photography company. Meanwhile, his SoCal clientele kept calling him to work private events. Says Buonassissi: “I decided to keep that division going as long as the phones were ringing.”
The New York division started due to a SoCal bridal client, who worked at the former Four Seasons Restaurant in Manhattan. After Buonassissi performed her wedding, she introduced him to a few New York City entertainment agencies and planners who would do luxury events. “These clients wouldn’t think twice about flying me in based on the planner or agency’s recommendation,” he says.
“Eventually, I was getting so many calls that I put in my notice at the Florida nightclub to focus on private events, and my newly married wife and I decided to move to the City, which was always a dream of mine, while keeping the other two divisions going.”
Whew. Get that?
Buonassissi says he’s looking to be the destination go-to DJ/MC for the luxury private-event destination market. “My goal is to change people’s perception of DJ entertainment one event at a time. Most of that luxury clientele tend to book bands through agencies. The DJ is an add-on piece to these agency’s business model, not a featured option, so the quality control for DJs is poor at best. Being in New York City, I’m in the mecca of luxury destination event planners and agencies. With the evolution of free social media marketing—through Instagram mainly—it’s much easier to get noticed by these planners and agencies.”
On the equipment front, Buonassissi chooses V-Moda M-100 headphones and, for PA, a variety of speaker solutions – from the Mackie SRM Series to QSC’s K series to the Electro-Voices ETX series. For lighting systems, he subcontracts it all out, always using just what’s necessary.
“Gear, for me, literally changes by the event,” he says. “I always advise DJs with this analogy: Learn how to drive—the skills of DJing—then it won’t matter what vehicle—the DJ gear—you use.
“I recently did a corporate event in Grand Cayman and I had a small 3-by-3-foot footprint—no joke. I’ve found for those environments a combination of Akai products – the AMX mixer and the LPD8 USB MIDI Pad controller – are ideal. In general, I lean towards Pioneer DJ gear products. Being a part of the design and manufacturing process gave me great assurances that their products were rock-solid. I use a variety of them, from the DDJ controllers to the single CDJ player and DJM mixer lines. When I can, I’ll add the Akai LPD8 or the Novation Dicer for added control/effect options. I was an early Serato DJ adapter and have been with them ever since I converted to an all-digital playing.”
Over the last few years, Buonassissi’s been going international with events not only in Grand Cayman, but also Mexico, Italy and Ireland, as well as domestic locations outside of his three regional locations. “I love the fact that I get to combine my passion of travel with my desire to deliver high-end entertainment event experiences,” he says. “I have no geographic boundaries. I’m trying to break the mold and chart a new path as a mobile event entertainer.”
Full-time since 2006, Buonassissi says that if he were to give any advice to an up-and-comer, it would be to develop skills first. “That is the foundation,” he says. “It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised by how easy it is to market yourself as the best thing since sliced bread, but once you’re put in a pressure situation, you’re exposed for what you are. One of my DJs put it best when he said, ‘What we do at private events is manage chaos.’ If you don’t have the skills as a foundation, it makes managing chaos impossible. With online reviews and referrals being so integral to our industry, this can take you down quick and be tough to recover. Put in the time to develop your skills through workshops and videos — and the DJ Expo. You will reap what you sow. I’m a case study of that philosophy.”