Clifton Park, N.Y. — Like most DJs, Caroline Kurkowski grew up with music; it was a huge part of her childhood. Her first concert at the age of 10? Kool and the Gang. The list goes on, including Joe Cocker and many more.
Turns out she always wanted to be a DJ — she was the person who brought tapes, CDs, and speakers to parties — but she thought of it as some sort of pipe dream. Then, suddenly, five years ago she was given the opportunity to start working for a multi-op DJ company.
“My dream came true,” she says.
Now, the pipe dream has evolved into Upbeat Occasions, a company in the Albany, N.Y., suburbs that she started at the end of August 2015. Her first challenge was a universal one: getting her name out there. The second challenge was finding locations where she could meet with clients and potential customers.
She handled these challenges the way she’s handled all issues that have presented themselves: with hard work and endless hustle. Finding mentors has helped.
“My great friend Mark Brenneisen, and many others,” she says, “have helped promote, support and guide me into becoming successful in the area.”
As for a location to meet with potential clients, she spent the first year at coffee shops, but by December, 2016, she decided to start looking for a small office. “My brother’s place of work had an additional office space that is in a prime location to meet people within the Capital District,” she says, referring to Albany’s metro area. “It has been wonderful meeting people in a small intimate setting where clients feel comfortable discussing their vision of their wedding day, anniversary or other event. It has helped my business tremendously.”
As for generating bookings, her first year of business she spent a great deal of time and money on wedding shows, and websites like Thumbtack and WeddingWire. In her second year, she’s seen a natural outgrowth of doing solid work – generating more events by word-of-mouth.
“I still attend wedding shows and am an active member of WeddingWire,” she says. “I also volunteer my time DJing for fundraisers for worthy causes.”
Worthy causes, one could say, is what makes Kurkowski stand out. She’s been a special education teacher for 11 years, and has DJed at venues like the Center for Disabilities.
“They are a blast,” she says. “People with or without special needs enjoy a good time, upbeat music, and party favors. I will ask potential customers and clients if they have anyone on their guest list who may have a special need that I should be aware of. For example, some people who have autism are sensitive to sound.”
It’s one area of the business that has differentiated her, but not the only one. “My No. l focus is making an event unique,” she says. “My goal is to personalize an event and I spend hours planning with each couple, sharing ideas and suggestions. I am very in tune to what they want for their wedding day or event. I am constantly attending professional development workshops and seminars — like the DJ Expo! I also have a wide range of music knowledge, and have done a Nigerian wedding, Jewish/Armenian wedding, Latin wedding and a Brazilian wedding. I love learning about my couple’s different cultures and their musical tastes.”
On the equipment side, Kurkowski uses Virtual DJ software, a Numark NS6 controller/mixer, Pioneer DJ headphones and Shure microphones. For PA purposes, she rocks Bose’s L1 Compact System and/or units from QSC Audio’s K Series – depending on the job. For lighting applications, particularly uplighting, she’s partial to Chauvet DJ’s wireless EZpar 56 units.
The Capital District market is highly competitive, with plenty of talented wedding entertainers. “I believe healthy competition is what makes you continue to work hard,” she says. “I also believe that there is plenty of work for everyone. I constantly share potential leads with my competitors. The end result is to have happy customers and, if I am unavailable, I know other strong entertainers that can do a great job as well.”
For now, she’s perfectly content working both worlds — DJing and special-needs education. “But the sky’s the limit in terms of where I’d like to take the business,” she says. “I see myself growing as one of the top DJ companies in the area.”
And how does she plan to do that? “Be true to yourself,” she says when asked what business advice she would offer to someone starting out – but it can easily apply to her own ambitions. “It is great to talk to other people in the industry, but you have to have your own vision and go with it. Believe in yourself and set daily goals on what to get accomplished.”
We asked Kurkowski, as a special education teacher who DJs, which job she prefers. Her response? “Both jobs are incredible!”