When we asked mobile DJs across the country about using drones, some cited reasons why they don’t use these flying cameras as part their businesses:
- “No drones for this guy,” stated Keith K. in Chicago.
- “Not part of any of my packages,” reported Bob M. in Atlanta.
- “Legally, it’s way too risky,” said Kevin P. in South Carolina.
- “We leave that stuff to the photographers, and stick to the musical entrainment,” said Mark H. in San Franciso.
But, of course, we did find some jocks that have embraced the relatively new technology. How are they used? And just how does a mobile entertainer make money using them?
We’ll get to that, but first, let’s define this story’s main character. An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone, is technically an aircraft without a human pilot aboard. A drone may operate either under remote-control by a human pilot or autonomously by onboard computers.
Drones have recently taken off as a toy and a hobby, and they were one of the hottest gifts this past holiday season. In fact, drone usage has grown so much that that the FFA now mandates registration of all new drones. Almost 3 million drones will be shipped in 2017. And, indeed, in some parts of the United States some mobile DJs are beginning to take notice.
According to Mick Uranko of Uranko Productions of Pottsville, Pa., the biggest advantage of implementing drones in his DJ-entertainment company has been improving his relationships with venue managers. Using drone-shot video or photography, he’s helped create promotional material for the venue from these unique aerial perspectives.
“Getting on a preferred vendor list is one of the best ways to increase my bookings at high-end venues,” says Uranko, who began integrating drones into his company in August of 2016 after successful completion of the FAA Part 107 certification exam. “Using my drone, and my reputation as an award-winning wedding entertainer, I’m able to get on preferred vendor lists before even having a wedding reception at their venue.
“I’ve found it also helps generate midweek jobs, and I’ve been able to find drone work outside the wedding market by filming golf courses, real estate and corporate buildings.”
Uranko’s rates for drone work depends on the overall scope of the project.
“For instance, for a simple photo of a building I charge $250, but for filming a golf course I’ll charge $1,800—that’s $100 a hole,” he says. “In order to charge any money for drone services, you’re required to be certified by the FAA and pass a Part 107 certification test. Also, it’s very important to have a drone insurance policy.”
Uranko just recently began filming “venue reveal videos,” during which he meets with his booked brides and grooms 60 days prior to their wedding reception.
“I start flying the drone with the bride and groom centered in the frame, and then film while flying the drone in reverse away and up from the bride and groom—revealing their venue in the video,” he explains.
“This supports improving my relationship with the venue, as well as helping the bride and groom build excitement for their wedding reception before it’s even held. I’ve also used this opportunity to film flyover videos of the venue.”
Uranko says that so far his client feedback has been tremendous.
“Not trying to take anything away from the professional wedding photographer or videographer that a bride has hired,” he says, “but providing this service for a bride will be one of her favorite photos of her wedding day. Venue managers absolutely love our photos because it puts their venue in a different perspective, and in fact we can help sell their venue if they’ll back our company—which will helps book more receptions.
“Drones have helped my DJ business by offering a new service that separates myself from other companies,” he says. “It improves my overall relationship with venues, which helps book more brides, while the photos drive traffic to my social-media sites to increase my followers and likes.”
Chris Wiegel of Interstate Aerial Imaging in Dubuque, Iowa, notes that there are many legal rules when it comes to flying these unmanned sky-crafts.
“A ‘remote pilot license’ is required if there’s any exchange of money or goods for drone photos or videos,” Wiegel explains. “Even if you just want to provide your favorite golf course with free photos, you’ll still need to get that Part 107 license due to your photos being used for commercial purposes.
“A drone pilot is limited to flying no higher than 400 feet, and the drone must be within visual line of sight at all times. The drone must have a displayed registration number that can be bought from the FAA for $5. If you’re within five miles of an airport, you also must either obtain a waiver from the FAA or contact the controlling authority at the airport to provide notification of your drone flight.
“The remote pilot license is a federally issued license to fly in the federal airspace system. This means that the user can fly over any property or city without needing permission.”
Once Wiegel received his remote pilot license, he bought a DJI Phantom 3 PRO drone, and after a few months of practice and learning, his work quickly became recognized in his area of the Midwest.
“There was one photo, in particular, of a sunrise in Dubuque that was shared by three news agencies that morning, and that’s when I knew I should take this further,” he recalls.
“Let it be said that there are amazing photographers out there, amazing wedding, and portrait photographers. I, personally, am not at the point and I am not trying to be something I am not.”
DJ Mike Melice in Ithaca, N.Y., uses drone photography in multiple ways. According to this DJ/drone pilot, the most important component of operating a drone is safety.
“The best way to learn is to find someone in your local market who already operates a drone,” he says. “The learning curve to operate a drone isn’t that difficult; however, there are several safety factors to consider, and the environment your drone is operating in plays a major role. Before putting the drone in the air, you have to conduct a site survey to identify the potential hazards such as telephone wires, buildings, trees and wind.
“To prevent an accidental collision, you should always operate your drone in line of sight. And the next most important safety factor is understanding the limits and capabilities of your drone. Drones are battery-powered and, if not properly monitored and maintained, they will cause a crash.”
Melice is another mobile entertainer whose drones help him create promotional material for venues – he has exchanged this material for a spot on the venue’s preferred-vendors list.
“I also work with some of the area’s top videographers to capture some amazing images from both the ground and the sky,” he says. “The learning curve actually wasn’t that bad. Especially with all the video games out right now—i.e., Grand Theft Auto, Ghost Recon, just to name a couple—wherein the on-screen character is flying helicopters, drones have very similar controls.
“The hardest part is trying to not get too confident, because that’s when mistakes happen.”
Melice uses a DJI Mavic Pro drone, and says he always makes sure to have multiple back-up batteries and propellers. In the future, he’s hoping to invest in the DJI Spark for quieter flights, and to capture ceremony recessionals.
“I’m currently waiting to take the test for my commercial pilot’s license,” he adds. “Since I’m in the middle of a very busy wedding season right now, I’ve put a hold on that for now until November, when I hope to take the test.
“Once I get that license, my prices will be determined on flight times and post-editing work.”
Melice says that so far the response from his clients has been tremendous.
“Many venues use my images as their main Facebook picture and website page with my name tagged on it,” he says. “Every time you share an amazing image with a venue, they’ll love you for it, and you’ll very likely end up on the top of their preferred vendors list.
“They’ll share that image on their Facebook page and tag you on it – which equals more SEO, more inquiries, more bookings.”
And just like using professional DJ equipment, Melice says that searching for the correct professional drone for a DJ business increases that company’s chances of a successful flight.
“I own a DJI Phantom 3 Professional with a MARS parachute system and DBS range booster,” he says. “The MARS parachute system was added to increase my level of safety. The parachute will automatically deploy if the drone experiences a free fall. This is not a requirement to fly; however, the system is designed to prevent total damage to your drone in the event of an accident. The range booster was added to insure proper connection between my controller and the drone, and I added the booster to improve the performance of my drone.”
Looking into the future, privacy issues are something that are even today becoming an issue of concern.
“But we have to keep in mind that 99-percent of commercial drone operators are not in the business of violating privacy,” says Iowa’s Wiegel. “I envision future consumer drones being outfitted with radio chips called ‘transponders,’ and being able to be remotely shut down from a government authority if there’s ever an issue.
“That change could come in the next two to five years.”