By David Dallas Bryant
I wish that in my younger days I was mature enough to know when DJ burnout actually happened. I worked for a large multi-op for 19 years — I started in 1997 at 17, earning about $200 for an event and about $600 for a weekend, which was amazing for a teenager. And this lasted for a while. I kept getting raises and they kept me working.
It was a great company with honesty, integrity and they provided decent equipment — American Audio dual rack mount player (not with hot start) and American Audio 4-channel mixer. We used the JBL MR925s — these things were workhorses and I know a guy that still uses his.
I had the top spot and was requested more than anyone else (they didn’t charge more for me even though I got paid more). Also, they were open about their bookings. Some shady companies in our area would book their “top DJ” for multiple events, knowing that only one event would actually get that DJ. Not this company. They would ALWAYS tell potential clients that I was already booked. That was a good lesson to learn as a teenager.
I was also the “Mascot” when not working an event — doing bridal shows, local pro meetings, bar/church installations and DMX programming on the side.
I worked a lot. I DJed 106 weddings in 2001. Not counting corporate/schools/bars and other events. 106 weddings! But I was also young, so I appreciated a decent paycheck.
But then it started to feel like work.
I had the best job in the world, I really only had to make one person happy every night. But after a while I felt I wasn’t getting paid what I was worth. I was already feeling burned out, but also knew that I loved what I do and where I belong at a party.
DJ burnout was gradual, but inevitable. I could go through the bookings whenever I wanted and really noticed that on some nights I was requested for a few weddings. It was first come first served and the other events knew that I was unavailable. The company was still good at booking these events as the DJ they were getting was most likely trained by me.
It was still a bit disheartening seeing a few gigs that I got for the company that I was never compensated for. Only a little, I was happy the company was doing well, and my friends were working. It was hard to take a night off though.
DJ Burnout symptom #1: It was disheartening seeing a few gigs that I got for the company that I was never compensated for.
One other gradual realization came with the equipment we were using. Decent stuff, nice lights, great speakers and a small CD library of The Platinum Series and a few different Promo Only CD subscriptions. But they were a little slow when the industry was heading towards digital. So most of us jocks started buying our own laptops and controllers (if you can call the first controllers “controllers”) then hooking into their analog mixer. Then I wanted new LED lights. So I bought some of my own. So now half the system was my own stuff and the wear and tear was my own responsibility.
That got old after a few years. I’m really not complaining about the company or owner. I think that in the history of capitalism not one person has looked at their paycheck and said “Wow, I am getting paid exactly what I deserve!” Also, it was never entirely about the money.
I wasn’t giving up on DJing. I needed a break, and always planned on coming out of a break refreshed and ready to work under my own brand.
So in 2013 I put in a 13 month notice, telling them that I knew that many brides have already requested me for 2015 and I wanted to obligate that. Remember, this company/owner taught me about integrity.
I needed a break, and always planned on coming out of a break refreshed and ready to work under my own brand.
Honesty and integrity really helped me here.
There is an awesome bar around the corner from me. It is a billiards hall and never had a resident DJ. And never needed one. I was a regular, and I’d DJ there like 3 times a year. I could head home from a wedding at 3 am (last call here is 2 am) and still come through the back door and have a few cocktails while the staff was finishing up. We were friends.
This place really helped my hiatus decision. After I gave my 13 month notice at the DJ company, I got a job at this place as a bartender while they knew that I still had 13 months of weekends that I’d be unavailable.
They also knew my plans to take a few years off then go back, full time, under my own brand.
They gave me manager status, keys to the place, and office codes during orientation. I literally had alarm codes before I knew how to clock in.
So after my first year of really only working weekday and Sunday shifts, my DJ obligation was done. For 2 years I ran that bar while DJing about 10 events a year. It was a great time of my life.
But I always kept updated with my music. Maintained/updated my equipment/insurance/media. Created my own interactive website.
More importantly, I missed DJing! I was looking forward to the rare weddings. I spent so much time treating this job as a job. But now I was looking forward to this being a career.
The hiatus worked. I looked forward to every event. I was practicing again. I started getting together with other DJs (that I trained years ago) on our day off for jam sessions.
I had spent so much time treating this job as a job. But now I was looking forward to this being a career.
I was really lucky. But I’d like to again thank honestly and integrity.
Then I gave the bar a 1 year notice.
They were friends. They already knew my plans. Weddings book early. Regulars became friends.
If I was planning on leaving, and booking weddings a year in advance, and telling regulars my plans, then it would be dishonest to not tell my bosses. It was the right call.
I have learned more in the last 2 years than ever before.
I don’t think that I would have been as successful on my own if I had made the decision to take a break and come back at a younger age. Maybe a few years ago, but not in my 20’s.
Now I run my single system company and I love it. If there’s DJ burnout it’s all on me. I even bought myself a “World’s Best Boss” mug. I do mostly weddings but I’ll DJ anything, really. I do some install/maintenance work — but not too much and not something that I try to do more of. Just a few local bars that call me when there is an issue or they want to change something. And I do DMX programming, which is nice because I can do that from home and then just get the show/scene to them usually by email if they have a computer literate person working there.
I fill in at bars, which I love doing, but not looking for a residency at all. Too much of that and it starts feeling like a job again!
8 Tips to Alleviate DJ Burnout:
1. Stepping back and taking a few season off was the best thing that I could have ever done for both myself & for clients. I came back with a renewed passion & found joy behind the decks again.
2. Always remember that this can be the best in the world if you let it. If you are feeling burned out, take a step back to reevaluate yourself and your business model. Maybe even take a break for a season or two. Find a way to balance your life and your career.
3. Don’t be worried that your first year or two back may bit a bit slower than you are used to. It will be — and that’s not a bad thing. Charge what you are worth, don’t try to book every event at any price. Remember you don’t want to have to restart your career again, so try to keep your bookings at a pace that is comfortable for you. My number is 50 events a year and I adjust my prices accordingly. When I get close to that number then my prices go up. You may lose a few gigs, but at this point you should be looking for quality, not quantity.
4. Take as much stress out of this as possible. For me it was having proper back-up equipment, early event preparation, and early event arrival. It can be a long night if you start it off stressed out. However, if you give yourself time and are prepared for any eventuality, that calmness resonates through the rest of the event. Clients love this. I often get complimented on my “roll with anything because I am prepared” attitude. A stressed-out DJ can create a stressed-out client.
5. If you do take a break, keep up on music, new trends, equipment, programs, etc. Try to find that passion again. Keep connected with other professionals. Sometimes just having a jam session with a couple DJ friends helped me remember how fun this can be. Keep up on some of the forums. Social media can be great for this. Seeing others enjoying that which you used to love can be inspiring. This will help you transition back into the game.
6. Schedule ‘vacation time’ in advance, just like you would a gig.
7. Stockpile cash during the busy season so that you can take an entire month off in the off-season.
8. Raise prices so that you can effectively earn the same amount of revenue working less jobs.
If you love what you do it will show in your work. Have fun with it and don’t make it harder than it needs to be.
David Dallas Bryant runs David Dallas Events in Mount Clemens, Michigan, and DJ burnout is a distant memory.
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