Over the past 15 or so years, our industry pricing has gone to hell. Unfortunately, becoming a mobile DJ is pretty easy these days with the invention of free (if you choose the illegal way) downloadable mp3s, inexpensive consumer crappy gear from Best Buy or whatever super deals website you choose and a local pawn shop and very basic button pushing skills.
This culmination of ease of getting the music and equipment have led so many inexperienced and untalented un-professionals to my once revered and respected industry that I have personally all but gotten out of it. It truly breaks my heart and makes me sad. Trust me, I LOVE what I do — but I also have to make a living. We will get to that in a minute.
There is an old saying that you get what you pay for and I firmly believe that this is true. In St. Louis, a city of two million people, there are 450+ mobile DJ companies, many of them sole-operators who will come and go out of business rather quickly. Do you honestly think that there is that much talent in St. Louis? I would say no.
Here is what has happened: This generation of consumers that have very little concern about the skills and talents of who they hire for their entertainment for their once-in-a-lifetime event are just looking for the lowest price available.
That being said, over the past 15 years or so, I have easily priced myself out of the extremely competitive wedding market here in the STL. I know that the prices here are much lower than the East Coast (and the rest of the great states), but STL boasts an average of $850 per five-hour wedding gig — absolutely embarrassing! Anyway, it is what it has become, and it is not getting any better. Start-ups that want to make an easy couple of hundred bucks as their part-time weekend gig constantly rob the true professionals that built this once very talented industry from the ground up. I am 100% sure that this scenario is true around the rest of our country.
As I stated, I have to make a living and feed a family and of course would love to continue the insatiable habit of world traveling that my wife, daughters and I enjoy. This year however, I went from having what was going to be a record year of over a million dollars on my books (that’s a big deal for my size of company) to living off of a government mandated supplement. Besides learning about humility and the privilege that I had, I have also watched the already super low average of the St. Louis wedding mobile DJ industry price go down even more significantly. Mobile DJ companies are fighting for breadcrumbs that are raked off the table and swept under the rug.
In my opinion, here is what has happened: This generation of consumers that have very little concern about the skills and talents of who they hire to be in control of their entertainment for their once-in-a-lifetime event are just looking for the lowest price available. Somehow or another, these price shoppers have disregarded one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. We are all guilty of doing it! How do you think that consumer-based search engines like Kayak and www.lowest-price-for-your-anything.com thrive so well? Brides and grooms, or couples, now just hire whoever can deliver the lowest price, without any concern to the quality of equipment, time spent in planning or the skillset that it takes to move a dancefloor and rock a mic.
All the above, combined with the Covid-19 pandemic, has calculated a terrible pricing formula that has misguided these already uneducated consumers to believe that we, as a whole in the hospitality, live entertainment and events industries, are desperate. To be quite honest, we are! I completely understand that many of us are struggling to pay the bills — I am included. But if we, as a whole, want to come out of this horrible 2020 as good as we went in it, we MUST stand our ground. The goal in businesses are to grow in profit year over year, not to go back 10-15 years!
I will speak to my particular industry alone, excluding the inexperienced and untalented un-professionals (who will hopefully fall off Google Maps as quickly as they got ranking on there): don’t fight for the breadcrumbs just because they are there on the floor. In a time when we are all hurting and struggling to survive, do your best to have pride in your industry and uphold it and the pricing standards that the true professionals have worked for so many years and so hard to establish. My father-in-law told me a long time ago to buy the best that you can afford, on anything, at the time when you buy it. As an industry, I plead of you to not let the uneducated and cheap consumer guide your future. If we all stick together, we can make it past this pandemic hurdle and come out ahead. Trust me, people are ready to party!
If, when the bride’s Mom or the future groom is assigned his single task of hiring the entertainment, you offer a much lower price to get the contract… this WILL become the norm. You will, unknowingly or not, add to the devaluing of our proud industry, because you chose to settle for less. Thanks to chat boards, The Knot and Facebook, people talk!
Word will get around and spread quickly that the average price is now much lower than before 2020. That is not the direction that I want to see my business model head. Have some chutzpah and stand your ground. Do not settle just because the consumer tells you to. The client does NOT dictate our pricing — it is supposed to be the other way around. I guarantee you that Paul McCartney’s concert ticket prices aren’t going to drop just because of a crappy search engine or a whiny bride… the live music industry ticket prices will NOT fluctuate. Why? Because people are willing to pay for real talent!
The answer, my beloved industry friends, is two-fold. Marketing and sales are the first key. Your first job is to get your face in front of the people that want and need your services. A very wise, and rich, business associate once told me to spend the most when the times are worst. That does not mean to not feed your family. It does mean to make wise investments in your advertising and future, staying in touch with your clients and industry friends and whatever else it takes. Remember, word of mouth will always be your best form of advertisement.
The second is to stand your ground on your pricing. Don’t forget why you, the real professionals, got into the industry in the first place. We are here because we love what we do! The cool thing is that you can make some great cash as a reward! Don’t give in just because times are tight.
In the end, as I write this article, I amuse myself by thinking I will give in and start my own lazy website to offer price bidding to mobile DJ companies in my city. Think of the benefits that I am giving the consumer… less phone calls, no in-person meetings, and I am saving them tons of money for the single most important day of their life that they have dreamed about since they were a kid. Maybe we should also give them coupon codes and run Black Friday specials? Hmmm, if I have the lowest price in the market… I will book the most shows. NO!!!
If you are worth a damn, have any DJ talents at all, and care about our industry… then Stand. Your. Ground.
Scotty O’Brien is the owner of Sunshine Entertainment Group in St. Louis.
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