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Carol Stream, Ill. — Up to now, Steve Owen’s gigs have come 100-percent from word-of-mouth. But this year he plans on changing that.

“I plan to run Search Engine Marketing and Facebook ads next year to see if that generates leads,” says the part-time DJ. “As a small, growing business, I think it could be beneficial.”

We asked Owen to back up and tell us how his Chicagoland business, Some Guys Entertainment, got started.

DJ Times: The DJ bug – when did you get it and who was responsible? 

Steve Owen: Music has always been impactful for my mood—a great song can turn around a bad day in an instant. So, I wanted to use music to improve other people’s moods, and decided to become a radio DJ. I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Radio Talent and Production from Columbia College Chicago, and also met my wife in school. Eventually, I started working on the Radio Disney Road Crew promotions team as a DJ and MC, entertaining families at events around Chicago. I had a blast celebrating with kids and their parents, but wanted to do even more partying. A wedding DJ company recruited me in 2012, and I trained with them to learn the particulars of weddings. Since then, I’ve started my own company in 2015 to work closer with couples and book the clients directly. Some Guys Entertainment parties with couples, families, schools, and private events throughout Chicago and the suburbs.

When did you realize that DJing could be a money-making opportunity?

Radio Disney events heavily featured interaction with guests including dancing, games, prize giveaways, and working with the crowd. I first realized DJing could be a money-making opportunity when a Christian high school reached out to me about DJing their first dance ever. They needed a host who could lead and interact with the students, so the students weren’t tempted to “interact” with each other! When someone booked me – because of my unique abilities – rather than booking the equipment or availability, I realized this could be a great opportunity to continue using my skills.

When did you first start your business and what were the challenges you faced?

I formally started the company in 2015. My biggest challenges were jumping into a crowded market – there are approximately 72,000 other DJs in Chicago – and having free time to dedicate to growing the business and my skills.

What two things did you immediately do to solve those challenges?

Frankly, I haven’t solved them. But I keep working despite the continued challenges. I don’t worry much about the other DJs in my area; There are plenty of events in Chicago, and not every event will be the right fit for me. DJing is a side-gig for me, so I don’t need to fill every available day or weekend to keep the business successful. The pandemic has given me some downtime to learn better business practices, and organize my music library. In 2021, I aim to put money into growing the business and getting new, non-referral clients.

Describe your market – who is your competition?

I’m in Chicago’s western suburbs, the third largest media market in the U.S. There is no shortage of professional and talented DJs who are capable of running a successful reception. The Knot lists more than 150 DJ companies, with a wide range of pricing, specialties, experience levels, and capabilities. Fortunately, there’s an equally diverse group of clients looking to book us and party with us.

How do you differentiate?

Working with Radio Disney taught me the importance of an amazing customer experience, which could mean stellar customer service or creating unique moments. Each event is a once-in-a-lifetime moment—we’ll never again have a party of this size, with this group of people, in this beautiful space—so I let the crowd guide me as we write the complete story. The couple and I may try to plan every detail, but we have to embrace the unpredictable moments in their event that make it truly unique.

When meeting with the couples before our event, I look for aspects of their personality that I can incorporate into the event. One couple loved “The Office” and used the show’s theme song in their grand entrance, so my dinner music included a few other songs that were featured on the show. At another event, the couple loved heavy-metal music, but struggled to find songs appropriate for the reception. During the cocktail hour, I mixed in string quartet covers of metal classics, and created a mix of hard-rock ballads for dinner.

Of course, we should provide impeccable service to our couples, but I also take care of the other vendors to make their night easier. Giving them an extra power strip and spot to drop their gear bags, checking in before the key timeline events, and calling their attention to special moments. In fact, most of my referrals now come from photographers because I help make the night easier for them.

What gear do you use?

I have a Pioneer DDJ-SX2 controller. I use Serato DJ now, but back in the day, I used PCDJ and then VirtualDJ. I also use a Yamaha MG10 mixer, a pair of Mackie Thump15A speakers, an Alto TS215S subwoofer. I also have innopow UHF Wireless mics, an Electro-Voice RE3-BPOL lavalier mic, a JBL EON ONE system and a Chauvet DJ GigBAR 2.

DJing for you is a side-hustle – what are your thoughts about it as a full-time endeavor, pre- and post-COVID?

Right, I’m a Marketing Manager for Blackhawk Network – our customers use gift cards to reward and motivate their staff and customers. Post-COVID, I’m hesitant to transition to a full-time DJ business. I saw how difficult it was for some of our colleagues to lose all income, and I don’t think I have the risk tolerance to go full-time. While I hope we don’t see any other widespread shutdowns of events, the biggest lesson I’m taking from COVID is to diversify my sources of income.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of DJing for you?

Creating memories with the crowd is absolutely the highlight of any event. Last summer while dining out with my wife, I was recognized by a restaurant manager who had been a guest at one of my weddings. He stopped by the table to tell me how much fun the wedding had been. My wife teased me that it was like a celebrity-spotting, but I was honored that he had enjoyed the reception and was still thinking about it weeks later. I’ve had couples contact me on their anniversary or when they are attending another wedding, to share memories from their reception.

Where do you see yourself and your business in five years?

As my kids – currently 7 and 2 – continue to age, I hope to spend more practice time at home with them, showing them how to mix, blend and program. In a few more years, I’d love to see them behind the decks at their school events or a wedding.

My goals are relatively modest: I’ll be managing three or four DJs and booking 50-75 events per year. We’ll have a variety of event-types and opportunities to celebrate with people: weddings, corporate events, town festivals, local store celebrations, and private parties.

I’m also in the early stages of re-branding my company to focus more on weddings, so I’m excited to see where this new chapter leads.

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