Hear that? Well, if the noise you heard any time in the past year, there’s a good chance it wasn’t the sound of a disc jockey booth. Not surprisingly, business has been bad for DJs and live …
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Hear that? Well, if the noise you heard any time in the past year, there’s a good chance it wasn’t the sound of a disc jockey booth.
Not surprisingly, business has been bad for DJs and live entertainment companies. COVID-19 restrictions reduced the number of gigs for Denver metro DJs to nearly zero. Many squeaked by from working virtual proms and socially distanced bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs, but it’s already much better because there are now real proms and other events as public health restrictions loosen.
“I feel like we went from hibernating bears to chickens with our heads cut off,” said Rikki Mor, operations manager at Denver-based Imprint Entertainment. For most of last year, Mor said she could count the number of live events Imprint booked on two hands.
Michael Crabtree, owner of Denver-based DJ Guy, said business was down 80% to 85% from 2019 to 2020. DJ Connection, a nationwide company that has a Denver office, had 4,000 events scheduled last year, three-quarters of which were canceled, said owner Jason Bailey.
Some events were entirely nonexistent during the pandemic, such as school dances and corporate events. All of the companies worked weddings and Imprint did a few bar and bat mitzvahs, one of which was a “carmitzvah,” Mor described. At the carmitzvah — held at Wings over the Rockies in Denver— people congregated and celebrated by setting up tables at their adequately distanced parked cars, Mor said.
Another pandemic-flex event the DJs worked was the “private prom.” DJ Guy booked one with about 25 high school students from different schools, whose parents (the parents were in a friend group) put on for their kids at a small venue. Crabtree jokingly said, “It felt a lot more like parents planning a party for themselves and the kids were invited.” The ratio of parents who took photos in the photo booth versus the students is evidence of that, he added.
That said, the students seemed like they had a lot of fun because “they had been stripped of some of these fun and engaging things that have been a rite of passage in high school,” Crabtree said. Not only were the restrictions slightly looser at the private prom, but parents were more relaxed about the music. For example, at a school-sanctioned dance, Crabtree might not be allowed to play an unedited version of Cardi B’s “WAP,” but the private prom parents didn’t have a problem with it. “It’s kinda funny,” Crabtree said.
Slightly similar, DJ Connection worked virtual proms, where a student and their date were at individual homes and streamed into a group Zoom. The DJ, in his own Zoom box, played the music and performed as they normally do — even pausing at points to hype up the crowd by saying, “we got some shout-outs here!” or “we’re giving out prizes!” — to make the experience feel as normal as possible, Bailey said.
Virtual proms have been fun, but also, “weird because you can’t see the kids … it’s a strange experience for us because DJs feed off the crowd’s energy,” Bailey said.
However, those strange events have helped the bottom line. Even then, Imprint had to lay off a few full-time employees and a few DJs departed. DJ Connection dealt with the same problem, but it didn’t end up laying off full-time employees because it’s a larger company. Still, Bailey worries if he’ll have enough DJs to work the bevy of events the company is lining up for later this year. A few DJs with DJ Guy were furloughed.
“I don’t personally see us recovering as an industry until at least 2022 to 2023, depending,” said Crabtree.
Things are picking up, though. Imprint recently did a prom at Legacy High School, an Adams 12 Five Star Schools district school, and DJ Connection did a prom at Horizon High School in Thornton, another Adams 12 school. DJ Guy recently did a dance with Douglas County School District and is looking to book events with Jefferson County Public Schools. Imprint, DJ Connection and DJ Guy all have tons of weddings on the horizon. Many are rescheduled gigs, but some are new events. On June 26, Bailey said DJ Connection will be at 19 events in Denver, over half of which are rescheduled events.
Like other businesses, live entertainment companies are cautiously optimistic about the prospect of more, and larger, gatherings as more people are vaccinated. That’s what excites the live entertainment companies, despite the struggles they still deal with. Mor said, “It is enthralling, and it is exciting. I think people have just missed being together. I think there is a little bit of anxiety for people to go back into situations. But it’s overwhelmingly more that people are so thrilled and excited to be together; it just provides a sense of adrenaline.”
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