Beyond The Club: DJ Rachel (open-format DJ)
Imagine playing to crowds of over 100,000 where the demographic ranges from toddler to grandparent. What do you play? How do you deal with the pressure?
This isn’t a hypothetical situation. For Connecticut-based DJ Rachel, this was real life when she entertained a packed Metlife Stadium for an NFL Jets game. Other realities have included warming up for grand funk wizard George Clinton and soul queen Gloria Gaynor; she also plays gyms, weddings, charity sporting events and pretty much any event in between.
Essentially, I pretended to be the DJ I wasn’t. I’d never done a gig in my life, but I pulled it off
This year she’s been more in demand than ever before. But, as she explains, she only takes the gig when she knows she’s the right DJ for the job. Explaining how she interviews prospective clients just as much they interview her, DJ Rachel’s approach to event DJing is dynamic, proactive and ultimately inspiring. And it all began when her brother collapsed one morning! Find out how…
DJing isn’t the only thing you do, right?
I do a lot of things. I’m a busy girl. I work for a corporate security firm and teach courses like active shooter response and CPR.
Wow. How did you get into that?
I always wanted to be a police officer; my father was a police officer for almost 40 years. He suggested the force has changed and thought my talents would be better suited doing something else, so I became an EMT and eventually I found this security training niche. It’s the next best thing for me.
What a serious position
Yes, it is. I have to know what I’m talking about. There is a lot of legal compliance considerations. We have to make sure our workers are safe and are trained to respond correctly in dangerous situations. My DJing allows me to step away from the scary world I work around daily and just enjoy music and have fun with my clients.
So how did you get into it?
My brother is a DJ. Being the little sister, I wanted to tag along and play with all his stuff. I shadowed him and had some understanding of how things worked but I never actually intended to become a DJ. Then when he was about 22, I was 16 or so, he woke up one morning and collapsed. My family and I found him unconscious on the floor of his bedroom. He was rushed to the ER and I knew he had a wedding that day, which meant the couple now didn’t have a DJ. When I arrived instead of my brother naturally they were freaking out. I assured them that I would take care of everything and would ensure they had a great event… even though I had never done an event on my own before let along a wedding! I couldn’t let them know that. Essentially, I pretended to be the DJ I wasn’t. I’d never done a gig in my life but I pulled it off. From that moment on I thought ‘if I can do this, I can do anything.’ It gave me confidence and made me realize I had more of a natural talent than I thought.
Was your brother okay?
Yes, he was. It turned out he was an undiagnosed type one diabetic. He’s doing well.
So did the DJing instantly take off for you from there?
It was a slow build from there. My brother now knew I was capable to handle more responsibility and he would give me events that he wasn’t available for. Just smaller gigs to start and some bar work. Nothing too intense. As time passed the people he referred to me, loved me. They told their friends, who told their friends about me. My business has grown organically by word of mouth only.
Did he mind?
He has his own customers so he is happy. We support each other. I eventually branched off from his brand and started my own and my business (DJ Rachel Entertainment) and the last four years has been explosive. Prior to that it was part time, but my growth and momentum has been incredible.
There’s nothing I won’t show up and play music for
How did that development happen? Were there particular moments or things that changed things for you?
A lot of this has to do with partnerships and connections you make. It’s word of mouth. For me, it was a gym in an active community that has a large client base of women. They wanted a female who would complement their brand and a lot of their clients are at the age where they’re getting engaged. One of the clients at the gym works directly with the town mayor. So when they have a big concert series such as George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic or Gloria Gaynor the town employee put my name forward and it’s developed into a great business relationship with the town. The catalyst was getting into a business that’s integrated in the community, getting out there and having people see you is what will give you the business.
Also last year I decided to stop being afraid and invest in myself. I went through a rebrand. I developed a logo, got some custom DJ drops, an electronic press kit and marketing materials, and started a YouTube channel with tutorials. I pumped them out and the return of investment on them has been incredible. I’m sorry I waited so long to do it.
And you play a very wide range of events as a result!
Being an open format DJ allows you to diversify and maximise your profits. There’s nothing I won’t show up and play music for. There are some genres I could be stronger on. Latin music, for example, because I don’t understand most of the lyrics, but I do my research and figure it out as best I can. My biggest fear with Latin music is playing something with swearwords at a wedding or Quinceanera when the client wants clean music.
For me it’s all about knowing your customer. I’ve turned down people I know my style of Djing isn’t a good fit for. Recently I had a wedding request and the couple wanted nothing but underground house music. I’m not interested in mixing one type of music and I told them I wasn’t their DJ but I knew someone who could be and introduced them. It’s all about knowing who’s right for the job and getting them in front of the right customers.
The gig has to be right for you, just as much as you have to be right DJ for them…
Absolutely. I interview them as much as they interview me. In terms of what to play it’s knowing your space, knowing what they’re looking for and being confident about it. I have to enjoy it too. I never do a job unless I know I can have fun and do myself and the client justice.
What’s been your most memorable gig so far?
I was able to play at a Jets game at Metlife stadium with about 100,000 people. it’s actually what started my social media presence. I did a video blog of everything that happened that day, put it on YouTube and people were interested in it. I record a lot more of what I do now and built up a following. I like showing the real side of DJing. Not just the party life and glamour that people think DJing is.
You’ve got every generation and type of person at a sports game. Where does your selection even start?
Very upbeat, top 40, very clean, very family friendly, very recognisable. I love taking old time classics and merging them with much more contemporary pop. I try and give a little piece to everyone. It’s got to be familiar. People like music they know.
You’ve used the term open format DJ, can you explain that a little?
It means I don’t put a label on what I do and being able to play in diversified environments with all styles of music. I don’t just do weddings or school dances, I’m whatever you need me to be. If there are things that I don’t provide that a client may need like a photo booth or dancers, I can recommend people from my network. I’m an open format DJ and want to enjoy the party as much as you do.
Great. Let’s finish with some essential tips!
Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself. I was holding myself back when I was looking at equipment, thinking I could never make the money back. But if people can see you think you’re worth it, they’ll want to invest. Another one is training; we’re always learning. I submerse myself in DJ related information. I subscribe to newsletters. Seminars. Digital DJ Tips. If you feel you’re too big to learn, you’ll stifle yourself. Finally, go out and listen to other DJs. It’s inspiring. Be a customer. The best way to be a great DJ is to know what the customer wants.