Ooma Business Blog

How a Baltimore DJ started a national movement to help fellow entrepreneurs survive the pandemic

By |Monday November 15, 2021

Jason Walsh found himself in a unique position in early 2020 to advocate for thousands of entertainment solopreneurs when COVID 19 pulled the plug on their businesses.
“We went from 100 to zero overnight” as clients realized the graveness of COVID 19 and scrambled to cancel or reschedule their weddings, corporate events, mitzvahs, proms and night club appearances.

Jason is the owner Bay Deejays, which provides DJs for wedding ceremonies and receptions. But DJing is his side hustle. He earned enough scratch DJing to pay tuition for his juris doctorate from the University of Baltimore School of Law. His primary career is working for the federal government.

Where some industries, like restaurants, had strong lobbies advocating for government aid, many in the entertainment industry missed out on stimulus packages. That’s because at the beginning of the pandemic, aid was set up for businesses with W2 or 1099 employees, not sole proprietors.

Move the needle

It became clear to Jason that DJs had to band together. As the founder of the regional PEEP (Performing Entertainers & Event Professionals) Network, Jason already had experience gathering like-minded professionals together in Baltimore. But what was needed was a national organization, so he went on to start the United States Disc Jockey Association. “It was kind of born out of my love for DJing, but then also my passion for helping others in the industry.”

Because of his legal background, Jason received calls almost daily from members asking what to do with their contracts. They didn’t know if the pandemic was considered an act of God, which is often addressed in contracts. There was a lot of worry about clients canceling events and expecting refunds. Some clients paid up front, which helped DJs stay afloat at the beginning of the pandemic. However, the clients who pushed their event dates out ended up preventing the DJs from booking other gigs on those dates. “I’m doing events now, but they were postponed three, four or five times because the couples weren’t sure when it would be safe to have their events. So, you know, really we had to kind of pivot.”

Some DJs shifted to audiovisual work in churches, while others supplemented their work by using video-conferencing programs to start streaming businesses. One problem with streaming is that it’s illegal to stream royalty music, explained Jason. “It wasn’t being enforced initially,” then Facebook and other social media platforms started taking events down.

Jason reached out to his congressman to see if association members could get an exemption from the Copyright Act during the pandemic. This tactic didn’t work because the DJs had no time to negotiate with the record companies or artists.

Loop in others

That’s when Jason realized that his organization needed a bigger voice. DJs weren’t the only ones hurting. There were “videographers, photographers, people in the theater, people that are doing live events, people that are doing big concerts and shows.”

So Jason decided to start a new organization. After doing some research online, he discovered one already existed—the Live Event Coalition. It began in 2020 and represented an industry of 12 million who contributed roughly $1 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2019. This became the lobbying group that Jason was looking for. So, the USDJA joined the LEC as a partner association.

Echo what works

In the spirit of sparking ideas to replicate, partners began sharing what their local communities were doing to help artists. For example, the Baltimore City Council extended arts and entertainment grants. And various parks and recreation departments started hosting events outside and employing performance artists.

Spin gold out of straw

As rough as the pandemic has been, it also came with some valuable lessons. Jason’s advice is to:

Band together: “I think just having a community and having a network of folks you can rely on in any industry is 100% necessary.”

Lean on available resources: Jason says DJs try to wear many hats and take on all marketing, technical and legal aspects of their business. But, he points out, “it’s not your job as a business owner to do all those things. It’s your job as a business owner to be creative or move your product forward. But if you don’t have all the experience in those certain areas, lean on your resources available to you.”

Restructure your contracts: Jason advised the DJs to break up their contracts into pre-event consultation, rental services (if provided) and the actual event performance. For example, the planning portion would be “worth X dollars. And that’s your deposit … we’ll take that up front. And then when I complete the event, it’s worth the balance of 50 percent.”

Have a rainy-day fund: Jason explains that DJs are often busy reinvesting in their businesses, but they first need to save up enough to cover several months of expenses to keep afloat during an emergency. “You know it’s great to have … good DJ equipment or lots of fancy lights, but you can’t sell them during a pandemic when the other DJs aren’t working either, so … cash is king, so to speak.”

Set a new level

Gigs for DJs have slowly started to pick up and Jason is optimistic about the future. “It’s going to be the roaring 20s … 2022, I think, is going to be the year to be an entertainer!”

Note: This conversation happened on the Ooma 180 Win podcast. Want to listen to the entire podcast?

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