ORIGINAL ARTICLE PUBLISHED BY:
DJ TIMES MAGAZINE – July 2003
New York DJ Keeps It All in the Family
By Scott Aruti
Yonkers, N.Y – John Serricchio, owner of New York City-based Don’t Stop the Music! Inc., believes in the classic tradition of a family business. Alongside sister and brother-in-law Joanne and Carl Bartolotti, Serricchio has been filling dancefloors in the tri-state area since 1985, yet according to Serricchio, this family-run business had been little more than a “side operation” during its rather humble beginnings.
“My interest in starting a mobile DJ company sparked when I was working in construction in the early ’80s, and my brother-in-law, Carl Bartolotti, was working in downtown Manhattan, between jobs and looking for a change of career,” says Serricchio. “Music had always been a part of my life—singing at a young age, an obsession with collecting and playing records. But what really intrigued me was the fact that I had a friend living in Long Island who was running a very successful mobile company. I pretty much asked him everything I needed to know about this industry, with regard to getting started. One thing pretty much led to another, and with the assistance of some people I knew in bands, I launched Don’t Stop the Music! as a simple side business with Carl.” But the pair did not simply buy equipment and begin performing at parties. They researched business techniques, practiced microphone voice-overs and thoroughly examined equipment choices. Laughs Serricchio, “I remember—now that today we use everything from JBL Eons and American DJ ‘plug-and-play’ CD player/mixers to massive Community 57’s—starting off in ’85 with E-V speakers the size of washing machines!”
In the beginning, says Serricchio, he and Bartolotti were a dynamic team—Bartolotti the MC, Serricchio handling the DJ duties. Eventually, as the business grew, the team split and began working with the now numerous, sub-contracted DJs and MCs on the Don’t Stop the Music! staff. From these roots as a small side business, Don’t Stop the Music! “snowballed” into a full-blown mobile DJ service, incorporating in 1988.
Don’t Stop the Music! is operated as a complete family effort—Serricchio himself, his sister Joanne and Joanne’s husband Carl are always in the office and on call for a prospective client. “When a customer dials Don’t Stop the Music!, they’re always speaking to an owner here—not a receptionist or other such ‘middle-man.’ We each handle the actual event bookings.” Joanne is actively involved in Don’t Stop the Music!’s field work, actually a member of the company’s DJ team, performing at events as well as supervising disc jockeys at events at which she is not performing.
“Running a business with family presents the challenge of carefully balancing personal and professional issues,” Joanne adds. “Although we are a family, we have overcome this challenge by accepting the fact that in order for a successful business to flourish, it must be run on a professional level—personal discrepancies and mood-altering issues between family members must be left at home and cannot be brought to the workplace.”
According to Serricchio, what makes Don’t Stop the Music! unique is the fact that he and his family co-operators do not rely on advertising as a method for reaching new clients, nor do they believe in performing at bridal shows. There is no large, sprawling Yellow Pages ad exposing the Don’t Stop the Music! name to the masses. Truth is, 90- to 95-percent of their new gigs come from referrals.
“We have a great deal of repeat business,” says Serricchio. “And what I mean by ‘repeat’ is this: we may do a couple’s wedding, and then down the road perform at their children’s christenings and first birthdays. We feel this is the way a business should be run. This personalized, one-on-one connection we develop with a client and their family is what makes us special. To Don’t Stop the Music!, the customer is not merely a number.” Contributing to this personalized theme is Serricchio’s approach of meeting all clients face-to-face, in the office, as opposed to closing a deal and booking over the phone. “If there is a special circumstance, such as the potential client residing in another state or some such situation, a telephone booking is unavoidable,” says Serricchio. “But if that client-to-be is in the immediate New York tri-state area, we prefer to make an appointment in the office for a more personal, one-on-one approach in order to see what his or her needs may be, and to go from there. This, to us, is the ideal way of working with customers—I could never understand how some mobile companies only book over the phone. We have had clients who personally return to the office no less than 10 times before the day of their event to finalize details because they feel so comfortable with us.” Another resource outside of the word-of-mouth technique proving invaluable for Serricchio and family is the company’s Web site (www.dontstop.com). The site acts, says Serricchio, as an electronic brochure. “When people cold-call the office, I almost immediately ask them if they have access to the Internet,” he explains. “Because the Web site is so informative, I can direct potential clients there with the comfort of knowing most of their questions regarding what we can offer them will be answered. Also on the site are images of DJs and motivators ‘doing their thing’ at various events—a great deal more pictures than can appear in a traditional brochure.”
The company’s packages range from one-man shows to six- or even seven-person gigs. “We are all about customizing an entertainment package for a particular client’s needs,” says Serricchio. “If a client requests a larger sized package, one encompassing four or more entertainers, we have available motivators and MCs that will get on the floor and involve guests in typical audience participation dances. We try to put our own spin on some of these participation routines—I can honestly say that our crews do not attend set rehearsals, where we, the management, demand they perform specific routines at every single gig. I emphasize that we are all about customizing. Each event at which Don’t Stop the Music! performs is tailored for that particular client.”
“This may sound cliché, but every party is different,” Serricchio continues. “We have been in the business long enough to know that not every event is the same; we can perform at 300 weddings a year; every one of those are going to demand vastly different types of attention. And we have heard it all: the bride doesn’t want to hear this, the groom wants to hear that, who doesn’t want to hear the Electric Slide because they’re sick of it, who doesn’t want any kind of participation because they just want an all-out, club type atmosphere with dance tunes crankin’ all night…these are all possible different scenarios that we cater to.”
Don’t Stop the Music!’s costs begin at $500, and can go as high as $3,000 or even $4,000, depending on what that customer is looking for. “Once a customer begins approaching the $4,000 mark for an affair, our entertainment package usually consists of dancers, high-end lighting, a large system, large prop packages, giveaways and more,” says Serricchio. “We also offer, normally for these upper-tier events, such services as T-shirt printing with messages on them [such as ‘I Had a Blast at David’s Bar Mitzvah,’ etc.]
“What also makes us unique,” says Serricchio, “is that we do not concentrate on trying to sell just one type of mobile DJ service or ‘gimmick’—like ‘character gimmickry’ such as large Frank Sinatra heads or the like. We do not focus on offering one type of unique service. We can offer clients just about anything (of course, within reason) they can dream up – and if it happens to be something that’s not in our arsenal, we can get it for them by going to any length and reaching out to other contacts we may have in the party accessory market.”
Once, Serricchio went so far as obtaining pony ride services for a first birthday party. Serricchio says that because of Don’t Stop the Music!’s location—the Bronx/Westchester region of New York—the company is literally forced to be “ethnically oriented.” While Italian themselves in ethnicity, Serricchio and fellow family co-owners employ individuals of diverse ethnic backgrounds, including Spanish. “We must cater to a quite diverse clientele in this tri-state area,” he says. “We perform at events which encompass members of the Italian, Latin, Jewish and Irish communities, to name but a few. We were recently called upon to perform at a police event in the Brooklyn, N.Y., area, for an organization known as the Emerald Society. This group is comprised of Irish Transit Police officers.”
According to Serricchio, his clientele usually fall into the middle-class bracket. Yet, for certain events, these same middle-class clients will spend a great deal of extra cash on entertainment.
Yet although Don’t Stop the Music!’s core client demographic is middle class, Serricchio will not refuse lower profile gigs. “These lower priced gigs we do for those willing to spend a bit less than the average middle-class client may be generated by repeat business, and we cannot afford to ignore that. These customers may not necessarily require a large set up with a huge system or entertainment package, and we never know what repeat business we may get from performing at such an event.
“In this business, I’ve learned that you just never know where your next client is going to come from,” continues Serricchio on the benefits of performing at smaller, lower profile gigs in addition to the larger ones. “There may be an individual at that particular 40-person event that is willing to spend $2,000 on their next affair because they were totally moved by our performance or our selection of music.”
Serricchio stresses the importance of music selection rather than what is said over a microphone. “Club work, in my opinion, is easier than operating a mobile DJ company,” says Serricchio. “We have club disc jockeys calling us all the time, looking for mobile work, and when we inquire about their mobile jock experience, they claim to have none—but they go on to tell us how they are expert mixers. That just doesn’t cut it for us. Mixing in itself may be an art form to the club DJ, but to us, there is a line between club style and working a crowd at a wedding. A mobile jock needs to know exactly what record to play exactly when and, although this could hold true for club jocks, mobile DJs are dealing with grandmothers in the middle of that crowd, not just young, enthusiastic club-goers. A mobile DJ needs to be comfortable with the big bands: Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Glen Miller, Jimmy Dorsey.
What does the future hold for the Don’t Stop the Music! Inc. family? An upcoming talent company merger by which Serricchio and staff will be able to provide clients even more choices of just about any type of entertainment under the sun, from female impersonators to celebrity impersonators to belly dancers, clowns and magicians.
“As we are delving into different worlds of entertainment service offerings with this merger, we have been exploring clown and magician services for events such as christenings and first birthdays, because these are the types of affairs that seem to drag,” Serricchio says.
“So, specifically for these types of parties and events, we will be trying to push these extra, unique services such as clown or magician appearances. Ultimately, we want to be known as the family operated mobile DJ company that can do it all—and in many ways, I believe this already rings true.”