A DJ’s Guide To The World Of Corporate And Private Events

Looking to broaden your bookings? Successful DJs and agents share their advice and experiences, helping you to navigate a world that works much differently from the club scene.

What do beauty product launches, 70th birthday parties, bat mitzvahs and sunset drinks on a superyacht have in common? They all often require DJs. And not just any DJs—open-format DJs who, depending on the client and the brief, can create a very specific vibe. 

It’s a vibe that’s usually not too wild, but also not too serious. Being an open-format DJ—meaning someone who plays a broad range of genres, often using techniques influenced by hip-hop DJing—requires confidence, deep musical knowledge, and excellent mixing skills. You must be good enough to blend several genres seamlessly, anything from ‘60s swing to Afrobeats. Whether you’re playing for two hours or nine, you might need to forget about your own musical tastes and instead prioritize your client’s wishes. So if you’re not comfortable mixing ABBA into Missy Elliott, open-format DJing in a corporate setting or private party probably isn’t a smart career choice. But for others, it’s a fun, varied and potentially lucrative way of making a living. 

Every booking and every budget is different, and the rules of the club scene don’t apply here. A club DJ booked to open a techno night knows they will probably play to an empty dance floor, creating an inviting atmosphere as the club fills up, and allow the next DJ to take over smoothly. But at corporate events, you might be playing in a brightly-lit department store at 6 PM, or you could be soundtracking the foyer of a five-star hotel during a tech company’s annual conference. The location and the crowd always differ, which is why corporate DJing isn’t as easy as it might look. 

How do you go about DJing for corporate events and making a career out of it? And what’s it like inside this world? We asked talent agents and DJs from across the world for their advice and insights on how to approach it.

What are agents looking for?

Having an agent can give you a solid introduction to the corporate world and help you land as many or as few bookings as you want. Jaynee Wilkins is the founder of JW Agency, an open-format DJ agency and artist management company based in London with over 100 DJs on their books. The agency supplies DJs to corporate events across the UK, like Porsche’s staff Christmas party, afterparties during London Fashion Week, gigs at Be At One bars (where the JW DJs have ongoing residencies) and Ministry of Sound’s corporate events. The international branch of the agency, JW Elite, provides DJs to premium venues and spaces worldwide, like luxury yachts, beach clubs and 5-star resorts. 

Jaynee seeks out potential in DJs and, upon signing, helps them evolve into skilled and in-demand selectors through the JW DJ Academy, where the team intensely train new signees. “We’re not looking for the perfect mix,” she explained, referring to the standard of mixes the agency receives from applicants. “Obviously if we get those that’s amazing. But when someone joins the agency they probably think they’re good, however, they’re not at the standard they should be, and that’s because no one has taken the time to tell them because they’ve probably just learned to play at home. They haven’t had anyone coaching them, so we’re very hands-on with our DJs. We’re like one big family. We’re very much on their development all the time.” 

Personality is another make-or-break factor at JW. “We’re looking for good people who want to be part of our dream,” said Jaynee. “We understand that they’re on a journey to be a successful DJ, but while they’re with us they’re with a team, so it’s very important that they are good people, personable and fit in with everyone. Also, they are representing the agency to our clients. Even if you’re an amazing DJ, if you’re arrogant we’re not even going to look at you. That’s how we are. We’re very much about the people.”

Laura Harvey, a club and corporate events DJ, is founder of the London-based agency SpinSisters, which provides female DJs to corporate events and weddings across the UK and abroad. Previous bookings include Meta’s onsite staff parties, Google’s 25th anniversary, and Patrón Tequila’s new product launches. 

Laura seeks out experience in a DJ before adding them to her roster. Because I know how hard this job actually is,” she said. “Yes, it’s fun, but it’s really hard. You’ve got to be able to think on your feet, and you’ve got to be able to think fast. So what I look for more than anything is experience. If someone comes to me and says, ‘Oh, I’ve DJ’d at two weddings, can I join the team?’ I just say, ‘Come back to me when you’ve done 20.’ It’s our name on the line, and obviously clients write reviews about us, and so far, touch wood, they’re all five-star reviews. So I definitely wouldn’t just take on anyone.”

Liam Pitcher is the founder and head DJ at The DJ Company, a South African agency that offers a range of DJs (there are 25 key names on the roster, but the company has access to over 100 DJs) serving Cape Town, Pretoria, Johannesburg and Durban. Corporate bookings for brands like Cadbury, The Stormers rugby team, Woolworths Triathlon and TotalEnergies have featured in the company’s diary. 

“The first thing I look for is someone who hasn’t copied and pasted an email to me for another company,” said Liam. “I just know that if I see, ‘Hi there’ or ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or if the tagline is ‘We would like to join the agency’, or even if there’s a spelling error in the email, or if it seems like the person emailing either hasn’t put any effort into this or hasn’t taken the time to do actual research about the company and put something personal in the reach out, I literally will close it and never respond to them.” 

Efficient communication is another sign that Liam looks out for. “I want to see that this person can communicate in a professional way because we’re a professional brand,” he said. “We’re not a laid-back brand. I’ve had DJs reach out to me saying things like, ‘Hey man, let’s go for a beer together some time, and we can talk shit and chat about potentially some DJ gigs.’ You’ve lost there already, I will never work with you… So if you’re reaching out to a DJ company, make it personal, make it professional, show them that you’ve actually done the research and care about what they do.”

Jerdyah Mahal (Top Klas) of JW Agency
Jerdyah Mahal (Top Klas) of JW Agency

What is the recruitment process at a DJ agency?

JW Agency receives over 500 applications per year, mostly via the recruitment manager’s inbox. Applicants must send three mixes that adhere to the application guidelines, alongside a recent headshot and social media links. If the managers like what they hear, they arrange phone interviews and decide if the DJ has the right personality and motivation to work with JW. Following successful phone interviews, the agency invites the applicant for a trial with their training and development manager, so they can see the DJ in action. 

“We’re there to see how they are, their personality, and what they are like, that kind of thing,” said Jaynee. “If they get through the trial they then have a lot of paperwork to fill out, and they have a DJ induction. Part of the induction is going to our DJ Academy and getting coached by one of our tutors in all the different genres. It’s quite a long process. And then, once they’ve got through all that, we take them out for dinner.”

Over at SpinSisters, most DJs contact Laura directly to join the agency. Laura arranges a meeting and assesses how experienced the DJ is and whether or not they would suit the agency’s style of events. If successful, Laura adds the DJ to the SpinSisters broadcast channel, where she informs the roster of new offers. From there, it’s up to the DJ to put themselves forward for gigs.

At The DJ Company, Liam tests how eager an applicant is by asking them to send an electronic press kit—but he usually never hears back from them. If the applicant replies promptly, Liam sets up a meeting, and if it goes well he’ll trial the DJ at “low-budget events” to see how they perform.

“I would then analyze, OK, what are your strengths, what are your weaknesses, what do we maybe need to work on?” he said. “But I wouldn’t actually start guiding them too much until they’ve done an event for me and they show me that they can rock up on time, be professional and that they know how to plug in a speaker and plug in a mixer, that kind of thing. They need to actually know the ins and outs of how an event functions so that I can send them there and trust that I don’t have to have someone there babysitting them on how to plug in a speaker. They need to know all these things.” Treating the DJ equipment with care and receiving 5-star feedback from the client are also crucial for Liam. 

How about fees?

In any industry that involves talent, there’s usually a booking agent who represents that talent. The agent takes a cut of the talent’s fee or adds it on top. But in the case of open-format DJs, the agent’s cut can vary because it depends on the client, the client’s budget and if the agency needs to hire equipment.

Jaynee gave an example. “If it’s a corporate event where we have to provide equipment, normally the agency will charge for the equipment,” she said. “And that will be our fee, and then the DJ gets their fee.”

The agency fee also depends on the venue. “We’re quite generous; we probably take 15%, not even that,” said Jaynee. “It just depends… our full-timers, for example, say they’re on around £4,000 a month on average—they’re always going to get around £4,000 a month, even if they’re playing at different venues, because it’s a mix. It’s not like one month, they’ll get £500, and the next, they’ll get £6,000… With the corporate events I think you can definitely make more money because a lot of brands have bigger budgets, but it just depends.”

The commission fee at SpinSisters is usually 30%. “But sometimes it’s less,” said Laura. “For example, if someone contacted me now saying, ‘I need a DJ tonight,’ and they weren’t prepared to pay what we normally charge, I think, ‘Well, nothing else is going to come in tonight, so maybe I’ll just go and do this cheap gig.’ And then sometimes the fee might change. But generally it’s around 30%.”

“Our fees for corporate DJ gigs start at £1000 and go up to around £5000 depending on the hours of the gig, the location of the gig and which DJ they decide to book. The commission fee at SpinSisters is usually 30%. I usually do a Zoom meeting with the client to get all the requirements to match them with the right DJ for their needs, and I negotiate the right fees for the girls. It can take up a lot of my time in emails and Zoom meetings, plus I help with logistics at venues too. And of course I have all my company expenses to pay to keep us running, so I think 30% commission is fair.”

Liam estimated the equivalent DJ rates from the South African Rand to the British Pound. “What we charge corporates could be anywhere from £250 [currently $315]  for a full day with the most minimal setup possible,” he said. “So, two 10-inch speakers on poles with DJ gear and two lights on the table—£250 plus travel expenses of the AA rate. But an event can go up to any amount,” he continued, mentioning a recent wedding booking for roughly £5,000 or $6,345. “That’s a single-day event, and I’ll go myself with two of my best assistants, and that’s for a more elaborate sound setup: some lighting structures, cold spark machines and an LED dress dancer, so it depends on what is on the list of requirements.”

Such requirements vary, and this affects the agency fee. Liam emphasized how a firm “value proposition” can financially benefit any agency. “…i.e., ours is, we don’t just play music, we curate emotions,” he explained. “We create unforgettable experiences. That’s our value proposition through DJ sets, and a DJ set requires sound and lighting equipment… you can charge more when you can offer more.”

DJ Kara [photo by Ariana Arroyo]
DJ Kara [photo by Ariana Arroyo]

Corporate DJing without an agent 

Kara Ford, AKA DJ Kara, is a Los Angeles-based DJ who works full-time without an agent. She has her own agency, DJ Kara LA, The Agency, which is an extension of her business and a way to offer other skilled DJs to clients when she isn’t available. 

Over the last 10 years, Kara has built a strong reputation as an open-format DJ, playing corporate events for brands like HBO, Disney, Nike, Zillow, Microsoft and Amazon. Originally from Indiana, Kara has a background in producing music “for fun” and a degree in business, so in 2012 she moved to LA to pursue a job in the music industry. Instead, she fell into DJing. During this period, she responded to an online post from a wedding DJ agency looking to train new DJs. She applied and got a position at the agency, where they trained her for six months, twice a week. 

“It was a lot of MC training and knowing the flow of a wedding, and then they did a bit of DJ training as well, just teaching you how to DJ,” she said. “I had to do a lot of what I learned on my own, though, because wedding DJing does not have as much mixing, so for a lot of the mixing that I do now, I learned that on my own, and that was just through YouTube.”

Working with the agency built a foundation for Kara, allowing her to go out independently and develop her brand. In the wedding industry, she “learned about people” and their particular needs, which is how she gained most of her experience. She then launched her website, uploaded several multi-genre mixes, implemented clear SEO and started to receive booking requests, followed by 5-star reviews.

“The website can be seen really easily for people specifically looking for female DJs in Los Angeles,” she said. “So if somebody’s typing that in, they’ll find me. Then I have the selling point through the website of the mixes and things like that. So it’s easy to find me. I also have a lot of content saying, ‘Hey, this is what I’ve done.’” Kara has multiple videos on her YouTube channel too, and written recollections of gigs on her blog.

Maxim Vantrois, AKA AMAXXY, is an open-format DJ based in Belgium and the French Riviera. A handful of his current clients include Armand de Brignac (a brand of champagne co-owned by Jay-Z), Formula 1, the Cannes Film Festival and many more. Oh, and he’s also DJ’d for Naomi Campbell, Sylvester Stallone and Bella Hadid. 

He started DJing at 14, played house music in Belgian clubs aged 16, then moved to France two years later, where he studied music production and played a couple of corporate gigs on the side. “And then the Cannes Film Festival discovered me, and they really liked my style of music,” he said. “And so I did my first big corporate event at the film festival, and I really, really enjoyed it because with the corporate events there is a lot of budget, so they invest a lot of time and money and details, and this makes me feel more valued for what I do. So we really work on the projects together, and that’s what I really like about corporate DJing.”

Apart from landing a few bookings through agencies during the year, Maxim is “self-managed” and looks after his own requests and schedule. Following his debut set at Cannes, Maxim built his repertoire by networking and going out to other high-caliber events; he was new to the industry and had to start from scratch. “I spoke with people, not only to get gigs but also just to meet and to have interactions with people in the industry,” he said. “Even if they were not going to book me, it was just to understand how the corporate and the high-end event industry works. And then I started playing for other corporate festivals, and then it started rolling.”

What is a typical brief for a corporate gig? 

While some briefs might list the bare minimum of details, others will go above and beyond. “Armand de Brignac, for example, have really strict musical preferences, so for every event I play with them, there are multiple video calls to discuss playlists of the set, depending on the importance of an event,” said Maxim. “If it’s a new client, they call me to ask for a quote. If the quote fits their budget, I plan a video call to find out their musical directions and preferences.

“Then I prepare some stuff to match their preferences and schedule another video call,” he continued. “We see if it matches and if I’m on the same line as they want. But that does not mean that I will play only these songs, it’s just to give a direction of what I think will fit with their brand or the preferences they gave me beforehand.”

Maxim’s collection includes disco-funk, classics, R&B, hip-hop, house and anything that could work as “background music” (it’s not always party tunes), as well as Arabic, Lebanese and Indian music for destination weddings. 

Maxim said he tries to bring his own style and approach to mixing while keeping the guests happy. “If I use less commercial tracks and more underground tracks, I try to combine it with a vocal so it’s still accessible to the more commercial music lovers, but there is still some new stuff in the mix… I’m not playing just hit charts,” he said, pointing out that he’d otherwise be the same as other DJs. “So I try to make proper edits that have a less commercial aspect, for example, a house song over the vocal of a classic one.”

DJ Kara’s selections vary depending on the brand and the demographic of the audience. “In general, I try to keep it cool and really fresh and not corny. That’s my thing—I don’t ever want to be the corny DJ. So there’s new music, a lot of remixes, throwbacks and things like that.” While Kara loves ‘90s and ‘00s throwbacks, remixes of classics, a little house, funk and “melodies and horns and just vibrance,” she’s always reading the room. “If it’s an influencer event and it’s young people, I might not have a lot of the throwbacks, I might do more remixes and more of the newer stuff that’s coming out,” she explained. “But when it’s the corporate brands like Zillow, I’m doing a lot of the good throwbacks, a lot of remixes too. But it’s the classics that are mixed up, and people really like to hear that because it’s recognizable, and within that, it’s still new.”


Professionalism is “huge,” according to Kara. “You have a business, you’re gonna show up, you’re gonna be there,” she said. “Also, having content—you’re doing it, you love it, you’re putting up mixes. Have a lot of stuff out there, so the clients can see it, and so they know that you’re professional. They can already see what you’re likely to play, and how you’re going to mix and how you’re going to be.” 

Maxim said that “professionalism, punctuality, being well groomed, and conducting yourself in a business-like manner” are all attributes a corporate client seeks out in a DJ. “They also look for experience, and that’s important to show on your website. Also communication skills are super crucial because a lot of DJs tend to have this ‘cool kids’ language, and that’s not gonna work in a corporate industry.” 

Adapting to surprise situations is another attribute. “Corporate clients love to make last-minute changes,” said Maxim. “Even up to one hour before, like if there’s going to be a speech, or if a guest is coming, and then two minutes later, ‘Oh, he’s here. Play this.’ You have to adapt easily.”

The pros and cons of corporate events

The fees for corporate DJ sets tend to be high because the bigger the brand, the bigger the budget, so that was a pro from the majority of agency owners and DJs we spoke with. Laura, for example, earned more from her first corporate booking than she did from three years of club DJing. 

However, some corporate gigs can be “tedious” too. “Sometimes you go to a gig, and it’s in central London, and there’s nowhere to park, so you pull up outside, and the people at the loading bays are super unhelpful,” Laura said, naming a luxury hotel that gave her barely any time to unload, park elsewhere and set up inside. “But it still pays really good money. So you just sweat it out, and it is a fun job. Obviously, if you love music, which we all do, then we love our job. But not every gig is 10 out of 10. Some gigs are so fun, and you’re like, ‘I cannot believe I’m being paid for this.’ It’s so good. And other gigs, like with any job, you’re like, ‘I will be so happy when this is over.’”

For Maxim, one advantage is that many brands host just one corporate event per year. “So the people are always so excited about that one party, and they appreciate the event more than going to clubs, for example, because you can go to a club every night. But if I need to give one disadvantage, it would be that I’m sometimes limited in being creative.”

Advice and best practices for DJs who want to get involved

Maxim recommended that your online presence is “on point” because it’s a form of networking and a way to stand out to corporate clients, who might be inaccessible in day-to-day life. “In the beginning, I was really focused on my technical skills and musical selection, and I still am,” he said. “But now I think 50% of my time goes to networking, video calls and being online. I have a good SEO with my website, so if you type in ‘DJ in Cannes’ or ‘DJ in Monaco,’ I will be the first one that pops up. Then the client will open my page, and they will see all perfect videos, nice mixtapes, good text and professionalism, and then that will convince them to read further… It’s the only way for them to get in touch. Nobody is going to cross the event manager of Louis Vuitton in a Starbucks in Brussels.”

Kara affirmed the importance of having a strong website and top-tier SEO. “So that they see you’re professional, you will do the job, and you are legitimate,” she said. “The website is the proof of that, and then having the mixes to back it up like, ‘Wow, this is what they actually can do.’ It’s a really easy sell, and that’s going to sell them on wanting you specifically for their event. And then, of course, Instagram and social media are cool, but I would say the website is the most important thing.”

Laura advised building up your Mixcloud and Soundcloud. “…because that is the proof, and I’m all about the proof and the evidence,” she said. “Get the videos of people going nuts to your sets and put it on your Instagram because then you’ve got something to share with someone.”

Liam shared tips on how to check the legitimacy of an agency. “Are they updating their website regularly, or does their website just look shocking, to be candid,” he said. “Do things not load properly? Are they using old-school animations? So I’d say what’s more important than the website is the Google My Business Profile—is it well reviewed? Have people reviewed it recently? Are they uploading content regularly, or are they not uploading content regularly to Google My Business? Are they uploading content to social media? Are they active on social media? When you phone them and talk to them, are they professional? Are they open to collaboration? Or do they seem like bitter people who actually are a little bit closed off and stuck up?” Another question to ask is whether or not the agent is full-time so you can be sure they have an “abundance of work coming in” for you. 

Jaynee said you need to be prepared to “work hard” and “be resilient.” “I’m always teaching DJs, ‘Don’t take it personally. Our venues might have their favorite DJs as well, and it’s not because they’re a better DJ, it’s because the venue likes their style, or there’s a personal connection. It’s like when you make music—not everyone’s going to like your music. I think you have to be very resilient in this industry.”

Text: Niamh O’Connor