Adventures In The Exciting, Exhausting, Lucrative, Beat-Blasted World of DJ Managing

From Fast Company:

Big DJs often turn $25,000 in an hour. And behind them is a man like Arash Shirazi of The Bullitt Agency.

Arash Shirazi is the CEO of The Bullitt Agency, which manages international DJs, including the Grammy Award-winning DJ Dubfire, along with Better Lost Than Stupid, Davide Squillace, and Satoshi Tomiie. As dance and electronic music surges in popularity–Rolling Stone magazine recently featured the producer-DJ Deadmau5 on its cover–we caught up with Shirazi to find out more about the business behind the music.

FAST COMPANY: How’d you get into DJ managing?

ARASH SHIRAZI: I wanted to be a journalist. I was at the Discovery Channel, where the CEO gave me great advice, he said: “If people like you, they’ll buy anything from you.” I still use that. Then I worked for CNN News Source. My brother at the time was growing in popularity as a DJ as part of a duo called Deep Dish. They wanted an agent, and I said I’d try it. I was 25 at the time. I’m 37 now.

What was the business of DJing like in 2000?

It was the Wild West. The business was so rogue. Lots of people fall into it, and a lot of people are not college educated, especially the talent. I kind of put in structure and standard operating procedures. I tried to professionalize the business a bit. I tried to create a solid, legitimate, well-oiled, well-run operation.

What were the challenges of working internationally?

People from different cultures prefer to work in different ways. The Spanish are very easygoing. The Italians don’t follow deadlines. The Germans are very efficient. The Japanese you cannot insult–there’s a subtlety to negotiating fees.

I imagine DJs have big egos. How do you deal with them?

I always hear, “I’m not in this for the money. Money’s not important to me.” But the truth is it’s very important to them. It supports their lifestyle. Being a good agent is about balancing the commercial events with the events that energize their creative juices. I’ll oftentimes sit with clients and say, look, you can do 60 events in a year: 20 events have to be money-making events, 20 events won’t pay much but will get your creative juices flowing, and 20 are in-between gigs. I’ll involve them in creating this outline for the year, so when they come back to me and say, “I don’t like these events,” I can say, “Look, this is the blueprint you created.” Still, sometimes they’ll say, “I’m never doing that event again.” And I’ll just say, “You made $25,000 playing for one hour. This is going to pay for your sushi fix for the whole year.

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