I imagine, when someone receives certification in something, there is a sense of validation. For instance, when we graduate, there is a diploma. When doctors and lawyers finish their respective schools, they are issued degrees. Information Technology professionals are certified in a network and operating systems; teachers, too, are issued their teaching certificates. This list goes on and on.

My job, as a special events DJ, is void of this type of tangible validity. There isn’t a sanctioned governing body that issues a “Certified DJ” piece of paper. There are no tests to be taken, with questions like “When is the appropriate time to play the Macarena?” (The answer is never, BTW.)

What are the Qualities of a Professional?

Despite not having an official declaration, I had assumed once I started getting paid for my services, I could take on the moniker as a “professional.” Describing myself as a pro is part of the conversation in my consultation meetings, shows up in my website copy and is an element in my elevator pitch.

While I used the prerequisite as being paid as the reason behind calling myself a professional, I definitely consider myself one now, and yet, I am still without any official certification.

How You Know You’re a Pro

There was a specific moment where I knew this was no longer a hobby; one of those, “trial by fire moments.” A moment when I knew I was as professional as I would ever be.

professionals rely on experienceJust five months after I started DJing full time (another reason to call myself a professional), I was lucky enough to book a gig in Vancouver, B.C. Among the “firsts” I would experience; traveling by air to a gig (I’m based in San Diego), DJing outside of the United States, renting and using equipment that was not mine.

It was that rented equipment that would be the gateway to changing the way I look at what I do.

Most DJs would agree that the reliability of one’s equipment is the thing most important to us. When something goes wrong; a button not working, a computer freezing, a speaker malfunctioning, or in my case, a turntable not working properly, it’s a moment of panic.

The panic comes from having very little time and even fewer options to troubleshoot. While DJing live, you cannot just “turn it off and turn it back on.” That would result in dead air, and when nothing is coming from a set of speakers, that silence is sweat-inducing.

In this particular case, the pitch fader, a slider on the turntable that controls the speed of the spinning record, stopped working on one of the turntables. Controlling this tempo and matching the speed of one turntable to the other, is how DJs create seamless transitions between two songs.

And suddenly, I was unable to do that, and the song that was currently playing was 60 seconds from fading out.

Without getting into too much jargon, I was able to go into an emergency mode, bypassing the controls on the turntable and adjusting tempo directly from my computer.

I was prepared for this, because of another thing I strongly believe and wrote about in the past, practicing my mistakes — or practicing for disaster. The purpose is to go through problems that could potentially happen and teach yourself how to fix them. This is much easier to do in a stress-free environment than in front of an audience.

With the new song playing, I called over the stage tech, explained the problem, and he was on the phone getting another turntable brought out.

But that wouldn’t be for another 45 minutes. I still had about 30 minutes to play in my current set. There I was, operating with one working turntable and using my keyboard to control functions that the now non-functioning turntable was not able to do.

When the replacement arrived, in between sets and during a downtime, we swapped it in and the rest of the day and event was a success.

Some Professionals Rely on Experience not Certifications

Since that day, I’ve DJ’d events in other cities, where I have had to use rented equipment. On two additional occasions, I’ve had malfunctions with one of the two decks that were delivered, causing the rental company to bring me a replacement. Luckily, both of those issues were discovered during set-up and a day before the events began.

It was that moment when I felt I earned the “professional” title.

As these similar incidents were unfolding, in addition to other issues that inevitably arise at my events, I’ve noticed how much more calm I am as I troubleshoot. And I’ve noticed how quickly I resolve problems, either by actually fixing completely or finding a useable alternative to at least get through the event.

It’s that original moment when I felt I earned the “professional” title. It’s that moment and the subsequent ones that I realized people are not just hiring me to play music. I’m being hired to be an active contributor to an event, by constantly solving problems as they unfold. A problem that could be as simple as “how do I get people out on this empty dance floor?”; to ones as complex as “My computer has decided to do a 10-minute system update, five minutes before the doors open. What do I do?”

All of those moments that have occurred, and unfortunately moments like them that will happen again, signal to me that I am doing exactly what I have been trained to do. Training that did not come in the form of hours in a classroom or lab. Training that did not result in being given a certificate that was printed with a fancy font and placed in a padded display folder.

While I wish that I would never have technical difficulties in the future, I know they are inevitable. But I also know I’m ready for them, because of how I have dealt with them in the past.

Also, from now on, I’m always renting three turntables, so the back-up is ready to go, right away.

Featured Photo by Kara Michelle on Unsplash
Photo by Tim Easley on Unsplash
Not every profession requires certification. So then, how do you know when you're a pro? What are the qualities of a professional?