Moving the needle

DJ David Osborne unlocked new passions through entrepreneurship

After earning a degree in music education from UGA’s Hugh Hodgson School of Music in 2004, David Osborne began working as a music teacher at a local elementary school. But a playful boast set him on an unforeseen career path.

“My friends and I were 25, 26, and we were all getting engaged,” he recalled. “I’m showing up to these weddings, and the DJs were just trash. And I’m like, ‘My friends deserve better.’

“I was running my mouth, like, ‘I could do this.’ And my friend said, ‘OK, you can do my wedding.’ So, I went and bought some gear.”

Now, more than 15 years since that fateful gig, Osborne is the owner-operator of two companies, Athens DJ Service and Sound Insight, which provide a range of personalized DJ services for private events in Georgia and beyond.

Osborne spoke to a group of students in the UGA Music Business Certificate Program at the Terry College of Business on Jan. 19, detailing the highs and lows of his unexpected foray into entrepreneurship.

He explained he grew his business slowly but surely, building a network of fellow performers while cultivating what he called “a word-of-mouth wildfire.”

“You do a party, you do a private event, someone’s there,” he said. “At every wedding, there’s 10 more people that are about to get married. One turns into 10, turns into 100, and the phone starts ringing.”

By 2017, Osborne made enough of a name for himself to quit teaching and enter the DJ world full-time. The first year was rough, but “lots and lots of failure” made him a better business owner, he said. Now Osborne oversees a team of seven employees and estimates his companies book between 200-300 events a year.

Osborne said his success stemmed from tireless relationship-building and a stronger understanding of where his service fits in the event-planning ecosystem.

At first, he said, he focused his energy on selling to hosts. Before long, he realized it was an imperfect approach.

“We started understanding that we’re really more of a business-to-business company than business-to-consumer,” he said. “Venues are our repeat clients. So if you’re getting married or having a party and you say, ‘I don’t know who to hire for entertainment,’ they’re like, ‘Hire this company right here.’”

But business acumen is nothing with an inferior product. For an entertainment company, success hinges on the audience experience, said Osborne, who strives to maintain the grassroots momentum that propelled him from the start.

“We booked a wedding where the bride is the daughter of a caterer I worked with (at another wedding),” he said. “Because they were outside, they didn’t have the perspective of the dance floor. So we got some great content, put it on Instagram and tagged them. They saw how much fun people were having, and they’re like, ‘We want that.’”

And in 2021, Osborne expanded beyond the performance sphere, using tools he developed for his company during the pandemic to launch The Blueprint, a virtual training platform for DJs.

For Osborne, who as a child dreamed of being a professional trumpeter, each step of his journey has unlocked new passions, from that first gig at a friend’s wedding to now operating multiple thriving businesses.

“When I put down my trumpet, that was hard, because my identity was tied up in being a trumpet player,” he said. “But one of the things that helped me was understanding it wasn’t the actual horn. It was everything surrounding it. It was disciplining myself to work on a thing. It was performing because I got validation for working hard.

“When I realized DJing was the same payoff, I didn’t mind putting (the trumpet) down, because that fulfilling part of it stayed with me. And now I’ve started to feel that way about business. Understanding how to grow a business and train other people is great, and sometimes it feels even better than performing, because of its impact.”