At the age of just 26, DJ and business owner Josh Bennett is already a veteran of the industry. Part of the original YouTube DJ scene, Josh’s videos have clocked up hundreds of thousands of views and his account has 1500 subscribers. While contributing from the very start of his DJ career, Josh also soaked up the knowledge shared by other DJs on YouTube and soon became an experienced and successful club and mobile DJ. He now works full-time as a professional DJ, running his own multi-op company: Lake Erie Events.
“I was probably 6 or so,” Josh tells us, “when I caught the DJing bug. I grew up with my grandparents and they were heavily involved with the local Moose Lodge where a karaoke DJ would bring the party every week. I was in awe of how many people would drive up to two hours just for the karaoke nights, sometimes as many as 100-200!”
Eager to get involved, the young Josh offered to help in any way he could. From setting up lights, to getting out the right CDs, he did his best to be useful while soaking up the atmosphere and learning from his first mentor. After a few years, the karaoke DJ left the club, which meant that other DJs were booked and Josh was exposed to a variety of different styles. He watched intently and picked up tips from all of them and was soon ready to set out on his own DJ career.
“By the age of 10 I was bringing CD players and whatever speakers I could find – home stereos most of the time – to any party I could play at,” Josh remembers. “Family gatherings, graduation parties, you name it - if they’d let me play, I’d be there! Then at the age of 14 I finally got my first real PA along with a rack mixer, CD player and laptop. It was also around that time that I discovered the YouTube DJ community. I grabbed my camera and started filming videos and Gig Logs of everything that I could.”
As well as documenting the infancy of his own DJ journey, Josh was also inspired by other more-experienced DJs who were sharing videos on YouTube. It allowed him to see what others were doing across the USA and even in other countries around the world. He was inspired to learn and improve by briansredd, ellaskins, RRollergod, djboentertainment and a group of other YouTube DJs.
At just 15 years old Josh DJed his first wedding and he credits his success on the night to his online education. “I took the tools I learned from my YouTube mentors and delivered a GREAT wedding. The formalities were perfect and I ended up going two hours past my contracted end time with the open dancing. But if I hadn’t learned so much from those guys, I think it would have been a real train-wreck!”
Having networked with other DJs online, Josh went on to progress some of those relationships in the real world. “When I was 17 I met DJ Bo (djboentertainment), who only lived an hour south of me. That led to a business partnership that has lasted almost 10 years as well as a friendship that goes way beyond that, to the point that we attended each other’s weddings as guests. Bo gave me the experience and gig exposure I needed at a young age and because of it I was able to go on to work with great local DJ companies and eventually launch my own multi-op outfit.”
Josh grew up in the small town of Harbor Creek, PA, which is around 20 minutes away from the city of Erie. Still based in Erie, he describes his location as “a hidden gem for DJs” as it is within driving distance of three large markets: Buffalo, NY; Pittsburgh, PA; and Cleveland, OH. Today Josh’s DJ business, Lake Erie Events, has a staff of three DJs and covers hundreds of events each year.
Although he doesn’t think of himself as a ‘jack-of-all-trades’, he does admit that it’s a good way to describe his DJ experience. After starting out as a mobile DJ, he gained radio experience presenting on college radio station 90.5 WERG FM at Gannon University in Erie and over the last five years has become deeply rooted in the local nightclub and bar scene.
“With four colleges within 20 minutes of the city, downtown Erie is a great place to DJ,” he tells us. “I’ve played at lots of different clubs and bars, including a two-year residency at Erie’s best club that ran from 2013 to 2015. With thousands of people coming through the door on some nights, the feeling of playing in front of a huge crowd, jumping and screaming, is hard to compare to anything else. That was when I finally felt like I had made it!”
More recently, Josh has turned his focus back to weddings, which are now the ‘bread and butter’ of Lake Erie Events’ business. He personally DJs at dozens of wedding parties, fitting in club bookings and other events – including school and charity bookings – when his schedule allows. “I really enjoy the school dance atmosphere,” explains Josh. “You can sell a nightclub DJ to schools, and bring that experience to students, which is EXACTLY what they want. Not the ‘90s style of hokey-pokey DJing. I sell weddings in the same way, as a young DJ who mixes and provides high energy full dancefloor fun.”
From a technical point of view, Josh’s time as club DJ has influenced the service he now offers as a wedding DJ. “Erie is a music-video city”, he tells us. “The DJs who paved the path before me all got into video, and now all the major bars and nightclubs have it. Mixing video is expected to get booked downtown, so video files are 90% of my catalog. That means that I now mix with music video files even when I’m DJing at a wedding, and also incorporate Text-To-Screen, which I think adds another level of excitement, interaction and attention.”
Lighting also plays a big role in Lake Erie Events’ bookings. The company offers up-lighting, GOBO projection and moving head lightshows and at ADJ we’re pleased to be able to count Josh as one of our valued customers. “American DJ has personally helped me at various points during my career,” says Josh. “It is a great company with staff that understands the culture and needs of a DJ.”
As with most mobile DJs, Josh loves all kinds of music. So when we asked him which is his favorite genre to play he found it difficult to answer, “Oh boy, this is tough! Growing up under my grandparents’ care, I was influenced by country. Country music defines me, my heart, and my standards as a person. I'm playing weekly at a honky-tonk-themed bar in Erie right now, and mixing and mashing country is lots of fun. But, as a DJ, I enjoy the creativity behind electronic, hip hop, and R&B the most. I also love 90s and 00s throwbacks. If I'm playing a younger wedding, you bet I'll find a transition to get everyone singing Backstreet Boys, Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, and the Spice Girls. If I'm at a bar, I'll do a ‘00s set that will take everyone back to Fat Joe, Yung Joc, and that stuff. Those songs are still fire if transitioned right! Every DJ is playing the new stuff, so my advice is to find the time to play something that will get everyone singing and saying ‘holy cow this guy knows his stuff’! I try to break the habit of playing the same 30 songs every weekend, it's tough but your crowd is different every week, so play off that.”
Despite still being relatively young himself, having started so early in life, Josh already has a huge amount of knowledge and experience to draw from and is happy to offer advice to new and aspiring DJs. “Stay hungry! That’s the most important thing,” he tells us. “You can absolutely be whatever you want to be in life, and there is a career in DJing for anyone who loves the culture – from music itself, to gear, to performing – and is willing to learn and stay humble. I've learned there are a lot of people in this field who will knock you down, but just as many who will help you become whoever you want to be. Networking built my career. Learn and listen, and you will grow!”
Although he doesn’t post as many videos as he once did, Josh is still part of the global YouTube DJ community and shares videos when he can. There’s no doubt that what he learned from other, more experienced, DJs online – both by watching their videos and through their critique of his Gig Logs – has had a huge impact on his career. However, having captured his DJ journey from the very beginning, and having made it public, more recently Josh has had to give serious thought to how much of this history he wants to keep available online.
“Looking back now, I've hidden/removed most of my start-up videos because… well... that's just not the DJ I am today, and I fear those videos may not be good for my business now. I don’t want a client to see a pre-teen talking about his home stereo setup and mall-bought lightshow when they look me up online! There's still a lot of my videos up on YouTube, starting from around five years ago. But stuff from before that is locked away in a place I'll share when I die! I don’t regret posting them at the time, though. YouTube has had a massive impact on my growth as a DJ and through it I've gained hundreds of friendships at a personal level.”
His YouTube videos also helped Josh to make many industry connections which led to him working for DJ companies at trade shows across the country. “I've had the opportunity to travel to Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Newark and Chicago for tradeshows with DJ companies,” enthuses Josh. “Those were always fun and it was CRAZY to me that people knew who I was from YouTube. It really is amazing to go to a trade show and have people coming up to me saying ‘Josh, you're the reason I started DJing’ or mentioning something that happened in an old video that I barely remember myself!”
As a text book example of a DJ born in the digital age, Josh’s story is different from many of the older DJs who are now his peers. He has used the opportunity for learning and networking offered to him by social media – which simply didn’t exist for DJs who started out just a decade earlier – to really fast-track his career. Now, with a large expanse of knowledge, a big pool of industry contacts and vast amount of experience, the future really does look bright both for Josh and Lake Erie Events.
For more information on Josh Bennett and Lake Erie Events, or to connect with him on social media, follow the links below.