Reuben St. Marc, more commonly known as DJ BenZ in the Ithaca music circles, took an entrepreneurial risk the fall of his sophomore year to turn his passion for music into a business. After shadowing a DJ his freshman year, he recognized a need for an individual who could navigate the musical needs of Cornell’s diverse student body. This launched Reuben’s brand, DJ BenZ. His overall goal was to use music to create an environment that facilitates positive social interactions and encourages togetherness. E@D sat down with Reuben St. Marc to further understand how DJ BenZ developed from a personal hobby into a lucrative venture.
What prompted you to seriously pursue DJ BenZ as a business opportunity?
Whenever you decide you want to do something that will make a change, you have to make an initial investment. For me, I realized DJ BenZ would be worth the investment after my spring semester freshman year. I started working parties DJing from my laptop alongside my mentor who introduced me to the Ithaca music scene. Then, I ran my own party over the summer after my freshman year. There was such a great turnout, it went over capacity and people began offering to pay to get in. That was when I realized that DJing could be a real business opportunity for me. This idea was reinforced when I came back on campus fall semester sophomore year when I was contacted by organizations to do banquets and other events. I had always wanted to be able to bring people together; what better way is there to unify students of all demographics but through music and creating a memorable experience.
What specific startup costs and investments influenced the fruition of DJ BenZ?
Initially, I had to really evaluate whether the startup costs were worthwhile. First, I focused on my goals. I knew that I wanted to DJ for Cornell and ultimately aimed to successfully DJ events and see where those opportunities would take me. I decided those goals could be achieved after I invested in more advanced DJ equipment and loudspeakers. This was a big obstacle because investing in quality equipment is expensive, and you have to be determined to achieve that return on your investment. I also had to consider transportation and traveling costs. I was blessed enough to have a significant other and close friends who would help me travel and transport equipment giving me the opportunity to be successful at both on and off campus events.
After making those startup investments, I evaluated my brand and my ability to market myself. One of the first investments I made was in business cards. Having a business card shows people you are serious about what you’re doing and allows you to get your name out there. I also took the time to engage in social media. I made my Soundcloud and invested in creating sample mixes for people to listen to. I wanted to show people my talent and musical range through my mixes. It was key to have a Soundcloud because my mixes venture into a lot of different music areas that a wide variety of people can appreciate.
How did networking affect your brand?
Networking was very helpful for me especially in the early stages of my brand. As I mentioned, in the beginning of my career I shadowed a DJ who was doing a lot of gigs with the graduate students at the Johnson school and the bar scenes. I was also able to DJ alongside him at a few places. After I got that experience and was able to connect with managers, I extended my network of potential clients who wanted to book me. Following those initial gigs, people began to say positive things about me like “We had this DJ from campus, he was excellent, we had a great party.” Then, I began to get gigs by word of mouth. This was a nice change for me to have many different organizations contact me to work events instead of me trying to reach out to people. It’s awesome to see information spread via word of mouth because it means your work is being noticed and appreciated. In addition to my hard work and musical talents, networking and knowing the right people has helped me get many DJing gigs like the Senior Gala last semester and the upcoming Donlon Formal.
Also, it’s important to have a good foundation. Without the support of my community and people close to me, I would not be as successful as I am today. I appreciate all my fans who continue to listen to my music and come to my events; much love for them!
What is it like balancing being a student and a DJ?
It’s actually really funny because DJing fits into my lifestyle. As a student, you have time off on the weekends which is when most of my gigs are scheduled. I am a student full time from Monday thru Friday and usually I DJ on the weekends. As a premed student with a Biology & Society major and an AEM minor, I constantly take solid course loads, and this semester I’m in 19 credits. It can get tough to balance all the school work to stay on top, but it’s really about knowing how much you can take on, and knowing when to say “no” to events. In the beginning of my career, I saw myself saying yes to a lot of events that weren’t as important to me because I wanted to market myself. Then, as my career progressed, I was able to understand my value and worth in order to make good contracts and deals. Successfully balancing work and school is dependent on how you feel, how you want to move forward and how organized you are with your planning. For my brand, I market DJ BenZ, promote my work, negotiate contracts, and perform at my gigs, which can be time consuming. That is why I am very organized and keep a calendar with all of my school work and events to be as efficient as possible.
Specifically, with regards to entrepreneurship, what skills or courses do you think helped you to most effectively pursue your brand?
I would say the business management and entrepreneurship courses I took my sophomore year were extremely helpful. I was able to understand how to evaluate competitors in the field and understand my place in the market compared to other DJs. They helped me appreciate my niche and recognize that as a student I am able to provide quality music, provide an amazing experience and also market to a lot of student groups because of my personal connections to people on this campus and ability to cater to many demographics. Through these connections, I’m able to bring many different people together on campus who would have never interacted otherwise and make events memorable. You have to put all those things into perspective and understand how to network in order to get to where you need to be. These classes also showed me innovate ways to improve my brand.
I took a “Conversations with Entrepreneurs” course in the Hotel School that was helpful to get an idea of entrepreneurship with different lenses. It showed me the value of being on task and surrounded by a lot of like-minded people. It also taught me the value of networking, being structured and negotiating deals.
What new skills did you learn from being a DJ?
I applied many of my skills from my AEM and Hotel classes to DJing. I was able to utilize many business soft skills that have allowed me show my project management and problem-solving abilities. However, something new I had to learn was operations behind the craft. I learned how to use new audio software for mixes and DJing. Also, during this process, I had to learn how to efficiently move equipment, organize it at a venue, and even fix it if it breaks down. This experience provided me with many technical skills that are transferable in my career paths.
Being a DJ has been a huge entrepreneurial responsibility that has shown me that if you don’t push yourself or are not driven, nothing will get done. It’s really up to you to create your own success.
Compare where you are now versus where you were when you first started your brand.
When I first started out, I was doing a lot of smaller parties and events. Now, I’m getting booked by Cornell to do events and I am also being hired by different venues around Ithaca as well as other colleges. Expanding my reach has been one big difference for me. I also think you can see the improvement in my DJ skills by comparing my new and old mixes. As you grow, you realize that with time your musical ability progresses when you practice and begin to understand the crowd and the musical choices that mesh well with it. Experience has made me more technically advanced with my craft. Something really cool that showed me the extent of my growth is when people began to recognize me first by DJ BenZ and then by my actual name. It is pretty cool to see that my brand is being noticed and appreciated by other students, which is another thing that keeps me motivated.
What are your future plans for DJ BenZ?
I just started DJing at Loco on Thursdays and I’m always interested in the opportunity to mix with many campus organizations, especially with fraternities and sororities who hold a bulk of events. I’m looking forward to running more Cornell events in the future, and I’m starting to produce my own music that I hope to share next semester. My ultimate goal is to perform at Slope Day before I leave Cornell. It would be amazing to be an opener because I know if I was given the chance, I would really rock the crowd and provide a memorable experience.
Reuben St. Marc’s entrepreneurial risk taking enriched his college experience and the experiences of those around him. Consider what passions in your life you could transform into something entrepreneurial to be shared with the community.