So you’ve played your first gig—or perhaps you’ve played a number of gigs—and you’re ready for the next step.
Not only do you want more gigs, you want larger ones at the biggest clubs in the city. Then you want to play the biggest clubs in other cities and eventually in other countries.
The bad news is: very few DJs ever make it to that level.
The good news is: they all have one thing in common, apart from talent, and it’s something you can replicate.
They all worked their asses off to get where they are and they continue to do so to stay at the top. You have to do the same if you want to be a world-class DJ. What do you have to do exactly?
Well, we’ll get to that in a minute.
First I wanted to address one of the most common requests I get (if you’ve read the ‘How to Get Your First Gig’ page, you’ve already seen this and can skip it).
A lot of you have asked me for a more in-depth guide on building a DJ career, but I don’t have one and have no plans to create one, mainly because there are already two great courses out there.
They are The IMA Music Business Academy and the Music Marketing Classroom. The former offers a free e-book entitled “An Introduction to Music Marketing” and the latter offers 5 free music marketing cheat sheets.
Obviously, the full courses do cost money, but since neither of their introductory materials cost you anything, I’d recommend checking them both out and seeing if you like the way they teach. If not, just delete them.
On to my tips for growing your career. Starting with…
Always Be professional
I list this first, because being professional is probably the most important factor in the longevity of your career. If you want to be successful, you really need to conduct yourself professionally in all aspects of your life as a DJ.
Be on time for gigs. In fact, be early, especially if you’re playing a new venue. Make sure you have everything you need for your gig and make sure everything is working properly. Not only does this ensure your gig will run smoothly, but it also makes a good impression on the owner and/or manager of the club. This can go a long way toward getting you a second gig.
During your gigs, treat the crowd with respect. I don’t care how drunk and annoying some of the customers can get – and they will get drunk and be annoying – you need to stay above it all and just play your music. Keep your drinking to a minimum or, better yet, don’t drink at all. You wouldn’t show up to a regular job and start drinking. Treat your job as a DJ the same way.
Always keep in mind what type of gig you are playing. If you are opening for another DJ, make sure you don’t steal their spotlight. Play the appropriate tunes to get the crowd ready for the headliner, not the tunes to be the headliner. You’ll have to put your ego aside here. Your long-term career will thank you.
Stick around for a bit after a gig and talk to the customers. If they enjoyed watching you play, they’ll be interested in you and want to learn more. This is a great promotional opportunity for you, as well as making a good impression on your audience and on the club owner.
Speaking of the owner, try and catch him or her at some point after your gig and get some feedback. Showing a willingness to listen to feedback and to adapt to any specific needs of a particular venue, will definitely help you get invited back for a second gig. It will also continue to help you further down the road, both in terms of what you might learn and in terms of your professional reputation.
Define Yourself As A DJ
There are more DJs than ever, making it hard to stand out in a crowded marketplace. In fact, it’s virtually impossible to stand out, if you’re just another generic DJ. The best thing to do, is to very specifically define what kind of DJ you are. Yes, you will decrease the size of your target market, but you will decrease the size of your competition along with it.
I’m sure you’ve heard before that it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond that a small fish in a big pond. That’s the principle were following here.
Figure out exactly what kind of music you want to play and then make sure everyone knows about it. This will become your personal brand and it needs to be immediately apparent from all your promotional materials. One glance should tell people exactly what kind of DJ you are. That way, anyone looking for that specific kind of DJ will know instantly that you can provide what they need.
The best way to differentiate yourself as a DJ is through your music selection, so make sure you don’t just pick the same tracks everyone else is playing. Don’t just search through the charts on Beatport like everyone else. Put in the work to find unique tracks that people have not yet heard. If you become known as someone who plays unique tracks within a specific style, you will be in demand.
I mentioned this in the section on getting your first gig, but if you haven’t already done it, you need to make a mix tape. Actually, you need to make several. You want to make sure you always have one with up to date music to show that you are on top of the new trends. I know few owners or managers will ever listen to your mix tape, but you never know when one will ask about it. Do you really want to tell them you don’t have one?
In addition to the standard studio mix tapes, you should also have an audio sample of you playing live. This gives anyone listening a good idea of how you handle a crowd, which will tell them a lot more about your ability to play their venue than a studio tape would.
If you have the ability, you definitely want to make a video of one of your live performances, too. It has to be a high-quality video, though. A good video is the best way to give owners or promoters an idea of your skills.
It is also a wonderful way to attract new fans. Naturally you will upload this video to YouTube and other video sharing sites, but you will also want to post it on your own website. I’d put it right on the front page. Make it the first thing a visitor to your site sees. You do have a website, right?
Make Your Own DJ Website
Create your own DJ website as soon as possible. As soon as you have decided on a DJ name, see if that name is available as a domain name. There is no better way to promote yourself than with your own webpage.
In addition, you can use your site to gather the email addresses of your fans and create a mailing list. This way, you can keep everyone up-to-date on important announcements like new releases and gigs and so on. Just make sure you don’t spam your fans.
Most DJs will have a Facebook page and a twitter account, as well as accounts on Soundcloud and Mixcloud, but all of those sites belong to someone else. What if they suddenly disappear? Then all of your hard work has been wasted and you have to start over again. Don’t think it can happen? Remember MySpace? Get your own personal website and make sure your fans will always have a place to stay up-to-date with your latest news, releases, gigs, etc.
Launching your own website sounds like a huge task, if you’ve never done it before, but it’s actually quite simple. It can be done completely for free, too, but you’re better off spending a little bit of money. At a minimum, it will cost $10 per year for the domain name. You definitely want to buy your own domain name. See my step-by-step guide for creating your DJ webpage and you’ll have your own site up and running within the hour.
At a minimum, your website should include a good bio section, a clear explanation of the type of music you play, information about upcoming gigs and examples of you mixing (both studio mixes and live performances), including video if you have it. You also want a place where visitors can sign up for your mailing list.
Get A Facebook Page, Twitter Account, Soundcloud Account, Etc.
Good, you’ve got your own website. I listed this point after that one, because most new DJs do this one, but they don’t make their own site. I wanted to make sure you got how important it is to have your own website.
Now get yourself a Facebook page, a twitter account, a Soundcloud account and a Mixcloud account, etc. Personally, I wouldn’t put too much work into them and focus more on your personal website, but the more ways you have to keep in touch with your fans and to allow them to keep up-to-date with you, the better. Also, you can use these avenues to funnel your fans back to your website.
Be A Promoter
I mentioned this in the section on getting your first gig as well, but if you haven’t started dabbling in promotion, you really should consider it. I know it seems daunting and can be a lot of work, but you don’t have to go it alone. Get together with other DJs who are also trying to establish themselves and create a club night together.
Not only does this ensure that you get a gig, but it also helps impress club owners and managers. The less work they have to do, the happier they are. If they’ve got DJs coming to them with a ready-made club night, including a ready-made crowd, they will be thrilled.
If an event you create really takes off, you can also use it in your promotional efforts. Start branding yourself as the DJ from such-and-such night. If you have a successful event, it can only help you if people associate your name with that event. Any time anyone associates your name with something successful, you win.
Be a producer
If you’re happy playing gigs in your local area and never plan on moving beyond that, you don’t have to worry about being a producer. If you want to play in other cities, and especially in other countries, you going to have to start creating your own music. I challenge you to name one big international DJ who does not also produce his or her own tracks.
In the early days of DJing, crowds showed up to watch a DJ spin tracks they loved. These days, that is no longer enough. Fans want to see DJs performing their own tracks. Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done. This is why there are so few superstar DJs.
We’ve all heard the thousands of generic sounding crappy tracks on Beatport. You don’t want to add to that. You need to create something new, a sound that is unique to you. This used to exceedingly difficult and expensive, but that is no longer the case.
Nowadays you can get a complete audio production software suite for less than you’d pay for an hour of studio time. My favorite software is Mixcraft Pro Studio 7.
If you can’t seem to make tracks that sound as great as you’d like them to, don’t just release them anyway. Study up on music theory, keep working at it, and hopefully you will eventually come up with something brilliant.
If you want some help, here’s a great course on music theory for electronic musicians that addresses this exact problem. It’s inexpensive, plus it comes with a 60-day money back guarantee, so you might as well give it a try if you’re struggling to produce professional-sounding tracks.
And once you start producing professional-sounding tracks, you’ll soon begin attracting promoters from your tracks alone. Producing, hard as it is, is the best way–the only way, really–to make it big as a DJ.
I saved this one for last, because it involves much of what I’ve already mentioned. You need to set up your accounts on social media and music sharing sites and get your own website up and running. You can network with your fans through social media and your site. Be aware that networking doesn’t mean spamming your friends’ Facebook feeds with your new mixes and constant updates on your gigs.
Of course you want to announce any gigs you might be playing and let people know when you’ve made a new mix available, but keep these kind of posts to a minimum. Instead, you should take the time to actually interact with your fans. Treat them as friends, not mere followers.
Apart from growing your fan base, you also want to grow your reputation in the industry. As mentioned in the first point, you need to treat everyone with respect and always act professionally. Go out of your way to help other DJs out and it will come back to you. Work together with them to create events.
If you create a new event on your own, hire DJs you trust to play those events. They will return the favor in the future. Maintain great relationships with promoters and owners. If they ask you for a favor, do what you can to make it happen. They will remember.
Being a DJ is work. Hard work. And that work never ends. Looking at the superstar DJs it might seems like they are living it up, partying all over the world with no worries and living an easy-going lifestyle. That is not the case at all. They work exceptionally hard. They worked hard to get where they are and they work even harder to stay there. You need to do the same.
Remember, there is nothing wrong with DJing for fun in your spare time. It can make for a wonderful hobby and if that’s as far as you want to take it, you can save yourself a lot of effort.
However, if you truly want to become a professional DJ, your spare time will not cut it in the long run. You need to invest everything you have into becoming a DJ. And you will suffer setbacks. Be persistent, never give up and keep pushing. You will get there. You will become a DJ.