With the population’s ever-growing interest in DJing, cutting through the noise and finding success on the scene is more challenging than ever before.
To help set you in the right direction, we spoke to some of the industry’s top voices and influencers and scoured our Off The Record podcast to bring you tried and true advice on getting work as a pro DJ.
Here you’ll learn about DMC world champion A-Trak’s persistence to become Kanye West’s official tour DJ. Hear some tips from YouTube royalty SUAT, on standing out. Take in some advice for getting gigs from Redbull 3-Style winners, DJ Puffy and Eskei83. Plus, we share some of our own Crossfader top tips for success!
There’s never been a better time to get the edge on this ever-growing market, so read on to learn what it takes to make it as a DJ in today’s industry!
Advice for Beginners
Becoming a professional DJ is about more than just your skills. Once you’ve pushed past learning the technicalities of DJing, it’s time to hone your craft and really figure out who you are as a performer so you can effectively market yourself.
SUAT knows a thing or two about this! He’s become a household name by DJing out and about on mobile decks with live interaction with the public, and his videos gaining millions of views on YouTube!
He’s found his own formula for getting exposure and leveraged this for success as a performer.
We caught up with him to get his unique insight on starting a DJ career!
What is the main piece of advice you’d give to beginner DJs?
Look at what everyone else is doing. Look at what’s not working well. Look at what’s soaring; take that idea and 1-up it. Do it better!
It might be the camera angle, it might be using quick fader cuts, but take it and make it unique.
You need to be different. There are more DJs than there ever has been.
So how are you going to stray from the norm? How are you going to separate yourself from the noise and oversaturation?
Don’t start until you have that! If I had known that five years ago, I would be in a completely different place to where I am now.
It’s like that saying, ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’. If you just want to be a DJ without any proper planning or rhyme or reason as to why you’re doing it, you’re not going to go anywhere.
Look at what works, take those principles and make it your own and unique.
Everything has been done before. You’re not going to be copying someone by making it your own. It’s just inspiration.
Getting paid work is the most crucial part of a beginner DJ’s journey toward going pro, so it pays to know what those in the industry expect from a new DJ.
Check out our guide on How to Get More DJ Gigs for tips and advice on getting paid to DJ!
We spoke to 2016 Redbull 3-Style champ DJ Puffy, who has gone on to dominate the dancehall, R&B and hip-hop DJ scene after making a massive impression on a world-class panel of judges, including Jazzy Jeff, Skratch Bastid and Mix Master Mike.
He initially grew his following DJing on a bi-weekly podcast, Prime Time which propelled him onto the carnival circuit, where he established his live performance status.
Here, Puffy shares his number one tip for securing work!
What’s your best piece of advice for getting gigs?
Nowadays, especially with younger guys, there’s a weird sense of entitlement which wasn’t necessarily there before.
I would say be very humble, respectful and professional in your approach, whether you’re approaching club owners, promoters or just people who throw events in general.
You’d be very surprised how unprofessional some people can be, so this can definitely separate you from other talent!
Staying in the industry
Once you’re getting some great opportunities, you’ll want to secure those gigs time and time again. In an industry which is becoming increasingly competitive, it’s good to know how to stay on the best of terms with those throwing work your way!
Dave Gardner-Chan runs Voodoo Events, a leading events company based in northern England specialising in throwing events in big venues, from PRYZM to The O2.
We got his views on what it takes to be a long-standing DJ at one of his regular events!
What characteristics do you need to keep getting gigs from the same promoters?
It’s really important to be flexible and versatile. Some of the more boring things are being reliable, polite, on time, and not being demanding.
A really big thing is being fun! If you get on with someone well, you are much less likely to think, I’ve had enough of them, I’m just going to kick them out! You’d never do that to someone you have a good relationship with.
It’s a difficult industry anyway. There are plenty of egos flying around, and egos exist, and that’s cool, but a key point to aspiring DJs at any level is to just be humble, be nice and treat people as you wish to be treated.
It’s not to say you shouldn’t value yourself or know your worth. You should never be scared of challenging a promoter because, ultimately, if they are wrong, you should be prepared to say.
Rather than waiting until they come to you and say you were off last week and you played the wrong tunes, bring it to them at the time and say, ‘I think the energy isn’t there’ or, ‘We need to change things, please can we try this…?’
If the promoter says no, stick to it. You tried. But if you do change it, and it changes the dynamic of the night, they will remember that, and you will build a relationship.
To achieve maximum success, you need to have the courage to create your own opportunities wherever and whenever possible!
A-Trak is no stranger to the DJ circuit. But even with a DMC world championship title, he was star-struck after meeting Kanye West at a small London record store in 2004.
Trak’s supporting performance for the then-up-and-coming artist John Legend caught West’s attention. But that wasn’t enough to secure a working relationship with the hip-hop legend.
Our own DJ Lawrence caught up with him to find out how he achieved seemingly overnight success!
Is hard work, dedication and persistence what it takes to pursue opportunities?
For sure. But there is also a fine line where people are looking for someone else to give them a break.
You definitely have to chase opportunities when the right ones arise, but there are also some things that you have to create for yourself too.
There’s something about the performance I did at that store that spoke to Kanye, and then I realised that this is something worth chasing for me, and I ended up tracking Kanye down.
I chased it, for sure, and hustled it with his manager for months after.
But it’s not as simple as just contacting someone out of the blue and saying give me a shot. You’ve got to also show and prove yourself and be ready for that opportunity.
Getting work as a Beginner
The motivation required to get your own work can be challenging. But going in with the right attitude can make all the difference. Stay consistent, and your perseverance will eventually pay off!
DJ Jordan Lee has been there! He’s worked his way up from basically working for free to making DJing his business.
He is now well respected on the scene and has carved a niche for creating R&B mixes infused with hip-hop and slow jams.
Lee offered us some insider insight for those new to the game!
What is your best advice for beginner DJs?
Be prepared but not annoying! Show up to local spots and get to know the DJs there, the promoters, the staff. Just go with the intent of networking and just let things unfold naturally. No one likes anyone being too forceful or pushy.
A lot of spots probably just want a reliable DJ that plays the right music. If you’ve got some sick skills on top of that, without the ego, then the opportunities should just roll in!
The Power of Networking
The one thing all DJs must get to grips with is networking. This is the most common way DJs find and secure gigs.
Redbull 3-Style champ and producer, Eskei83 won the competition in 2014 and has since leveraged his winning status to promote his productions and secure massive gigs and sell-out tours!
Here he talks us through making those initial connections in the industry!
What is the best way to network?
The most important thing nowadays is to connect with the right people in charge of the bookings.
Sometimes it is better to get in touch with the DJs that are already playing there. At some point, they might need someone to fill in and they may call you if you have a good connection with them and can prove to them that you are a good.
It’s always good to be around! When your friends are DJing at the club, be there, support them and eventually, you may get to DJ when they are on a break or might even get to open for them. Something like that always works out!
Be kind, connect with people and support each other!
Preparation is Key
To be the DJ that audiences love to dance to and promoters can’t get enough of, it helps to be prepared for anything when you are performing!
Make sure you always have some extra bits of gear and back up all your USBs so you are ready for things that may go wrong, like data corruption or a venue not linking their CDJs.
Packing a selection of cables is also a really good idea. Have a cat-5 cable in your rider to link loner CDJs, and have a couple of spare RCA cables whilst you’re at it, too!
You can never be over-prepared when it comes to your gear, and having some extra bits you might need can be a lifesaver at a gig!
Bring as much as you can without overloading yourself. Have your laptop stand and an ethernet switch hub. It’s best to have everything you need to be comfortable in the booth.
Having an extended, exclusive mix on your phone is also really helpful. This can plug into the mixer with an RCA to phone connector should things go sideways.
This practical thinking will set you apart from the crowd and make you an ideal booking for any promoter!
Planning a DJ set
It goes without saying no DJ will be successful if they’re not playing killer sets that their audiences love!
Planning a set starts with thinking about your audience, not just the music itself.
Consider who it is you’re playing to. With this in mind, your music sourcing and organisation will centre around your audience’s taste rather than just your own.
If you’ve been booked to play at a particular venue, as well as taking a promoter’s brief into account, get a feel for the type of audience this venue usually attracts by visiting their social media.
Consider the type of event you’re playing and what time you’re on. If you’re on early, play appropriately for that time of day, and don’t step on the headliner’s toes by dropping all of the freshest fire before they get a chance to!
Are you DJing at a small bar in town or a city centre club? Is it a private event? If so, is it a super sweet sixteenth? A wedding? A corporate event? Each type of event will require a unique approach to track selection and mixing style.
Ultimately, it’s about supplying the right tunes for your audience. Have three times more than you think you’ll need. Overprepare, but don’t overthink. Go with your instinct. You got this!
Why are you doing the gig?
Once the gigs start rolling in, it’s time to start thinking about long-term goals for your career.
You should make calculated decisions about accepting work, factoring in things like, can I film this gig for self-promotion to get a wider reach on my socials? Or does this gig get me on good terms with a promoter who runs other events that I want to be part of?
Also, getting fresh promotional content onto your social media is one of the most important things a new DJ can do.
In order to progress, you may need to consider taking gigs you might not enjoy, as the reality is that working DJs don’t always get the gigs they love.
Consider lower-paying gigs to step further in the right direction or give yourself more stability. Securing a lower-paid residency is a more stable source of income than a couple of high-paid peak-season one-offs, for example.
Remember your end goals, so when you get those ‘grunt work’ gigs, you can rest easy knowing it’s all going towards a bigger picture!
Watch our video for 20 minutes of first-hand advice from industry pros!
If you’ve found this advice helpful, subscribe to our weekly podcast, Off The Record, for more industry insights, gear reviews and tips for success!
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