Every once in a while I get a message on Facebook or email from a frustrated DJ who have all the skills required to get booked but can’t seem to cut it. They’ve spent lakhs on equipment, thousands on music and practiced countless hours. However they main problem – they’re not getting gigs. I know exactly how this feels, Ive been through this myself. I wish I could say getting booked is easy however in reality it isn’t. Our market is flooded with DJs who are all driven and dedicated to establishing themselves.
Today the role of a Dj has changed drastically. Earlier DJs were also known as the ‘gatekeepers’ of music, however it is much easier and cheaper to maintain a decent library as compared in the 80s and 90s. Today every ‘Internet DJ’ has become an expert and think they are the so called ‘Gatekeepers’ however as the famous saying goes:
“When everybody is an expert, nobody is”
This article will hopefully lay a path for you where it can prevent you from committing the most common mistakes today. Fewer than 5% of DJs who start out will be able to make a living from playing music. However I can bet that those chosen few aren’t making the mistakes I will be discussing.
Define Yourself as a DJ
It’s quite sad to see that most DJs when playing at your local bar they are playing tracks from the Beatport Top 100? And this is true even for the underground Djs. When we had limited access to music 10-15 years ago one would have a completely different track list for their next performance. They would carry those familiar anthems but in generally speaking, every set you would hear at a party would be different and unique.
Today we have more access to music than every before. The only drawback is that it has encouraged many Djs to get lazy and search charts on websites like Beatport. I cannot stress more on this; just because access to music is easier it doesn’t mean one shouldn’t take out the time to do some digging. A piece of advise, next time you’re on Beatport, instead of clicking on the top 100 why not check out the ‘New Releases’ section?
You will also need to ask yourself: Who Are you As A Dj? This can only be answered via your track selections. Traktor and other softwares like it can help you in mixing and even match the key for you however no software can replace a DJs judgment and track selection. Sadly enough it is only one of the few ways you can distinct yourself from the flock. You need to give the promoter a reason to book you. He won’t be booking you if all you do is rally the same watered down anthems every tom, dick & harry hammers. Would you rather be a clone or someone who wants to stand out?
Practice! Practice! Practice!
Practicing can mean many things. Apart from the obvious, it also means taking out time everyday to search for unique tracks, build a library and actually know it. It means organizing you music according to key, BPM, establishing cue points & metadata. To a beginner this means knowing every song in your library inside and out. Figuring out what to play and when is essential. Which two tracks go together, where the build-ups and break-downs are, When to mix in and out. What good are 50,000 tracks on your hard drive when you only know a few of them?
It is imperative that practicing is the only way you will truly define yourself. If you have a different or an unusual twist to the craft of Djin you might become successful (Throwing cakes does not count). Sasha and Richie Hawtin were two of the first DJs to utilize Ableton as a performance tool, even before the mainstream knew the mere existence of the software. Jeff Mills and Andy C are notoriously known for fluidly mixing more than two tacks using three or even four decks. Nicolas Jaar and Madeon are currently pushing the envelope by using MIDI controllers and Akai MPCs to break existing songs apart and play them back in different ways, all live mind you.
After you have reached the point of being one of the top mixers it doesn’t mean you are going to be the next James Zabiela. You need to think out of the box and approach the craft in new and different ways. However the vision can only become a reality after you practice. (Please don’t be the guy who spends more time on top of a table, when he can be doing wonders on the decks)
Support the Scene!
This is quite obvious. If you aren’t well known as a DJ locally, don’t even think of asking a promoter to play their events. If you haven’t even checked out their work what makes you think you can make the cut? Successful local gigs attract people who know exactly what they want to hear. You really wont know the genre you will play that will fit the theme of the night unless you go check it out yourself a few times.
It’s understandable that going out to every party every week is not possible. You’re an adult and you have a life/responsibilities. However Promoters will notice your presence and appreciate your support if you’re a regular, even if it’s once a month. They would appreciate it even more if you show up for a night when there isn’t any international artist on the cards. If you get a chance introduce yourself on the said night, do not and I repeat do not open the conversation by telling them you want to play their night. Just have a casual conversation about the music, the scene and other off topic things. If you are going to be shy then here’s a fact, you’re probably in the wrong business altogether. Remember, DJ gigs are about who you know not what you know.
Towards the end just hand him your business card or contact details. Do not bother giving them a physical CD at their event as they are busy and it will probably get lost amongst all the commotion. Then follow up online!
Don’t Try to Get Followers, Try to get Fans
Social media is the biggest change in dynamics to take place on the Internet since the birth of the World Wide Web itself. What’s awesome about places like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Soundcloud is they have enabled major artists to engage more closely with fans. They’re no longer high up in an ivory tower. Fans are curious and want to know what sort of debauchery their favorite producers and DJs are up to.
As for you…I hate to say it, but you’re probably not living quite as interesting a life as, say, Diplo. People aren’t going to flock right over to your Instagram feed or Facebook wall to read every mundane detail of your life. A drawback to social media is we’ve all become narcissists to a degree, myself no exception. We’re obsessed with trivial things like how many followers we have and how many people “like” our status updates. Everyone wants to build a following. But doing such can take years, and you need to be adding value in a way that justifies your audience having your content in their daily Internet lives.
Want to know a surefire way to NOT get followers? Treat them as followers, instead of fans. Posting only generalized information about your DJing, the events you’re involved with, and the obligatory what-I’m-eating-for-lunch status, are surefire ways to get ignored. You look like an advertisement. Add to the signal instead of the noise. Post other artists’ work you admire, post open-ended statuses that spark conversations with other like-minded people, thank the people who came out to your last gig, and carve out a unique persona for yourself. It’s okay to use Facebook and Twitter to let people know about your shows and mixes, but don’t be that guy who has nothing else to add to the conversation. Stop worrying about the “likes” and the follow count. What’s the point of having 10,000 followers if only a few are engaging with you? Worry about the 500 fans you have right now, not the 10,000 followers you wish you had.
Oh yeah, DEFINITELY don’t be “that guy” who stops at nothing to post your mixes everywhere: on the Facebook walls of people you don’t know, on Facebook event pages you’re not involved with in any way, as a status update several times a day, and on other people’s tracks on Soundcloud. Ever notice how these are the people who NEVER get booked to play anywhere, ever? They almost make those pop-up adds for Viagra seem tame in comparison.
Remember that everyone sucked not only as a DJ, but also at building a following, when they started out. There’s nothing to be ashamed of by not having a large fan base during your formative years. Find your rhythm when it comes to promoting yourself online without being invasive or desperate. At the end of the day, the mixes and the music do the talking, followed by your fans if you’re a class act about it.
A FEW ADDITIONAL TIPS FOR SUCCESS
- Do not think Djing as a hobby. The more professional you are in your approach the higher chances you have of getting gigs.
- Do not try to get followers on social media. You want to get organic fans.
- Try to seek feedback on your music from strangers. Sadly your friends and family will always be biased and find it ‘Amazing’.
- If you don’t already have them, you need to sign up for Soundcloud and Mixcloud Today. These are amongst the best resources at your disposal for getting your mixes out there.
- Gear is irrelevant. Your skills as a DJ come down to your ability to work with what you have, which songs you play, and how to read a crowd. Not whether or not you are using CDs, vinyl, Ableton, Traktor, MIDI controllers, ZIP disks, or whatever. New gear is being released these days at mind-numbing speeds, and it’s easy to fall into the marketing trap of absolutely “having to have” that new controller or software update. Just stick to what you’re most comfortable with. If you have to purchase something, have a clearly justified reason for doing so. You’re probably spending enough money on music as it is.
- Support others even if they couldn’t give two shits about you. If you think people are preventing you from succeeding, kill them with kindness.
- Don’t forget to support the talent of other like-minded producers who live in your backyard. As long as their music fits your style, you should be including their tracks in your sets. This is another great way to get support from some of the key influencers in your local scene.
- Share your mixing with the world by playing online radio shows. While they won’t prove your skill set to promoters the same way a live set will, radio shows are great ways to practice in the comfort of your home while other people are listening.
- Be patient. VERY patient. Overnight success as a DJ is almost unheard of these days.
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