I Wanna Be A DJ, How Do I Get Started? Part 2
Do you remember the first time you heard a DJ mix? Can you recall that perfect blend of two songs that stayed right on beat, transitioned beautifully, and kept the energy going? When was the first time you saw a DJ mix live or in person? For some of you these occurrences were witnessed all in the same moment. For others they may have happened at different times at different places. Either way, it probably inspired you to become or want to become a DJ. So you bought some music, DJ equipment, and you practiced day and night to perfection until BOOM! You are a DJ. You even have a DJ name, too. DJ SOMETHING COOL. Now it’s time to make a mix, record it, upload it, take pictures, promote yourself, get gigs, rock the house, drink champagne, do a remix, go on tour and get paid, right? Maybe so or not so much. Before you jump on your own G6, let’s make sure you know exactly what you want to accomplish as a DJ. There are many types of DJs but for the purpose of this blog let’s assume that you want to play at music events or play gigs as a resident DJ in nightclubs or even perform as a DJ for a music act or group. This may not apply as much to Mobile/Wedding DJs as much, but some elements can certainly apply to promoting your mobile DJ service. In any case, I discussed the basics in Part 1 , now let’s talk about getting some gigs.
READY, SET, MIXTAPE!
Everyone likes music. How awesome is it to have all of your favorites mixed seamlessly together on a CD or on your iPod? It’s great even if it’s only for your own personal listening pleasure. The mix or mixtape is essential to produce if you are starting out as a DJ and you want to get booked. It’s your business card and it’s the first step in defining your identity as a DJ. How do you make a mixtape? Let’s start with the music.
Music Selection – Choose music that defines you. Whatever style of music you choose to play your mix should be an accurate representation of what and how you are able to perform in a live environment. Once you’ve decided on which tracks to mix you will want to put each track in a logical progression together with clean transitions and a good flow. This is called Programming your mix. This also defines you and is a skill that is developed to perfection through years of practice and a lot of patience. If you want to play in a more mainstream or high-energy nightclub environment it helps to include familiar tunes in your mix. This lets club owners and managers know that you can cover the bases when it comes the popular stuff. Some of you don’t subscribe to this mentality, I know and I absolutely respect that, but the more versatile you can be in your skills and music selection can make for a very lucrative DJ career. I’m just saying.
Technical Ability – You’ve got skills. Show them. It could be in a long “mash-up” mix or it could be your quick, accurate transitions. You might stay in each record for 20 seconds on 4 turntables as you crab scratch a capellas, whatever. Do it on your mixtape. Just be sure not to let it get out of hand or distract from the music, especially vocals. And above all else, BE ACCURATE! Don’t try anything outside of your abilities. It’s okay to make mistakes, really it is, but if you’re handing out your mixtape to perspective employers you’ll want it to be perfect. It’s like submitting a resumé with spelling errors. Not cool.
Wrap It Up – Okay, you’re putting together a killer mixtape and you’re almost done. How long should it be? 60 minutes? 90 minutes? 2 hours? Well, it’s really up to you. My advice is this: 60 minutes. It’s enough time for you to show your programming and technical ability without losing the attention of your audience. I try and put 12-20 tracks on a mixtape depending on the style I’m playing but it never exceeds 60 minutes. It is also easier to upload on sites like Soundcloud if your mix is not too lengthy. Again, it is up to you for sure. This is just my recommendation.
So you’ve uploaded your mix, gave it a sweet title next to your DJ name. Be sure to record a hard copy of your mix on to a CD or even a flash drive so that you can hand them out to promoters, club managers, and even other DJs so that you can get in their ear and get some feedback on your mix, programming and technique. When you’re comfortable with the process you can put out a mixtape every month or so, or for as many different styles that you mix. Just remember, you don’t want people to get crispy and burnt on your mixtapes, but you definitely want to stay fresh and current and put out a good product.
PROMOTIONS AND MARKETING
There are many ways to network and promote yourself as a DJ these days versus 10 or even 5 years ago. The old school mentality of going out to clubs and events to meet promoters and other DJs and handing out your demo or mixtape definitely still applies and is very effective, but you can do even more through online social networking than ever before. It’s less costly and you will reach a greater audience. Establish your online presence through your Facebook and Twitter pages. Create your DJ page and include a good bio, a clear description of your music style, pictures and graphics that can be used for promotional flyers, and especially links to your mixes. Uploading your mixes on sites like Soundcloud allows you to reach out and be accessible to your perspective audience and fan base. Be sure to put all of this information on your business cards and your demo discs so that you can easily be reached when the time comes for you to interview for a gig. The interview most likely will consist of just meeting with the promoter, manager, or resident DJ. If you both can agree on your fee arrangement and you are available on the perspective date, you probably just scored a gig or a time slot. Sometimes the interview consists of opening for the resident or headliner DJ, and you might get a nominal amount of compensation if any, or even a bar tab. Either way, TAKE IT. This is your shot and you’re about to rock the house. Now let’s get to the gig!
It is infinitely important for you to be considered a professional even if you are just starting out. You want to make a good impression every single time you get behind the decks but especially at your first gig. Here are some key points to help you have a great DJ gig:
Get There Early – This is a no brainer. You’ll want to get your gear set up ahead of time even if it’s only bringing in your headphones and records or CDs. These days there might be a transition between DVS systems like Serato Scratch Live or Traktor Pro that you have to plan ahead for if you are playing a set in between DJs or before another DJ. If you are opening the event or evening at the club, being set up ahead of time allows you to meet again with the bar manager or promoter or bar staff. You want them to know that you are ready to go and that you’re excited to play.
Be Considerate And Flexible – Some of you might not agree with this one, and I understand. We all have our reasons good and bad to be a diva sometimes. Bear with me because this is really for the benefit of the up and comers. Be considerate to the other DJs at the event by being prepared and ready to go when your time slot begins. It sucks to discover that your needles are jacked up or you forgot your slip mats and have to borrow from someone else. That’s bush league, for real. This ensures that you can play your allotted time and play every track you intend to play without going over. This doesn’t always happen so be flexible if you have to cut your set a little short for the headliner or next DJ. Check your watch when you’re nearing your the end of your set and make an effort to communicate with the next DJ to let him know that you have one more track. WE APPRECIATE IT, SERIOUSLY. Also be considerate to the headliner’s set in your track selection. If you are opening and are expected to warm up the crowd, please refrain from playing every current floor banger especially if the next DJ’s name is on the remix. Not cool and you won’t get booked again. Know your role. This may not apply as much if you are doing a DJ competition, but you have to be flexible and show some respect. It goes both ways. You and every DJ at the event should work together to build an amazing evening for the benefit of the nightclub, the bar staff, and most of all the crowd. They are your future fans and followers. It’s really about them and the music. It also helps you build a good relationship with the more experienced DJs who might even secure you some future gigs. At the end of the night be sure to pay your tab, thank the DJs, bar staff and management and ask them how the night went. It shows that you are genuinely committed to having a successful night or event and you can get some good feedback for future endeavors. Congratulations. Now get some rest!
MAINTAINING YOUR BUSINESS
Now that you have put together a string of good gigs it’s time to organize your business. It’s a good idea to keep a calendar or a record of all of your bookings. Keep it organized in terms of where you played, who booked you, who paid you and how much. If you filled out a W-4 to receive payment you might have to pay taxes on that income if it exceeds a certain amount for the year. Updating your Facebook page with all of your gigs past and future is also a great way to keep track of your schedule and keep your friends and fan base well informed. It’s quite possible that after a few successful gigs you could be asked to join a promoter’s DJ crew or collective. This is an excellent opportunity to get in a regular rotation with gigs on specific nights and/or locations. Playing regularly and often is the best way to improve and evolve as a DJ, but if you are playing 7 nights a week you could easily get burned out and worst of all uninspired and discouraged. Don’t take on more than you can handle. When it comes to leaving a regular gig you must be very professional. Give notice at least 2-3 weeks in advance and offer to help find your replacement. You want to leave to on good terms and always with the possibility of returning in the future. You could be the best DJ in town but at the end of the day it’s about the relationships you have with your employers that determine how successful your business will be.
There are many things I love about being a DJ. I love hearing a new track. I love watching a track move a dance floor. I love buying new headphones. I even love taking a bad request. Sometimes. Anyway, the point is this: DJing should be something that you love. It should be fun and it should make you happy. I’ve discussed a lot of things, mostly from my own experiences, that hopefully will help you on your way to becoming a DJ. I will continue to share my experiences and periodically offer advice and tips on this blog. Thanks for all the comments and until next time I’ll see you in the mix. Cheers!