DJ 101: How To Get On (Hint: It’s Not Just Calling Yourself a DJ)

Nowadays with so many so-called DJs out there angling for gigs and trying to get on, how do you get noticed or get your foot in the door? I’ve never been one to hob nob or blow smoke up a club manager’s you-know-what to get a gig. I see lots of newbies hanging with the promoter trying to make friends and doing lines with ‘em after hours, just so they can get booked for crappy low-paying local gigs. Well, you’re hustling backwards. Here’s a few ways to “get on” in the DJ game.

Professional Photos

First off don’t be scared to spend a little money on yourself. If you can’t invest in yourself or believe in yourself, why would anyone else? Get professional promo pictures done. Anyone can shoot a pic from their iPhone and post it up, so do something that already puts you a step ahead the rest of the pack if you want to get noticed. You don’t need any equipment in your picture. You’re selling yourself at this point and you should be confident enough that you’ll be recognized for you and what you do. You want your personality to shine through on its own. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen some dude holding an unplugged mixer in his pic and been like, “Yo, what’s he doing with that thing?”

DJ Mixes

So important. This is your calling card. You’ll want people, fans, promoters and future clients to be able to hear a mix if they want to. This can be tricky as each party is different and if you’re a professional DJ you’ll need to be prepared to rock what ever kind of jams are requested for the event is you’re booked for. So if an EDM promoter hears the classic 80’s mix you posted online you might miss that gig. A missed gig equals missed income/work.

You can have a page up online with various mixes via Soundcloud, Mixcloud or whatever platform you dig most. Be clear and concise, label them correctly to direct potential clients in the direction for what they are looking for. Don’t just say “My live mix from last Saturday night.” Be sure to say exactly what it is, i.e. Soul & Funk Vinyl 45s Mix or Top 40 Dance Mix etc. People have very short attention spans these days and don’t want to look for things. They wanted it handed to them. The easier you make it for them the better.

Remember the Mixtape?

Mixtapes/CDs are still an excellent way to get noticed and stand out from the pack. Most DJs give away free downloads and don’t take the time out any longer to make a physical, tangible product. People love getting gifts and giving out your mixes really does show that you take your craft serious. If you care enough to put in a physical package, that means something.

Business Cards

Speaking of calling cards a good business card can still help. My business card is very simple and to the point with links to my website, Facebook page, Twitter account and Instagram account, as well as links to download my DJ mixes.

Be Personable

Smile, make eye contact and be nice. No one wants to hire or work with a jerk. That smile can go a long way.

Find An OG

I mentioned this in my last piece about cut-rate DJs playing for free and screwing the money game up. Find someone you respect, whose style you dig, then pay your dues: carry gear, help out at shows, learn the stuff you’d have to learn the hard way if you didn’t have somebody lookin’ out for you. Having a well-respected, hardworking mentor rubs off and makes you look good, cause if that guy (or girl) is willing to work with you, you must have something going on.

Online Presence

Websites are cool, but not as important as they used to be five years ago. If you have a good Facebook fan page or a blog you should be fine. But a site is also icing on the cake. In my book the more the merrier, but remember that if you’re going to build it, do it right. A 2005-lookin’ page makes you look silly. It all adds up and helps you at the end of the day, although some things aren’t necessary but a great tool to assist you in this profession.

Performance and Word of Mouth

Two of the absolute best ways to get gigs is word of mouth and from gigs themselves. I can’t count how many times I’ve been  playing and someone asks me for my info to book me at their event. Word of mouth works wonders as well. But remember the Be Personable part, you ain’t getting shit if when that person approaches you, you act like a prick.

Grind It Out

Once you have all this stuff in order, it’s grind time. Hit the venues you wish to play and ask for the managers or booking agents. Make sure they get your stuff. You can mail it in, email it, or personally drop it off and introduce yourself. Hit the clubs on the nights you want to play and ask for the promoter and do the same. I know I made fun of the dude doing lines with the promoter earlier, and that still holds. Hit the promoter up, but be professional about it. Networking for DJs isn’t any different than for tech people.

It can be a struggle at first but eventually you’ll be playing. I got my very first club gig ONLY because the DJ was sick and they needed a stand in for the night. The next 20+ years have been hard work and history. Remember nothing comes easy.

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