So you want to be a DJ and you're getting tired of performing for your mom, your best friend and your dog. You want to DJ at a club but have no idea how to get a gig. While there are shortcuts (dating the manager, being a good promoter), check out the 5 tips below to learn how to get your first DJ gig!
What your office might look like
1. Get Good at Basic Song Transitions First
Your reputation is really important as a DJ. So if the word gets around that you are trainwrecking (messing up a song transition) every other time you switch a song, you will be screwed.
DJ at home for one hour straight and record yourself. If you have to go to the bathroom, keep the music going. Listen to your mix afterwards. If you trainwrecked more than one mix, you are not ready.
It's really hard to be a successful club DJ these days because there is so much competition (mostly because it's so easy to do it). DJs get very salty when they see someone with a good DJ gig who (they think) doesn't deserve it and some will drag you. So make sure you can mix before accepting a gig!
2. Pick a Place You'd Like to DJ At
This sounds easy and I guess it is, but a lot of DJs starting out have asked me where they should first try to get a gig at. While your first instinct might be to shy away from the best place because you're a beginner, I think you should do the opposite.
Pick your favorite place in your city. The people who DJ there were just like you when they started out. When I first moved to Brooklyn, there was a bar called Savalas that had DJs I liked, so that was one of the first places in NYC I got a gig at.
3. Become a Regular There (But Don't Be Annoying)
Now that you have chosen the place you want to DJ at, become a regular there. How do you do that? You go there regularly! Go a minimum of three nights a week. Bring your friends or go alone.
Now some people may see a problem with this right off the bat. Here are their objections along with my answers:
I can't stay up until 2 am three nights a week Once you are a DJ you will have to stay up later
I can't afford it, there's a cover charge Get the money and pay (for now). Within a couple weeks they will start letting you in for free / giving you free drinks
I have to be at my day job by 9 am Go on Friday and Saturday night and one other night. Get used to keeping odd hours
I don't drink I do sympathize with people in this situation but I certainly know plenty of DJs, bartenders and nightlife people who don't drink - you can do it
4. Make Genuine Relationships with the DJs, Employees and Regulars
Remember Savalas, the bar I mentioned above? I first went there about 15 years ago and I am still reaping benefits from the relationships I made at that one place. I DJed there and at their sister bar for years. I met many of my current DJ-friends and other friends there, and this year one of the owners referred me a wedding.
Here are some tips to make genuine relationships with strangers at a nightclub if you're like me and it doesn't come naturally to you:
Just go, hang out and have fun
Talk to people, but don't mention you're a DJ at first
Watch your drinking (and drugging)
If the place has a night when it is quiet, that's a great time to hang at the bar and meet the bartenders and staff
Once you are friends with the staff it will happen organically
Be friendly with the DJ, but don't ask them tons of questions while they are working (especially about the equipment) and be aware that they know why you are there!
5. DJ an Off Night or for Reduced Pay (or Both)
Many places have DJs every night of the week, but the only really busy nights are Friday and Saturday. One of the other nights is a great place to start because it's actually harder so you will learn quicker. Getting a small group of people to dance is much harder than a big group. And 20 people sitting at a bar can be pretty picky.
Also, don't expect to (ever) get rich doing this. When you start out be prepared to DJ for next to nothing (or nothing). Don't be picky at first, but find out what the weekend DJs are making (ask one of the bartenders) so when one of their spots open up you know how much to ask for.
Bonus 1. Other things that will help:
A large following on social media (basically Instagram)
Being good looking / a good dresser (although I am proof this isn't necessary)
Being a good promoter. I hate this one, mostly because I can't do it, but also because when I started out DJing, every other time I tried to get a gig they would ask "do you promote?" or "how many people can you bring?" They would hire anyone who could bring a crowd. And unless you are a very popular person (I'm not, obviously), it is very hard to get even 20 people to come out to a party every single week. One time, not so hard. Consistently? Hard. That being said, if you are able to do it, and there are people who can, then skip to the front of the line and collect your DJ gig.
A passion for music and DJing - you have to love it!
Bonus 2. Things that wont work:
Sending a mix to the manager (this will never work). Back in the stone ages, I used to bring CDs to places. And one time, in the reflection of a mirror, I saw them throw it in the garbage as I was walking out. All the other places were nice enough to wait for me to leave...
ONLY having a large following on social media
Cold calling places or emailing every place in town
So once again, this doesn't apply to DJing at a festival or being Lil' Pump's tour DJ. This is strictly for getting a gig at a club or bar. Take this advice and then make a lot of mistakes. You will learn the most from them. Let me know what works for you and what doesn't. And if you get fed up, you can come work for me as a wedding DJ. Good luck!