So you’ve bought all your DJ equipment, you’ve built your record collection, you’ve developed your skills and now you’re ready to play out. You know how good you are and you’re itching to start rocking the dancefloor – but the problem is, the gigs don’t seem to be coming.
This is a familiar situation that many novice DJs will recognize. Once the gigs start rolling in, it gets easier, but before that happens, the hardest part is finding those first opportunities to showcase your skills. To help, here are my top tips for how to get DJ gigs.
If you want a preview of some of stuff I’m going to be talking about – as well as few other tips and suggestions – you can also check out this video before reading on.
How to get DJ gigs
1. Scope out venues
One of the first things you can do is spend time checking out local venues where you might be able to play. Gigs are not just going to fall into your lap without any effort, but one way of focusing your time is to identify any places nearby where your music might be appreciated.
Look out for venues that already play the kind of thing you specialize in, but also keep your eyes peeled for anywhere that might be open to new ideas you put forward.
2. Become known
Once you find a few places you think look promising, start spending time there so that people begin to recognize your face.
Very few bars are going to give you an opportunity if you just walk in one day off the street and ask if they need a DJ (although you never know, you might get lucky!), but if they know who you are, you have a better chance of them letting you play.
Chat to the bar staff, and if it’s the kind of place where the owner or manager is often on the premises, make sure you speak to them too. Then when the time comes to make your pitch, they already know who you are.
3. Make your pitch
Once you know the people in the venue and they know you, it’s time to make your pitch and offer to play.
You need to explain what you are offering, what you bring to the venue and why you think it will work. Is it a night that the area doesn’t have and is crying out for? Is it something that worked elsewhere? Is it something original and a bit crazy?
This is also the time to tell them about the things you’ve done in the past and any other gigs you’ve already played.
Try to sound as professional as you can, and if you don’t have much experience behind you, you might need to talk up anything you have done. But at the same time, avoid outright lies.
4. Understand the mentality of owners
One of the keys to getting the manager or owner to bite is to understand how they think.
As a DJ, you probably want to play because of your passion for the music and because you love playing tunes to people and creating a vibe on the dancefloor.
However, the person you’re making the pitch to has a different mindset.
The owner of a venue may love the music, or they may hate it, but that’s irrelevant to their thought processes. It’s important to realize this because it changes the way you make your pitch. You’re not going to sell anything just by telling them about how amazing your music is.
What you need to show them is that what you’re offering is going to get people into the venue and spending money. This is the bottom line for any manager or owner, so this is what you should be focusing on.
5. Play for free
This is a tricky one because some people might not feel comfortable with it, but at the beginning when you’re looking for places to play, it can help a lot if you offer to play for free.
I’m not suggesting you play for free forever, far from it – this is a job, not a hobby – but it can help to do a free trial.
Many people would suggest playing the first night for free and agreeing from the outset that if it works out, they will pay you from the second week on.
If you can afford it, you might even be willing to play free for the first few weeks to build some kind of a buzz around your night. This will give you time to prove yourself, after which you can ask for money.
And again, remember what I just said about understanding how owners think. By offering a week or a couple of weeks for free, you are removing the element of risk for the owner. If they’ve got nothing to lose, they’ll be more likely to agree.
6. Promote your own night
Something that could work for you is not simply offering to play music but actually putting on your own night in their venue. Offer to take care of all the promotional work, tell them how many people you think you’ll bring in, the music you want to play and so on.
Again, this is a no-lose situation for the owner. You do all the graft, and if it works out, they get a successful weekly night in their venue. And if it doesn’t work out, you won’t be doing it for long.
For many people, this is a dream situation, so if you find an owner who’s willing to give you this kind of opportunity, make sure you don’t mess it up.
Another vital part of starting out as a DJ is networking. While you’re going round the clubs and bars trying to find venues to play, talk to as many people you can and try to make new contacts.
You never know if someone you’re talking to might know someone else who could give you your big break.
Alternatively, you might find yourself talking to someone who already DJs somewhere, and if you get to know them, maybe they can help you get your foot in the door. And that’s what it’s all about.
8. Hand out demos
This old-fashioned way of doing this was to hand out mixtapes, and even though most people probably don’t even own a cassette player anymore, the theory is the same.
People need to be able to hear what you can do before they’re going to book you, so record your stuff and hand out USBs to people who you think might want to hire you.
Sure, you can put your mixes online, but the gesture of giving someone something physical may show that you’re serious and organised, and this might mean they remember you later.
9. Have stuff online
But you still need to put your stuff online too. Make sure you have a Soundcloud account or something similar and regularly upload new mixes to it.
If you meet someone new who might represent a way in, you can guide them to your Soundcloud page where they can hear examples of your music.
10. Work social media
Nowadays, social media is a big part of so many aspects of our lives, and if you want to be a DJ, it can be an invaluable tool. You need a Facebook page, a Twitter feed and an Instagram account and you need to start building your followers.
Every time you play a gig, upload videos and photos, and make sure details of your upcoming gigs are also on there.
YouTube is another tool you can make use of. Record yourself playing at home and upload it to your channel – or you can even do live streams.
Another option is to upload videos about DJing, tips on how to DJ, updates about your DJ career, anything – be creative. Several people have become YouTube-famous before making it in the “real world”.
The key is visibility. The more followers you have, the more visible you are and the more in demand you will become.
You might hate it, but the fact is, in the modern world, you won’t be able to succeed through your skills alone, and you need to utilize social media to get your name out there.
11. Get an agent
Here’s one that most people don’t think about but it’s worth considering – join an agency.
There are people out there whose job it is to find DJs for venues and parties, so getting onto an agency’s books could be a perfect way to bring in more work.
12. Be professional
This should go without saying, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t get this.
At all times, be professional. Don’t turn up late, don’t get drunk and don’t do anything else that will make an owner angry.
They’re hiring you to play music so always remember you’re working. If you’re not reliable or easy to work with, they’re not going to ask you to come back.
13. Eat, sleep, rave, repeat
Finally, just keep going. If you’re good enough, you will get the break you’re looking for eventually – as long as you don’t give up. Keep asking, keep probing and eventually your time will come.
And when it does, make sure you grab it with both hands!
Be persistent and they will come
Perhaps this last point is the most important. You won’t get your big break from a few half-hearted enquiries, and even if you are the most technically gifted DJ ever to have touched a pair of decks, your talent will be wasted if you don’t put yourself out there.
So have a thick skin, don’t be afraid of rejection – and all your hard work and persistence will eventually pay off.