How to Be a Successful DJ Pt. 1

First, I need you to answer 2 very important questions.

1) Do you really want to be a successful dj? (think hard about this)

2) Are you prepared to put the time and energy into something that will probably take several years to produce results?

If yes, then continue. If no, then you just saved yourself a lot of time.

THE PRIMER

First a slight disclaimer. No one can truly promise to give you the secret to success in any field. What we can do though, is pass on some tried and true methods that may help you get there…

What does successful mean to you? Name 2 djs that you want to be like.

This will help define what you are shooting for and focus your goals into a targeted direction.  While the term “success” is largely a personal concept, Djs can be broken down into 3 broad tiers of financial success. You may want to consider which of the following 3 you want to reach.

1. getting paid to dj at some parties but keeping a “day” job
2. scrape together a living as a full time dj
3. become a famous dj that gets flown around the world to play for big money

there are a lot of shades of grey between these steps but in general they represent 3 different lifestyles and I recommend you decide which lifestyle you really want to live.

We are completely confident in stating that anyone can achieve 1 and 2  if they are really prepared to put in the work required. #3 is a special exception because it usually involves a lot of variables that can be out of your control. That’s not to say that it wont happen, as anything is truly possible, but no one can teach you how to get there. We can however show you some basic steps that will help you achieve #1 and #2 and possibly set a course for #3. The following steps are for early on in your career, after you get started we will take it further with some more advanced material.

DomoDj_Band

Step 1: Pick Your Hero’s

Based on the questions above, where do you really want to take this thing?  Who are 5 people that have ended up where you want to go?

Step 2: Study Them

The people that are where you want to be have spent years getting there. Do yourself a favor and try to learn a thing or 2 from their mistakes. If at all possible try to track a trajectory of their career and see what major moves or events caused them to arrive at success. Study their website, their agent, their cards, their mixes and promotional material. We are not advocating copying here, but you can spend 2 months observing or 2 years re-learning what others already know.

Step 3: Get to know them

If at all possible you need to start associating with the people that are on your hero list. Contacting them and asking questions is encouraged but actually spending time with people that have achieved success in your field is 100x times better. Surrounding yourself with djs that are actually working is going to do a number of positive things.

1) expanding your reality, and locking in the idea that success really is possible

2) increasing your chances by putting you in the spot light when last minute gigs and opportunities pop up.

3) learn by osmosis. Habits are very contagious.

Step 4. Tell everyone you know

Its amazing how many gigs the people you casually know might be able to provide- if only they knew you were a dj. Dont hide your aspirations- flaunt them. Pass out CDs, flyers, invites, cards to everyone you know and  never  expect them to make the connection.  Ask each person a straightforward question like: Hey do you know anyone in the club business?  Those warm contacts that are only a few degrees of separation away will be the best way to get your foot in the door early on.
How to Be a Successful DJ Pt. 2 (The First Gigs) takes you through how manage those first gigs, leave an amazing impression and get asked back on the regular.
How To Be a Successful DJ Part 3: Production includes an interview with funky tech-house producer/DJ/label owner Claude VonStroke about the strong correlation between producing your own floor-filling tracks and getting to the next level as a DJ.

  • -vanoss-

    but how long does it take to become a dj

  • Jason

    If you are just getting into this and don’t have a software but have a midi fighter spectra what should you do?

  • dj zion

    thanks Ean it was a good artical but for me as a bigener i ber;y started last july and i have alot of equitment but dont have like the guidence like how to do first like make my own tracks or mixing plzzz help out thanks

  • DJ RAW-nK(Rans)

    if u are having a pc then practice DJing at virtual DJ..it will help u a lot to learn the basics and u will get to know ur skills and interest in this field…..make others listen to your recorded musics..and learn from the critics..after spending roundabout 1-2 years in virtual DJing….u can step into the real world…. DJ RAW-nK……(rans)….8420967296

  • Anonymous

    Practice, pratcice pratice, then produce, produce, produce.
    Practice for as long as you feel you should have.
    Produce as much music as u possibly can.
    Stay on top of your own equipment. Speakers,amps, mixers, turntables, I hate to say this your computer(for chumps, anyways but use wax, cds, and downloads)
    Charge a comfortable rate.
    Visually show yourself.
    Promote yourself all the time.
    Buy and your trade music.
    Last but not least
    BATTLE other DJs. You suck real bad if you don’t.

  • After djing for more than 20 years now, this article still helped me to new ideas…
    Thanks Ean!

  • Wow, beautiful article*claps*. It’s nice to be reminded these sort of things especially from a professional like Ean. I think one thing a lot of DJ’s should know though is that most very successful DJ’s are producers, such as Tiesto, Kaskade, Wolfgang Gartner, etc. If you love music and if you love to DJ, making music wont be hard. It’s a skill worth learning to complement your passion for DJ’ng. Using Orion Platinum is a perfect way to start off producing(its $150 and no instruments are required). BUT, if you want to be at the top and all you want to do is DJ, thats like not going to college in this field; lol.

    None the less though, Ean is %100 accurate on all of this. This is definitely a motivated business in which you are your own boss. Laziness will be your worst enemy and motivation and inspiration will be your 2 new best friends. Take all this to heart to all the new guys out there.

  • I always get this stuff backwards! I don’t know anything about DJ culture.. I’m trying to spend some time in the magazines at my local book stores… looking for websites and blogs like this to follow.. etc.. but I’m a long way from being able to pick out heros. I’m more of a person who produces electronic music in the studio.. have been since the mid 90s.. I was offered some management / recording contract stuff.. and was told doing live shows was a good idea..

    “um ok I thought” and so started looking at gear options.. and trying to see if I could find strategies for creating something like what I do in the studio, but live.

    I’ve only just started to listen to DJ music.. lol, I’m not even sure if I really like it! Or I mean like it well enough to devote my life to it.. the notion of trying to fit myself into a genera that I don’t even fathom…

    all this and I’m really aiming for some place between #2 and #3? But I suppose I’m maybe more thinking about DJ-ing as a part of a mix of other things.. remixing, producing, etc.. so.. idk..

  • great stuff as always. techtools might be interested in checking out this blog entry on being a successful dj, as it is kind of like the racist stepbrother of this post.
    djswords.wordpress.com

  • peri

    Dear Ean

    Thank you so much for such a wonderful, meaningful & educational community of yours. Its a running resource for a newbie like me. Now I have just started getting into djing and I’m 18 yrs old well from India. Now I want to be an international dj. Unfortunately in India Djing scene is really bad, but I also understand that we need to start somewhere so I have started taking basic lessons now….. but I have a digital setup like a decent laptop, m-audio fast track pro & edirol pcr 300 midi. It took me lot of time to figure the config of my set up with traktor pro but thanks to your website it helped me immensely to understand and experiment. (any posts with pcr 300 and traktor pro is welcome)

    Now I got this setup thanks to sound designer friend of mine. I am taking basic lessons so that I have a strong foundation in hardware and in future I wanna experiment old skool n new skool. But the situation is that I go to any skool here I never get the satisfaction which I get from this website cz I feel you guys are so selfless and willing to share the best practices which is not the case with people here but I am doing this only to get into the industry and atleast start Djing as of now…

    Bottom Line: I dont want to be a frog in a well and want to know whats happening out in the big world and I need people like you help me to get there maybe like I can assist you or be an apprentice someday…. Well I dont have any obligations that I need to stick in India only …. the thing is I wanna push off from here asap. I am starting of with bulding my contacts like making lots n lots of international dj friends so if you wanna add me or tell me whats your social networking Id plz mail it to djperi@ymail.com

    Thank you once again for providing me such an opportunity and looking forward to connect to lot of great people.

    Lets Rock!!!

  • dkp

    awesome. helps a lot. keep the advice coming!

  • Special K

    I think remixing is one of the keys. It puts your name out there immediately and people are always looking for fresh remixes of new tracks. I would even say in this day and age that successful DJ’s don’t look at production for an income and use it as advertising. The real money is DJing 5-7 times a week. Your name/marketing/fan base allows you to command higher money.

  • I write a daily blog specifically aimed at making it as a DJ/Producer. The points covered here are spot on, and as others have commented production is nigh on essential too.

    I am guessing this will be covered in other parts, but I definitely look forward to the next in the series.

    I might even feature this article on my blog if that’s ok. For daily tips etc feel free to check out: http://bangthedj.blogspot.com feedback and contributions welcome.

    Peace.

  • [quote comment=”21219″]As a beginner, is it better to DJ or produce first?[/quote]
    work on both is my answer one will help make the other better.i can’t stress practice enough as another thing that will make you a better dj. i agree with the finding and socializing with other dj’s and producers musicians. visit the scene and talk to the cats running it. i’ve been fortunate to have all these things going for me and even the right place at the right time thing too but you can never relax you have to keep pushing and learning and practicing your trade. Don’t pigeon hole yourself lots of guys focus on one type of music but if you want gigs you have to be versatile i just did a show as a last minute favor the music was supposed to be a bit gangster with a touch of hip hop the promoter flipped it on me and wanted all out thug rap wich honestly i don’t really care for but what the customer wants he gets. you can still be true to yourself and make a buck nothing wrong with that. and through that show i’ve aquired more followers who are now listening to the music i make. it’s not easy and luck sometimes comes into play but if your professional personable and talented then things will happen but it all comes through hard work

  • moomentum

    As a beginner, is it better to DJ or produce first?

  • Corsico
    Aug 29th, 2009 at 4:17 am Quote
    My God…this is JUST the type of article I need. Ean, you’re a Godsend.

    I was just thinking the same thing. Belmont music grad here (keyboards), but ALWAYS had a passion for DJ gigs. Started off at the local skating rink, then to the clubs. Never a dull moment!

    Now in the process of creating a playlist for an updated DJ demo. Already met a successful local DJ/VJ who directed me to this site. Looking forward to the next set of articles. Ean- U ROCK!!

    • Ricky Hibba

      help me pls to become a D J
      if ur interested cal me at 8015262648

  • me dj

    [quote comment=””]I started DJing when a cousin who is a wedding Dj
    asked me to bring my computer and i plugged into his system.He handled the dj equipment and I worked
    iTunes on my dell laptop! Man i was sprung from there.Next i worked a girlfriend’s baby’s b-party
    with my dell,itunes and logitech z-2300 computer
    speakers (Lol!)My point:i love the music and wanted to share with other folk my love.Now i have a complete dj setup (thanks to my buddy craigslist)
    and constant gigs.The best thing was Ean spoke to me for 30minutes one day when i called djtt about
    getting a vci-100se.That was a big confidence booster for me and i will always be grateful to him.My only regret,I didn’t start sooner.It helps when you have passion and love for your endeavor…Peace!![/quote]

  • me dj

    I started DJing when a cousin who is a wedding Dj
    asked me to bring my computer and plugged into his system.He handled the dj equipment and I worked
    iTunes on my dell laptop! Man i was sprung from there.Next i worked a girlfriend’s baby’s b-party
    with my dell,itunes and logitech z-2300 computer
    speakers (Lol!)My point:i love the music and wanted to share with other folk my love.Now i have a complete dj setup (thanks to my buddy craigslist)
    and constant gigs.The best thing was Ean spoke to me for 30minutes one day when i called djtt about
    getting a vci-100se.That was a big confidence booster for me and i will always be grateful to him.My only regret,I didn’t start sooner.It helps when you have passion and love for your endeavor…Peace!!

  • Corsico

    My God…this is JUST the type of article I need. Ean, you’re a Godsend.

  • Regarding the questions about producing in order to get gigs or become famous- it really depends on on what kind of dj you want to become.

    Yes, in 90% of cases producing tracks has led to people achieving #3. Its also safe to say that in some cases, having a reputation as a producer may be required to get there.

    For this article and the next few ones, I am going to cover the territory that I know very well, #1 and #2. Then in later articles we will bring some big producers on to talk about how they made it to #3.
    For now, if you are just starting out- its a good idea to set your sights high but you dont need to worry about cutting tracks yet.

  • duerr

    that’s really great advice djerikt. it pays to be the nice guy in this scene, not the asshole… unfortunately a lot of guys in the scene have that all backwards, but I’d say mostly that the cool people in the game are some of nicest most down to earth people you’ll meet!

  • djerikt

    chinkial made some great points i want to expand upon. in the ‘who you know’ game, it doesn’t matter if its a bed room guy, wedding dj, top40remix dj, or bigroom dj. be cool to everyone in the game. never turn your nose up at another dj for doing anything you dont do.
    I met a wedding dj, who had me fill in for a corp gig, which happened to be at a fashion gallery, where I met a top40 dj on the Billboard Magazine panel, who knew lots of label reps, one of those guys got me in my first record pool, where i met the club djs in town, which is how i got my sat nite residency at a 2000 capacity club.
    be yourself while letting everyone else be themselves too.
    -E

  • alwright ean and everybody
    not new to djtechtools.com but ive been reading it for while now great site by the way ean just thought id post

    but yeah its hard to take the correct steps to stardom or whatever
    even getting your mates to check out your tunes and mixes
    is hard especially if youve got a pretty eclectic sound
    and there mind is pretty narrow focusing on whatever comercial cheese
    every other person likes they dont know much about who or why it was made but every body else likes it

    so that could obviosly be a confidence killer
    or it could drive u to be a better dj

    but no matter what still persist
    still send your tracks n mixes
    u never know who may end up liking it
    u may end up with labels or other artists checking u out
    or checking up on u on myspace like i have had
    still aint signed but its feedback

    getting gigs are totaly different aswell
    ive played live a few times prob my biggest gig was
    playing live at the arches in glasgow a few years back
    drum machine synths n stuff type playing live

    had a couple of dj residencys at my locals
    and few random functions ie weddings funerals birthdays
    which are a never again situation for me
    too much hassle and too much fighting if u aint got bloody simply red
    ginger fcuk

    move somewhere where its hapning
    dont get deppression
    dont get too fcuked up at partys

    do start making your own software vst instruments fx
    beatboxes diy controllers grooveboxes learn max/msp pure data reaktor synthedit
    as its awsome what u can do

    dont start making your own software vst instruments fx
    beatboxes diy controllers grooveboxes learn max/msp pure data reaktor synthedit
    as it takes bloody an eternity too learn
    and takes u away from mixing and making tunes for long periods of time
    sometimes months at a time
    but its all worth it in the end

    and keep at it
    if u love it who gives a dam if nobodys into it
    future generations might

    cheers
    al.

  • Anonymous

    One thing I think is important above all. Do not wait for permission from others to be a DJ. Appoint yourself the title of a DJ. This always motivates me when I think of people who are famous. Everyone was a nobody at some point in their lives. No one in the beginning told them they’d be great. You have to give yourself that permission to be great at whatever you do. For example no one who has ever become president was forced into the position against their will. They decided at some point in their lives they were going to be the president and just took the steps to get there.

  • I get what your saying about producing. You tend to see this in the dance scene more, but it’s true alot of these DJ produce to help get them gigs. Yes many get to the top by just mixing but think about those who are pushing producing and djing… Production work doesn’t pay much in reality unless you push super numbers… check ascap for that… But if your really looking to dj full time production work somehow always creeps in(I look at it as really tedious djing). Lucky for you guys all you need is a laptop and some cheap program and follow templates, no need for an mpc and tape.

  • thanks for the article ean!
    Great!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • [quote comment=””]matt, if your just starting out and want to get local gigs nobody expects you to be a producer too. I know of DJs who’ve been signed to big name dance music labels who haven’t produced a single track and got it with their djing alone.

    But if you want to compete with the big fish in the ocean , it’s in your best interests to learn how to produce and start making music otherwise you’re going to find it ten times more difficult to get gigs outside of your community.[/quote]

  • duerr

    matt, if your just starting out and want to get local gigs nobody expects you to be a producer too. I know of DJs who’ve been signed to big name dance music labels who haven’t produced a single track and got it with their djing alone.

    But if you want to compete with the big fish in the ocean , it’s in your best interests to learn how to produce and start making music otherwise you’re going to find it ten times more difficult to get gigs outside of your community.

  • Matt Moore

    [quote comment=””]im very new to djing and just starting out.this was a great article and very helpful but alot of the comments are saying you need to be a “producer” to get big. Can somebody reply to this explaining the difference[/quote]

  • Matt Moore

    im very new to djing and just starting out.this was a great article and very helpful but alot of the comments are saying you need to be a “producer” to get big. Can somebody reply to this explaining the difference

  • duerr

    obviously production is a big part at landing major careers as DJs…. but it’s also quite obvious that this article is an introductory one. You don’t need to be a producer to land gigs as a local dj and it’s definitely not one of the first things you need to know about to be a good dj.

    They’re too entirely different beasts and I wouldn’t expect Ean to touch on that subject until he begins explaining the more advanced stages of self-promotion work. You have to learn how to walk before you learn how to run.

  • You forgot one KEY component. PRODUCTION.

    All the top major touring DJs are producers. In order to be represented by the major agencies, you at the very least have to have some albums out there and producing on a regular basis. It is what will separate you from the pack.

    These days, it’s extremely easy to be a DJ. But very difficult to be a GOOD DJ… Even if you have the skills, a lot of it is who you know when it comes to gettin gigs, but if you have your music being distributed all around the globe…. you will have a following in other countries before you even land in that country.

    But to harp on a related topic. If people don’t buy the music that they DJ with…. The DJs who produce the tracks that you play, end up becoming starving artist.

  • Great article Ean, is a great way to put things. I have never categorized success as a dj in that way, but following your example, I am very convinced that in order to get to #3 (become a famous dj that gets flown around the world to play for big money) you can’t just be a DJ, I mean you need to be selling hits also.

    I cant think from on top of my head of famous Djs that do not produce.
    So what do you think … Do you need to be a producer / Dj te get to #3?
    I really think you do…

  • MrM

    [quote comment=”21036″]well, to become a dj …. u can buy dj mouse, only 79 usd.
    that can make you be a dj, but not professional, unless u know how to scratch with the mini jog, which supposed you do not have big fingers.
    that should be the cheapest investment to start and make maximum profit. in the boothm people will not see what you will be using.[/quote]

    …That mouse can not even come close to teaching the most fundamental basics of DJ’ing, Digital or not. Infact the premise of the mouse all together is “BUY ME NOW You Don’t have to learn!”…Which by default puts the mouse in the toy category.

    Some old belt driven turntables off craigslist for $50 or 2/3 of the nanopad set for $80 is a much much better buy and you would actually learn and develop the skills of your piers and the craft you’ve fell in love with.

  • judeson

    Thanx for the article, Ean.

  • well, to become a dj …. u can buy dj mouse, only 79 usd.
    that can make you be a dj, but not professional, unless u know how to scratch with the mini jog, which supposed you do not have big fingers.
    that should be the cheapest investment to start and make maximum profit. in the boothm people will not see what you will be using.

  • Carmai

    I wanna be like Domo! He looks successful. He even got a band!

  • [quote comment=”21032″][quote comment=”21029″]agree @1nstinkt, reaching #3 isn’t possible without producing very very good tracks.[/quote]

    Pete Tong?[/quote]

    To be fair though he does run Ffrr which has a fairly good artist roster

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FFRR_Records

  • Kyle

    [quote comment=”21029″]agree @1nstinkt, reaching #3 isn’t possible without producing very very good tracks.[/quote]

    Pete Tong?

  • Anonymous

    Yeah,

    I think that one of the most important steps is just what people are saying, “Who You Know”.

    At all stages of your career right through to being a “big name” DJ, and even then, you have to gather and maintain a good group of contacts.

    Ensure you keep up with people and make it a specific part of your job to go by people you haven’t seen for a while, maybe stop in at the club they play at on your night off or go by the bar they manage for a drink, and make a point of saying hi and having a quick catch up.

    Its amazing how much work and how many opportunities come your way just because your in the right place, or because your in someone’s head when they get asked if they know a good DJ for such and such gig.

    k

  • DennisJ

    agree @1nstinkt, reaching #3 isn’t possible without producing very very good tracks.

  • Kupujte_Pytle

    [quote comment=””]My DJ heroes don’t live in my town.

    But I do get what you’re saying, of course.[/quote]

    i guess it’s up to us to find some DJ heroes that are actualy your locals.

    How about social networking them? Anyone can recommend?

  • 1nstinkt

    Nowadays one must get into original production work or remixing to get noticed…
    it’s a cut throat industry. Just look at the top heads playing large clubs and festivals – 95% produce club music.

  • Great article Ean. I started with digital DJing only about a year ago and by that time I wouldn’t believe that today I will be doing as I am now – knowing almost all of the DJs (and by that I mean real DJs, not some disco “playlist-choosers”) in my small hometown and holding popular gigs with them (and my own too!). Everything written here is so true! But I think you should have written there one more thing that I didn’t see there – you have to fully belive in yourself and never have a doubt about your intentions 🙂 Anyway, as I said, great article, keep ’em coming.

    And now I’m goin’ to make my top 5 “hero DJs” and try to read something about them – that’s actually quite fun and can encourage or inspire me in various ways 🙂

  • [quote comment=””]My DJ heroes don’t live in my town.[/quote]

    Yeah, i was thinking that.. I’ve got to know some pretty big guys by just putting my neck out – but I’m gna find it damn hard to get to know my real DJ heroes (Deadmau5, Richie Hawtin, Rusko..) Any ideas on how to up my game in the get-to-know-ing business?

  • My DJ heroes don’t live in my town.

    But I do get what you’re saying, of course.

  • ifizzy142

    thanks for the article ean!

  • VeinMelter

    Nice pics of Domo-kun!

  • Fatlimey

    These steps sound remarkably similar to the KLF’s book about having a number one hit, “The Manual” (text available here: http://freshonthenet.co.uk/?page_id=52). Somewhat outdated but still relevant, it’s essentially the recipe they followed to have the no.1 hit “Doctorin’ the Tardis”, which allowed them to later go on and burn a million pounds of the profits, while filming it.

  • Duerr

    I liked the bit about choosing your heroes and analyzing their careers. I’ve done this quite alot not only with the djing but other areas of business that interest me.

    I’m a big fan of Biography on A&E … It’s amazing what one can learn about themselves by watching the stories of others! I think one of my favourite episodes was the one about the life of Sam Walton who created the mega enterprise that is Wal-Mart. Essential viewing for any aspiring entrepreneur!

  • cccombe

    Interesting article, will def help some people out.
    highly recommend getting involved in the scene, such as writing music reviews, get to know promoters, dj’s, head to your favourite nights and see what makes it a success or failure.

    Nothing happens over night but once you start getting booked more and more it does tend to happen all quite quickly.

    Be persistent but not annoying, work hard on your mixes and get people to give you feedback on them so that you can improve and always treat every gig as a business card / resume. If people are there and they love your set they will tell their friends and word travels fast.

    Promoters and club owners / managers want to book DJ’s which can keep a crowd and provide a fun experience. Be nice and professional, your not a rock star so don’t act like one. Smoking in booths at least in some countries is illegal so try and respect the place. Learn to use a mixer and don’t screw up the sound system.