How to Be a Successful DJ Pt. 2 (The First Gigs)

Here is the next step in our on-going series on building your DJ career. In the first installment we looked at setting goals and deciding in what direction you want to take your DJing career. Now we will assume that you have been practicing like mad and are ready to take that big first step: to start playing out. Getting these first gigs is going to be the hardest part, so we asked several club owners and promoters the best way to approach them and get your first gigs.

FOOT MEETS DOOR

“Its really hard to figure what that one catalyst will be that is going to spark it, but once you get that one foot-in-the-door chance, just work your tail off.”   That’s Ben Doren, a successful promoter and club owner, talking about what it takes to get noticed by club owners and promoters. He started 2nd Sunday, one of the most successful day parties in California and ran a club for many years in San Francisco. Throughout the years he has booked many of the world’s tops DJs and worked with countless local DJs as well. We called him up to ask the best way to get noticed and booked. Ben gave us a list of the best ways to get your foot in the door and some tips on how to keep it inside.

THE CATCH-22

houseparty

“It’s really simple; it’s not rocket science. All you really need to do is create a following. I wish there was some other way, but that’s what it really comes down to.”

So how do you create a following without gigs, and how do you get a gig without a following?

#1 – Immerse yourself in the scene

Promoters go out–a lot–and they notice who else is out too. Make yourself regularly seen, and not only will they take notice but also remember you when it comes time to call a DJ. People forget easily what they dont frequently see.

#2- Build an email list or Twitter following

Club owners may be music fans, but they are also businessmen, so you need to present a clear business proposition. “Hey Slick Rick, I have 500 Twitter followers and half of them will come see me play. Book me to DJ, and I will make you $1,000 at the door. Pay me $500 and keep the rest.” Your ability to promote yourself by contacting fans is going to be your biggest asset, so collect those emails like diamonds and treat the list like gold.

#3 – Team up with other DJs

Building up a following and collecting emails is hard work, and it will take a long time if you try to go at it solo. Team up with a local group of DJs who have similar sounds and interests and multiply your collective DJ powers! Go Thundercats!

#4- Set up a Sound Cloud account

Share your mixes with as many people as you can. If possible, be prepared to localize the listener data and show how many people in your city have actually heard you play.

#5- Offer to pass out flyers

Offering to pass out flyers and help promote BEFORE you’re even booked will send a clear message to the promoter: “I am on the team and will go the extra mile to make this party a success.” DJ gigs follow the snowball effect: Book a few gigs, work like hell to pack the room and then other owners will take notice and start booking you too.

#5- Offer a pro-bono set

If all else fails, offer to play for free and then work like hell to show them you’re worth some money. If people show up, then trust me, the promoter will have no problem paying for the next set. Ben suggests that it’s appropriate to ask for a little extra on the second set to make up for the first freebie.

YOU GOT THE GIG

full-nightclub

Here are just a few ways to turn the first one into several more.

#1- Grab a stack of flyers

Dont wait for the club to call you; go down to their office and ask for a giant stack of flyers. Mention where you are going to drop them, and make sure you do it.

#2- Show up on time

This is not a house party, and you don’t get extra cool points for showing up later than everyone else.

#3- Collect emails at the party

Your set rocked–everyone loved it. Make sure they know where the next one will be. It won’t hurt to casually mention to the owner that “people really liked my set tonight. We collected 100 emails of girls who want to hear where my next gig will be.”

#4- Don’t abuse the guest list

This can go either way. Ben suggests that you be smart about the guest list: “If they are looking to fill the place, then bringing a guest list of 100 people will be seen in a very positive light. But if the club is always full, then asking for a big list will not be taken very well.”

#5- Stay sober-ish

Ben points out that many DJs show up and ask for 20 drink tickets for themselves and their friends. Not only does that cost the bar money, but also if you’re getting hammered, it chips away at your credibility. For the first few gigs, stay on point and limit your drinking to a reasonable level. Then later, once you have a solid relationship with the club, start asking for bottles! 🙂
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.

  • Tim Reich

    Hi there,

    very nice article – very inspiring. Especially for young, upcoming DJs there are some good tips – in addition to those I personally really recommend Optune.me. Wether you are a new or already well-known DJ, this site is a must for every DJ. It’s a bookingplatform that makes everything sooo much easier and helps you to get Gigs. I owe a lot to Optune.me – have a look, you will be surprised.

  • Pingback: How To Make DJing Fun Again | NUTesla | The Informant()

  • Kroike D

    Nice post Ean. As an aspring dj these are great pointers in taking the steps on how to get exposure in the escene. I can’t wait to land my first gig! cool comments too. Cheers

  • I was a DJ for 10 years, mostly strip clubs, but a few dance clubs. DJs, don’t drink, it makes you look bad. Don’t turn down drinks a custo buys you, but don’t get fukt up and look like an r-tard. This is the funnest job anyone could possibly want, and I wouldn’t trade those 10 years for anything. I’m almost done with school, so now it is time to be the old guy at the club, and instead of being out in the crowd, I’ll be the guy goin’ wikki wikki D D D DJ Jason Garland spinning on the 1’s and 2’s, what’s up. Check me out at djjasongarland.com. Peace.

  • I was a DJ for 10 years, mostly strip clubs, but a few dance clubs. DJs, don’t drink, it makes you look bad. Don’t turn down drinks a custo buys you, but don’t get fukt up and look like an r-tard. This is the funnest job anyone could possibly want, and I wouldn’t trade those 10 years for anything. I’m almost done with school, so now it is time to be the old guy at the club, and instead of being out in the crowd, I’ll be the guy goin’ wikki wikki D D D DJ Jason Garland spinning on the 1’s and 2’s, what’s up. Check me out at djjasongarland.com. Peace.

  • AeeVar

    “Dont wait for the club to call you; go down to their office and ask for a giant stack of flyers. Mention where you are going to drop them, and make sure you do it.”…………

    in my opinion i think its skill 60/40 = music/promotion

    great article man…..very insightful.

    ……AeeVar(LA)

  • You can drink all you want, just don’t barf on the decks.

  • Podcasting is an amazing way of promotion and getting your name out there. It has really helped me a lot. I was just featured on the iTunes store and am seeing around 2000 downloads a month. Just be consistent with your episodes and have a professional layout.

  • als always Ean , this is really an amazing article. To the many posters before, i think that it´s really hard for some of us to see, that your skills in marketing have to be at least as good as your skills on the decks. I do myself nearly every possible web promotion or anything else, i got my 2 weekly radio show on fnoob.com, myspace, twitter, facebook , filled up soundclud account with nearly 20 hrs of my stuff, follwers and and everything, also imho i´m spinning better than most of the residents in town, but i experience that there are some ppl fearing to loose their chair, so i do´t get gigs at all ^^. It´s really hard but think positive, one day will be the day! ! I experienced the same thing a few years ago in the psytrance scene, i had to play for free many times and had had to wait years for playing my first gig at all, but then it began to work and i got more and more gigs. but that another story. … just my 2c

    greetz from rainy cloudy germany

  • ok, I have about 2000 twitter followers.. I’m number 5 for having the most in my state.. but I doubt I could get 500 of them to show up.

    I’m nervous about first gigs.. I imagine there’s a process by which you go through to know what will move a crowd.. and so I tend to imagine it will take some experience.

    I’d add to this the possibility of giving away the music you made that night free to people who sign up on you’re email list? Also there’s a whole field of email marketing that its probably good to learn about. I recommend the marketing over coffee podcast for some of this and other stuff..

    What about web casting shows from you’re bedroom? I suppose it works against the collective experience of you’re music… but it might have some utility? With that I’d imagine there’s a whole world of online stuff to do.. setting up a facebook fan page ( there’s a pretty good white papper on the subject on the Advanced guard website ).. there’s reaching out to podcasters and bloggers.. setting up press lists.. youtube… etc.

  • SAMANTHA

    Such hard work!!! I hope one day it will pay off x

  • you never drink while you DJ NEVER!

  • DJ Banyon

    first off, I have been djing for under two years. i was able to get into it through a dj company. i think that is the only thing you missed in this article. during the time that i have worked for them i was able to get my own equipment (tax deductible), do about three shows a week (without worrying how to get them) and learned a lot i didn’t know before. now i am starting to expand from the company i work for and have big plans. i don’t think it would work for every one but i think it is a good suggestion for some.

  • As always fantastic article. Thanks for the tips.

    I’m always amazed at people who complain on this website. Ean doesn’t have to do any of this and yet people have the audacity to complain about the article or say that it’s wrong.

  • Handata

    same im just getting my foot in the door did a 45 min probono set i always advertise for the club but one thing i dont have time to do is pass out flyers sometimes people forget that most of us have day jobs and relationships. trying to keep all these in balance while improving your skill and taking on new projects really isnt the easiest thing to do. i didnt know a dj had to be a promoter. i thought thats what promoters do get the word out they have the skill and the knowhow “hints street teams”. i also have existing clubs telling me they’ll let me spin and get paid if i find a venue. this is crazy i dont know the first thing about getting a venue plus i have no clue what the club needs in a venue what they are looking for and what do i tell the events agency??? its a club where ganna have over 500 drunk underage kids dancing around your place so be prepared for anything to happen o yeah some of them do drugs too.

    sometimes things are just out of your reach. one person who knows one aspect of this big entertainment puzzle cant possibly take on everything. that would be like me a dj getting a two story venue lets say 6 months in advance. promoting it like hell for six months, hiring help security, door ppl, bar tenders, and then djing all night to top it off and im sure im leaving some things out. you dont see bands doing any of this stuff except passing out flyers.

    i think thats why its good to have all ages clubs, as many different rooms as possible, a different genres on different nights like house disco hip hop. so one night can hopefully compensate for the nights that dont do so well, i just want to perform i dont wanna haft to worry about whos coming and whos not i have an email list pretty string for a dj starting out, over 100 ppl noone ever shows up. am i lacking on my promoting skills or are ppl just not interested in me cause im not a big name yet.

    like someone said earlier teaming up with other dj’s is a joke. when i was starting out and didnt know shit i just wanted someone to show me the ropes let me watch what they did so i can get a feel of what to do. nope everyone either wrote me off or told me to find out on my own. only one dj helped me out ‘reid speed’ she didnt show me anyting but she talked to me and let me know things i otherwise would have never found out. and its so funny cause one of the djs i looked up to before paparazzi is always writing me off, but now im spinning in the same club as he is on the same night. weird how things work out.

  • DJ TRIGG

    I agree with everything but the playing for free for the first gig. DJs are always lowballing each other and most owners know this and will go with the dj who spins for next to nothing. biggest problem in club gigs is the djs cutting each other by lowballing. Also I would say that mixtapes open alot of doors now and sites like thatcrack.com are a great way to get your mixes outthere on a international level and when someone google you ,make sure something comes up on google. Believe me they will google your name and if they find nothing then they know you are a nobody and you will get paid accordingly

  • tito

    Hi, i am from mexico city and i have been dj´ing like for 15 years. My two pesos:
    At the begining it is quite hard to get to a club but in the otherhand that is the definetely way to get in this bussines. After peole see you performing and doing it well, you get more gigs, partys, weddings,etc. After that you can start to charge what it is fare for your job. So to start you will need to do some free jobs in the clubs. The club owners and resident dj´s are very jealous about it, so sometimes you can only be by the side of the resident, grab him some drinks and eventually, if they liked you as a person, they will let you do some early or late night stuff. Then becomes your chance. Forget it about be to technical on the mix or to perfect match. The main point is keeping the crowd dancing and funny. Pick the rigth tracks watch your crowd and make moments. After you start to feel the crowd you can be more technical and be more inmerse on the mix, otherwise if you start to amaze some dj geeks with you proefficeny on tracktor or sl1200 you will lost it. After you can manage a crowd then is the most important thing: Your style. No matter if it is rock, electro, cumbia or all together. The perfect balance is surprise the crowd with some songs they have never heard or never expected to it and in the otherhand, give them some of what they are comfortable.About the self promotion, will help if you are really good if not your carrer will end shortly. No matter you bring 500 people to the club, because you cannot do it all times and owners know it. If you can´t get fans because of your skills you will never get a residency. May be the owner will give you a monday or tuesday at month because are the dead days and you will be some kind of $$$$ for them. But after you get a residency or at least one a month within thursday and saturday then you go up and up. It is one of the greatest and cool job you can have but then remain no too drunk, not too late, not too many drugs otherwise you end at 30´s in very bad shape.
    P.S. : Great site keep it in that way
    tito

  • First off, this is a great DJ website. I think it gets the balance right with its technical and non-tech articles.

    Just to add my 2c (or 2p where I originate from)

    As with many other things I’m finding there is a marked difference to DJ’ing here in the US than the UK. I emigrated to California (LA) last year from England and I’ve been DJ’ing for about 15 years, pubs, bars, clubs, events etc.

    One of the biggest things I notice here in the US (apart from the fact that Dance Music/Electronica is much less common in the bars/clubs) is the whole concept that the DJ is expected to bring 100’s of people along to the event.

    Now I’m sure there will be UK people that will contradict me on this but in my experience this wasn’t expected of me in the UK. Sure, I would attract a loyal group of followers who liked what/how I played and my mates would be there from time to time but the whole idea of creating a database of people just to get your foot in the door seems alien to me.

    But that is exactly what I’ve encountered playing in LA and San Diego. One of the first questions I get asked is “How many people will you be bringing?”

    My response of “Erm, me and a couple of mates….” Usually gets me a swift “not interested”

    It’s shame it’s about the $$$ and not the music or skills of the DJ, but there you go.

    I also tried teaming up with some local DJ’s, while friendly at first, they quickly became less helpful when it came to gigs, they were terrified that I would muscle in on any opportunities.

    So basically it’s hard, many people will give up, but luck plays a part, as does being in the right place at the right time… so keep at it.

    I’m off to create a new multi-threaded database in MS Access..

    Cheers
    JLB

  • [quote comment=”21885″]2 good articles about self promotion and hardly anything about music. Saddens me to say that this kind of take is spot on.
    Really check starts now.[/quote]

    Yes- it is a reality check that in order to be successful you need to work just as hard on promotions as you do on the music. We spend about 90% of our articles here on music and performance so once a month we publish an article about “the business of djing” to keep things well rounded.

  • Punky

    [quote comment=””]2 good articles about self promotion and hardly anything about music. Saddens me to say that this kind of take is spot on.
    Really check starts now.[/quote]

    Self-promotion is a given no matter what you play. Being able to promote yourself is key.

    Music changes and tastes change. What would you have Ean write about? “Drop this track at 10:30 PM to fill the floor!” It’s more than a little absurd.

    Articles like this one will stand the test of time. Writing an article about how hot fidgit house is in Detroit (or whatever – I’m just pulling this out of my ass) and how it’ll launch your career is stupid. And likely out of date as soon as the article touches the net.

  • 2 good articles about self promotion and hardly anything about music. Saddens me to say that this kind of take is spot on.
    Really check starts now.

  • Jay Cee

    I have been doing the same thing for a while now, and I always get the call if the other dj pulls out or has a problem getting there, like last week I got a text at 9pm just about to start my gig asking if I could play so 6 hrs later 3am rapid drive into london for a gig at the white house 4am till 5am just one hour but it was the best hour of the night, and for helping out at that gig I now have a set on the 7tn of November, helping out and being a back up plan what ever the cost will win you gigs, never turn anyone down ever, and always give them 120%.

  • Sarasin

    On the subject of doing free gigs to get out there:

    In my experience, i played for free for a LONG time.

    At some point you gotta stop….and start charging.

    My rule of thumb is:

    If they are making money of your name on the flyer or charging entrance free, you should be getting paid.

    When the bigger promoters ask me what I want to be paid, i tell them 10 times the covert charge!

    If its a small party with a small entry fee, i don’t rob them and they don;t feel they over paid me.

    If its a huge party with a large entry fee, they making it good and so am I.

    Its fair i rate!

  • Sarasin

    I been going to parties\gigs sober for years!!

    And i can promise you that i get more respect from promoters etc than the other DJ’s who get smashed each time.

    I don’t REALLY drink….so maybe thats my reason.
    I also (from the beginning) did not want to lose face and be the guy everyone sniggers about, due to the last gig where he was lying about like a hobo with his dick in his hand.

    That motivated me….

    It also allowed me to be kinda trusted….as i was not out of it all the time.
    So now I am mates with the Sound Engineers, who teach me a lot and kick up the bass when its my turn to jam!!

    😉

    Its all about networking i found. Go to the parties, clubs….talk to DJ’s\Artists\promoters and just be persistant.
    You will get A gig sometime, even if its a warm up. You gotta start somewhere!

    The gig that got me my first residency was a free set as a Guest DJ at a certain event.
    I really did well and got a mail the next day asking me to be their resident.

    Once you there…just work it!!

    Also….please just be yourself!
    No one like a poser or prima dona!

    I have worked myself into a Production Company and will be their resident as long as i want to, or as long as they want me!

    We are firm friends….he owns a TurboSound Rig and really TIT gear!

    I don’t do this professionally, but know that i have 5 big festival type gigs to play at each summer, some club gigs in winter and whatever other gigs i can secure are a BONUS!

    This works for me!

    🙂

  • Jesse Merlin

    Ugh, IMO offering a pro-bono set does nothing but lower your chances of getting paid in the future and make venues think they can just have some desperate guy come in and play for free whenever they want.

    This post IMO has more to do with being a successful promoter than being a successful DJ. Unfortunately being successful without offering anything unique generally means being a good marketer over being a good and/or creative dj.

    If you want to be a successful DJ bring something unique and creative to the table when you do that you most likely won’t have to give it away for free.

  • BOSS_23

    Verygood tips…

  • DJ_Animus

    Another thing that has been a tremendous help has been getting a manager. Ive been posting my mixes on various forums and internet sites and eventually my manager heard them. By chance we met at a club, sparked up a convo and now Im getting booked alot more. I agree with immersion 1000% If youre not in the scene, no one will care if you spin or not. I make an effort to go to every party possible. Multiple parties in one night? Go to em all. I find being on the guest list and knowing the owners and other influential people really helps in building a fan list. Example: Last month there was a big EDM party and the line outside was retarded! I walk past everyone, see the owner, say my hello’s, and he lets me in. Later that night a bunch of people asked how I knew the owner like that. A simple “Im one of his DJ’s” and boom people are now interested in hearing you spin. This is a great article, opened me up to some new concepts. Love the site!

  • Abyrne7

    I am just breaking the club scene myself with my first club gig last weekend and returning back to the same club this weekend. This article is spot on with where I just was in my DJ’ing quest to get noticed. One thing i noticed was that when I was trying to contact other DJ’s for help to get noticed that they would often completely ignore me for they were threatened that I would probably steal thier club times or their gloory. So contacting other DJ’s who may be threatened by your mixing in any way may not be a good idea.

    But very true, Club owners want money! and if you can make them lots of money they will have you back for sure.

  • This process works, and is pretty much what I do. One further piece of advice – never rest on your laurels. Don’t get complacent! You have to keep doing this, because as soon as you stop pushing your name forward, the bookings dry up. 90% of DJing is promotion, 10% is actually playing.

  • Lantau

    Man I remember the first time I played out at a small free festival, I was so nervous I accidently got hammered just to get the guts to go on stage…

    … halfway through my set I could barely make out the controls on the mixer! Not drinking too much is definitely good advice

  • judeson

    Nice one, Ean. As always.

  • Multiplayer

    I’m always curious about how long a set will be under various circumstances and what the payment is under these varying circumstances. How about a chart?

    House Party: Beers
    Corporate Party: $300 hour plus one drunk milf
    Club Gig, off night, you’re new: $200
    Etc.

  • Great article, thanks Ean! Really useful for someone like me who has played mostly for free and is looking to secure more paying gigs.

  • kugmo

    [quote comment=”21860″]awesome tips, great article.

    looks like gilbert godfried ia a DJ too? (first picture)[/quote]

    nice suit. nice second set of cups.
    it’s also nice to see that he’s working from the wrong side of the booth.

  • Mixer Miyagi

    A Dj team sounds fun. Definitely offer to do the first gig for free… That’s how I got started at two different clubs. I guess it eases a promoter’s mind. But after that you are golden. Good for gilbert

  • great read, i love these articles! and good point on the ‘not-getting-hammered-at-your-first-gig’ i’ve seen bad things go down like that!

  • awesome tips, great article.

    looks like gilbert godfried ia a DJ too? (first picture)