Building A DJ Team: The People Behind Successful Artists

On the surface, DJing seems like a one-man job; the perfect field for personalities who are well-suited to working on their own. However, behind every major successful DJ is a team of people who work together to build the DJ’s brand and keep them at the forefront of the industry. When the time comes to elevate your DJ career, it’s a good idea to build your DJ team – instead of working harder, try working smarter and let other people help you out. But who do you really need on your team, what qualifications should they have, and how do you find these people? Read on!

A DJ’S MANAGER 

Avicii and his manager, Ash Pournouri (photo credit: Dancing Astronaut)

Great for: Balancing the various aspects of your career, providing you with strategic advice, hustling up big opportunities for you, making sure you don’t use up all your drink tickets before your set.

Not for: Setting your beat-grids, deciding what your sound and brand should be, paying the bar tab for all the girls you invited to the club.

A manager’s main role is to handle the day-to-day business for an artist. At some point, you may reach a point where the business of DJing begins interfering with you actually having time to produce mixes/music and DJ. A good manager will create opportunities for you, and help to make you money.

At the beginning of your career, you may not need a manager. Many managers won’t consider working with a DJ until you’ve established your brand, and have a firm long-term vision. Although the process of finding a manager is different for everyone, you may need to have released several successful tracks, videos, or mixes before you’re able to find the right one. Keep in mind that the right manager for you may not be an established manager working at a big company.

For example, Avicii met his manager, Ash Pournouri, online at a music blog. Ash had no previous experience managing DJs, but contacted Aviici because he was “more or less curious about what I could offer creatively to help someone who I thought was talented but needed direction.”

A manager will help you to oversee many facets of the business, including your label, shows/tours, merchandise, music publishing and creation of new content for social media. According to Ash, “an artist has three legs of strategy that can be built up separately but make use of each other. One is music, one is performance, and one is brand/profile.” A manager is going to create strategies to generate income from these three areas. At the end of the day, you’re in the business of DJing, and you want to do well.

One key role of the manager is to make you money. Most managers use a commission pay scale (15 to 20 percent). If you begin making more as a result of having a manager, then your manager is an income source. If they’re not bringing in any money for you, it’s time to say goodbye.

Finding A Manager: Word of mouth. If you’re a talented DJ (and music producer) people will hear about you. If you’re dedicated to posting up music, mixes and content for social media, chances are a good manager is already watching you.

Networking. Attend music conferences and conventions, and introduce yourself to people. You never know who you will meet, or what opportunities could present themselves. Be open to new contacts and present yourself professionally.

A DJ’S AGENT

Steve Goodgold, The Windish Agency

Great for: Finding you gigs in places you’ve never heard of, handling the boring paperwork, sending you cheques.

Not for: Giving you wake up calls when you’ve got an early flight to catch, making sure you’ve packed power adapters for foreign countries, asking for ‘freebies’ for you from corporate gig bookings.

If you would like to DJ around the world, you will probably need an agent. A DJ’s agent is responsible for booking gigs, tours and media appearances, as well as sending out promotional materials, negotiating and issuing contracts, and arranging for flights and hotels. A booking agent may work closely with your manager; in the early stages a manager could also function as your booking agent. Agents may be freelancing, or work for a larger DJ agency.

Finding An Agent: If you’re focused on your music and it’s great, chances are an agent will reach out to you. That being said, it’s a good idea to be pro-active and utilize your network to establish contact with agents. Do keep in mind many of these people are already quite busy handling their current DJ roster. Stay in touch with agents you meet, you never know what will happen down the road.

A DJ’S PUBLICIST

Publicists you probably don't want - Liz & Liz from The Kroll Show

Great for: Making sure that news about you makes the headlines, pressing ‘send’ on press kit emails, writing your updated bio because you’re too busy recovering from your big gigs in Ibiza or Vegas.

Not for: Ensuring that your new single is actually press-worthy, creating a hardcore workout plan for you so you can tone up before press photos, exaggerating the list of clubs you’ve played at to give you more street cred.

Publicity plays a key role in a DJ’s success, and a publicist is perhaps the most underrated member of a DJ’s team. A publicist will send out information about you and your projects to the media, including blogs, magazines, TV, radio or newspapers. The publicist will work together with your manager and agent to obtain exposure for you through interviews, press releases and promotional opportunities. Being featured in the media will help you to develop a larger audience, and broaden your fan base. Good publicity is also good advertising, which will sell your shows, music, merch and mixes for many years to come.

Finding A Publicist: There are many freelance publicists who work for DJs that you can hire. If you’re not quite ready for this option, try contacting a music business school and see if there is a recent graduate who’d be willing to work together with you. It’s key for a publicist to have a lot of media contacts, or be good at seeking these contacts out.

A DJ’s ROADIE

Great for: Carrying all your gear out the front door, packing it into your Honda Civic, unpacking it at the club, and doing the reverse routine at 4 am.

Not for: Scoring the digits from all the ladies who are crowding around you in the DJ booth.

If you’re doing a lot of gigs where you’re transporting equipment, you’re going to need an extra pair of hands. Whether you’re a mobile DJ with a busy schedule, or a touring DJ with an elaborate stage setup, having a member of your team who can setup and tear down equipment quickly is vital. Even if you’re capable of doing it all yourself, you can save time if you have someone who can meet you before and after the gig to help with the gear. You’ll be able to get in and out of spots faster with a roadie, which means you can spend your time on more important things. Like calling the cute girl you met at the end of your awesome set last night.

Finding A Roadie: If you can afford to hire someone, try posting on Craigslist or a local DJ/music forum. Otherwise, try contacting an audio school, and see if they have any recent graduates who would be able to lend a hand. You could see if they will volunteer (be sure to offer them a letter of reference if they do) pay them a few bucks after the gig, or buy them lunch. You just might find a great new team member!

A DJ’S CRATE DIGGER

Great for: Finding out about new artists, turning you onto to rare gems, discovering dusty horn samples that are waiting to be flipped in your next controllerism routine.

Not for: Sending you this week’s Top 10 tracks on Beatport, finding lame records, making sure you’ve got enough coin in the bank to buy all the dope tracks they put you onto.

These days, there are more records than ever being released. Chances are, you don’t have enough hours in your day to search through all the demos, and label promos you’re sent. Listening to new tracks is almost a full-time job in itself!  An extra pair of ears can give you the competitive edge you’ll need to keep your sets on the cutting edge. A crate digger can sort through new music and every week send you a list of tracks that would work with your style.

Finding A Digger: This is a tricky one. If you know someone who really knows their music, ask them if they’d be willing to sort through some tracks every week, in exchange for something. (eg. new tracks)  You need to find someone who really has their ear to the ground.

A DJ’S CO-PRODUCER

Benno De Goeij

Great for: Writing top lines, creating customized presets for you, crash courses in subtractive synthesis.

Not for: Rolling joints for you in the studio (they’re going to be too busy programming patches in Massive), coming with up all of your creative ideas for you.

If you don’t have a big track out yet, isn’t it time to make one? Hiring someone to make your hit might be a bit too artistically compromising, but if you’ve been too busy juggling a ton of DJ gigs (and perhaps a day job), you may not have had time to hone your production skills. These days it’s almost essential to put out remixes and original productions to become successful. In 2013, I think it’s safe to say (and a bit sad to say – Ed.) that the ghost writing industry is bigger than ever. Collaborating with a studio-savvy producer or perhaps even hiring a writer might be a good move, if you’d like to go down this route. Even top DJs like Armin Van Buuren work together with scientists of sound like Benno De Goeij to make their tracks sound stellar.

Finding a producer to collaborate with: Since producers are usually locked away in their studio, I would seek out these type of people online, on music forums, blogs or even YouTube.  You might be able to find them hanging out in local equipment or record shops.

A DJ’S INTERN 

Great For: Keeping your workspace tidy, researching new genres, emailing other DJs your tracks, and of course, making sure the coffee’s always freshly brewed.

Not For: Writing your music or business plan, booking your gigs, texting your significant other.

An intern is the person who does it all (and hopefully they do it right, as they are usually new to the industry) From social media to online research, from carrying gear to working the merch booth at your shows, an intern can be an invaluable member of your team. Interns are usually ‘keeners’ who have just graduated from school, and need some experience for their resume. They will usually be able to work for you for a defined period of time, for a certain number of hours per week. You’ll need to put aside time to properly train them on your systems, and give them tasks to work on. Make sure you have specific work for them to do before you try to find one. If you’re lucky enough to have an Intern, be sure to treat these people with respect. They often have to do thankless tasks, so be sure to be kind and reward them for good efforts.

Finding an Intern: If you have a legitimate DJ business, it should be relatively simple for you to contact an audio school, and submit a job description of what type of person you’re looking for. Since Interns usually work for free, in exchange for valuable experience, make sure you provide them a challenging but not overbearing workload.

A DJ’s LAWYER

Mark Quail, Music Lawyer

Great for: Deciphering contracts that may make or break your career.

Not for: Making sure you didn’t let uncleared samples sneak into your released tracks (they’ll help you clean up the mess afterwards, though).

The DJ industry has its share of contracts, licenses and paperwork. Somewhere along the line, you’re going to need professional assistance. Rather than writing out dodgy contracts yourself (or trying to understand all the legal jargon they’re written in) it may be a good decision to reach out to a professional who can help you to negotiate your way through the maze, and make solid decisions along the way.

Finding a lawyer: Online, backstage at music festivals, or at industry networking events.

A DJ’S SECRET WEAPON TEAM MEMBERS 

Mr. Hawtin, Richie Hawtin, Mayor Eddie Francis, and Mrs. Hawtin

Great for: Designing your mix tape covers, modding your equipment, being the MC/host for your next event, doing the majority of the ‘behind the scenes’ grunt work and receiving little credit for it.

Not for: Taking for granted. Do treat these people like gold, your ‘secret weapons’ could be the most valuable people you have on your side.

Many famous DJs have had ‘secret weapons’ that helped them succeed in the industry. More often than not, these so-called ‘secret weapons’ were actually members of the DJ’s family! For example, Richie Hawtin’s father was a robotics engineer, who helped him to develop many of his technologies for DJing. Richie Hawtin’s mother used to work the door at his parties in the early days, so that no one would sneak in.

Finding a secret weapon: A successful DJ usually has a few ‘secret weapons’ working behind the scenes with them, including creative directors, stylists, and advisors. Do you have any family members or friends who could help you out? Offer to take them out for lunch or coffee, and brainstorm new ideas for your DJ game. That little brother of yours could be more useful than you think!

GET SEARCHING!

It’s important to remember that once you find your new team members, that you don’t sit around on your laurels. You need to continue to produce new music, mixes, photos and videos on a regular basis, so that you have new products to market. So keep it coming, and best of luck in assembling your team!

Header photo credit: CNTRL: Beyond EDM Tour’s Facebook page

  • Donna Shearman

    hey guys I am starting a management company and seeking a motivated, career driven DJ to manage. Must be serious about putting in hard work to reap rewards!! If you think you’ve got what it takes, send me an email with a demo track or mix to donnashearman@hotmail.com

  • Mark Chiefhitts Champ

    I like this site!!! very informative!

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  • Ryan

    F**K A GHOSTWRITER!

    Either team up with people and give them their due credit, as in both of your names listed as chief artists, or learn to produce. Got an engineer/sound designer to take your crappy mixes and make them sound like you know what you’re doing? Whatever, fine. But if you’re using a ghost producer (hey man, I have this half-assed Massive bass line with crappy drums, make it a song and I’ll pay you) you’re poisoning the water. THAT INCLUDES Van Buuren, Tiesto, Diplo et al. I get it, Ms. Sims/DJTT, you were endorsing the idea of co-producer, not ghostwriter, and there’s a difference, blah blah blah but that’s a fine line. If you want to be a producer, learn to produce.

    This community erupts any time a producer gets caught fake DJing. It’s downright hypocritical to shrug it off and say “sadly, this is what everyone’s doing now so I’d better do it too” when DJs fake produce.

    Ugh.

  • kebzer

    Well though article, actually it brings to the light a few people/roles that tend to be overlooked on purpose, for example the crate digger, for the obvious reasons.

    Whoever does serious studio work, knows and has such a person (crate digger) around. Also a composer/sessionist is crucial. Otherwise we would have just a handfull of DJs around, since such a craft would require such an incredible ammount of personal skills that very few people would have the time and resources to bring up themselves.

    Another role that can be added is the personal sound engineer, both in studio and on stage. A sound engineer will make sure everything sounds great and better than others. Extremely important aspect in music, however a lot don’t pay enough attention anymore in these mp3 days.

    Don’t snob/overlook these roles, just for the sake of “keeping it real”.

  • Disappointed

    Its so difficult when you are expected to produce content for your site on a regular basis, but this really felt like a fill in article.

    Its unlikely to be relevant to 99% of the people visiting the site, and the descriptions of the roles are basic.

    DJTT, I know you can do better!

    • Dan White

      Thanks for your feedback, but an article about the type of people who make a DJ career successful would be interesting and relevant for a lot of our readers.

      Any DJ of any level should be thinking about how these roles are fulfilled in their own career, no matter how prolific you are. Are you paying attention to booking gigs? to finding new music? to publicizing yourself?

      It doesn’t mean you necessarily need someone who is not yourself to fill these roles – but at some point for many DJs it starts to make sense.

  • Mac Digi

    I highly disagree with the “Co-Producer” aka “Ghost Producer” portion. Saying you produced something another producer made for you is fundamentally wrong. If you disagree, then you are obviously just doing this to become a celebrity and not because you are doing what you truly love. But this is my opinion from a producer’s standpoint. It’s cool to have a helping hand in the studio, especially one good with sound design and arrangement skills, but that doesn’t mean you should get credit for work that they did.

    • Chris Conforti

      You missed the point. What he is saying is that DJs who have produced tracks get way more gigs. By having someone produce for you, you will gain exposure which will elevate your DJ career. As a producer i totally agree with what you are saying and would never take that route but for DJs who might have no intention of ever truly being a producer this could actually be a launchpad for their career, DJing.

  • Dustin Pronoia

    WHERES VJ AND Light Tech , thats what will talk your show to the point of needing most of these things,

    • Sara Simms

      Glad you mentioned these people, you’ll need them on your team too.

  • Anonymous

    Best fully written article on DJTT ever. Great job!

    • Sara Simms

      Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    I was really looking forward to reading this article when I saw the title, but was thoroughly disappointed by the whole “find people to work for you for free” mentality. As astonishing as it is, people need money for food and shelter at the most basic level.

    • Sara Simms

      You’re absolutely right here, team members should be paid fairly for good work. The reality is, in your first few years of DJing, you may not be able to afford to have full-time (or maybe even part-time) staff. I wanted to provide a few helpful suggestions on how you could seek out new talent for your team, and provide opportunities for them to gain experience. Hopefully you’ll be able to create paid positions for enthusiastic interns over time.

      • Anonymous

        If money is tight, I’d suggest trading services, connections, or teaching them skills they don’t already have.

  • jetset1

    What’s the etiquette on seeking out a co producer? It seems like a dangerous question to ask unless you know they are doing it. I do agree that it is super important though. It’s sadly a keeping up with the Joneses thing.

    • I see it as different to a Ghostwriter. It is more someone who is helping you to bring your creative ideas to reality. There are many notable examples of this John Digweed (Nick Muir), Loco Dice (Martin Butrich), Sasha (Charlie May), Timo Mass (Martin Butrich then later Santos).

      • jetset1

        Totally! I also think it can really benefit both sides. Ill use myself as an example. I travel playing shows internationally, produce mixes that are popular but haven’t got recognition for original production or remix work. back in the mashup days I had work in rotation but thats a lot different. I also have people in my musical circle that produce great tracks but don’t play out or play out as well as me. working in the studio with them could be a perfect match.

        However, if it’s along the lines of what Sara mentioned and you want to collab with a producer with a larger name how do you work out the money? As in how do you make it worth their time to collab on tracks that will have your name on them with you? Do you pay a flat rate or a %…ect I have been hesitant to ask a couple people in my city to do this because I have no idea how that process would work.

        • A collaboration is a collaboration so 50/50 split of revenue would be the norm.

          Engineering is a service and you should expect to pay a negotiated flat fee for it.

          • Sara Simms

            I think you could negotiate this on a track-to-track basis. Whatever you decide, use a contract!

        • Aaron Zilch

          It’s a tricky proposition. Definitely put things in writing so the situation is clear.

          I had a misunderstanding with a guy once where I was under the impression we were collaborating for one of his records. He had the melody less robot “vocal” track and some turntableism and I built drums, bass, chords, etc around it. He came over a couple times and sat back giving feedback as I tweaked it. One night he gave me a couple hundred bucks at the end, which surprised me but I didn’t really question it, figured he was just greasing the wheels to keep it a priority. We then had some issues trying to meet up to fully finish it. Next thing you know he is blowing up my phone looking for “his” track. Apparently he thought he was paying me to just “engineer”. Yeah…..kinda was doing a lot more than that and the money was not even close to sufficient for ghost writing or even the time I spent warping the Apple Talk vocals into something that grooved.

    • Sara Simms

      I think seeking out a co producer is as easy as asking someone talented if they would like to collaborate to create a track with you. It might be a good idea to spend time in the studio with a producer who is more experienced than you, you’ll be able to learn a lot from them!

  • durp

    there are plenty of people behind Richie Hawtin if you know what I mean….

    coming up all of your creative ideas for you.

    • Sara Simms

      From what I’ve read and seen, I think the majority of the concepts for Richie Hawtin and Plastikman shows have been created by Richie Hawtin and his visual designer Ali Demirel.

  • I don’t agree with the crate digger side of things at all. I think most of the other roles are fair enough if you get to the level where you’re busy enough to need them, but for me (personally) a DJ or performer should ALWAYS be picking their own music themselves. At the end of the day, it’s their taste, and it should be something they love to do.

    • Dan White

      IMO crate digger doesn’t have to be as specific as “the guy who finds all of your key records” – nor does it even necessarily have to be an actual person. I would easily call some of the larger aggregators a digital equivalent (HypeMachine comes to mind).

      Nevertheless, it’s a role that some larger DJs choose to have an individual fulfill, thus why we included it.

    • Anski

      This is also something you and a couple friends who are passionate about your musical genre can cover. I personally have a private Facebook group where everybody shares dope tracks they come across.

      • Sara Simms

        Great idea!

      • RSpectrum

        Good one, i think

  • Robert Wulfman

    You forgot “Significant Other”

    • Anonymous

      Sometimes that can hinder you hahaha