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.


“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.



“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.



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.

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