One of the single best ways to develop your skills as a DJ and advance to the next level is through consistent gigs in front of a specific crowd. A local residency is one of the most reliable ways to get that experience. In today’s article we talk with a number of resident DJs from around the world, along with providing some recommendations on how to land that coveted spot.
For the first part of my career spanning 1997 to 2005, I held many residencies in San Francisco at a number of high profile clubs and parties. Here are some of the traits and skills that I think helped make those gigs happen. While these tips worked for me, they may not work for you, so always stay open to new ideas and ways of getting in the door. In addition to my own experience, Dj TechTools reached out to 3 relatively new resident DJs around the world to get their takes on how to get the gig.
- Jozef K – Sankey’s
- Bella Sarris – Enter
- Fabio Florido – Enter Ibiza
First, let me dispel a common myth that underlies one typical DJ complaint:
“I emailed/mailed/handed my mixtape/Soundcloud/CD to 10 club owners and no one emailed me back!”
Club owners and promoters almost never have time to listen to promos, and many of them told me this in confidence. Instead, you will have to find other more direct ways to get their attention and get a shot at playing your first show by just being around somehow. That is the primary objective. Fabio got very serious about getting the attention of Enter’s Richie Hawtin – he moved to Ibiza.
When I found out that Richie Hawtin was going to start his new ENTER. party in Ibiza I decided to move to the island to experience his concept every week and of course, to deliver the highest possible number of USB sticks with my music. While I was moving my own steps with DJing and receiving his early support with my productions I then started to work for ENTER.Ibiza in the promotion team. At the end of the second summer season Rich luckily listened to me playing in some Ibiza’s after-hours and the following winter… the magic news arrived, the dream came true! – Fabio Florido
Get In The Door And Then Show Your Value
Find some creative way to get your local club owner or promoter to give you a shot at DJing their venue. This could look like any of the following, but the most important part is just getting that first foot in the door!
- Promoting the party
- Working in the back office
- Offer to open up for another DJ for drinks (usually a friend who has a booking and would give you the first hour)
- Get a friend who is playing to recommend you as the opening act
- Offer to throw a free party in a normally dead time
- Offer to play in a room that is normally closed (this is how I got my first gig in a basement!)
Once you get that first foot in the door, it’s time to demonstrate value and make sure you stick in their mind as a good person to work with. Jozef’s residency at Sankeys came from helping in other ways around the club.
The residency came about when a work experience position opened up to help out in the office. After a few months in the office, the situation arose where a slot became available in the basement for a Tribal Sessions night. Managment asked me to do a mix CD to show what I would play like. This caught their attention; and I was allowed to play in the basement. I think being an uber music nerd and attending Sankeys from start to finish most weeks helped me make the right musical decision. – Jozef K.
Here is a great video that shows Jozef in action at Sankey’s and goes into some of his perspectives on being a resident DJ there.
Seize The Opportunities And Play It Smart.
Once you have the attention of the club owners or promoters then it’s time to make this first chance count. Bella Sarris (Enter) tell’s how being prepared can pay off in the long run:
Search a lot of music and know it well. Be able to adapt to different situations and take risks. Also, don’t assume you are done when your set is over. Because you might make the mistake of sending your record bag home with a friend, get drunk on Champagne and then be asked to open the main room because the other DJ is M.I.A. Yep, true story. Couldn’t have ‘adapted’ without the champagne and Bill Patrick though.
Many residents start their career opening for larger acts and usually warming up the dance floor from an empty room. Fabio tell’s about why this is a super valuable role in the club.
Being a resident is something every DJ should experience to fully understand it’s importance and to open their musical knowledge. You represent the party with your music and even with your way of being. If you are an “opener resident DJ” you have the biggest responsibilities. Some consider this a “punishment” but trust me, it is magic and really important. Of course its not your duty to “smash the club”, rather to make the audience feel at home. Their ears are fresh and a lot more “aware” compared with the end of the night, that’s why the opener is responsible to warm those ears up taking the music and the vibes to the right level just before the main act goes on. – Fabio Florido
What kind of music should you play as a resident DJ? Is it your job to cater to the crowd?
The best advice I was ever given is ‘play what you want to hear’. Not what you think you should play or what you think they want to hear. It’s actually not as easy as it sounds. – Bella Sarris
Be Consistent And Professional
- Do what you say you will do.
- Show up early and be prepared.
- Stick to the appropriate format
- Don’t drink on the gig.
- Don’t ask for a lot of drinks for friends.
- Make the guest list easy.
- Warm up the dance floor properly.
If someone books you to play a warm up set, play a warm up set! No one will be impressed by your delay skills before the drop to an empty room. Keep it deep, show some musical understanding and you will be asked to play again. – Jozef K.
- Make it clear that you are easy to work with.
- Ask the owner or promoter what music would work best for the event.
- Check in with them mid set to confirm the programming is on track.
- Be prepared to work in new styles or formats of music on demand depending on the headliners
Playing before so many artists with totally different styles really made me dig for music that I wouldn’t usually play, but still like. This not only widened my musical knowledge but also helped me develop the discipline to search for music. – Bella Sarris
- Offer to help set up the equipment.
- Offer to help promote if possible.
- If you have a audio background – help make the room sound great.
- Show up early and look for ways to chip in!
- Be respectful of other DJs
Be Ready To Promote, Build A Following
- Most promoters are looking for residents that will bring in a little bit of a “base crowd”
- Be prepared to show that you have a Facebook/email/Twitter/Snapchat group of friends that will come to the party. Note* Social media is a great tool for marketing but do not rely on it entirely.
- Do whatever it takes (outside of offering everyone free booze) to get 20-30 of your friends out EARLY for the set.
- Make sure to have a system for building that following and bringing them back regularly.
Follow, Follow, Follow up!
Many people get their foot in the door, show great value and then sit at home waiting for the call back. Unfortunately, as you all know – we live in a very busy world with a lot of information. Clever marketers know this and follow us around the internet for weeks with re-marketing ads.
While annoying, it’s effective, and DJs should use a similar but less annoying strategy to ensure the club does not forget you. I landed several residencies by using a technique learned from my early modelling days with an agency (don’t ask, that’s a long story) simply showing up once a week to “check in”, see how things are going and ask if there are any shows coming up to keep you front of mind. Even more likely is the possibility that club owner has procrastinated booking someone for the opening act on Thursday when voila! You magically show up at the perfect time and save his ass, again demonstrating your endless value as the worlds best DJ.
The Club vs. The Promoter
These are two different styles of residency that can feed into each other. You are welcome to start in either camp, as each have pros and cons. The club residency requires you to become close to and relied on by the club’s general manager and occasionally the owner. Make this person your best friend, follow the tips above and they will bring you back regularly for gigs in that venue.
The promoter residency follows a different path and is sometimes an easier way into the door. Instead of focusing on one venue, find some friends or new promoters that are just starting off or possibly even established. Get in alignment with them musically, and socially – then demonstrate a lot of value. Promoters tend to be very myopic in their booking trends and always re-use the same residents for all shows – if you get on their good side.
My residency made me look for new music, new artists, made me open my musical baggage and mind, made me understand that we can’t be “stuck” with only one genre but embrace as many as we like to be ready to face different type of situations, rooms, clubs. This residency pushed me to push my limits week by week, if you are resident in one club there will always be new people but also people that are coming every week and you don’t want to do the same set! – Fabio Florido
So, smell a trend yet? No where in this article did I cover putting out an epic mix, or developing mad finger drumming skills. While these might be key elements to an overall career, the classic club residency is a different and very simple beast. Connections, social bonds and just general usefulness are all highly rated value traits that should lead to a solid regular gig.
Trying to get gigs outside of clubs? Learn how to get gigs in unlikely places.