Building Your Club Night and DJ Career with Guest DJs

In the first half of this two-part article, Phil Morse explains how booking guest DJs can cement your club night’s reputation and fast-track your DJ career

Let’s begin this crash course with a truth: Starting a club night is the best way of getting established as a DJ. You play week-in, week-out to a crowd who know you and your music. This loyalty builds your first fan base, and the skills you pick up at this stage of your career power your rise up the ranks.

Where else can you learn how to warm up, play at peak time, break new music and program a full night’s tunes? Where else can you learn how to keep a half-full dancefloor happy, as well as a rammed one? Where else can you learn about dealing with money, doormen, bar staff, managers, police, licensing, fights – hell, even the taxman? And be honest, where else are you going to get the pure hours of practice you need to become a great DJ, and fast?

We’re not talking a superclub here. Your night will be in a small venue (say 200 people). You may get 30 or 40 people some weeks, or even less. You will have to promote yourself like mad. You’ll have to find a sympathetic club owner. You’ll have to fight for a weekend slot. You’ll definitely need a partner to do it with. You may have to move to a bigger town to do it at all. You will definitely make loads of mistakes. And you’ll often wonder why the hell you’re doing it.

GUEST DJS ARE YOUR SPRINGBOARD TO SUCCESS

But here’s the thing: If you start a club night and then book good guest DJs, you will advance into the big time in a way and at a pace that’s simply not possible otherwise. Here’s why:

  • It helps to build your own and your club’s reputations: Let’s say you want to put on a dubstep night. You think of a good name. But alone this isn’t enough: people need to start associating that name (and yours) with the music you play. And the quickest way to do this is to book known names on your scene. It gives you credibility and it ‘short-cuts’ the link in clubbers’ brains between your brand and your music.
  • It improves your DJing: Meeting, watching and listening to good DJs means not only will you pick up music from them, but you’ll get to hear their experiences, watch their mixing techniques and see how they build a crowd they don’t know.
  • You get a network of A-list players: Give guest DJs a good night in your venue, and they will tell other people. Lots of them. That means more people come to your club, and it also gets you guest DJ slots. I’m not an A-list DJ, but I’ve DJed in some stupendous places (from U2’s cool little Kitchen club in Dublin, Ireland, to Privilege in Ibiza, the biggest club in the world), simply by building good relationships with guest DJs.
  • It gives people a reason to write about you: You can talk the media into covering your night every now and then, and maybe get the odd blog review, but once it’s done, it’s done. But if you’re booking guest DJs? Now there’s something your local newspaper, listings magazine, what’s on website and music blogs can write about; something people can talk about on Facebook, Twitter, in your city’s music forums and to each other…
  • It’s fun!: To put the required effort into your DJ career to succeed, you need to enjoy what you’re doing. Grinding away week after week behind the decks with that ‘will my night ever take off?’ feeling can dent the firmest of wills. You need a lift every now and then, and the special nights that guest DJs can deliver for you are just that. You’re mixing with your scene’s stars, and it feels good!

YOU ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR GUESTS

Before we move on to how to choose and book your guest DJs, however, there’s a rule you must understand: the only guest DJs you can afford to book every week are the ones you don’t want.

When I started the club night that kicked off my DJing career back in the 90s, we booked everyone we could think of – as long as they would do it for next-to-nothing. We wanted a name on the flyers and posters for every single event. We booked friends, DJs from other clubs in our town and DJs from the next town. But our club was going nowhere, fast. A more experienced promoter said to me:

“Why are you booking these guys? You can do it better yourselves. Your bookings are all over the place! Cut back and take control. You’re good enough…”

It was a ‘eureka’ moment for us. At the end of the day, you’re more important than any of your guest DJs! Your ideas for your night are vital. After all, you’ve got the most invested in its success. That means that it has to be just you playing most weeks; your guest DJs should be the icing on the cake. You should book them occasionally and carefully to reinforce your night, not because you can’t think of any better ideas.

Once you realize this, guest DJs can be your springboard to success. So in part 2, we’ll learn who to book, how to afford them, how to book them, how to promote the event and how to handle the night itself.

Co-founder and resident at Manchester (England) club night ‘Tangled’ through most of the 1990s and early 2000s, Phil Morse is also a music journalist and currently edits the Digital DJ Tips blog. He has DJed across Europe, and currently lives in southern Spain where he plays Balearic beach sundowners on the weekends.

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  • DEEPDOWNINSIDE

    HEY DJ ADRIAN,

    How about booking some guest DJ slots at a local Miami bar or club. Tell the promoter what you do at the Hotel. Tell them if they give you a slot every once in awhile you will promote your guest night at the hotel.

    WIN WIN!

  • DJ ADRIAN VICE

    Good to read about the DJ, not software/hardware, tricks etc because let’s say we are past that not great DJ’s but get around to spin, like me.. I finally got lucky and found a place to spin a hotel lobby on Miami Beach is really fun and God I learned so much already but dont get paid a lot $$$, so WHAT OTHER WAYS can i increase my incom, i have a tip glass jar, want to sell my mixcd’s but what approach do you suggest, any ideas, laptop dj sticker, what? thank you

  • Phil Morse

    I used to go to the same gym as you guys, down in w/Didsbury, But I digress. You’re right, partners are a big asset – I think it’s actually quite hard to promote on your own, especially if you have no money. 3 people have 3 times the number of friends, family and parents to beg for cash from to get things off the ground! We borrowed GBP1000 from a friend at the start of our club night and it took 3 years to pay him back – but we did in the end, and then some. Will cover the money side more in Part 2…

  • Max One

    Hey Phil,

    I remember Tangled man!! I used to promote and was resident DJ of Step Back – The old skool night – Music Box and Manchester Academy.

    We may well have crossed paths eh.

    Anyway, your article is spot on. The absolute highlight of my djing career was Step Back and that was because we made it such a big night by booking the biggest in the old skool / drum and bass scene.

    I got to play alongside LTJ Bukem, Jumping Jack Frost, Ratpack, to name just a few… all from promoting our own night.

    I would say the thing to remember is you need about 3-5 of you promoting together. Then you can all chip in for the upfront costs (deposits etc) and share the gamble. Also you all need clearly defined roles, 1 person dealing with agencies, 1 person dealing with finances, 1 person dealing with music policy, I person dealing with marketing say. But obviously all working together on all of it, if that makes sense.

    Nice one fella

  • Aspiring

    Maybe this would be a part three but I’d love to hear your (and of course the crowd’s) opinion on wether this can be done monthly and the politics of other party nights and promoters – I’ve always wanted to get something started but I never wanted to become a rockstar promoter (we all know who I’m talkin about) or deal with the politics of (as was mentioned above) splintering a scene, choosing “sides” etc.

    Great read tho 🙂

  • Suspek

    Great article! The timing was impeccable. Mr. Morse, please focus on the money part. I have been planning a night for some time but here in Orlando, FL, things are a little different. 1) 2AM closing times are a deterrent to partying. People seemed pre-conditioned to start fast and burn out by midnight. 2) Top-Forty mentality; no real underground scene. People gravitate to whichever bar are offering drink specials. 3) Too much alcohol, no designer dr*gs (wink, wink!)! ‘Nuff said! 4) What is it with Breakbeats and Drum & Bass down here?! 5) The major downtown clubs are owned by cowboys who don’t understand the scene and care not to. These folks rarely mix out of their social groups (i.e., rich, wealthy southern white folks) and only care for the “safe” stuff (college & non-House promoters). (In all fairness, Club Firestone does feature hip-hop acts.) 6) Lack of capital. Please print Part 2 asap! Thank you. Suspek

  • Paddy

    [quote comment=”36681″]or you could just call yourself the world first ipad dj

    and still have no skills[/quote]

    hahaha we have seen that in here already

  • DJ Teknika

    Couldnt agree more with Phill and thats what happens to me. when i first become a resident, i thought i shud do everything in my club. spinning just me so i can get more fans and listeners. but there’s a time when a guy i dont really know from our neighbour city wanted a gig in my club. at first i said no because i think i can handle my club myself but then i change my mind and think it would be just fine if i put him for the opening.
    a week after the gigs, that guy called me and invited me to play in a club in his city and i couldnt believe myself the gig was held in one of the biggest club in our country and recorded for tv. thats the lesson i learned from inviting guest dj. inviting more guest dj will give you network and good opportunity.

  • ætherloop

    I agree that this is a very interestingly timed article. I’m in the process of exploring this very subject. I would love to try and increase awareness and appreciation for Deep House in the Pacific Northwest. There is definitely some great local talent in the area, but I think that there should be more opportunities to create truly great events.

  • Dj Haven

    @ JesC how do I get in touch with you? I’m in LA, what style of music do you need?

  • Jason Hazardous

    Great read. I’m a new hip hop DJ and trying to get the controllerism aspect respect in the hip hop circles. Good advice to bring a night around once I establish a residence.

  • JesC

    great write up my friend. Im looking for guest dj’s in L.A. for sunday nights. hit me up on the forums

  • Str8upDrew

    This is solid advice. I wish somebody would have told me all of this years ago, it would have saved me lots of headaches.

  • Ghostdad

    Nice read. Running a night is really fun and should stay fun. I agree with D-Jam though that if you’re booking big name artists you really love you may have to “hang up the headphones” and act more as the booker. Being both the DJ and booker can get hairy. If your night is small the venue may not want to throw proper money at a guest with a draw. Leveraging mutual friendships to get bigger DJ’s at budget prices may put you in a position where your club expect you to be booking big names at a “friendly rate.” Adding to that the time and money it takes to properly promote a night (now acting as promoter) I’ve found this to be a stressful balance where you’re not always able to meet the expectations of both the club and the artists you’re booking.

  • URBSTAR

    or you could just call yourself the world first ipad dj and still have no skills

  • Nick The Greek

    Great article Ean !!Thanks for the tips,you’re awsome !Looking forward for Part-2….

  • D-Jam

    In my opinion, the reason you book the bigger names is because you want to get a mass of people to your event, so they’ll love it, respect you, and become your loyal following. Many times though if you’re going to make a regular thing out of booking big names, then you might have to hang up the headphones and decide the night is more important than your DJ fame.

    I agree deeply with the factors on not just coming up with a name of the night, and then booking anyone out there. If you’re shelling out money for the event, then get people who have a vested interest in the event being successful. Not just locals who show up, play, and then take off with a “meet me up at ____ later tonight for a drink”. If they won’t hang out and support, then they shouldn’t be booked. You’re better off spending money on a headliner that brings people in.

    I also am all in sync on the factors of just bringing in a name, but bringing in a name that compliments what you want to do. Like booking the big dubstep DJ when you want a dubstep night.

    Can’t wait to see the rest. Great stuff.

  • Karlos Santos

    Wow small world… I went to Tangled loads of times…
    Didnt know Phil Morse was a Manc…
    Red or Blue..?

  • lil'Dave

    Great article! I’ve seen a couple of people from Montreal rise to international stardom by using these very techniques.

  • xbubbax

    wow,
    what an amazing post. cant wait for round 2.

  • jorge muniz

    good read. currently we’ve had a huge rise in clubs booking big name djs in our area. we are having a hard time promoting the events now because it is spreading our already thin crowd across multiple events. we’ve tried to talk to the other promoters to schedule our nights on opposite weeks, but they dont want to work with us.

    our most successful nights have been with just out residents and themed parties. the themed parties dont cost us any extra to have and people (especially the ladies) seem to love them =D

  • RTFM

    like always a pleasure to read

  • Phil Morse

    Thanks for the kind comments folks. I am going to take on board all your comments on Part 1 to make sure I make Part 2 101% relevant to your needs.

    Of course money is a challenge, and of course everyone wants to book the big DJs – that’s why if you manage it (and I’ll show you how), you can elevate yourself past “everyone”. There ARE ways of getting great DJs to play for you at a price you can afford, and while you may not always get the exact DJs you want, you will get DJs who suit your event and help you to eventually get where you want to go.

    I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.

  • atticus18244fsas

    Well done. Great read

  • RSDJ KayPlaya

    I think in most cases this is definitely an excellent post in terms of helping springboard your career as a DJ/promoter. The concept makes perfect sense as it is a helpful marketing strategy to both solidify your night and DJ relevance since being able to associate your name with big name DJs can easily open doors for more gigs. Its strategies like this that make me wish I was in a market where I can actually implement these types of plans. Being in Las Vegas seems to be the exception to every rule when it comes to DJ marketing tips. For this one specifically having a big name DJ at your event isn’t much of a help since any given night another casino is paying 5x more than your budget allows for DJ talent. As a matter-of-fact there are no independent promoters in Vegas. A good 90% of the clubs/lounges & pools are all operated by about 3 different nightlife marketing companies. When thats the case there is no room for an independent promoter to compete. As a DJ you’re either everywhere or no where since these companies often manage 10+ properties and usually rotate a handful of DJs throughout their venues

  • AJ ORB/T

    A LOT MORE EUREKA MOMENTS COMING UP !!!!

  • Olaf

    What about money? I guess everyone wants to book the big-name A-list DJ’s on their bill, but the issue here is money money money i think.

  • Double DutchDj

    Great post and a bloody good read to. There’s a lot folk that would claim many dj’s rise to the top is simply down to who you know and not what you know. But behind the scenes there’s a lot of work to be done to open the correct door and meet the right career changing people. Or you can just release a smash hit song, that’s why I have greater respect for dj’s who done it the hard way, dj’s who started of with a passion for music and mixing, guys and gals who climbed to the top by just being bloody good dj’s.
    ++++++
    A good friend of mine recently signed a record deal and all of sudden his playing in top clubs, he’s a good scratch dj who at the time could hardly mix and would make no claims at being a mixing dj who could play out, but considering the amount of time he’s spent behind a screen making music he deserves it. Rusko was just the same too, a producer turned global producer dj of the back creating a great music.
    ++++++
    Sadly in recent years I lack the grit and the drive to do it the hard way. I’ve had many great time’s over the last 12 years since I first started playing out, supported big names played in front of big floors. Now I mainly play at party’s, bars and occasionally local clubs, part of me is content with what I’ve already achieved, but there’s an even bigger part that wants more. I’m just fed up with having to adhere to the large parts of the dance floor that just wanna hear the latest beatport top ten, which is one of the many reasons I lack the minerals to do it the hard way.

  • BradCee

    the timing of this article couldn’t be better, when is part 2?

  • Jim

    Great article, I’ve just checked out the DJ Tips blog and it’s an excellent companion to this site.

  • Vinicius Hoffmann

    Just for fun is nice, but do you want to be famous?

    Here is a way to the top, not to just have fun, and I think every DJ wants to be at the very top, playing the music they love, making people happy and having lot’s of fun together.

    That’s why I’m learning to play anyway, I know that I will need some effort to launch my carrer, no big pains no big gains 🙂

  • Chris Jennings

    Good post, but was it written by Phil Morse or Ean? I’ve considered doing something similar locally. We have a few colleges close enough to here that I think would support it , not sure I really want to go through all the effort though. I’ve already played in popular clubs and am kind of enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of just doing it for fun.

  • sine143

    [quote comment=”36641″]amazing post. just the thing many of us need here![/quote]
    ^^^ oh, that was me btw

  • Anonymous

    amazing post. just the thing many of us need here!

    • fairnessclub

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