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.