As we touched on last month, not getting booked is a common complaint for DJs around the world. For today’s fun Friday article, we thought it would be great to explore some of the venues that DJs of all skill levels might overlook in their normal quest for gigs and residencies. Read on to learn more about spinning in hair salons and museums.
Before we start breaking down the different types of gigs that are out there, it’s important to talk about why DJing in new and strange types of venues is a brilliant opportunity. It’s not just conjecture either- I’ve played DJ sets in a wide variety of places: museums, election rallies, art galleries, hotel lobbies and probably about 30 more unusual places.
THE ULTIMATE DRESS REHEARSAL
Many long-time DJs would argue that every gig should be 100% spot on – and that if you’re playing out, you need to make sure that you’re on point from the moment you drop the needle (metaphorical or physical) on the first track. Playing gigs in non-traditional settings can be perfect middle ground between the bedroom and the club – allowing you to test tracks, but more importantly allowing you to be playing music in a public setting.
Playing to an empty room or to passersby who barely pause upon hearing your set can be discouraging – but it’s actually a unique opportunity because you’re Playing Out, even if no one is Out. The normal extra pressure that comes with having your name in lights or with a packed club residency isn’t there at many of these gigs – so take that chance to get better, try something new, or both!
GIG HUNT LIKE A MOBILE DJ
Ok, so you’re ready to start searching out these unusual gigs. We’re putting together a list at the end of this article of our ideas – but one of the best ways to get yourself booked is to pretend like it’s your livelihood. Mobile DJs know that one of the secrets to finding gigs is to talk to people who don’t even know that they need a DJ yet – and you should apply this same mentality to looking for these opportunities.
When you find yourself at interesting events with no consideration being paid to the music, it should smell like opportunity to you. Run through a quick checklist:
- Does it seem like this event/location would be complimented by a DJ?
- Is there space to set up some DJ equipment? (look for electricity, too!)
- Is there space for dancing? (not always necessary)
Talk to the people running the show – have a conversation about what you think of the event/space – and don’t be afraid to ask them if they’ve ever considered having a DJ play in their space. This might be networking 101 – but by socializing with the people who are in charge, you can secure a potential opportunity for yourself if you make them realize that you have something to offer to them and their event.
Get their contact info (ideally send them an email on the spot) and remember to follow up if you want to get the gig!
Need DJ networking tips? Check out basic promotion tips from the DJTT archive.
ACCEPT THAT SOME OF THESE GIGS WON’T PAY
When talking to Mad Zach about this article, he suggested that the alternative types of DJ gigs usually have the benefit of “having better babes”. While I won’t carve his words into stone, I’d agree with the fundamental idea that you’ll meet a wider array of people at unique gigs because you’re encountering people in a context that isn’t a club. Networking in a loud and packed club is hard, while networking at the Catalina Wine Mixer is expected.
ONE-OFF GIGS IN ODD PLACES
We live in an era of music selectors, and individual music taste rules headphones around the world. There’s competition of music curation everywhere – from your mom’s Pandora station to your best friend’s Spotify discoveries, and your office’s collaborative Rdio playlist for the holiday party last month. Make sure that you know exactly why you’re better than a playlist for the gig you’re going to play!
Here are our suggestions for locations to scout to score a unique gig:
ART GALLERY / MUSEUM
Any time there’s an opening at an art gallery, there’s often a few critical ingredients: free alcohol, cheese, a significant crowd of people, and naturally, art on the walls. This is a pretty low hanging fruit for DJs as gallery openings often have music and are trying very hard to be the coolest event of the evening.
Larger museums also present unique opportunities – especially if you know of any nighttime events at the museum in question. Here in San Francisco, the California Academy of Sciences regularly hosts DJs at their weekly Nightlife event!
Who Can Get You The Gig: Talk to the curator of the next show or the gallery owner.
PUBLIC TRANSIT PARTY
Something a bit more obtuse – but have you ever considered that your regional transit system could be the perfect place for your next DJ party? If this sounds a bit too much like an unrealistic soda commercial, don’t fret- taking over public transit is pretty easy if you’ve got a solid set of friends and fans who will attend and ideally access to a silent disco style sound system. Just like in this gig which Mad Zach rocked at the end of last year:
Who Can Get You The Gig: This is very much a DIY thing – conspire with some friends!
This gig is a bit more common, especially in stores with a reputation of coolness to uphold. You’d be surprised how many store managers are excited at the possibility of having a DJ in their store to attract people in, and feel free to get creative here. First person to report playing a 100% chiptune set inside of a video game store wins a gold star.
Who Can Get You The Gig: Ask to talk to the manager about playing their next big sale event.
A few months ago I was asked to DJ an open house by one of my friends who is a leasing agent for high end rentals in San Francisco – and apparently this is now a common trend for high rent apartments and lofts being shown in LA and New York City. Often times other agents show up to these events – and they’re perfect people to hand off a business card to.
Who Can Get You The Gig: Your best bet is finding someone who is involved in the real estate industry already.
POLITICAL RALLY / PROTEST
A reoccurring theme in this article is finding places where people want to add an element of coolness to their event. Politicians need as much help as they can looking cool and appealing to new audiences, and as long as you don’t have a conflict of conscious playing their events, it could be a great way to play out more during election season.
On the flip side, political protests are often places desperately in need of music to get their attendees riled up and ready to chant and wave signs for hours on end. You can get really clever with song selections, too – I’ve heard many a protest DJ mix in “War Pigs” to great effect.
Pro tip: don’t bring your fanciest gear along to a political protest if it might get messy.
Read this great DJ story about DJing Obama’s Election Night!
Fundraisers and charity events always need a music expert on hand to ensure the success of their event – but more often than not, they’re asking their friends to help find someone who can DJ some music off their iPod. In particular, large and lengthy charity events (a great example in the US is Relay For Life) need a DJ to keep the participants going through the course of the entire event.
How You Get The Gig: Attend events being run by or that benefit a nonprofit/charity and hunt down the organizer. This will almost always be an unpaid gig!
If you’ve never heard the story of how Claude VonStroke’s record label, Dirtybird, came into existance – it’s time for some education. Long story short, Claude, Justin Martin, Christian Martin, and a few of their compadres bought a massive sound system to bring to picnics in Golden Gate Park. For the first few attempts, just their friends showed up and listened to their tech house selections- but word spread, and soon thousands of people started showing up to their renegade park party.
It’s an absurdly successful party now – see for yourself:
Most major sports teams now have their own DJs to provide the sounds during any downtime in their games. This keeps the audience pumped and entertained during halftimes, commercial breaks, and even simple timeouts.
Many non-professional teams aren’t this fancy, but would jump at the chance to have a DJ holding down their show. This could also be an opportunity to test your mettle at sports announcing if that’s on your bucket list.
How To Get The Gig: Find a sport you know decently and find the arena/venue manager – or maybe even just the home team coach!
Finally, this “venue” is a bit more oriented towards unique live performers and producers, as busking requires a bit of generative talent to really capture an audience. The best example of this being successful for someone in the industry is DubFX – but other producers (especially finger drummers!) have a great opportunity in public spaces. Check out this video of a street performer rocking an MPC in Melbourne:
How To Not Get Shut Down: Get a busking license – pretty much every city has their own rules for busking. Google it!
There’s plenty of other alternative venues out there – here’s some of our favorites that came up in the brainstorming session:
- ice rink / roller rink
- cruise ship
- block parties
- fashion shows
What non-traditional gigs have you played that went over really well? Let’s hear your best stories in the comments!
Love the out of box thinking approach! Two non-standard events I’ve done:
Fishing tournament! That’s an amazing one, how was that?
I’ve played a rock climbing competition before, was super fun.
It was super chill, literally just in a parking lot underneath a canopy tent. Bunch of old dues cracking Coors eating BBQ, was one of my first gigs. I didn’t even have a controller back then haha, just an 8 ch mixer and my laptop running off WINAMP
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Also you could partner up with some DJ services company like http://www.scratchevents.com/
They also run a DJ school – so if you want to get involved in instruction thats a great connection to have as well. Academies in NYC – LA – MIA – CHI – PHL – ATL but they offer event all over the nation & some in Europe.
I remember DJing at my friends private party at the beach. The sound system is blown off then we got the idea to use my friend’s car sound system.
A little rca to 3.5 aux is helping us. The DJ table set next to the car while the people dance in front of the car and sometimes they jump to the hood or top of the car. Yes the car damaged but at least people have a good time.
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I DJed a rave that was in an old dairy barn thing. We were set up on the catwalk things that connected these giant (empty) thanks for milk that you can get inside of. I was also dressed like a Mormon, my DJ bro was dressed as Batman and we got into a physical altercation with a Scottish dude wearing a wedding dress and some sort of fairy. Good times.
I remember years back at a NYE house party. It’s wasn’t the location which was odd, it was where I had to set up my equipment. I didn’t have a deck or table to get my kit on so I had to put the turntables on two guitar amps, and rest the mixer on a set of bongos. No proper PA system so I came out the mixer into a guitar amp and a bass amp. One of the best parties I ever played at.
I played on swinger parties.. best parties ever 🙂
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This is an up and coming trend I have been asked to play now in different setting from stream side to mountain top to outdoor patios at public restaurants, celebrations of life, the party of the passing of a loved one, I have done several of them now and they do pay well and it is a great opportunity to network, as I have booked Weddings to Birthdays and reunions, as a professional DJ I always look at the opportunities that abound our industry. Keep spinning the love my friends.
http://www.djfindrr.com can help you find a gig!
I once played the opening of a new designer’s clothing line. The crowd wasn’t big, but everyone got really into the music
i think noone can beat this place… the bathroom of a disco! . I was playing there some deep house and lounge music (elevator music) until i got tired of that and started to play actually like in the party outside. When i did so more people were coming in, even girls (it was a boys restroom). When the promoter saw what was going on came to me and told me “i didn’t told you to make this kind of music but keep going, people is loving it!”. After that , he gave me a spot to the main floor for the next party.
I’m pretty excited about an opportunity a cousin of mine presented for me to handing audio production and be his go-to person spinning live events with his business. I DEFINITELY have to big up this article. There are MANY doors out there just waiting to be opened and new niches to be created. If an ol’ broad like me can get her chance, just think of the possibilities for you young gentlemen and ladies! Wishing EVERY new dj/producer out here the BEST. Go get ’em, ya’ll, YOU CAN DO IT! Peace, blessings and KEEP RISING.
This was definitely helpful as I’ve already had some of these ideas,but great nevertheless.
How can I get noticed by a dj producer at this young of age
I’m responsible for the track selection for a jewellery store. Yes, a jewellery store. 🙂
Although I can only play jazz and chillout stuff (which I have plenty of) and it is unpaid, it’s great!
You guys are trying to get into everything while those of us who sweat over trying to make art (that you may eventually rip off and “busk” for) have fewer and fewr options. Leave the art galleries to artiest who use sound as their medium. Not people who hack others sound and mix it up and call it art. Yea, finger painting is an art form to. But any kid can do it.
I did a hair salon grand opening
i’m Djing for a mascot in a botanical garden for kids
I played two Mardi Gras Gigs in Nursing homes. And yes, I didn’t give out Beads.
Pool parties are always a blast, but usually not paid 🙂
Always work with a tight-knit group for the public transit situation. theft is super plausible especially in particular cities
DJed a training camp/combine for college bound football players. It was a lot of fun and saw a few ppl go D-1 that day.
Organising your own silent disco on a metro seems like a good opportunity of getting many of the headphones you’re handing out getting nicked.
Most of the other events listed here seem places where you’re likely to be playing pop music. I mean, I don’t think that most museums won’t appreciate me playing Zedd and Mord Fustang all evening. So while the above might work for pop-music oriented DJ’s, most of the above venues won’t be the place if you specialize in a certain or a few genre’s.
ive played in retail women’s clothing stores its awesome practice and cash! concerts of different genres is also good for me, and small bars and lounges have been good to me, restaurants, and public events at parks, etc etc all great ideas forget the club get out there!
Here in Seattle there’s a huge beer culture, and that means lots of breweries and other events where some of the downtempo I play goes over well with the tastings and festivals they put on. I get to attend some great beer tastings I’d probably be at any way, get in free, plenty of excellent beer not available to the public, and most likely I’m getting paid decently too. Could be worse!
I’m from the Midwest and we’ve got plenty of farms to get dirty at for a Barnyard Boogie.
i once djed at a pizza parlor, the mixer didnt have headphones, and i had to spin the “records” in the air, i had to take lots of requests, i got fired for playing too much cheese…
United emirates have on board djs in their VIP Lounge. Literal mile high “club”
I DJ at a bakery in NYC.
I’ve djed a yogurt shop lol
I almost only play at illegal raves, organised by a couple of friends and myself. Break down the door of an abandoned warehouse building, round up as many people as you can, drive in a soundsystem and experience what it is like to be free from rules and regulations.
Serious question: when you say break down an abandoned warehouse.. does this ever cause any issues? Legally or otherwise? How do you know if a building is abandoned? Can this be done legally somehow? Thanks.
You think too much.
Ok. That doesn’t really answer the questuon.
The less you know, the better. Confidence is key my friend.
I have played many fashion shows and local cruise ships the past few years, very lucrative!
i’ve played in a hotel, a forest a swimming pool (not literally in the pool of course). as for more common gig’s. i’ve played on a boat party and a strip club as well as clubs and bars. done many house parties and even played on a market stall in Glastonbury which was great fun.
I’ve recently played at Nissan’s car presentation at a local mall… It was actually a great gig, well payed too.
i did a couple of public transit parties but not with headphones…
We rented the whole train + 4 speakers + 1000 bottles of beer!
it went like this:
Sikkkkk… I saw those Typhoons in there!!!
I played everywhere I could, coffee shops, bars, clubs, downtown, clothing stores, fashion competitions, raves, skate parks…. Learned a bit from each side, didn’t really get paid much, but the most important thing was the experience I earned and the music database that I built during all that time. Playing in different places always called for different tunes for different moods that ended up being included in the set. I stopped gigging for the past 6 months, and now I’m back! And all those tunes that I got have definitely spiced up every step of my mixing, all the way from the warmup selection with that chill trip hop I played at the coffee shop and slow transition to the nu-disco I got for the clothing store to the progressive house I played at the fashion shows, then the really hardcore track selection I got from raving during the climax of the night and even the closing stage when I play the strangest avant-garde things I got just to let everyone know it’s time to go home… Followed up by killing the sound and letting people resolve their night talking.
I play anywhere from off-road parks to art galleries and everything in between. I think it’s ok to go outside of your ort zone as a DJ. Getting to experience different types of groups of people will give you a good perspective of what people enjoy musically. I’m also a music producer, so this comes in handy when trying to tap into different styles of music. Or, to just bring in a bit of flavor into a record that needs that “something”
I’ve noticed many DJs tend to stick to only a few genres of music. They get great at it but will reach a ceiling in there skills. It’s most likely that the inspiration is fading away for a while. So, I challenge you guys to do something different every now and then. If anything, it will help rekindle your passion for what you’ve been spinning and let you see what you don’t like.
yeah, I DJ’d for the past 5 years, and I agree, having a certain preference (or specialization) for a genre only limits your skills to certain places. The more open you are to playing with different types of people the better you’ll get at throwing an enjoyable set anywhere. As a producer it has lead me to a much wider path where I can pick a concept for a track today and a totally different one tomorrow if I feel like it. It sure as hell will take more time to master more genres but on the long run it’ll be much more gratifying.
Car shows are fun. I do a classic car show every year in a rural Texas town. The average attendee is of retirement age, so it’s a good opportunity to brush up on 50’s-early 60’s music. It’s 5-6 hours also, which isn’t as long as some gigs but still an endurance test.
All great advice. When you live in Tulsa, Oklahoma some of the suggestions seem so funny 🙂 But there is still lots to be learned from this article and I am as always grateful for this website.
I’ve DJed at a hookah bar, that was pretty fun. Nice to play head nodding music instead of necessarily dance music.
First person to report playing a 100% chiptune set inside of a video game store wins a gold star
challenge completed…. about 6 years ago.
Wow, you must be amazing!
Years ago I used to do regular gigs at a mental hospital,I’m not joking.
Somone mentioned corporate parties, and I think there’s lots of opportunity there. First, there are your typical company parties, and these can be on-site or at a catering space. Second, I’d suggest business conferences. These events usually have networking receptions every night…all need bands or DJs. Also, it might be worth it to see if you can get a “residence” playing at a corporate cafeteria once a week. Some of the younger, tech-oriented companies are doing this occasionally.
Top deck! My last fun out-of-the-ordinary gig was on the roof of a yacht. We had a different DJ on each floor of the ship, which made it’s way up the river through downtown Portland and back. It was a crazy party! My strangest gig was DJing for a crawfish feed in the middle of the woods… I definitely got paid in crawfish.
the licensed art I hang out at has a decent sized garage, which I have access to for small raves 🙂 there was also a theater nights thing that goes on every month (forgot the new location) I used to hit up to see/perform shows.
I also do full moon parties with friends. We pick a location and a charity. Then we book various artists, everything from guitarists to DJs. The shows are donation based and proceeds go to the charity we selected that month
The full moon parties sound awesome!!! I’m going to try that in my town!
Recently played in a hotel that hasn’t been updated since probably the 1930s. They normally have bands during the holiday season when they open. I played while the band would go for fag / bathroom breaks. Then we had a little improvised set and I finished the night off after.
In regard to retail stores they are interesting venues especially on Friday and Saturday afternoons when people are shopping for something to wear out that night and getting in the mood for going out. Image is important at these sorts of gigs though. You must look the part, Gear set up neatly, wires organized etc… I would suggest asking the management for the lend of something to wear while playing those sorts of gigs because if you don’t dress in the style the shop caters to you will stick out compared to all the other staff.
I took a gig as a resort DJ under contract for 3 months (similar to what you suggest as cruise ship), I quit after 3 weeks – you have to play all day and night 6 days a week at the pool and ocean and there is nowhere to go on your day off and you are discouraged from mingling too much with guests. You play the same music over and over – you really need to be in the headspace for this because it is a torture test. You are better off doing weddings or corporate parties: you rock the house, you get paid well and then you leave.
i would take the challenge 🙂
Yeah I’d pass… I definitely can’t stand to listen to the same repetitive beat/mood for a long time, specially after a point where my ears are fatigued… and being limited to just talking to the staff kinda sucks.
I have been rocking dj sets as Izzy Wise with the bicycle powered sound system crew Rock the Bike here in SF. They have a giant double decker tree bike called the El Arbol with a built in sound system. Audience members get on the bikes and power the performance!
You can check them at http://www.rockthebike.com
here’s a pretty unique scenario: i found myself DJing an anniversary party for an EYELASH EXTENSION BOUTIQUE who held the party at a POLE DANCING STUDIO. we were treated to performances by two of their top instructors!
ill leave the full comment later but some of the places were
A) Store front Fashion show ( The Gap clothing store)
B) Full on fashion show at the Willowbrook Mall in NJ.
C) College Campus all day event for senior day.
D) HAY RIDE farm area
E) biggest one of all was the New Jersey State Fair, in northern NJ. over 10,000 people a day went through there and all i had to do was reserve a table, get a tent over me, and ask for power. Done deal
I have djed on top of a bouldering wall for a climbing competition and because of that was able to help create a blacklight bouldering party. We brought in 8 moving lights and about 24 leds. I get “paid” with climbing passes. This allows the gym to barter and make it worth both our time.
Hey, I DJ’d in a climbing gym once myself, for a competition they were having there! Totally forgot about it until your comment, but it was tons of fun. People in gyms always seem to enjoy driving music that gets them up the wall.
Good deal on trading passes, that’s valuable!
I DJ A FASHION SHOW AT THE LOCAL MALL THIS WKND. I ALSO DJ AT POOLS WHICH IS A LOT OF FUN. CHECK ME OUT OFFICIAL.FM/ZALES
I’m a high school senior from Seattle and I’ve been lucky enough to connect with the local mountain biking organization, whenever they have some kind of competition or festival they call me up. They’re a non-profit so they dont pay me, but I’ve played some pretty cool gigs with them in the national or state forests where they do their races. Once, I had by turntables running off my friends generator under a canopy in the rain. It was pretty great to see all the racers come in covered in mud and start getting down, probably one of the more unique gigs. From the same connection I was recommended to a Red Bull representative who now calls me up whenever he does a mountain bike movie premiere, competition or other Red Bull promotional event. Playing for somebody like Red Bull at 18 is a bit of a dream for me and it’s not a bad connection to have. Plus, Red Bull pays! So take those free events, meet some good people, make good connections and have fun! Soon you’ll find yourself exactly where you want to be!
Were you the guys DJing at the Duthie opening?
during my softmore year of high school I set up some speakers in the hallway at lunch and played an acid house set using korg DS-10. Later I performed a recording of the set which you can find here http://www.mixcloud.com/robertwulfman/hyperspace-bringn-da-noize-2009/
Must be an understanding principal – I remember getting busted for trying to have hallway dance parties using a device similar to one of these on the lockers: http://amzn.to/TPppu5
those seem fun, are they loud? I’m guessing lockers should work specially great lol.
actually I got shut down half way through by a teacher
I have played during live painting lessons at a local “hip” bar and restaurant It was still during dinner at this restaurant so i had to play mellow sets, but it was fun, the people eating dinner got to watch a small group of people make paintings, while I provided atmosphere for the whole venue.
I learnt to beat mix in a coffee shop, a long time ago. Also played at a party for deaf people, where we set up a dancefloor with the bass bins underneath.
Beans and beats! Brilliant.
the iconic coffee shop 🙂
Same here actually. Started with small independent coffee shops and charity events before I got into bars and clubs. It easier to get into clubs, but bar pay has always been better and more consistent.
that’s nice 😮
Never heard of the silent disco. That’s hot!!!
silent disco in boston. they setup downtown alot.
Big on the festival circuit here in Europe, always a laugh. Last one I went to they had 2 seperate streams playing with 2 channel selectable headphones, so half the people dancing to one DJ, and the others to the other half! Funny as heel to watch, people dancing to 2 different beats.
Yea I run ZEROdB. We just did another party on the bart. Next one’s gonna be on a ferry in SF in March. It’s fun stuff, really lets you have a rocking party where you normally can’t.
love the idea of the dirtybird renegade discos. 😉 just in the UK it won’t work due to the in the 90’s the raves around the M25 (highway that surrounds London for our state-side friends). but because the parties were so big and caused so much damage the UK government passed laws that basically say if you play music to a group of people which i think it is no more that 5 people in a in public place the police can seize your gear unless it’s a venue with a with a ents licence or a private party as to which the music can not be on after 11pm so no renegades any time soon. ;(
yes it was called the R.A.V.E. act. It passed here too in the US
When did it pass in the us?
Biden slipped it into the end of the amber alert act… but he changed the name to the the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act.
dang, that is messed up yo. the government is messed up.
good god the first time i heard of it here was id say 7 years ago? im ruffing the years but i think thats it
quite an easy one this one. But my nearest record/dj equipment store always has a set up there and you can bust out some tunes if you ask even a set.
Great ideas. This is why it’s important to tell everyone that you ARE a DJ, not that you work at (Insert Job here) and that you also DJ. One thing that has worked for me is, if you’re attending school, DJ for Sorority events. ..Lots of girls, lots of exposure.