Like the tale of how a couple fell in love, a DJ’s background story is always sentimental and interesting to hear. Today we’re reaching out to younger DJs to show them a way they can begin DJing, practicing their skills, and even making a little bit of money. I became interested in DJing around ten years old, scoring my first MIDI controller and speakers a few years later. This allowed me to start a mobile DJ business in high school – and in today’s article, I’ll share what I learned.
Many of our DJ TechTools readers are young, aspiring DJs, who often ask;
“How can a teenager get DJ gigs?”
Options are limited, but basic mobile gigs is one surefire way to get valuable experience and make a little money for new gear.
Why Start a Mobile DJ Business as a Teen
There is a stigma that lies around mobile DJing and some are deserved, but the name can mean any number of different formats and styles.
There are professional companies with concert level sound and lighting, or small business men with basic sound equipment, a rolling PA system, and while playing music off of iTunes. Then there are people like me, with a passion for DJing and drive to turn every event (school dance, birthday party, etc) into a mini performance.
At first the task of starting a business as a teen seemed daunting, but having my own mobile DJ business actually helped me in numerous ways.
- Practice DJing for crowds from 100-1500 people and playing music of all different genres
- Drafting contracts and accepted payment, teaching me the logistics of the DJ business
- I matured intellectually and developed a love for management.
- Made good money for a 15-17 year old, enabling better gear and equipment.
Know Your Equipment
Being a mobile DJ vs. a club DJ means that you will have to provide ALL of your own equipment. That means you will need
- your own laptop
- MIDI controller or CDJs (check out our selection of gear in the DJTT Store)
- mixer and audio cables
- speakers and speaker stands
- a great table to set your gear on
- cases to hold everything
My system started with two 12 inch 300 watt speakers, speaker stands, and a 1000 watt power amplifier. All of the equipment easily fit in the back of my mom’s SUV, but this basic setup limited me to events under 50-100 people. Often, when people hear you at a smaller event, you will be hired for other parties that can be anywhere from 50 people to almost 1000 people. After a few of those requests, it was obvious that I needed to invest more money into equipment.
Near the end of my mobile DJ business, I was pushing a 6,000 watt system that could easily rock any high school in Northern Nevada. Eventually, you will need to learn the difference between passive and active speakers, RMS vs. Peak, and what connections go where (I have blown my fair share of fuses.) A basic mobile DJ will need:
- 1000-watt Power Amplifier
- Two 15-inch 500-watt speakers
- An external mixer
- One microphone
- DJ Console (MIDI Controller, CDJs, ect.)
You may need an external mixer to run the microphone into and as a backup in case your controller fails (when using all-in-one controllers like the S4 which may stop sound if the laptop is closed). It’s always a good idea to have an iPod or your phone running into that mixer as an audio backup.
Since you’re responsible for your gear, you’ll want to make sure that you have a backup strategy for your computer and that your gear is protected.
Create a Contract + Get a Business License
Contracts sound daunting at first, but it is very easy to create your own contract and you will appreciate it in the future. I was DJing for around 6 months without contracts and quickly learned why that was not a good idea. A contract would have saved me from the time a guest at a quinceanera spilled a drink all over my mixer or when I blew the fuse of a gymnasium. Contracts are your way of protecting yourself and your equipment.
A basic mobile DJ contract can be created easily online using websites such as Legal Zoom or Shake Law. You can even find templates and draft your own.
A business license goes hand-in-hand with contracts because a license verifies your validity. Here is where my expertise goes out the window. For me, a business license was easy to obtain at the age of 15 with a parent cosigning. I can’t speak for the rest of world. The first place to check is your city hall. See what the local laws are and how you can obtain a business license.
A license will make sure you are protected as a business and it will let you make money legally within your city. Typically, without a license you are subject to heavy fines and you are breaking multiple laws – but many DJs do operate “off-the-books” if they’re only doing a handful of gigs.
Widen Your Musical Horizons
Going into my mobile DJ business I was extremely into electronica and deep house, not listening to anything that was on the Top 40 chart. As a mobile DJ, you will become a personal jukebox. That doesn’t mean you have to play exactly what the host wants to hear, but it does mean playing the type of music the host wants to hear.
By the end of my own mobile business, I learned how to read a variety of people. From 7-year-olds at a father daughter dance to teenagers at their homecoming, I knew what to play and when to play it. Being a mobile DJ will help you become more diverse in music and will teach you how to effectively read a crowd.
Further Reading: Beyond the Bedroom – Becoming a a Multi Genre DJ
Grow Your Business and Build a Reputation
Being a mobile DJ meant learning how to market myself if I wanted a pay check. Self-marketing is something that is hard to master but being a mobile DJ gives you room to practice. From designing business cards to talking to event coordinators, I was constantly making connections that later turned into jobs.
People are always looking for an affordable DJ and being a teen, I could charge competitive rates that paid for my business and allowed me to collect a pay check.
Why Become a Mobile DJ as a Teen
Being a teen DJ is hard – you can’t get into clubs, and playing in the bedroom can only do so much to develop critical skills. Mobile DJing provides an avenue to get out there, let people hear your mixes and provide feedback. People will come up to you and tell you, “Great job!” or they will bluntly say, “No one likes this. Change the song.”
From speakers to lighting set-up, a new mobile DJ will also learn what makes a show work and what doesn’t. Eventually you will know the answer to key things like, “Where do I place the speakers?” and “Is there enough low-end on this sub-woofer?”
Finally, the biggest tool that a mobile business gives you is marketing experience. A successful DJ needs to learn how to talk to people and sell a service – skills which will be extremely valuable when it comes time to talk to promoters. Brand reputation and marketing is what separates aspiring DJs from working DJ and these are are skills someone young can harbor way before they even graduate high school.
What are your thoughts of being a DJ as a teen and being hired for events? What is your DJ origin story?
Great article! I’m currently 15 and I bought a Hercules DJ Control Air+ S a year or so ago and I also have a Novation launchpad mk2, but I have never really known where to go from here. Most my friends know of my hobby but I don’t think I have the gear or budget to buy lighting or speakers. A school formal is coming up in about 5 months, should I try to get myself into that? Any advice for an amateur would be much appreciated, you guys seem to know what your doing 🙂
[…] DJs have probably heard the term watts from their electric company before because watts are a simple way to measure power. The power of a speaker is what pushes the volume of an audio signal. The higher the watts doesn’t necessarily mean the louder the sound though. That can be determined through frequency responses and other audio statistics. This is an important concept to understand because as a mobile DJ it is easy to say that a 500 watt speakers is better than a 350 watt speaker when in reality it is not that simple. However, understand the watts of the speakers because this will help determine how to buy the rest other pieces of the mobile DJ setup (learn more about being a mobile DJ). […]
My son is determined to be a DJ. He is fourteen and has autism. His Dad told him he was going to buy him the equipment for Christmas, but once again not as much as a card came. Next week is his birthday and I would like to buy him a mixer. Is the Numark Mixtrack Pro III a good one? I am on a very tight budget but he works so hard and deserves this. I just don’t want to buy the wrong equipment and waste money. Is there anything else other than a laptop, headphones and speakers that he would need to start DJ’ing. He is very social and is very smart about music and knows many artist’s and their songs by memory. I need to get this asap so am trying to make as informed a decision as I can. Thank you.
I’m a 15 year old dutch teenager and i am starting to have mobile gigs as a side job. Bought my first controller (the numark mixtrack pro 2) when i was about 13 years old.
I first got into djing because of my bestfriend really liking it. He had a two channel controller (can’t remember which one it was since he stopped and got in a band) a launchpad and a mpk mini.
I had my first (unpaid) gig at age 14 when my high school had a student play because of the 100 year anniversary of my high school and i was asked to dj for the people waiting for the play.
I managed to get this gig because a friend of mine send a e-mail to the student council like organisation my school had telling them that i was a dj available for gigs.
I was really overwhelmed when i got to the theater and there was a Pioneer CDJ 2000nexus, DJM 900 setup waiting for me. I performed decently while making the mistake of starting waiting for all the people to arrive to start my set while my task was to entertain the waiting people and especially the performers of the play. They also asked me to dj for two hours at the P.E. hall(?) of my high school the next day since there was a event day because of the anniversary. I completely screwed that up by continously playing the same 3 song because i was afraid to play dubstep. However i got a lot of valuable experience from both gigs.
After playing at my school i didn’t have any more parties for about 6 months, until my dad turned 50 and asked me to dj at the party he was throwing to celebrate. I told him i’d happily do it and we had a great time. This was of course unpaid. However the experience i got for it was completely worth it. That’s when the ball kinda of started to roll .
So when my neighbour (who had been at my dad’s party) turned 50 she asked me if i could dj at her party. This would be my first paid gig.
I asked my parents to help me find my price and we ended up diciding on 50 bucks a night.
I threw a great party and got even more experience and of course my first paycheck. I was them hired by my uncle to dj at his wedding party.
After that school started again and i was focusing on that until a friend of mine got me a gig at a local elementary school. At this point in the story that gig was about a month away. So was preparing my music and talking with the organising moms about speakers and lighting.
i had no lighting but i did have a set of speakers, speaker stand and a external mixer i could borrow from a friend. Then two weeks before the gig i was called by the mother of the friend who got me that gig. She i asked if i had time to play for the other sixth grade of that elementary school (there were 2 sixth grades and i already had a party with one of them).
I of course agreed. i now had a weekend with two gigs in two days. Both gigs went great and i got experience using the microphone to talk to the crowd. The parents who organised both parties have given me some mouth to mouth publicity. That was 2 days ago now.
I’m currently thinking about making business cards because the parents at those parties asked for them. I don’t really know what kinda information i should put on them i really wouldn’t mind to have some tips about that (please).
I’m also not really sure yet what i should invest the money i earned in since i already got a decent set of speakers etc. Thinking about either upgrading serato dj intro to the full serato dj or a set of rokit rp5 g3 speakers for home use.
Sorry for my bad english, since i’m dutch i’m not a native speaker.
I’m thinking you should get some lighting since you don’t have that and I think you should put how much you charge and your phone number.
Hey great article man! Good on you for getting your DJ business off the ground and sharing your story. My story was very similar to yours, started out DJing for family and friends many years ago (late 90s) and then eventually put an advertisement in the local newspaper. In 1 year I had made my money back and ready to start with my second set and employed my friend to work the 2nd set. After a few years I got a small loan and bought another 2 sets, kept at it for a few more years and now I have a DJ business with a team of over 15 DJs in five cities in Australia. So good to hear your story too and share mine!
Something else I have done in recent years is create my own WordPress plugin which I am giving away for free at wordpress.org. It’s a song selector tool for mobile DJs to upload their full song list from a CSV file and have it for display on their website. DJs can make a PDF file of their song list to give away and customers can visit your website, search the full song list and make their own playlists too.
It’s a must have tool for DJs who do private parties and it’s absolutely free. Hope you like it, let me know if you actually do install it and try it out, would love to hear your comments below.
You can grab it here – Love to hear your feedback!
Love it! Djing is also a great way to learn business in a fun atmosphere. Doing something enjoyable and learning about business. What could be better?
[…] This is a great read, I can relate to this. This is how I started to DJ and worked my way on to the club scene. I suggest all Teen aspiring DJs to just go for it, work on your craft and market yourself. Read the full article here. […]
I am a teenager and am currently a mobile DJ. I started in eighth grade two years ago, just playing with my dad’s old DJ equipment (he was a vinyl mobile DJ when HE was in high school in the 80’s) at the house. That turned into getting my first digital controller and DJing the school dances. Still DJing dances, parties, quincienera’s, and such. School kind of got in the way and im having trouble getting gigs lately. The hardest aspect of being a mobile dj that I’ve had to come to terms with would be that I rarely get to play the music I enjoy, which is usually electro-swing and funk, and have to Conform to more top 40/”dance” music. I really need a new controller, but at the same time I could use new speakers. All while I’m not getting any gigs (still can’t figure out why I can’t get any gigs) and have no other income. Any help?
I feel you on playin music you like. I am super into future house but I could have never gotten away with that as a mobile DJ. You may not play music you like but you will get valuable practice.
As to getting gigs I would start with getting a website and business cards. Look official. Then go and tell people you are a DJ looking for work and that you are available for all sorts of parties. If you want some more help drop me an email at DeanZulueta@gmail.com
I am 15 now and use a DDJ-SX2 and two sdj-50x speakers. So far I’ve only been able to land gigs for free at my friends houses. But by next year my friend will hopefully be able to land me a gig at my school for a dance and my dad knows the owner to a club that has 16 and over night so hopefully I can land something there. It’s hard to get your name out there when your from where I’m from since its a pretty small community and nobody here is really into EDM like me. Right now I’m trying to get into the producing game with Ableton push. Anyone have any suggestions on how to get my name out there and land more gigs?
I started djing at 11 with nothing but a numark idj live 2 and an iPad… Luckily for me the school I went to had already had one good dj attend so they had speakers and everything. I just did a couple of performances during lunchtime and I already had requests to play at all kinds of parties!
[…] Djtechtools explores in the pitfalls and opportunities teens have to make it in the mobile DJ business. Read the article right here. […]
I have been a musician all my life. Getting into DJing 10+ years ago was a logical choice, since I already had experience with multiple genres of music and sound reinforcement. As a result, my wife and I run a successful mobile DJ business with a total of 4 DJs! We started just this way! Absolutely great directional write up. Keep up the good work.
Oh man, I totally forgot about this (it’s been a while since I was under the age of 18): If you start a business under the age of 18 (at least in the U.S.A.) there are laws that dictate how late you can work, how many hours you can work in a row, who is legally responsible for contracts, and other such “Under 18” laws.
It was such a bureaucratic nightmare when I got my license. Luckily, Nevada has some nice, flexible law codes.
The Complete “Successful DJ Program”
“Quitting Your Day Job To DJ”
“How To Double Your DJ Income”
“6 Steps To Growing Your DJ Fanbase”
get it here:
[…] Mobile DJing: The Teen's Gateway – Under 18 and itching to get a club gig but can't? How about setting up a mobile DJ business so you can rock shows with your own soundsystem, regardless of venue and age limits? DJ Techtools has a great primer on doing just that Read more […]
In terms of gear you missed one very important thing that mobile DJs have to consider: transportation.
I could have elaborated more on this. For anyone looking for an answer in the comments, what I did was use a combination of my mom’s large SUV and a friend’s truck. Both I only had to replace the gas I used so it wasn’t a bad deal. As a teen, I always utilized relationships with people. I had a car for myself but there was no way I could have fit my subs into a Dodge Avenger. 😉
Well, you could have installed a hitch and rented a trailer. I’m not sure why people don’t think about trailers anymore as they can also act as a temporary stage.
but wasn’t it too hard for you, coming from deep house and electronica, to play the obvious hits and i bet a lot of EDM stuff the kids like to listen to? I mean it’s pretty contrary to your taste of music, I guess and thats what stopped me when I was younger and DJed here and there. Like you say, you become a jukebox
Where I was EDM didn’t start becoming a “thing” for kids until around my senior/junior year in high school. The demographic was largely top 40, like Pitbull and The Wanted, mixed with country. We’re taking rural Nevada here.
I started at 19, I had been throwing parties for a while using a reliable and loud stereo I made by taking a car stereo and a couple 6x9s tweeters and 6 inchers, and a 12 volt power supply. The decision to get a controller and start was driven by someones comment on my FB event page that if there was no one mixing it wasn’t a true party, I was using itunes at the time. After purchasing my Firstmix controller I started doing the parties mixing myself. Then I got the opportunity to play a school dance with the location having their own system, they really liked the selection of music being mostly mainstream with trap mixed in before it was quite as popular as it is now. Since then I’ve used the money from gigs and my own funds to upgrade sound systems and to a Gemini GV2. Now have done school dances and community dances for all three highschools in the area. You can get the tools to start for less if you are resourceful and creative about the way you do things.
A complete setup lighting, sound and all was a gift from my parents for my 17th B-Day. Best gift a teen could ask for. Started doing family parties. Established connections, and moved on from there. 11 years in the game, and still going strong. Started playing with a Numark cdn-25 and simple 4 channel Numark mixer. Since I’ve moved up to my dream setup. A pair of CDJ2000s and a 900nexus. Also have been able to obtain plenty of other cool toys. Work hard, and DJing can be a good money maker. It’s how I’m able to pay the bills and support the fam 🙂
I love the fact that now you can have your dream setup and make a living of spinning tracks!
love the read. however youre forgetting the most important part.. as a teenager you better have filthy rich parents to buy the gear ya need or pfft by the time you actually get to this point you wont be a teenager anymore. try clubs.
You don’t need to come from money to make a business to buy the gear. The initial investment from my parent’s was around $250 and that got me bottom barrel equipment. Then through small parties and other side jobs (I did things from computer repairs to pizza delivery) I made enough money to upgrade equipment. It’s all about being business savvy but of course results will vary. It all comes down hard work and dedication.
I disagree, you could absolutely book a gid with a 50% deposit, that you use to pay for the rental gear. Invest the rest in your company. Rinse, wash, repeat.
I’m still a mobile DJ, as it’s my second job and it pays better!
i did clubs when i was younger, but now i’m married with a kid of my own, so the club scene just isn’t for me. the late late nights, and the rest that comes with that is of the past.
my advice after many years in the mobile world…do your BEST, set yourself apart. sure you are playing mostly top40, but that doesn’t mean EVERY song has to be what’s been beaten to death on the radio. earlier in the night during say cocktail hour, play some deep cuts, later in the night when everyone is hammered, played a funky remix. and please mix songs (when you can) too many weddings i’ve attended, the 45 year old DJ plays a song that’s bombing the entire way. get out of that song. take some pride, learn to mix songs when you can. you’ll almost get better because you are mixing multiple genres instead of of straight 128bpm “edm”. yes it gets tiresome playing ‘summer of 69’ every night to some drunk moms, but take some chances and take pride, and have fun with it!
very nice article!
Yeah, I think an article like this was very much needed. There are a lot of Mobile DJs whom aren’t the stereotypical Wedding / Corporate Event DJs and there’s not been much talk about this on any DJ forums.
As a Mobile DJ you’ll:
* Learn to plan ahead (for things like weather, customer-preferred set lists/times, alternative power sources, etc.).
* Become your own boss (and learn to keep receipts because you’ll need those for taxes later).
* Get to know ALL of your equipment (the quirks and perks), and you’ll become great at improvising (because things fail at the least convenient opportune times).
* Develop a network of people who can help you out in a pinch (they’ll become your best friends).
* Develop your character on a microphone because you’re right between Radio DJ and Club DJ. It’s almost shocking how many dance club DJs don’t know how to talk to a crowd.
* Take a lot of risks, meet some interesting (and boring) people, do strange things, get cheated, get paid in trade, but you’ll have some really interesting experiences, and you can’t put a price on that.
There’s so much more about being a mobile DJ than I could ever list, but I’ve covered enough points to get started, I’m sure others will have more to add to the list.
I started out by doing the weekly dances at summer camp when I was 16, using a Radioshack mixer, and mixing between a home CD player and a Sony Discman. I had a couple Pioneer home stereo speakers and amp for my sound reinforcement, and a couple cheap little effects lights from a local toy store. These dances were for 30-60 kids each week.
I made enough money working at camp that summer to buy two used turntables, Final Scratch Pro (remember THAT?) and a couple 300 watt powered speakers.
In Grade 11, I convinced the students council to hire me to do our school dances (I lied and said I had DJ’d dances before at other schools). I rented a couple bigger speakers & subs, and a whole light show on a truss. The total rental cost was probably around $300 but the school paid me $800. More money for gear!
I did three more dances at my high school before I graduated, and got paid $1000 for the final one I did. More money for gear!
This experience helped me to get gigs at other high schools and rec centres in the area, and was the start of my career as it is now.
Currently, I have been DJing professionally for 11 years. It’s a side job, as my main job is teaching elementary school music, but I get scores of weddings each summer, corporate gigs at Christmas, and various other random parties throughout the year.
I have played a bit in bars and clubs but have always preferred the mobile DJ route for how many people I get to meet and interact with on a more personal level, that you just can’t do as easily when you’re on a stage in a club. I love doing weddings. Yes, the music often gets “old” after doing two gigs every weekend for a summer… but the pay is awesome and I meet a lot of really cool people.
My advice to someone young who is just starting out:
Once you know what you’re doing – if you get offers to do bigger gigs and you don’t have the proper equipment, RENT IT. Get your friends to help you, and borrow your mom’s van! If you’re doing a bigger gig you will get PAID more which means you can BUY MORE equipment faster. Renting lights and speakers is quite cheap compared to how much you’ll be able to take in, but I don’t think a lot of people consider this.
Oh yeah… and have so much fun! 🙂
Mobile DJing definitely helps in more ways than one and I am glad to see others have discovered this too!
Great advice! Speaking of that Felix Voya remix of Don’t Stop Believin, could you send me it please man? It doesn’t appear to be available to buy anywhere that I can find, and the guy’s facebook profile is pretty inactive so I doubt messaging him personally would get me anywhere :/ I NEED THAT MIX! haha i’d really appreciate it 🙂 email@example.com
E-mail me, I’ll get it for you. firstname.lastname@example.org
Hey Christopher Poynter, I gotta give a +1 to renting. It makes it easier to get started on a budget and it’s a great way to test mobile/wedding DJing without committing to an expensive mobile setup.