How to Get a DJ Residency

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
Here are some simple rules to keep in mind on how to act like a pro and get more opportunities once the door is opened.

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.

Be Flexible

  • 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

Be Useful

  • 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!

Don’t sit there and wait for the phone to ring.

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.

bella sarrisDJ residencyenterFabio Floridogetting out of the bedroomgetting your first gighow to get a residencyhow to get gigsJozef K.promotersRichie Hawtinsoundcloudtalking to promotersworking with promoters
Comments (33)
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  • Rahul

    I’m DJ rahul I’m interested in the DJ

  • Goodboy Akon

    hellooo like to be a Dj but i net help am still a new guy relly wan to be DJ

  • Dustin

    I 100% agree with Ean, there’s nothing wrong with playing a few gigs for free, just for the experience and promotion alone. Just don’t make a habit of it, or promoters will take advantage of it and you in the long run; after a while you should know your worth. I’d gladly take a free gig if it was in one of my favorite establishments, just for the experience and promotion alone. I’m a music producer as well, and that will always come first before DJing, but I love to DJ and share new and unheard music as well. I love music, PERIOD. If you’re DJing just for the sake of it and for the money, you shouldn’t be DJing at all imo. If you’re an established DJ, then thats great, get your money for your services. But for the ones who are on the come up , struggling to even get heard in the first place, don’t talk down to them because you feel its messing up your chances to get a gig. If you’re confident in your abilities, that should be the last thing you think about. In fact, be a mentor to them and show them the ropes and whatnot. Just saying…

    • Senator Wax Davis

      actually playing for free affects more than just your own opportunities – it affects pay scale and club owner/promoter attitudes towards all DJs. The only level worse is having to “sell tickets” to get a chance to play.

  • Seville Lilly

    there’s one great way to earn a recurring gig not mentioned here: the online residency.

    post a mix a week online. don’t keep them to yourself; you’ll make excuses for missed weeks and sloppy DJing if you do.

    in six good months you’ll have:

    a) a large backlog of mixes that’s still full of currently-trending music.

    b) a USB stick full of your DJing for promoters to skim through and hear what you are REALLY made of, while others are only providing a mix or two at a time or e-mailing links that don’t get clicked (as the article points out).

    c) the experience to actually HOLD a residency week in, week out and make it work.

    it sounds so simple, doesn’t it? try it. for six months.
    you will make mistakes.
    you will play certain songs too much and others too little.
    you will regret choices that seemed rock-solid last week or last month. or an hour ago.
    you will get bored with your music collection and the limits of your personal taste (which is a GREAT thing).
    you will miss a week or three, and if you’re serious about playing out you’ll regret that.
    or you’ll miss lots of weeks, in which case you may want to ask yourself if you really want to be a resident DJ as badly as you thought.

    try it. for six months. if you’re no longer satisfied enough with the first month or three to share them with a promoter, or you skipped too many weeks, keep doing it until you have six months of current backlog you’re happy with.

    six short months of consistently posting weekly mixes online, in my opinion, will fully prepare you for a live residency: booking it, and then actually playing it half-decently once you’ve got it.
    don’t wait for the gig to start DJing every week… DJ every week to get ready for the gig.

    • Shayper

      That’s pretty much my residency on Rough Tempo – internet radio slots can be perfect for this kinda thing 🙂

    • Gabriel Rodriguez

      Some of the best advice I’ve heard. Your comments are spot on.

    • ?? Selekta Supa™ ??

      Great Advice! I’m currently setting this up as part of my new website launch!

    • Cosmo0

      great advice!

    • Gustavisimo

      I’m currently doing this now! I’m glad I’m not insane for thinking this was a great idea!

  • Richard Schmidt

    ‘play what you want to hear’

    This is what I’m talking about.

  • Mauri Moore

    BTW Ean , i’m the owner of a club in Mallorca ,If a dj comes to me and offers to play for free i will kick his ass . A dj should respect the people who are PRO dj , and himself also . Because of people doing this shit we are where we are . Nightlife is not the same it used to be some years ago , so many fake djs , a shame .

    • Mauri

      Be respectful of other DJs” how can u do that if you go for free ? with hardware and doing promotion ?

    • smuve415

      This wise man beat me to this comment! Well done sir! This is a very sore subject on many DJ forums. It’s DJ’s who are willing to play for free, and, or for very little at all – are pretty much messing things up. You got some promoters putting on as many as 4 DJ’s in one night – and u know ends up suffering in the long run?? the club & the people who came there and just wanna dance and have fun for that night. Shit DJ’s who have little to no experience, playing a bunch of nonsense.

      • Mauri Moore

        I’m from Uruguay , i started to play directly in clubs when i was a teenager (also a radio dj ) with only 16 . i moved to Spain 15 years ago . I went to a club to do a “test” , the owner asked to me for do it for FREE , i said NO , without papers (you know as an illegal immigrant) . I said : i do the night , if you don’t like me you should pay my fees , if you like me i don’t charge nothing for the night BUT then this will be my first of the 30 nights a month have and of course you will pay my salary at the end . I started my residence (6 years) .

        He asked : why you don’t want to do a FREE night ? i said : let’s imagine you want to “test” 30 djs in 1 month , you will have 30 stupid boys and you will be the smart , right?

        As a club owner (i’m also the resident dj) i have offers , some of them are for play for free .
        I will say always NO , because in the way to the club a FREE dj can find something more interesting thing to do , than to go to play for nothing ( can be a dinner with friends , can be a nice girl or can be another club )

        I will say NO , because i know how hard is to find a job as dj .
        I will say no because i don’t like people who don’t respect themselves and also don’t respect our profession .

        Why djs are the ONLY profession in the world doing things for the selfie with the stupid face ?
        I never saw a dentist doing the job for nothing , a never saw a barman working for nothing . Why , the most important person of the night should entertain the people for NOTHING ?

        As a PRO dj , i use at least 2 , 3 hours a day for select & buy music , why should i give my hard to work to others for free ?
        i have bills to pay and i RESPECT & LOVE to be a dj .

        • CUSP

          I like this guy, he thinks as any good businessperson thinks. Charge what you’re worth, if you charge nothing, you’re worth nothing.

          As the businessperson, you should have your butt covered, if the DJ ends up being bad (such as a replacement DJ, or at least a CD). If the night goes well, and the people like the DJ, the DJ and the venue management would do well to reach a mutually beneficial outcome.

          Supporting people achieve their goals pays off in imagined dividends. Friendships matter too.

    • Ean Golden

      I am not advising that people always play for free or under cut other djs. However, if you have zero experience, offering to play the early hour (before anyone is even there) for drinks is both common, and a very easy way to get a YES, because it’s zero risk for the club owner. Getting the gig and the experience are much more valuable than $50 – so I am simply saying if you can get money great, but if not, then it’s better to get the opportunity early on (but certainly don’t make it a habit)

      Here is a fact – sometimes in the past I have played for free even though I could have asked for money. The reason was because the promoter could not afford to pay anything and because it was for the music and not for the money. Sometimes we can do things just for the fun, not the money, and that is totally ok.

      • Mauri Moore

        these are 2 ways how to see our profession , and i respect this is your place . Cheers

        I am proudly to say i never did something else than to play music, we builded 2 companies with our dj career (my wife and me , she is also one of those djs who never gave a break )

      • CUSP

        Here’s what people should take away from that last comment: as an artist (who is contributing to the evening’s value) you are worth something. If you determine you want to waive your fee at the end of the night {presumably as a favor (something for something) but never in exchange for a promise (something for nothing)}, this decision should be your choice, not imposed upon you.

        Also: if you’re going to be a DJ, read books on the art of negotiating contracts.

      • smuve415

        Play for “fun” in ur bedroom, do ur buddies private party or a benefit for “fun”. And there is plenty of “off” nights between sun & thurs to play for peanuts or nothing in many spots around any major city, especially in S.F. … But on the weekends, stay the fuck out of any major bar/lounge/club with that free shit. Theres TOO many good, qualified, and experienced DJ’s that should be working – and I know a lot of them in the scene. U know if u play for a promoter just once these days for free – and they will exploit you. I have personal experience with promoters, & I’m not saying they are all bad – but the majority of them are douche-bags. Residencies unfortunately, are becoming less common these days, so are venues to play in due to many factors. We don’t need anything else mucking it up anymore than it is.

    • DjCoops

      I understand both sides of the argument.. most managers want to hear what you can do before they will agree to anything (unless they got started in the industry as a DJ) and thanks to people “stealing” other dj’s mixes etc they will probably want to see you do it.
      A friend of mine (and my dj “mentor”) suggested offering to dj at a charity event/fundraiser and having my “donation” to the charity being my dj’ing! Was I dj’ing for free? Well I guess so but the MC included in his presentation that I had “donated the entertainment”.. the club manager loved my set and offered me my first residency, I definitely got some karma for supporting a worthwhile cause and I even scored a few other bookings for private functions.
      I agree 100% that you shouldn’t undervalue what you can do but getting a break can be hard. I know Ean wasn’t saying to do it constantly and I wish there were more owners like Mauri Moore.

  • Mauri Moore

    Offer to open up for another DJ for free” como ON !!!NEVER , NEVER , I said NEVER play for free , Don’t be a loser from the minute 1:00

    • CUSP

      Ask “if I do something for you, what will you do for me?” and enter the negotiating phase of contract work.

  • joao

    Shame on you.
    “Offer to open up for another DJ for free”

    • Danilo Santos

      You gotta start somewhere.. True that “Know what you worth” But, if nobody see’s your skills, you wont start as “real” DJ. What’s the problem in making 1,2 or 3 sets for free? You show them what you worth and if they like, you will get paid and signed to their dj list. Simple..

  • CUSP

    I think residency has as much to do with who you know as much as it does with what you can do. Every venue wants their unique vibe to be “something special” and that starts with the music, but to truly be something special, the whole crew needs to be a team, and that means everyone should at least respect and maybe even like each other. You can be a great DJ, but if you’re a jerk, you probably won’t be invited to play.

  • ZeroFoxx

    Nice article, really helpful. You might want to check the article for some small errors tho haha!

  • Mert

    Great Article Ean! I am the guy who is sitting in front of the phone and wait for a call. 🙂

    “I emailed/mailed/handed my mixtape/Soundcloud/CD to 10 club owners and no one emailed me back!” – I know this story – a friend told me this, after I was booked in his favorite club. I get a gig and he was was going crazy because he sended out 100 mails /mixtapes and never get a feedback or a answer. I told him I just dropped one mail to the Promoter and then I get booked , without a mixtape or soundcloud link.

    Btw. Fabio is one of my favorite producers – he throwed some really cool bombs last year! great Job!

  • calgarc

    lol i got my first residency by accident… i was doing a fundraiser with a bunch of friends at bar. one day i was walking down the street and the owner stopped me and said he loved my set, bam bi-weekly residency.