We're always asked by our students 'How do you get DJ gigs?' There is no one straight forward answer so we asked our founder and head tutor Buster Bennett for advice on how to get DJ gigs. We would love to know your thoughts on the subject too so please do leave a comment on the bottom of this blog.
Buster Bennett - Founder and Head Tutor of London Sound Academy. Image copyright www.thomashensher.com
Words by Buster Bennett:
There are two distinct ways of getting DJ gigs, either the gigs come to you or you go and hunt them down yourself. Most DJ's start with the latter but the big aim should be that the gigs eventually come to you. Promoters will only come knocking on your door if you're an established artist and that normally means that you're a well known music producer. If you learn how to produce and release great music you can skip the hard part and enter further up the food chain. If you're a new unknown DJ you'll need to go out there and get gigs yourself or you'll need to get working on that big hit-single in the studio, either way it's going to involve a lot of dedication.
Big DJ's will have a booking agents representing them and sourcing them gigs, but for many new DJ's getting to that stage is a real catch 22 situation. Those who work full time jobs and have precious little time to dedicate to their DJ'ing and even less time to learn how to produce and network, so how do you break out of the cycle and start getting gigs? Well the good news is that there are many different ways to get DJ work, you just need to have a plan and work hard to meet your goals.
To help you on your way I've compiled a breakdown of some of the many ways in which you can get DJ gigs or exposure and become a full-time artist or producer. I've even included some handy cheats and tricks to help you get one step ahead of the competition, it's a dog eat dog world out there so take any opportunity that comes your way.
Here's the list in no particular order...
Network, Network, Network!
When I first started DJ'ing I would often go out every single night of the week, often to more than one club night in an evening. The more you circulate in a scene the more connections you make the more influential you will become (not to mention the more fun you will have!) Promoters will always book those closest to them, DJs who support the club night by attending on a regular basis will get preference when it comes to DJ gigs so always make sure you visit the club before asking to play. Socialise with the promoter and become friends with those around you to cement working relationships. Word of warning, don't get sucked into party animal mode too much, it's great to support a night but if they are picking you up off the floor at the end of the night you'll quickly move from being an asset to an annoyance! I've also had many friends get sucked into the vortex of clubbing that is drugs and drink, make sure you know your limits and play safe, you'll need to be getting up early in the morning and preparing your world domination plans anyway!
Promote your own club night
Sometimes there are no cool club nights in your area or you just don't like what's available or even the promoters running them. Easy solution, start your own night. This is one of the biggest ways of launching your own DJ career and a great way to make extra cash as well. The two main formats are either you charge on the door or you run a free entry party. I suggest you begin by finding a venue that could do with some extra customers and pitch a free entry night where you are paid 10%-15% of the bar takings. This is a really low risk option and can afford you a small amount of cash to pay for things like promotion of the night, graphics, photography and DJs etc. Once you've gained some experience in running nights and built a mailing list you can then work on larger events where you hire venues and charge on the door, this can be a lot more profitable but also has higher financial risks. If you start small and work your way up you can minimise most of the pitfalls. Make sure you always have enough money to run the event even if you don't make any money on the door, there is nothing worse for your reputation than not paying venues or other DJs at the end of the night, always act professionally.
Apart from making some money on the door, the main reason I am giving you this idea is because it can really benefit your DJ career. It gives you a solid resident slot which can act as a launchpad for bigger and better things. You can book big DJs and be on the same line-up as them, that means you'll get to know them personally advancing your influence in that scene. Running your own night will help you cultivate your own crowd and pulling power as a DJ. Once you have a following you are much more valuable for other promoters who will want to book you on the off-chance your crowd will follow. I've had more than a decade of experience running club nights in London and beyond with documented success in magazines like Paper Magazine, Time Out, New York Times, Guardian, Vogue, Noctis, Vice and iD. If you would like some advice on setting up your own brand just contact us and ask for Buster.
Gig for free
When you are a new DJ you mainly need to be concerned about getting experience playing for a crowd and exposure, the easy way of doing this is to DJ for free. This presents little risk from the promoters point of view and means you're more likely to get your foot in the door for future paid work. It's normal to DJ for free if you think it would benefit you in the long term but if you can't see any benefits don't do it. When you want to progress from a free gig to a paid gig you might want to start by offering the promoter a discounted rate, say £50 an hour but make sure they realise this is a special short-term rate. Try not to undersell yourself and the industry as a whole and don't be a push-over, remember it will cost you to DJ; you need to buy music, equipment and even pay for travel and insurance.
Pay to Play
Sometimes you will be asked to sell tickets in order for a chance to play somewhere. This is a normal practice and the benefits are that even if you are relatively unknown you can DJ at a reputable club which is good for your DJ CV. Having a great list of places you've played before will help you get gigs elsewhere as it proves you know your stuff. Once you've got the benefits of having played at the venues once there is little incentive for you to continue unless you enjoy the experience. Selling tickets will be easy the first couple of times but much harder in the long run so make sure your first pay-to-play gig is in one of the best venues. London Sound Academy organise many such events at places like Ministry of Sound, Pacha, Qube, Egg, London and Ibiza in 2015. We also organise smaller gigs where ticket sales are not necessary but of course those venues won't carry as much prestige.
If you run your own club night or have a resident slot somewhere you can sometimes organise a gig swap with another DJ. This is a great way of extending your geographical reach, in some cases you can even do this with DJs in other countries. It normally works as a straight forward swap, no money involved. You book them to play at your night and in return they book you to play at theirs. The benefits are numerous, not only for your DJ CV but also to gain more followers around the world, not to mention it's practically a free holiday!
Go direct to the promoter or manager
This is essentially just networking but you can approach a promoter in a few different ways, the best way is through recommendation or through visiting the event and meeting in person. Sometimes the venues run 'in-house' promotions and you just need to talk to the manager of the venue. I know many of my students who have spent a day going from venue to venue with a mixtape and been turned down by almost every single one, but it only takes one to say yes to make it worth while. Once you've got gigs you normally get more gigs as a result so I still think this is a viable option. Failing this you can try to e-mail them directly, often the best way to do this is to research the event online and contact them via Facebook of their website.
Become the best in your field
One way to stand out in a crowded market is to be the best in your field. DMC champions often take this route perfecting their skills to blow the competition away! Once you think you're the best you'll want everyone else to know about it so make sure you step out of the bedroom promote yourself. A great way to display your skills is on Youtube. Take a look at other videos like the DJ EZ Boiler Room set and see how other DJ's perform and try and out-perform them.
Become a recognised producer
Not as easy as it sounds but this is the main route to make it as a full-time artist. If you make a great track you can virtually skip all of the steps in this blog and just get a good booking agent to do all the hard work. You'll need to dedicate a lot of time but nowadays you can do it on a budget, there is no need to have recording studios of your own you can start out with as little as a laptop and headphones. Make sure you enrol on an LSA one-to-one production course to kick-start your progress. Once you have great music out there the gigs will come to you.
Join a record label who run events or start your own record label
As a producer you can often sign to a label and become part of a bigger community of artists who often tour together or perform together under the brand of the label. If you can't join a good record label why not start your own? It's not as hard as it seems. Anyone can start a label and distribute tracks online at relatively low cost. Don't expect to make much money in the actual selling of the music but the notoriety can really help you get exposure and hopefully lots of high paid DJ work.
Become a mobile DJ
Many DJ's supplement their income with mobile DJ'ing for parties, events, weddings etc. It's not as glamorous as DJ'ing in a club but it can often be much better paid! Once I played a gig for a PR firm who was running an event to launch a Michael Jackson computer game, all I needed to do was play MJ for an hour and a half and I was paid £1000, easiest gig ever!!! If you don't want to pollute your brand a good idea is to set up a second profile as a mobile DJ or DJ for a mobile DJ company under a different name. Another benefit is that you will gain lots of experience playing other styles of music.
Word of mouth
Word of mouth is often the best way to advertise, why not ask your friends to post a status asking if they know of any venue managers or anyone else that might be able to give you your next DJ gig? You could also get friends to help you out by posting your mixtapes to help spread the word.
Any press is good press! Why not try pulling a PR stunt to get attention? You'll need a great idea and then you'll need to plan something very visible and invite the press along or go somewhere where the press are already gathered. You could be the first DJ to mix while sky-diving or maybe gatecrash a big red-carpet event. Journalists love a story to latch onto so be creative and think outside of the box to get noticed.
It's a great idea to have a business card printed and carry them with you everywhere you go. You never know when you'll run into a new contact. I recommend starting by getting a small run of template-based cards while you experiment with your branding. Try zazzle.co.uk for cheap DJ business cards which you can design online. Make sure the graphics don't look out-of-fashion, avoid cliches like images of headphones!
Handout USB or CD Mixtapes
It's a great idea to handout CD mixtapes demo's or even USB demo's to promoters, managers and potential followers. Some even try to sell them, which is illegal if you don't own the copyright of the music on the mix of course! A physical item will get more attention than a digital one so if you send a mixtape in the post with a nice letter and cool packaging it will be far more memorable for the promoter than just clicking another link.
Yes, amazing as it is, this is a potential money earner! Just look at DJ Grandpa in Camden Town, he busks legally near the tube station exit and easily makes a few hundred pounds daily! The downside is you might need to dress like a fool and play awful music!
Sell your soul
It's a formula that obviously works! There is a big market out there for DJ's who play top 40 music, think about it the vast majority of venues around the world just play chart-music so that means there would be an equal amount of Dj gigs. It also seems to be the case that rich people have bad taste, in fact the richer a person is the worse their taste in music seems to be so why not get a high-paid DJ gig in a posh West End club or on an oligarchs private boat, the price of which is only your dignity!
Work your way up
If you're new to the game your normally have to work your way up from the bottom with the warm-up slot. It's a right of passage for many DJs and will make you a better DJ in the long run. Why not create a mixtape just for a warm-up slot and reassure the promoter you'd be the best person to start the party. Warm-up slots are an art form in themselves, much harder that the main slot. Check out this article on the esoteric art of the warm-up for advice. http://www.residentadvisor.net/feature.aspx?1095
Join a clique
You scratch my back and i'll scratch yours the way most DJs and Promoters operate. Use your selling points, skills, contacts, followers and anything else that can afford you leverage when negotiating a cliquey little deal. Get your foot wedged in that door by shutting everyone else out! It's dog eat dog so why not make a closed circle of just you and your friends? This unfortunately is how a lot of the music industry operates but it does pay to be part of it, if you can't beat them join them and if you can't join them create them! Joining a clique should be on you to-do-list.
Post videos on Youtube
Being famous one way or another is a major way to get gigs, remember that most promoters don't really care what music you play, they just care about how many people you'll bring to the event one way or another. Youtube is one of the best ways of gaining followers as it's the biggest website for young people to reference for music. Successful youtube vloggers can also earn money when advertising is played on their videos. At the very least you should have a video showcase of your DJ'ing online for promoters who like to google you before booking you. DJ Bl3nd is a prime example of how this can work. He simply recorded a video of himself DJ'ing in his bedroom whilst wearing a mask with his strobe light on full and danced like mad! He's now being booked for club nights and major events around the world.
Virtual Reality DJ'ing
Bit of a curve-ball here but virtual reality DJ'ing is a thing! For a while DJ's were playing and even making real money in the virtual realm of Second Life and with the on-coming of other major advances in virtual reality like Oculus Rift about to hit the market we predict that this may once again become a viable option, especially if you happen to live in the arse-end of nowhere. Why not set up a Bitcoin account and broadcast from your sofa now!
Play on the Radio
Internet Radio, Pirate Radio or Pro Radio are all amazing ways to gain listeners and promote yourself. If you're a radio presenter you often get music sent to you months before general release and have the chance to play all the best tunes before any other DJs. Become a big enough radio personality and you'll be asked to play many gigs.
Use Social Media
You can find gigs advertised on social media if you follow the right sources, the LSA Facebook for a start! Plus social media is often the only place to track down a promoter and to spy on what other artists are doing to get their gigs too. Make sure you have all your profiles up and running and make sure you update them on a regular basis with high-end content, the less spammy the better. Look at what other DJ's do online and formulate your own media strategy. Try and cross-promote with other organisations, promoters, DJ's and producers and extend your reach.
Work in the media
Not getting the coverage you deserve form the media? Easy solution, become the media! Run your own blog, magazine or fanzine and you'll quickly build up an influential list of contacts. Often music media moguls are asked to DJ at events mainly because the promoters expects coverage in return, even if they aren't very good DJs. Most of the content in music magazines and scene magazines covering events are often just a result of advertising, or from the old you scratch my back I'll scratch yours routine. Only rarely are magazines totally transparent and honest about the intentions behind a piece so don't believe the hype!
Create a brand image
Image is more important for a DJ than ever before, most people interact with the music world via their personal devices and images rather than text will always have more of an impact. A picture speaks a 1,000 words and a video 10,000. Invest in your image with high-quality graphics and press images. The more pro you look the more valuable you are to a promoter. Look at big DJ's and how they present themselves and you'll see that they are not using some image their mate took on their iPhone as a press photo or a Microsoft clipart image for a logo! For high-end graphics and special discounts for LSA students contact alexsedano.com and contact thomashensher.com for press photo's and full photo shoots.
Enter competitions to gain notoriety, some competitions have prizes where you can win a resident DJ slot. Just look at LSA star student Adele or won the Ibiza Rocks DJ contest and was rewarded with a whole season playing for them as a paid resident DJ! A lot of competitions are judged by public vote via social media so make sure you ask all your friends to vote for you, give them a big nudge because as we know everyone is super lazy. I would message my friends one-by-one and ask them politely to help, make the message personal because it's easy to spot a cut-and-paste job a mile away.
Get an agent
There are many types of DJ Agencies out there from small operations to large companies dealing with mega-artists. A good agency can make or break a DJ career but it's rare for a non-producer DJ to be signed to one. If you want serious representation you'll need to learn how to produce records and successfully release music and gain a large following. Occasionally however an agency will host DJs from a brand so if you run your own events company the brand could be signed to the agency. There are lots of sharks in these waters beware of agencies online which ask you to pay a subscription for a chance to be advertised on their site, they are often fraudulent.
Fake a booking agent
Some people just can't get a booking agent and instead become one or fake one. It's slightly desperate but it's also a great trick when you want to negotiate higher rates. Sometimes talking frankly about money is difficult and it helps to play good-cop-bad-cop through the guise of a booking agent. Why not get a friend to be your manager or even just make a new e-mail account and do it all online. Having that degree of separation will help you negotiate better fees.
This is especially suitable for mobile DJ's. You can advertise for mobile DJ work in many ways but the four main ways are Facebook Adverts, Google Adwords, Gumtree and word of mouth. If you need specialise advice on how these advertising platforms work please contact us for a consultation. You will need to have a pro-looking website online in order to direct clicks from your adverts. Advertising can be conducted at any level from small to large budgets and it's certainly worth trying it out with a small amount of money to start with.
Be a Tour DJ
If you know any bands or other musicians you can sometimes act as a tour DJ. Musicians often have their own tour DJ to set the mood before their performance and it can be more fun than travelling on your own. You'll also be billed alongside them often lifting your own profile by association.
DJ in shops, gyms, restaurants and pop up events
DJ's are literally everywhere now! You'll see DJs in shops, gyms, restaurants and pop-up events. Get in on the action and approach the mangers of these ventures.
A really useful little short-cut for gaining likes and followers especially on soundcloud is to create your own mash-up remixes. These are basic remixes often created by combining an acappella and an instrumental. If you tag and SEO these mash-up's well enough they will sometimes go viral and your DJ name alongside them!
Official Remixes & Unofficial Remixes
If you have a contact with a producer you can ask them for permission to create an official remix of one of their tracks. If that producer likes the remix they may allow you to release it or their record label may release it meaning you'll get instant exposure. If you don't have contact with the producer why not try making a remix anyway and then try tweeting the remix to them or sending it to them via private message on soundcloud. They may notice and there may be a slim chance they like it and get in touch with you. Recently this happened when Skrillex signed and released an unofficial remix a fan tweeted him.
Every DJ should post regular examples of their work online in the form of online mixtapes or podcasts. Make sure you keep them up to date and make sure the levels are correct and the volume is loud and not distorted in anyway. Always check before you upload. Never upload a mix with even the smallest error in your mixes, first impressions count and first impressions last a long time! It's a good idea to have a style sheet of images to go along with your mixtapes or even have a series of mixtapes.
Sometimes you might just happen to live in the wrong area and the only solution is to move. You might live in a minuscule village in the middle of nowhere 100 miles from the nearest hipster! Unless you want to DJ to an audience of farm-yard animals it might be time to think about moving to the big smoke. On the other end of the scale sometimes it's not a good idea to operate in a crowded market if there are too many people playing the same music as you it can bring the overall price down. To escape this you need to establish yourself as a unique artist or simply move to a new area. Supply and Demand is sometimes the undeniable reason you might not be getting the gigs you want. Why not think about DJ'ing in other countries or resorts, for example there is a huge emerging market in Dubai, India, China, Brazil and Africa. If you don't want to leave the country or even your city why not try a different post-code. For example there are thousands of DJs competing for gigs in the Shoreditch area at the moment, but there are just as many bars elsewhere. Why not try the West?
Create your own DJ blog or Vlog to gain followers and exposure. Use the fan-base as leverage when negotiating your DJ fee for an event. The more followers you have the larger the potential for people to come and see you perform. You can also use your blog to get freebies, for example; sometimes a popular blog might review a product and in return get that product for free.
Get a ghost writer
Some people have family commitments and full time jobs preventing them from having enough time to produce music on their own. A handy shortcut is to work with (and pay) a ghost writer or engineer to make tracks on your behalf. This is where you work with an established producer and act as a director and ideas person, they do all the leg work and you just sit back, listen and direct the style of the track! It's the quickest way to get your first track out there and get more gigs but it won't come cheap with day rates from £250.
Look and act pro at all times
Your image should be highly thought out, every single graphic associated to your brand identity should be streamlined and of high quality, but also your interactions with others in the industry should be equally as considered. Never burn bridges or speak negatively about anyone and certainly never publicly speak bad about a person or organisation. Maintain a professional distance between your artist persona and your personal profiles like you would in any work place. Try to avoid gentlemen's agreements and use contracts, deposits and written booking confirmations where possible to avoid any nasty disagreements. It's a great idea to send a rider to all promoters you work with agreeing the terms of booking, payment and also the tech you require to perform.
Create your own subculture or genre
There is no point jumping on a bandwagon that has already left. It's far better to invest in your own ideas and create something new to be the master of, If you've invented it you can ride the wagon you've created all the way to the bank! New sub-cultures often gain more media exposure and momentum in viral posting online, if you're seen as the zeitgeist of the next musical movement you'll quickly find yourself in-vogue.
Try and get media exposure where ever possible, interviews are an ideal way to get your message across. Try and get exposure in blogs and magazines and tempt them with a 'hook' to your story, what makes you special? Always make your interviews entertaining to read and include relevant information for the readership of the publication. You can create a 'press-pack' to send to promoters which should include your high-res press photos, of various styles, a short bio and any relevant links. To make their job easier you could also write your own Q&A interview so if the journalists are feeling lazy or working to a tight deadline they can just copy and paste the content.
Employ a gimmick
Let's face it, dressing like a robot or a mouse does seem to work! Why not make yourself stand out from the crowd with a gimmicky outfit or why not trying to create a signature show like Amon Tobin.
Be a DJ Duo
Now you've read this list I bet you're wishing there was more time in the day! Why not split the workload (and the pay) by starting a DJ duo, two-heads are better than one and sometimes it's more fun to bounce ideas off another person.
Have a long term plan
Have a long term plan for your marketing and stick to it. Check your progress with regular assessments and keep a records of all your gigs you've performed to date, the flyers, the fees and anything else that you may need to reference in future.