Your Questions: When Should I Go Full-Time As A DJ?

Many people dream of DJing for a living - but how do you know when to go for it?

Many people dream of DJing for a living - but how do you know when to go for it?

Reader Lee Scollo writes: "There are some issues regarding the life of a professional DJ that I am curious about. For instance, how does a DJ know when they can quit their day job and become a full time DJ? Also, when someone finally achieves this full-time occupation how do they maintain a healthcare policy and various retirement benefits? Are there any articles here that would satisfy my curiosity?"

Digital DJ Tips says:

We haven't covered these topics head-on, no, although there is a wealth of advice in How To Succeed At DJing. I guess DJing is a passion which is what drives you to keep doing it. You know when you can give up a day job when you can comfortably cover your overheads and a basic salary. As far as healthcare etc goes, you need to factor the cost of that into your decision to go full-time as a DJ. Many DJs set themselves up as self-employed or (as in my case) set up a limited liability company for exactly these reasons: You now have a business. A good accountant is essential and will be able to advise best on how to proceed.

Most serious DJs decide to give it a real go when they're relatively young, because that's when they have few or no dependents or overheads, and so can deal with living in one-room apartments and eating cheap bread and beans! However, what many such wannabe young DJs realise quite quickly is that DJing alone is not a realistic thing to be doing as a full-time job.

Add something else to the mix
Most people need to add something else to their DJing, in order to make it something they can build on and continue with in the long term. For instance, mobile DJs are effectively DJ hire companies, because people are hiring the DJ and all the gear he or she comes with. (Such DJs also often hire the gear out when they're not using it.) Many DJs are also music producers, or they teach DJing, or they write about it (that's me!), or promote events, or manage venues - you get the picture. Working out a business plan for the medium to long term is part of making the decision to go "full time" as a DJ.

To put it more accurately, as someone working in the music industry, you need to know what extra you're going to add to your DJing to make the whole professional life package work for you. I hope that helps.

Do you work full-time as a DJ, or do you work full time in the music industry DJing and doing something else? Have you worked as a DJ and then returned to the "world of work"? Or is it just a hobby or part-time job for you? Please let us know your experiences and advice in the comments.

Comments

  1. My day job is a yoga teacher. Loving both worlds but looking forward to dedicating my life to music. Not easy to leave off your heart desire but sure possible. Thanks Phil for the motivation tips! I keep working on my production skills :-)

  2. I think it is possible to be a full-time DJ, but it depends on the road you take to get there.

    When I wrote the “How to Succeed at DJing” guide, I first wanted DJs to understand the different types of work one can do in this field, and try to figure out which ones they want to focus on.

    If you want to become the “superstar DJ”, then it comes down to producing music, or some kind of radio show or podcast that blows up, or writing, or something like that. It’s more than just DJ gigs…it’s branding and working very much in the same vain as people in the music industry.

    Now if you’re thinking you don’t want to be a superstar, but play in a few clubs every day of the week and live on it…then you might want to get into promotion. Most of the more “known locals” I see are also promoters. They push one or two regular events and maybe even land a residency in another spot…thus they manage to make it work.

    Mobile is probably the more stable way to try to make a full-time living out of it all. I see many who do weddings and such make a nice paycheck with it, but they’re also constantly hustling to land more gigs and get to the in-demand point that makes it easier to get gigs.

    Another route many take is to go mobile in combination with working in an entertainment company…the kind that does bars, cruises, etc. They’ll somehow balance doing mobile events with regular nights at party bars and thus make a living.

    WHEN can you go full-time? When you can clearly see you can make a living out of it. Nothing is guaranteed though. Seen thousands of kids try to become a superstar or “known local” and fail. Seen plenty of mobile guys his dry spells and even complain how wedding couples are choosing an iPod on shuffle over a DJ. Seen guys working the bar scene lament on a kid with VDJ who will play a whole night for $50…or how many places they used to get regular work out of closed down.

    For me, my father pushed on me long ago to get a college degree and keep DJing a hobby. I don’t regret taking his advice either, since I’m more or less burned out on promoting events and dislike playing mainstream/pop music.

    You also might want to think in terms of “back up plans”, because I’ve seen people who used to be big residents now working as greeters in Wal-Mart because their 15 min of fame dried up and they had no backup plan.

  3. I left my advertising job 5 years ago to start http://www.showtimeatlanta.com. I quickly realized that just offering DJ services was not going to cover my mortgage and other bills. I started to offer other services like uplighting, outdoor movies, photo booths, margarita machines and more. This got my phone to ring everyday! Today we employ 4 inside marketing people and have over 15 guys on staff. It has been a fun and a big time learning experience.

    You can easily become self employed and do this for a living and earn well over $100,000 per year. My recommendations is to learn how to market your business, offer excellent service and treat your clients well and they will come back time and time again!

  4. I am a full-time DJ for years already. I play 3 sets per week on average. I used to study PR and think of getting a job at some posh agency, but then I lost belief in the field and it got me thinking that I will never change the way I’ve chosen. Honestly, I don’t care about social guarantees at this point. Choosing DJing as the full-time occupation is driven by passion first and foremost.

  5. DJing is my fulltime occupation, i get paid to travel and play events. I get free stuff. and I enjoy it but it did not happen over night i was laughed @ when i was 13 n said i was a dj 11 years later im rocking parties with huge names. you do what you love and what makes you happy, when i became sober is when stuff started picking up for me. i recently got signed to a label and i was planning on going back into the military till this happens but when im making atleast a grand a week i cant really complain

  6. While I try to become more than a bedroom dj and afford better equipment, I have a few different jobs in the music industry. One is with an audio and instrument rental/sound support company, another is doing sound engineering/light designing production work for concerts, and the last one is recording performances. I think it’s smart to have a backup plan in case djing doesn’t work out or has to remain a part-time gig, but at the same time you don’t have to sacrifice your passion for music with a “boring” day job. This way, you can get experience with all aspects of production and really understand other parts of the music business, because all of it can help with becoming a dj, or at least respecting what it takes to put on a show. And you learn a lot about good sound quality. It also helps with networking and landing work, too ;) (I’ve already been offered jobs I’m not ready for!) Plus, you get paid to listen to music :) …..but remember to wear good earplugs! :)

  7. Rich in Illinois says:

    The full time Dj gig is like anything else, either you commit to it and actually get off your duff and work at it 40 to 60 hours a week or you go find someone who has done it and ask them for a job. I don’t think there is an in between. There are business owners and employees.

    Employees don’t have to worry about equipment warranty cards or building future business, they just show up (maybe on time), dump coffee into the mixer, piss off paying customers, and then go home bitching about the crappy pay and lack of benefits.

    The other side of the question you have to ask yourself is… If you have a passion for djing and you believe that it’s what you are here to do, why are you NOT pursuing it. The world was never changed for the better because of middle management clock punchers but it does evolve daily because of passionate creative types following their dreams.

    • Phil Morse says:

      “The world was never changed for the better because of middle management clock punchers but it does evolve daily because of passionate creative types following their dreams.”

      This.

  8. I am a part-time DJ and have been from 1989. I like to have a variety of jobs so I don’t get bored with one job all the time. My other jobs include a part-time Fire-Fighter (14 yrs) a Limo/bus driver & Base Operator (5 yrs) as well as a Father of 2 (5yr old + 8yr old)

    I could work as a DJ Full-time but I would probably get bored during the week (Mon to Thurs) so I am better off earning more income to buy new DJ toys to enhance my DJ business.

    I don’t have much spare-time but I do manage my time effectively.

  9. josh hopkinz says:

    Fulltime all day!

  10. Hi Phil,

    You mention music journalism as something to add to the ‘mix.’ I have a Bachelor’s Degree in English and a Master’s Degree in History and Philosophy of Science, so I have proven I can write well….and I am absolutely, positively obsessed with electronic dance music. How would you recommend I get my feet wet into basically what you do? :) Thanks.

    -Alex

  11. I have been a DJ/Producer for 5 years now. I started my own Music School with being a DJ as it takes a couple of years to get a good name out there, and honestly, if you want to become a DJ, you have to become a Producer as well as just playing other artists songs will not get you to a place where you can do it full time- It will always stay your hobby.

    Networking and meeting other DJ’s/ Promoters/ Lobel Owners are the MOST important things as a DJ. As in the industry,sadly-it is about who you know,more than who you are. You will need some connections to help you along the way.

    If you don’t have the passion/dream and Courage to become a DJ, well then don’t- it’s a Lot of work, Hours and Hours of sitting infront of a Computer and Endless late nights of parties… But if you want it bad enough and don’t want anything els in Live then go for it!!!

    It is one of the most rewarding careers in life and the joy I get from playing my music to people and watch them lose themselfs, are amazing!!!

    Hope this helps a bit!

    Peace

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