Have you ever dreamed of playing in another state or even country? I’m sure you have. It’s a dream practically every DJ out there has the moment they get on the decks.
They see the headliners and even popular locals flying around the world to play, and want to be there themselves one day. ??Now you might think playing abroad is a privilege only set for those guaranteed to fill a club - but that’s not entirely true. What if I told you it could be easier than you think? Yes, with a little work and some ingenuity, you could play abroad too. Here's how...
1. Pull the "no expenses" trick
The secret is to land DJ gigs that you can play while you're on vacation. Put yourself in a promoter’s shoes?? for a second. If you’re promoting an event, you know it costs money, especially if you want to fly in an out-of-town act to play. Now imagine you were offered an out-of-town talent with no travel or hotel expenses? That’s the trick. You would be surprised how many smaller clubs, lounges and such would be open to a guy they’ve never heard of just because he’s not from their neck of the woods.
Now getting a promoter to pay for your flight and hotel is a massive challenge, and unfortunately you have to be a known name to get that far, but what about when you’re just planning on flying abroad on holiday, business trip, or just to visit family? You’re the one paying for the flight and hotel, so that expense is now not on a promoter, thus they would be far more open to pushing you as a big name from another city, state, or country.
The promoters know that many patrons would come out just out of curiosity?, so the booking is far more likely to happen. However, it takes more than just showing up with music and a smile...
2. Plan for success
So let’s say you’re planning on flying off to... we’ll say Belgium... to visit your aunt and stay there for a week or two. Your aunt is elderly so she will probably be in bed every night at 9pm, thus leaving you to your own devices in the overnight.
The very first step is to go online and start researching the scene in the areas you will be visiting. Look around for blogs, social media sites and groups, forums, and any websites for promoters and DJs local to those areas. Don’t just drop in with postings of “hey...looking for a gig”. No one will bother with you because you then come off like someone who could care less about their scene, but just are hoping for a quick hookup.
Instead, g?et to know their scene and their people. Believe me, I plan trips months in advance, so if you do the same you’ll have time. Chat it up with the DJs, find out who’s throwing events you might be into, and take part in their community online. If anyone inquires about what you’re doing there on their internet space, just mention you’re coming out and wanted to get to know the scene. This is no different than networking in your own neck of the woods. Go through the same motions, but do your detective work on who’s running what.
3. Start promoting
Of course I expect you’ll be posting mixes and new productions to these people as time passes, but as things get to a month or two before your trip, it’s now time to make a move. Send an email out to every promoter you’re interested in, and every DJ who is a resident at venues you might want to play at. State that you will be in their city from your arrival date to departure date, and you’re available for bookings.
Include a link to your website, electronic press kit, and a demo mix. They will be smart enough to understand that you’ll be there, which means they won’t have to pay to fly you there or shelter you, but you should still try to negotiate payment for your time if you can swing it. ??Can this work? Yes. You might not land the big Saturday night headlining spot at the biggest club, but many weeknight promoters will be more open to you simply because as I said, you’re from out of town, and they can promote that like they flew in a big name.
If you regularly promote events in your city, another idea would be to contact DJs and offer a trade. They give you a spot to play, and you’ll give them one if they come to your city (at their expense). This does work, and many not-so-known DJs who are promoters have played all over this way.
4. No success? Get on the blag
Nobody bites? Just bring music with you anyway and try blagging.?? So perhaps things just don’t work out and no one books you in advance. Another possible tip is to bring a small book of CDs and/or a thumb drive (or small hard drive) of music, your headphones, and your gift of the gab.
You might be hanging out at a beachfront taverna or cafe in the Mediterranean one afternoon, see the empty DJ booth, and while you end up chatting with the manager, he might just let you throw down for free just because it’s at no risk to him.
I know you might be thinking you’re being taken advantage of, but play on it. Get whoever is with you to snap some photos of you playing. Use them as press on how you played at the beach in Europe. You might also turn his place from sombre to slammed, and the right people might notice.
In Ibiza, the bigger name promoters will go to the smaller spots to sell tickets to their bigger events and give flyers. So imagine if one of them sees you setting a small cafe on fire (in a figurative sense). He might just invite you to open his night or play a smaller room. I’m serious. This can happen.
5. Fix your sound
Dance music isn’t completely universal everywhere. Just because your own town might go crazy for Skrillex, Afrojack, and David Guetta doesn’t mean the city you visit will.
When I played in Slovakia, I came in and tried some darker shades of electro house, and that went over “ok”. I tried playing some bumpin' jazzy smooth Chicago style house, and the crowd did not like it. Regardless that I was marketed as this DJ from Chicago (the birthplace of house music), the crowd had their own set taste in Slovakia, and that was tech house with an industrial flair. Thankfully I managed to salvage things with music I had brought, and even hit them with a few old school Summer of Love anthems they went crazy for.
So listen to DJ sets from the local DJs in the place you’re visiting. Study their sound, look at their tracklists, and get a good feel of what that scene is into. Many DJs travel the world on tour, but often you’ll see in interviews how they tailor many sets to the sound in that city. I’ll never forget Derrick Carter speaking of how in many European cities he won’t be playing the same music he would play in Chicago. My own experience in Slovakia showed me that as well. Be prepared, because as they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression.
6. While you're there, market yourself
Let’s say a club did book you for a weeknight on your trip. Don’t just show up and play. Use the night as a means to market your brand and collect material to use in your press kit.?? Have someone take photos of you playing. Try to get a good “DJ shot” so you can show how you rocked it in a foreign country. Keep them not only for press photos, but also post them on social media to boost your own popularity back home. People who nay-say you at home will turn around and think of you differently if you’re getting to play abroad.
If you can, try to record your set, or jot down your playlist and record the set again back home. Post it as “Live from ______”. Even if it wasn’t the actual live set, no one will know, and thus you can use that to push your brand.
A big tip is to bring a “leave behind” of sorts. A “leave behind” is something you can give out to people. Merchandise, or something like that. Press up 50 or 100 CDs of a mix you think they would like and give it out. Make sure your web information is on there. If not CDs, then try cards or decals with a web address and/or QR code to your site or demo mix. If you produce, toss some promos on a special page and send people to that page, making them think you gave them something exclusive.
I’ve learned from many travelling DJs that promoter and/or managers will love that you gave their patrons a freebie, and it might lead you to more bookings down the road. Even if you don’t land yourself a gig anywhere, plaster those decals around that city or leave your demo CDs on top of newspaper boxes or at cafes for pretty waitresses. I tried this in Greece and saw a lot of new traffic to my website from this.
Remember, the big thing is that it’s perfectly possible to play abroad if the expenses of flight and hotel are not in the picture for a promoter. So take a chance, do the work, and you could be bragging to your friends how you got to play in Europe, Asia, South America... or at the very least in another state.
Have you landed yourself a gig overseas using any of these methods? We'd love to hear your stories in the comments.