6 Steps To Your Dream DJ Gig Abroad

DJing abroad

Itching to play away? It’s not as hard as you think, and the rewards can be substantial if you do it right.

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.

Fuse website

Get on the web! This club looks like a likely candidate for our fictitious trip to Belgium…

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.

DJ booth beach bar

Beach bar with an empty DJ booth? Blagging your way onto the decks in these circumstances is often easy.

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.

DJing abroad

Make sure you get photos, as proof of gigs overseas looks great on your DJ website and in your press pack… as well as for bragging rights with your friends!

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…

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.

Comments

  1. Juan Carlos says:

    Thanks for this. This was a really nice article. It inspired me a lot, im actually right now on vacation in europe and i really never thought of doing this. Im gona try to get myself into a gig right now in the time i have left here. Thanks!

  2. Good points here.. got me thinking about where and how I am gonna travel this summer :)

  3. I did like in #4. Ten years ago I went to Ibiza on holiday. I brought with me a selection of cd’s and my headphones.
    I never got the peakhour at Amnesia but 3 gigs at small clubs/bars in San Antonio (free drinks, no pay).
    No big deal realy, but this landed me a wellpaid resident job in Norway for starters.
    Working abroad always looks good in the CV and Ibiza outrules just about everything else ;-)

  4. I can vouch for this method… In November 2005 I left Manchester where I’d been DJing semi regularly for the last 5 years and went to Oz on a working holiday visa while I was still young enough to fit the criteria at the time… Where most people would take a lot of stuff for a year plus abroad, I packed a few cd’s, headphones, my Kaoss pad 2, scratch cartridges, 12kg of vinyl as hand luggage, and the obligatory DJ combat print clothing filled the rest of my suitcase. This was just before myspace and later facebook became the norm for self promotion, so although I’d had a quite a few good gigs in England, I was a total unknown anywhere else.
    When I landed in Sydney I checked into a youth hostel and went exploring for record shops, clubs etc to get an idea of the scene and who was playing at what venue over the next month and targeted anywhere that booked anyone I’d heard of..
    First thing I spotted was that Bournemouth trance club brand Slinky were throwing a night that very evening, I turned up at the start, explained who I was and that I’d just got off the plane, showed them my vinyl and kaoss pad to show I was serious, and blagged a gig at their after party at 3am… while out drinking at the Burdekin Hotel with my one Aussie friend DJ Dirty D (who had lived with me briefly in Manchester – in which time I’d turned him from a prog house producer into a Breakbeat lover and was now playing breaks there with a still Unknown DJ Dopamine…) another DJ spotted my record bag and blagged me into playing there on the spot as it was his friends birthday and they wanted to get smashed. I was a bit nervous as I really wasn’t sure what the dancefloor’s reaction would be to my bag of breaks techno electro wierdness but it went down a storm and I got a shedload of free drinks and business cards passed to me in case I needed showing around the city… so at 3am I made my way slightly inebriated to the club where Slinky’s after party was, explained to the doormen and staff I was there to play and got behind the decks… about 45 minutes later while the dancefloor was bouncing I was kicked off by the promoters as they really had no Idea who I was (the slinky crew hadn’t explained to them at all and hadn’t even arrived from their gig yet) but thanked me for the tunes anyway and gave me a load of free drinks tickets….
    All this within 24 hrs of getting off a plane on the other side of the planet, just by having a positive attitude and a massive bag of vinyl on my shoulder.
    This technique served me well all over Australia, By walking into a record +dj gear shop in the city centre, and immediately trekking out to Liechardt for interviews that had already begun.. I ended up Working as a DJ instructor at Lightsounds DJ Academy, set up sound systems for parties all over sydney including one for Z-Trip, represented American Audio DJ products at the Entech trade show, and met a shedload of cool people at many parties I got into for free, as I usually dragged a load of travellers along to gigs with me…
    Winning….
    I also set up a myspace acount and used local forums such as In The Mix.au where the local clubbheadz went on to waffle, share and download mixes, before I’d left I’d made sure I had 5 solid mixes covering the styles I played on a memory stick in my phone, by uploading and posting links to these I got invited to producer meetups, spent a few weekends in a recording studio making some beats with a few people, and bumped into Bass kleph, Poxymusic and Nick Thayer there…. (you find these mixes on my soundcloud page if you hunt for them)
    Same in Cairns…. walked around until I heard Psytrance blasting from inside a Didgeridoo shop, went for a chat and was immediately hooked up with intro’s to the local scenes players and promoters, so when I wasn’t out on a boat doing an unpaid Internship with a Scuba Diving company, I was earning a little cash by spinning some tunes at a festival in a botanical gardens with the dancefloor inside a giant concrete fuel storage Tank from world war 2, as well as local venues Soho’s and The Inbox…
    I ended up Djing off Ipods at a Wedding in Fiji for a couple who had been scuba diving with the company I was working for there, and ended up in nearly all their official wedding photos…
    It sounds like I’m blowing my own trumpet here I know, but these are just the tip of the iceberg of the crazy parties I’ve ended up playing at just by having a bag of vinyl on my shoulder. If someone had told me it would work out that way, I wouldn’t have actually believed them.
    It wasn’t easy by a long shot, and I still had to get crappy jobs like removals to pay the rent at times, and if I could go back in time, I’d love to have jumped on the myspace bandwagon earlier and lined up some gigs in advance, and definitely things would be easier on the shoulders if I had todays digital dj tech instead of Plastic slabs, but at least it gave me some experience for the removalist work, and people take you seriously if you’re prepared to lug that much music around the planet..
    Apply the same mentality with the techniques in the article and I’m sure it can take you much further than I got…

  5. “Walked around until I heard Psytrance blasting from inside a Didgeridoo shop..” love it! :)

    to add my t’penny’s worth: It can be worth having an ultra-portable DJ set-up you can take with you, then you can dJ anywhere with a sound system, whether they’ve got decks or not.

    Also, the “resident swap” thing has done me proud many a time. It was through that method that I got to play in Privilege, the biggest club in the world, in Ibiza – although they actually paid all of my expenses for that one (lucky me). It also got me playing at the iconic Gardening Club in Covent Garden, and in U2’s Kitchen in Dublin.

    • One thing to add is also to find out what is being used if you get an abroad gig.

      When I played in Slovakia, the guy who brought me in had his laptop with Virtual DJ on it…so I was simply asked to bring music, nothing more.

      Some of you might be adamant on using your own stuff, which is fine, but other times it’s just easier to show up with music and leave your expensive stuff safe at home.

      • yeah, I wish I had a vci 100 or something back then, we had a hercules and virtual dj in the dj academy but it wasnt as stable on their crappy pc so it wasnt an option for live gigs, but good to get experience with the fledgling versions of modern dj tech. Now I can dj with just my laptop and akai mpd32, so future adventures should be easier..
        Another great trick was hitting all the hostels and internet cafe’s with CDs, I got free internet access cd burning and cds for nothing in exchange for music, and a job handing out flyers to travellers… as a bonus the shop got comp passes to Home and other clubs so free nights out… I also DJ’d at a rooftop party in a hostel in kings cross and the police showed up and demanded I turn the tiny system off on my first record, I politely asked what the local environmental health guidelines were regarding decibel levels on a weekend afternoon in the centre of kings cross one of the loudest bits of sydney guaranteed for a private party, and produced my sony ericsson p910i smartphone with an av meter and sound analyser app I downloaded…. they were so confused as to what to do they asked for my name and date of birth and left with stern faces, the party went on regardless, but secretly I was bricking it the whole time that they’d confiscate the gear borrowed from the dj academy… led to a few more gigs though so was worth it ;)
        moral? always know how local legislation works before you agree to do a free party in the arse end of nowhere and be prepared to stick up for yourself in the right way without winding police up too much.

    • Privilege, now I feel envy! Been there twice, spectacular , but the beer cost like 8€ and they just got Becks :-(

    • lukejamestaylor says:

      Easy Phil my good friend Steve used to spin with the now legendary Andy Weatherall in the Gardening Club back in the early 90’s.

      I used to love that place

  6. Thanks a ton, D-Jam! This is especially helpful since I will be studying abroad in Madrid this summer, and have been building up experience and branding in hopes of playing at various venues there. Cheers!

  7. Love this article. Very inspiring! Now I just need to get the money for a vacation.

  8. My experience abroad has been a little different… I’m originally from Washington DC/MD, and have played various events/club nights for the past five years in that area. I got stationed in the middle east (Doha, Qatar) where there are about 5-6 good-sized clubs, all of which mainly cater to commercial house music. That’s fine… I’m mainly r&b and hip hop, but I did market myself and eventually got put on for some special r&b/hip hop related events and nights, but not as well as I should have.

    The thing I’ve found is that a lot of places, especially like Doha, have resident DJs who are not willing to give their nights up for hardly anything. And countries like this don’t really work with a promoter… You’re usually dealing with the Hotel/Bar manager (as all the big clubs here are within large hotels), and they’re so accustomed to their resident DJs that they aren’t willing to take a chance. I’ve found maybe ONE guy out of several over here who expressed interest in working with me on a back-to-back basis, to bring in a fresh face, to give people something different. The rest get their rocks off of seeing their names HUGE on flyers of the biggest clubs every single week.

    It’s frustrating, to say the least… but I guess it’s worth it when you finally do get your chance to shine, even for a few nights, in another country.

    • lukejamestaylor says:

      Yes depending on where you are the whole system could be different.

      In London, New York and Paris it’s all about promoters and underground venues or big corporate clubs and nothing whatsoever to do with hotels whereas in Bangkok it’s completely different.

      Sure there are independent nightclubs and promoters but they hold only a very small share of the nightlife market and none of them pay very well.

      Just like in places like Dubai the vast bulk of venues in Bkk are clubs and rooftop bars within hotels.

      So you are probably going to be dealing with an F&B manager who hasn’t got a clue about music and nightlife.

      It’s good in someways as once you get a spot you are much more likely to be signed to a contract and have the stability of a normal job with a substantial salary etc but they will expect you to spin for 6 hours or more every night.

      Also you will now officially be a hotel employee so no more crates of beer behind the decks and chasing sexy women and make sure you clock in on time or you could find your wages docked!!!!!

  9. Great read! Very motivating…

  10. Great post D-Jam! Penance’s post seemed like an article itself! Also a great read.

    Im going to Trinidad & Tobago for a month at the beginning of April, I’d love to spin down there but I don’t play soca,calypso, or anything they play down there.

    What should I do?

  11. José Reach says:

    Been DJing for a year and a few months right now, and this stills seems like a far away future thing for me.

    This learns me every time that DJing is not only about playing music, it also has a very social aspect. Something I still find this quite a challenge every time, since I have never been thought the skills of promoting and applying.

  12. What is “Blagged”?

  13. Great tips – all have worked for me! Before my honeymoon to Croatia in 2009, I contacted East West Nightclub in Dubrovnik and Splash Bar in Hvar, I secured a gig at both venues. East West was supposed to be an opening gig, but I ended up playing the whole night. In Hvar, the gig went so well, that I ended up getting booked to play at Banj les Bans later in the week.
    I have also been lucky enough to play in Ibiza at Es Vive. I had stayed at the hotel the prior year and left my demos with some people there, made sure that I got their contact info as well – just stayed in touch and played there in 2010.

  14. lukejamestaylor says:

    Nice article, I got my gigs the long way by actually moving abroad and slowly but surely building up a name for myself.

    Although I have had bookings where promoters have paid for flights and hotels but they were always short haul budget flights with barely much more than pocket money for the gig.

    In fact in this economy there really aren’t many promoters willing to pay for long haul flights even for the big names so for us mere mortals you can forget about it.

    The biggest pitfall about playing abroad is how tastes differ from location to location. Luckily we now have the internet so you can be prepared.

    Also not all but certainly many big name DJs are prepared to compromise their style to fit their respective audience.

    I saw Riva Starr in Phuket start doing his thing but when he realised the crowd was a commercial crowd out came the Benny Benassi, Fedde LeGrande and David Guetta. The same applied to hip hop legend DJ Cash Money. He was amazing for half an hour juggling everything from old Prince Buster tracks back to back with Dead Prez and EPMD but for the rest of his set he played nothing but Lil Wayne, Akon and other MTV pop hop.

    I’m split on this issue because I think big name DJs are in the unique position to get away with educating the crowd without emptying the club.

    Smalltime DJs sometimes have to compromise our style but the same needn’t apply to the big time charlie potatoes.

    When I saw Louis Vega, Kenny Dope (on different occasions) and Karizma they stuck to doing what they do and despite playing to a musically incurious commercial crowd they raised the roof.

  15. Great article, everything you said makes perfect sense. I will try everything you recommended b4 I travel back to the country of my birth, Russia, and if it doesn’t work I will try everything you recommend doing while I’m there.

  16. So, any of you guys have put in practice the above and had some success? ‘d love to hear some of your experiences

    cheers

  17. DJ TonyOK says:

    I will be traveling to Thailand in May 2012 to Bangkok, Phuket, & Ko Samui. I am look into playing small venues or Hotels if anyone knows of any let me know. Thanks

  18. This is some good advice to start off!
    Gonna try these tips out!

    Thanks! ^.^

  19. Interesting read I did it the long way of moving abroad to Spain (Murcia) and shipping all my gear over then looking for gigs before finally getting a few residencies here but very difficult in the winter as it’s a tourist area so is mainly busy during the summer so looking for gigs again Spain mainly, U.K. or worldwide if that very generous offer of flights and accommodation paid for ever comes up.
    So if anyone know of any get in touch.

    Thanks

  20. I’ve been thinking for a while about going down this route – read the antidotes above – gonna encourage me even more!!!

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