Getting DJ Bookings: How It Really Works

Dj sleeves

Nobody owes you a break, however talented you think you are. So unless you’ve got a smash dance hit on your hands or you own a nightclub, the best way to get booked is to roll your sleeves up and get involved… Pic: Dino Gomez

My DJ friends and I are very lucky to play out, sometimes several times per week, occasionally having the good fortune to opening up for some noteworthy DJs. But while we may between us have at least some level of respectable artistic talent, that’s not main reason that we get these gigs.

It’s more that nowadays I am lucky enough to be in a group of people who book DJs to play at events in the area where I live, making it easier to get many of the gigs I want playing alongside these guys. But it wasn’t always like that for us, not by any means.

So as someone who knows this from both sides (as a DJ and, nowadays, a promoter), I am pretty confident that I’m about to speak for most other people who book DJs.

In the following article, I offer up some hard truths for up-and-coming DJs that will hopefully explain why you don’t get any response when you drop mixtapes off, and guide you down the true path to getting the gigs you want.

Accept this: Talent alone is not enough
Allow me to start with a DJ booking request I received recently, from a local DJ wanting to be booked based on their talent alone. His email was outright aggressive, complaining that we had not hired him for his talent and skill after having been sent so many emails by him! But the hard truth is that talent and talent alone is not enough. As once said by US President Calvin Coolidge:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence, determination and hard work alone makes the difference.”

Folks, it comes down to simple economics; if you have all the ability and talent in the world, however you can’t persuade at least a half dozen or so friends to support you during a set, you’re not going to get booked by us (or likely anyone for that matter). On the flipside, if you can just get your way through a DJ set and sound at least a little fun while not mashing things up too bad in front of 100 of your supporters, then congratulations: consider yourself a career DJ! (I’m not bragging here, by the way: I’m still working on my 100…)

The three ways of getting booked…

You see, there are basically three ways to get booked.

  1. The first is to produce tracks, get Beatport hits, and get DJ bookings off the success of those tracks. Hard, but if you’re a genuinely talented producer, possible
  2. The second is to be the person that everyone wants to hang out with to the point where you have the ability to absolutely fill any place with your friends, and your friends’ friends who are drinkers and who support you. Bums on seats equal bookings, Again, in all honesty, hard: popularity is a fickle mistress and most of us are somewhat limited by our social abilities, looks, flair and so on
  3. The third? Create something of value based on who you are as an aspiring and inspiring DJ and human being

Now number three might sound a bit idealistic, but really it isn’t. Nonetheless it only be accomplished when you are “in the spirit” of doing things – or in layman’s terms, doing it “just for the fun of it”. You’re in the trenches when you’re working on this level, yet this is really the way most of us have to do it.

Why you need to “do it for the fun of it”…
Let’s define it further with a question. You want a DJ booking, yeah? So what are you doing to enhance the electronic dance music business in your local area to make it better for everyone involved? For example, when it comes to sniffing out someone who shows any interest in electronic dance music, I am like a lion stalking its prey during a drought-wrenched summer day on the African plains. I latch on and don’t let go… just kidding (sort of).

But seriously, I take whatever steps necessary to invite my new friend to an event that will have the type of music that I think he or she will like the most. Maybe I get an email address, or we link up on Facebook, or perhaps we swap phone numbers (whoops you’re done for now, look out for those 2am after-party texts!). Then I will politely and diplomatically follow up and get them to an event. It does not have to be one I’m playing at: maybe a buddy is playing or a buddy’s girlfriend is spinning and I invite them to that.

Peer pressure

A bit of peer pressure can be a good thing – if you’re doing it for the right reasons, of course…

We’re in the business of fun, it’s so easy and it’s not like you are selling them a car. You can just say, “Hey I think you might like the type of stuff we get into… we play really amazing music that is wickedly sick and we all get wasted, dance around all night, and say stupid stuff.”

They are either going to say “hey I’m in!”, or they are going to look at you like you are crazy and run! If they accept, I introduce them to friends, show them the DJ booth, introduce them to who is running the night and take time to get to know each other more. At the end of it all maybe we have a new best friend who comes to our parties and further supports our scene, as well as creating further demand for DJs.

What I am saying is that this is your business, so grow it! Be an ambassador to your passion. Do this everyday with everyone you meet and you will build your dance music empire. If you are not doing this already then I can assure you that unless you’re a talented producer or a popularity king or queen, you will never get a solid booking. You should either quit now or redefine what DJing is to you and change your habits.

Agreed, this continual open awareness of bringing new people in and non-stop scene promoting to all these strangers is related to the popularity method as described above, but you’re promoting your scene instead, and wonderful things start happening when we’re passionate about something we love. Becoming an ambassador and promoting your sound to the world around you will stoke the fire inside you that will attract and draw you to what it is you really want… lots of gigs!

How to make a difference from the outside
Now, you may ask: how do you enhance an already existing dance music scene when you are on the outside trying to get in? Easy – just look around! There is nothing at any one point in time that cannot be improved. For instance, we started our website here in Austin, Texas (www.ElectricAvenueATX.com) as a solution to not knowing about everything that is happening in the Austin dance music community. This is just an example: Yes you could create a website, but you could also start a blog, create an online photo album – whatever.

Just ask yourself a few questions. What business are you in now? What are you learning at college that can be applied to the music business / scene / community you want in on? For instance:

  • Can you design flyers? A good flyer is always worth a DJ slot at a party
  • Maybe you have a friend with a birthday coming up: You can bring her and 20 of her friends to someone else’s event next month to celebrate. You can then try and get a slot playing!
  • Perhaps you work at a sandwich shop and you can get food donated to the next one of those boat parties you’ve fancied playing at? Make it happen! That’s worth a time slot
  • Maybe you paid for a boat party ticket, but chose to get there early to help load in and out. OK, you’re playing on the next one…
  • Why not try texting the events of the promoters you want to play for to all your friends and go to as many of their events as you can yourself. People notice this stuff

The truth behind why most aspiring DJs play as little as they do
The above is how it happens, DJs, not “hey hook me up! I’m really good”. That’s nearly always not enough. Proactive people get the results, not those who think they deserve them on talent alone.

Roadie

Help a local promoter to set up his next party, and who knows, you may be warming up as the DJ next time…

This is the truth behind why most aspiring DJs play as much or as little as they do. You will play as much as you deserve to play and the quality of the gigs you play will be equal to the energy, love, and commitment you put in to your scene and career.

If you are expecting or feel like you deserve gigs from promoters whose events you never go to because you think your talent will speak for itself, I unfortunately bear disappointing news: you are not going to be playing out.

So go give a little: for each unit of energy you give to others you will get 10 times back. Keep giving, supporting, and promoting until you find yourself where you want to be.

• Christian is a DJ from Austin, Texas, who is also involved in the www.ElectricAvenueATX.com website. Here’s his Facebook Page.

How has persistence worked for you? How has making yourself useful to others come back to get you what you want? I’d love for you to share your thoughts on “getting on by getting involved” in the comments below!

Comments

  1. no(spin) says:

    Really nice article, very precise and strikes to the point. Truth is you are right !

    • Great article but here is my dilemma, what if you live in a place that only has a narrow minded dance scene that quite frankly has no relation to your dj sound. İts the narrow mindedness of promoters that fail to book djs on talent. İ have djed to almost empty dancefloors for a while now becuase of the nature of the demographic of where i live. İts a reality but İ still love it and no promoter books me because İ dont play the sound people want to hear which is genereic and commercial.İd rather dj to 20 people who love it rather than sell myself. İn otherwords İ have modified my expectations and ambitions.

  2. This applies to all things in life. Nice!

  3. Great article. I’ve certainly been wondering about how to get more gigs since I’m going to be studying in a city next year.

    So Christian, a good place to start would basically be stalking promoters and helping them out? Would it make sense to give them a mixtape or two after doing a favor for them?

    • Yes Justin, around 15 years ago I would seek out promoters and ask them for their event flyers to pass out then after their gig I’d stick around to help clean up…sure enough I was booked for some pretty decent nights shortly there after :)

  4. Foldabledisco says:

    While i’m reading this i realize that I’m damn lucky with my twice per month spot at a local bar. I rolled in to that by playing for someones birthday. I had to bite through playing empty (dance)floors to get to this point (that’s also persistence right?). I organize a few gigs in other venues once and a while with some friends. I’m playing at a large festival in september because of this effort.
    What’s important: Be loyal, be on time, be flexible and know your gear/music. have fun, that’s why you started in the first place but this is mentioned in the article. Don’t try to sound like somebody else, develop your own sonic fingerprint.
    I have a daytime job, so for me it’s the perfect relaxation from a busy week.

  5. I agree, the DJ scene works pretty much like this nowadays. However, let me write some words to the promoters… Is this how you want the scene to develop in the future? Don’t you think that talent should open doors too? I am not saying that other things are not important, but what’s the problem if a DJ does not have social skills or he/she is not interested to enhance these social skills? When I am dancing, the biggest part of me is not interested on what is around me, I feel good just by closing my eyes and enjoying good music while my body speaks for itself. I can also pick up good energy from people around me, but that’s not the main point of my personal amusement. I understand everybody is different in some way. When I was 20-25 years old, I used to have between 50 and 70 people on my birthday party, oh yeah…but today, I rather spend my time with smaller group of friends. I have changed somehow, I have become less social (mainly due to work / family / time constraints), but I still have my passion for music and I still would like one day to start my DJ career. I hope when time arrives, that promoters will give a chance to people like me, talented (I am sure) but not willing to do any crazy social networking just to embrace the capitalism reality. Promoters have a word. They can drive the scene to a better place, where DJ’s are booked more for their talent and less for their social skills. In time, talent will bring revenue too and I am sure a lot more revenue in comparison with social DJ’s…it’s just a matter of patience, I think. Every kind of DJ should be welcomed in the DJ booth, Cheers!

    • I agree with you, but the problem is too many promoters think short-term. Most of that is because promoters generally never seem to last more than 5-10 years at the most. In general you’ll see companies open and be dead in a year.

      When I wrote those guides, I wanted to point out how much promoters generally pay a DJ now to bring him/her a crowd, not for any “talent” they might have. As DJs we can hate this, but as a businessperson, I can understand it. They want ROI.

      I agree with the article in the most part, but I would like to point in my eyes it generally speaks to the underground club music scene. If you like or are willing to play Top-40 well, then you can more easily score gigs in those spots because often the promoter takes on the role of bringing a crowd and only wants a DJ who will please that crowd.

      So if you can come in and play great sets of pop music, you can get in on talent alone. If you dream of playing the 20 new techno tunes you just bought on Beatport, then read and follow the article. I also suggest when a promoter in those mainstream spots asks what you play, reply with “I play to the crowd”. It shows you don’t adhere to genres, but will work to please the crowd.

      I’d also like to add that I’ve seen guys land great local gigs through a blog or podcast they regularly, religiously, and passionately maintain. It goes back to Christian’s point #3…especially if you don’t want to produce or promote events.

      In the end, you have to bring value to the gig, and “talent” now is something too many have. You can blend well? So can 50 other guys in your town. You pick great music? The 50 other guys believe that too.

      You have 1000 loyal followers on your podcast? Sold.

      You have a successful blog and are now guest writing for Mixmag and the local entertainment column? Sold.

      You managed to actually get 10,000 fans on a Facebook PAGE, 2000 of them are local to your area? Sold.

      You can beatmatch manually, you passionately search for new music all the time, and work to be the best DJ you can…but have no fans/following? Not good enough.

      This is why I stopped gigging…but I won’t sit here believing this will change. It’s why I tell many of you to promote events and you’ll understand why promoters think the way they do.

  6. Solid article! Thanks for writing and posting.

  7. Hey Christian,

    What advice would you give someone who is not in college (graduated years ago) and is transitioning out of one career to the music industry? Right now I am a full time worker and its kind of hard spreading the word around when I’m stuck in a cubicle. I just started getting into the EDM DJ scene recently and feel like I can do more. Just need to get my feet wet first and take it from there. Any suggestions?

    • Try doing a blog or podcast like I suggested.

      Or learn to produce and produce/remix music.

      Learn all you can about online and social media marketing. Believe me, if you can bring results to a promoter without leaving your desk, he/she will hook you up.

      I honestly think the days of handing out flyers has died. Everyone is online now.

  8. Mike Lawrence says:

    amazing article…and the quote was right on point!

  9. richie bula says:

    This is pretty much exactly why I left the clubs behind about 12 years ago for I really am not a social butterfly or like kissing backside and did well being mobile for a number of years before focusing more on my engineering career.

    I went to the BPM show last year (both days) and started to get a bit bored having seen everything and thought I would sit in on a couple of seminars…. I must say I was a bit disappointed with the message being sent to rooms full of up and coming young guys, when in pretty much all of them i general message was that social networking is key and there is no point being good if you got no friends lol. It was pretty shocking and I mean sure Talent alone wont get you everywhere but surely must take some sort of priority like it did in the old days. We all don’t start this art just to increase our friends list after all!

    • Our writer is making the point that there’s a difference between being an evangelist for something you really believe in, and playing the popularity game though. I think that’s his main message.

  10. Another great way is just to become a promoter yourself. Half of my time spent preparing for DJ gigs is spent inviting people for OTHER promoters anyways…why not take them out of the picture and run the show yourself. Of course don’t do this just to make yourself the headliner every time.

  11. Dirty Hippy says:

    This is a great read. Even before starting to DJ, my favorite part of the party scene was getting other people involved. I partied for like 5 years without paying by always offering to help set up and offering to take flyers to other cities. I lived in Kentucky with no scene, but went to Indy, Cincy, Pittsburg, Cleveland, Nashville, or wherever every weekend.

    Building relationships is sooooo important. It could mean gigs or simply having a club owner tell you to sleep on a VIP couch and make sure the door locks when you leave cause you are too wasted to drive home (BTW this has happened to me a couple times). Just spending a little while after the event chatting with promoters and picking up beer bottles will often get you a hand stamp and a bro-hug (you know, hand shake with that thump on the back) the next weekend.

    The other great part about these relationships is learning. What made the club fill up or whay is there 25 people instead of 200? How did the resident DJ that plays every weekend get the crowd so fired up? There are a plethora of things you can learn just from being a little involved.

  12. Alex TC says:

    Contacts. You only advance in your professional life- whatever that is – thru a network of contacts. I run a construction & architecture firm and there´s a saying that holds true in our métier: have contacts, get contracts. No wonder the same happens with my DJing.

    Because there´s more abundance of talent than willingness to sweat and work to improve limiters, those taking chances and coming out are better prepared to move on with their careers. And lets not forget that talent is one thing, genius is another and much, much rarer.

    It is easier for a “social type” DJ to develop musical and tecnical skills than the other way around. If a DJ really loves music and is passionate about playing for crowds, once he/she starts getting gigs everything falls into place like magic. That fact gets many “gig-less” (young and old) “talented” DJs pissed but that´s life. Better be able to laugh at yourself than think too much of your talents. Mental toughness, confidence and persistence.

    If you have talent but is a recluse waiting for gigs to fall on your lap, everyone will smile to you and say nice words but you won´t get gigs. If you keep knocking out mixtapes but don´t show face at clubs and places, people might even love your music and wonder at your mixing but they´ll only hear you on the car or at home, never on the dancefloor.

  13. berry good says:

    Sounds like I need to get my self an agent :P

  14. Alex TC says:

    I forgot to tell a story that goes along the lines of what Christian says in his article…

    A few years after I resumed my DJing (early 2000´s) I started writing music and equipment reviews and articles for a local DJ mag. I love writing and I love dance music, it was only logical to give it a try.

    Then I saw on iDJ UK a special session about international scene, and got in touch with them offering to send news from here. Like that, cheeky, straight faced. I was really just trying to find a way to “spread the word” about our scene but that got me pretty far I must confess.

    I was very glad when they said “yes and welcome” (it´s worth mention that Phil was also a colaborator at the same time!). They even paid for it!

    I started getting releases, sent promos, lots of contacts from everywhere, not just here. I still do, even though I quit contributing for any DJ mag long ago. And tell you, it´s one thing when you give out a mixtape, but when someone REQUESTS your mixtape you know you´re going places. Each request turns into a booking, just like that.

    Thanks to that and above all to the right contacts I developed here I landed residencies, high-end parties all over the country, the best clubs, warming up for big names (Layo&Bushwacka, Jorge Jaramillo, Audio Bullys and tens of others I don´t even care to remember now).

    Though I´m very technical and considered by friends a reference in music taste and knowledge, I can´t honestly say I´m an awesome DJ, certainly not to the point of reaching that far on pure talent alone. Maybe passion, but not talent much less genius. I don´t even produce!

    So, nothing beats being cheeky, confident, and outgoing. Find some talent you have other than mixing perfect sets and mixitapes and put to good use. Take risks, focus on yourself and your goals, persist and eventually you´ll get there. That journey is what matters.

  15. Nicko D. says:

    What advise would you give to those of us that play music that is not popular in our local area?

    For example, I play mostly vocal trance because I enjoy it. To me, there’s no point doing a set for a club if at the end of the night I really didn’t enjoy it. What is popular here is top 40 mashups and latin music and while I can tolerate both I just don’t think I’d be happy with myself if I was playing something that’s not what I play in my car while driving.

    So would you apply the same philosophy of evangelizing your music in an area that promoters initially have no interest in your music? Or is this a tough luck situation and I should just move to Ibiza? :)

  16. I’ve been reading this website for months now and just found out you’re based in Austin…which is where I am. And oh yeah, good timing too since I’m throwing a show Thursday night @ Friends Bar on 6th. Shameless plug right, but this is exactly what your article is about today so come check out mah shizzzz!
    http://www.facebook.com/events/392075860841583/

  17. Persistence is key! I got my first DJ gig (back in 1995) and that was out of sheer persistence. I didn’t have any DJ expereince but I was young and eager to learn. I kept calling a certain mobile company that was looking for a DJ and I got a call back just because I wouldn’t quit leaving messages and calling them. I ended up getting the job, I got valuable training and I continue to DJ to this day. Producing your own tracks is important in todays DJ world. If you wish to seperate yourself from other DJ’s, try producing your own tracks/remixes or incorporate some live music to your sets. Being a percussionist, I sometimes bust out the Congas to my DJ sets. By doing that, I’m adding flare and something that’s unique – not too many DJ’s play live instruments while they spin. Great article. Cheers.

  18. Sad state of affairs,its like…Im looking for a new chef for a resturant doesnt have to be much good at cooking so long as he has a lot of friends.

    • That’s not what he’s saying, Tony. To use your analogy, he’s saying a chef who gets really involved in his local food scene, helps people to try foods they’ve never tried before, is an evangelist for the food culture in the town they live in and so on is more likely to do well than one who just tells a restaurant owner “I’m a great chef, give me a job”.

  19. I would take number 1 very very lightly. It gives the impression that producing a track and making it a ‘beatport hit’ is easy. I wouldn’t be so quick to include it in the top 3 ways to get booked list.

  20. When I think about it, my best paying DJ bookings / residencies have come about because I “know” the decision maker. The rest are a result of doing free auditions. I also did email / posted letters to about 25 clubs / bars in my area – got 2 responses back – 1 of which became an every 2nd week spot through the summer.

    I don’t consider myself a highly skilled DJ, but I’m having a great run since I began last November. I always treat the person who is hiring me as my best friend. I try to find out what it is they want & make it happen.

    I’ve got no problem bluntly asking “Are you happy with what I did?”

    It’s much easier to hold down a regular spot than find new ones all the time. If you’re scoring heaps of 1-offs’s that might indicate that that you’re promotion & networking are great, but you need to improve what you actually do in person in the night.

    • I think this is really good advice! I also am in the same boat with regards to knowing the right people. It’s like any other job: it’s who you know.

  21. StrictlyT says:

    My advice is find some like minded people who like to DJ – there is probably more than you expect amongst your friends and start your own little night for friends and friends of friends.

    We have been doing this in Manchester over the last 3 years and had a great time. It has been amazing how many people have DJ’d and wanted to DJ at our night, and we have had some fantastic parties with a great atmosphere.

    Sometimes hardly anyone has turned up because but we didnt care – we just love spinning tunes at each other. One of the better talented DJ’s has also been asked by someone who promotes for a big night in Manchester to send in a mix after seeing him at our party.

    Our parties are coming to an end now and we are working on something different and more specific in terms of music. I would honestly recommend doing this to anyone who is struggling to find a way. Not only do you get experience you also get to control what is happening :)

    Words of warning though – be careful about just inviting anyone you meet is a DJ – we had a couple of bad eggs over the years which didnt share the vision and were DJing solely for personal gain.

    Don’t get sucked in by people from claiming to talented it doesnt mean they play good music.

  22. Nice article. Talent alone doesn’t work. In my short amount of time being a DJ, I get more gigs than folks who have been doing it for over ten years. How I got in quickly? For years, folks knew me as a spoken-word artist. Not only that, I just happen to get along with people too. Speaking of words, I like this line you wrote: “For example, when it comes to sniffing out someone who shows any interest in electronic dance music, I am like a lion stalking its prey during a drought-wrenched summer day on the African plains.”

  23. Great article!!

  24. Great advice. I can dig it. Triple Dubb!!

  25. So true. In London, the scene is so big that it’s hard to get in, so getting into niche genres or vinyl only events is the future. It also keeps you away from repetitive mainstream playlists.

  26. The person who wrote this article is the reason why real talent can’t break into where it needs to be. That clique-ish attitude *smh*

  27. I really love all the help and advice you guys give. Me and my friend were thinking of trying to get booked for our school dances, or events, since we’re only 17

  28. How do you get to contact promoters? Do you contact them on like [email protected] and ask if you can help?
    I’m djing for a year now and I just don’t get how to go practical.
    I did a gig for a friend because he knew I was a DJ and wanted a free one and I loved it, so I literally can’t wait for another one.

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