Why You Need To Hustle To Get DJing Success

digital_dj

Nobody is going to tell you you're good enough, and nobody is going to offer you the gig you see in your head: You have to get out there and make it happen.

I'm always banging on about how you need to get gigs to really learn DJing - and unless you're one of those DJs who's happy messing around in your bedroom doing mixes for only yourself to hear, I stand right by that: No crowd, no deal. DJing is done in public. It's a two-way thing, and it can't be two way if it's only you there. Thing is, to get those gigs, you need to hustle - and many people aren't at all comfortable with that, especially beginners.

"I'm not good enough!" they say. Well sorry, I'm going to hit you with it: You'll never get good enough unless you get out of your comfort zone and land those gigs.

Luckily, you don't have to be an amazing DJ to start playing in public. The important thing is that you need to start. I'm going to tell you some of my own story, and then introduce you to two other DJs - Elliot and Peter - to show you exactly what I mean.

You'll never feel like you're ready...

About four years into my "club" DJing career, I was running my own club night, playing every Saturday to 500+ people. I was a fully professional DJ and promoter. I was paying the club hire fee, the doormen, the other DJs. I was making enough money to be buying my own house from what was left over. I was in touch with agents and booking big names, who were playing alongside me. Other times, when we had no big names playing, I would play the night either with my resident DJ partner or even on my own. Our crowd was loyal, and people often commented that the resident-only nights were better than the guest DJ nights!

So let's be honest - nobody could have said that I wasn't good enough. There I was, doing it, week in week out. The proof was there for all to see - I'd "made it". But actually, there was one voice telling me I was a fraud, that I wasn't a real DJ, that I should give it all up before really embarrassing myself.

My own.

The truth was, I didn't think I was good enough, I didn't think I was ready. I did feel like a fraud. And you know what? I've since learned that this is a perfectly normal, natural way to feel. The best artists feel like it. It's what gives you terrible nerves before performing, making you horrible to be around. It's what has you waking up at night, sweating and dreaming about empty dancefloors and people laughing at you. It unfortunately seems to come hand in hand with doing something creative for a living or for a hobby - whatever that may be.

And this happens whether you're a beginner or already a success.

I'd felt exactly the same way four years earlier, when I played my first faltering gig in a small local bar. (The night was called "Testarossa", and it was in a basement bar two doors up from Manchester's Hacienda club. These details never leave you.) That time, I was so nervous, I had my set list written out on a tiny card hidden from public view - a card I could hardly read because my hand shook so much for the whole hour I was DJing.

Don't be a martyr

But what's the alternative? What happens if you fail to fight the devil on your shoulder telling you you're not good enough? What happens if the weeks, months, years roll by and you don't hustle yourself a regular gig or two? Let me introduce you to Elliot (not his real name). Elliot was my brother's girlfriend's brother. He was a lovely guy, and also a real fan of early house music. (This is when it was, you know current house music. I've been doing this for 20 years!)

Elliot was a quiet guy, but he could talk to you for hours about samples, and synthesisers, and producers, and record labels. He has a meticulously organised record collection (I remember he used to number his vinyl and keep it in the order he'd bought it in, month by month). He was one of the few people I knew who had real Technics record decks (he'd saved for years). We all looked up to Elliot for his genuine passion for the music.

Bedroom DJ

If you're truly happy being a bedroom DJ, then nothing I have to say here applies to you, and I apologise for wasting your time. But if not, then this is how to make a change.

Sadly, Elliot never once to my knowledge played outside of his house.

"He's a great DJ, he just needs a break," people would say. "It's just that nobody wants to give him one." But breaks don't come to you. You have to go and find them. Some people are so purist they just can't bring themselves to engage with the real world, to meet it half-way, to get a dose of reality and to see where they might be able to fit in.

And who can blame them, really? It's hard out there. Nobody cares about your "brilliance". To get a go, you need to hustle. You need to see openings. You need to take a deep breath and begin to believe. You need to invent your reality. You need to project forward a bit, be a bit cocky.

Yeah sure, you may need to take gigs you're not completely comfortable with, but ultimately, you have to write your own story here. It's DJing, not a college course. There's no path for you to follow, nobody ticking your boxes as you complete each stage. To an extent, you have to believe your own hype. Elliot wouldn't see it, and he didn't get anywhere.

Let me ask you an uncomfortable question. Have you played a public gig yet? How long have you been DJing?

Repeat after me: I am not a charlatan!

Hang on, you may say. If I'm just beginning, surely to throw myself in front of an audience is wrong? Even if I can conquer the nerves, doesn't that make me a charlatan? Trust me, you're not a charlatan. It's time to meet our second DJ, Peter. He was. And I'm pretty sure you won't see yourself in him.

I actually knew Peter around the same time as I knew Elliot, right at the beginning of my DJ career. My friend's dad owned a successful company. His business partner had a son, and that's who Peter was (again, I'm not using his real name). Peter was used to getting what he wanted. Buying what he wanted, actually. And he cottoned on to the whole DJ thing.

At the time, I was hustling, DJing four or five times a week in local bars, inventing nights for myself and selling the ideas to hapless bar managers. (I used to play a chill-out gig on a Sunday in one bar, funky house on a Tuesday in another, I used to warm up for a local club night in an adjacent bar on a Saturday - it was gigs, gigs, gigs at any cost!)

I remember as if it were yesterday a conversation I had with Peter, a conversation that made me sad and angry. "I don't know why you're bothering with all of these bar gigs," he said, pityingly. "I'm going to do some DJing. It looks cool. I'm going to get myself DJing in a real big club." And you know what? He did it. He hustled a promoter who had hired a big club for a night, and managed to spend some of his dad's money and grab the back room for himself. He put on a party.

Empty dancefloor

I honestly don’t know how Peter’s party went, but he went very quiet when I asked him about his DJing career after that.

The thing was, though, Peter couldn't DJ, and really had no intention of putting any effort in to learn. He had zero respect for other DJs. He thought it was easy, that anyone could do it. He taught himself to put records on, bought the music everyone else was listening to, and told the world he was a DJ. Probably the only person who thought he was amazing was Peter himself.

I honestly don't know how Peter's party went, but he went very quiet when I asked him about his DJing career after that, and I never heard of him playing anywhere else. I suspect he lost some cash and didn't make many friends. I do know he ended up working for his dad as a living. I'm sure he was quite happy, but point is he didn't make it as a DJ.

Why it's OK to be a hustler

Peter failed because he was all hype, no practice. Elliot failed because he couldn't cope with getting himself out into the real world, couldn't handle the idea of things not going right for him if he tried. But the truth is, as long as you're in this for the right reasons, there's absolutely nothing wrong with hustling a bit, and there's nothing wrong with failing every now and then either, because that's how you get better.

I DJed scores of awful gigs to empty venues on my way to success. But I've always liked to look at it this way: Even if you have a howler of a night in public, at least you get to practise on a decent sound system. At least you're on the field. At least you've turned up. If you're just starting out, my single biggest piece of advice is this: Don't worry that your DJing isn't good enough, worry that it's not happening enough.

And we've already established where DJing happens: In public. You need gigs in order to improve. And you need to hustle to get them. So while the little voice will always tell you you're a fraud, let me tell you something else that also always seems to happen when you hustle yourself a real gig: Inspiration arrives. Your practice sessions seem to get a bit more focused. Things start to come together musically. You start to feel just a little bit like a DJ. You get better.

Ultimately, the only hustlers who get tripped up are the Peters of this world, and we've already seen you're not one of those. And if you don't hustle? Well, you may turn out like Elliot. And I'd hate for that to happen to you.

• The Digital DJ Tips online video course How To Digital DJ Fast is designed to teach you the right skills to get you from complete beginner to DJing in public in just four weeks. Read how it's worked for other people here.

How have you managed to hustle your way into DJ gigs? What's worked for you? Did you wish you'd done it earlier? Are you still building up the skills or nerve to bag yourself that first public show? Please share your stories in the comments.

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Comments

  1. Agreed, be the best hustler, because there are TONS of other DJ’s out there that are hungry for gigs (that may not even have any idea whats going on).

    And for the show nerves, just think “I’m no-where near as bad as Paris Hilton” and those nerves should be soothed! If you are that bad, just make sure you have a DJ buddy on the side of the stage to adjust your gains.

    Phil you nailed the commentary here. ;)

    • “And for the show nerves, just think “I’m no-where near as bad as Paris Hilton” and those nerves should be soothed!” – wish I’d thought of that line, DNA!

    • Great piece Phil. I started out 25+ years ago assisting a friend who was a DJ at Uni who let me take a turn behind the decks early doors, or whilst he needed a comfort break. He told me I had a better ear than he did so was more than happy to let me do more DJing.

      I then approached a Northern Soul club back at home and they let me DJ regularly, whilst during term-time I became a resident in the Students Union, Playing Indie one night, and jazz/soul another.

      Every successful gig builds your confidence. So go get yourself some gigs!

  2. Actually in France, it’s more and more complicated to find Gigs.

    There’s a weird phenomenon, especially in the area I live : the “low cost” DJ.

    There’s too many “DJ’s” that are making low money for DJ sets, because in My area, the DJ’s are not really DJ’s.
    I want say that this guys, are making “low cost” DJ sets, not really with talent in Mixing skills and tracks selections… (The DJM Filter transition phenomenon… haha !).

    I compare them with Radio DJ’s, that playing track to another without “art” into it… (because Radio DJ’s had just some CD Players without any pitch/tempo controls…)

    And when the party comes to end, they are trying to make a show, and mixing like drunk guy because they are ! Like the people in the place too, that doesn’t admit that the DJ Sucks…

    So, you have to be better than the others. And It’s HARD.

    Some Bars/Club requires mixtapes, but it’s not really a reference (I have seen a guy that gave one of my podcast for his demotape ! In one Bar I’m playing, the barman knows the sounds ^^).

    It’s hard to be in the place right now, but when you got one, just demonstrate that you are versatile in your music selection.

    Just make the people happy, and if you are good, someone will, one day, give you a better opportunity…(or not)

    • Same where I am, there are now a few students willing to DJ commercial gigs for as little as £40 a night, they dont have to pay tax and have no bills to pay. Now, I work full-time in engineering so not too fussed about earning big bucks from DJing, BUT, I have no interest in commercial gigs for less than £40, especially as technically i’d have to pay 40% tax! Also these students are out every night of the week, socialising, networking – hustling! I’d struggle to do this and stay awake at work / keep the missus happy at the same time!

    • Utterly true about France.

      DJing is now watered down and it doesn’t even feel special to do it anymore.

      A DJ is an itunes fanatic and gets gigs because he is the brother in law of the bar manager or owner. Time and time again we see it.

      I’m not against the lapjock with virtual DJ free version playing as long as he or she makes people smile. But it’s watered down the whole thing especially when cheesy chart invades.

      • That’s why a “weird” setup saved my Gigs.

        Payed better, because I do it better.

        But DJing with Live and APC40 requires me a lot of time in setup and preparation…

        So I do my “Live show” I make usually in festivals in the Bars and Club now…

      • Good man.
        If you aim for the watery pond of PC & Virtual DJ free & Chart Music & Friend of owner crowd then it’s a one way street to frustration.
        The only way is to distinguish yourself by doing something different and going for niches.

      • Great tune on your link by the way

  3. So true Phil, I agree with everything you said. I’ve been “dj-ing” for almost a year now, but only for the last four months have I actually been playing in public, mainly Dubstep/Drum n Bass nights at a local alternative club here in Cape Town, South Africa, but if I never went up on stage and played infront of the ten to fifteen people I would’ve never learnt as much as I have. I’ve learned more in the last four months than the year before. How to read a crowd, how to program a set, how to have fun on stage with (sometimes) just a laptop to mix with.

    • Awesome article!! Could really see myself in here. Im also afraid of the hustle. I made the necessary connections, know all the dj’s and all that, I still just dont feel Im really ready. I have played at 2 big events in Cape town already, one of them was an hour of entirely my own tracks! which was cool, but still, tho. I’ve only ever had 4 gigs and my dj ability is adequate, to say the least, so I dont feel to comfortable getting out there, doin my thing just yet. BUT after this article, definitely Imma be doing it! this pretty big party in Cape Town’s organiser kept asking me to play, and I kept saying Im not ready, but Im just gonna do it, regardless!! Big ups, Phil!! Also, Ded C, where do u play? would dig to check ur stuff…

  4. Phil,

    This article comes at a crucial time. It’s been over a year since I last played out and I’m set to play a 2 hour set tomorrow for a 4th of July party. Well, not really a party but a bbq and a bunch of sports competitions. Anyhow, I’ve been increasingly nervous and doubtful of my skill to pick the right music (going to mix country, hip-hop, and whatever else get people moving).

    So, thanks again for posting. Just going to go out there and see what happens. I’m sure I’ll get some laughs out of it (so long as my little computer doesn’t putter out).

    -Chris

  5. Gabriel Johnson says:

    I know it’s not what a lot of people want to hear, but throwing on a couple of free shows or parties really gets your name out there. I did a friend’s house parties a couple times and people came up asking for my card. I was able to play what people wanted to hear and market myself with a couple of my less popular mixes.

    I have more business than I thought I would ever accomplish with something that looked cool and became a hobby.

  6. just what i needed, thanks! :)

  7. Benjamin says:

    I always say “You don’t get gigs because you’re a good dj, you become a good dj from getting gigs”.

  8. i would like to get some gigs but i keep thinking something that dont seem to get mentioned much on here,,that in the uk at least dont you need a pro dub licence,and have your gear pat tested,and do you need public liability insurance or is that just something mobile djs need.

    • In theory, you need a Pro Dub licence if you rip CDs and play the digital copy, in practise ignore it! It’s a big wheeze and nobody’s ever been prosecuted for not having it. Public liability is needed for mobile guys. You’ll be ok in most instances. Don’t worry about either.

  9. Any reason you didn’t give Elliott his break when you ran a night?

  10. BTW, the issue is not ending after the initial start, better be out there and play the game, socializing.

    Not sure you’ll all agree, another part of being a martyr is looking outside and see other DJs not as good as yourself and think you have no gigs because they’re pusier/cheaper etc. (been there…). It *is* an influence but as written above, invent your reality!
    I was amazed how quickly things evolved after changing my attitude. You have absolutely nothing to lose, even if rejected, there are always more chances.
    You can always team up with friends and start your own parties, small ones, and get more experience and recognition.

    Used to be that little shy geeky guy who knows music but has no social skills. Becoming a little ‘hustler’ was also helping me to open up *while* playing and connect with the dance floor even more.

    If you can handle the mapping in Traktor, you can do anything! ;-)

  11. The kind of article I had to read.

    Let me explain my short story. Drummer tired of bandmates getting angry at music taste gets out and started studying electronical music and DJ gear and mixing styles.
    But I always were too shy to speak to anyone, feeling bad to approach others with the need to play for money and so on… So my girlfriend always did that part for me. She talks to anyone to find me gigs, and she does it very well.
    She’s my manager and she doesn’t know shit about music, she only knows a bunch of influent people. And I always got booked here and there.
    And this tought went on when a friend of mine told me to talk to a promoter for a gig next month: “Well, if they want me, they’ll talk to me.”

    NOES.

    This article made me realize that if I don’t work my ass off on the street, talking with the right people, I’ll never get the spotlights on any gig.

    Thanks, mate.

    Acker, from Brazil

  12. Great article as always! This month is a year since i started Djing, i’ve learned a lot of things and haven’t play in public yet (also think i have to wait because i’m turning 16 this month) The scene in where i live (Caracas) is really dead. Most of people who ”like” dance music just listens to commercial house like David Guetta, SHM, Afrojack… and Dubstep (they only know Skrillex) and there are just a few ‘good’ djs and they play that kind of stuff only. Oh and that piece of… called reggaeton (is what fills clubs here and is what everyone wants to hear)

    I’ve always said (and i might be wrong about this) when i get a gig it will be to play something i will really enjoy (i can’t see myself getting a gig to play reggaeton, merengue and stuff like that) because if i’m not enjoying what am i doing i prefer to stay at home listening some good music.

    I really don’t have any idea on where to start to get a gig, as i don’t want to get in one of those ”clubs” to play reggaeton or something i don’t really like (also i don’t have any track of these genres on my record collection). There are also some Lounges around here i’d love to play at (i see myself playing some Deep House or Chill Out there) but i don’t know what i should do to get gigs, if i should record a mixtape and send it to those places or something like that…

    I hope you can help me! (and sorry for my bad english)

    • Why not try going to dose clubs and ask if they be interested in trying a night with your style of music. I’ve seen that often people don’t realize that you actually can dance to some music until they are on the floor :D I’ve played Korn/skrillex song and everyone was dancing 20 to 50 years old people. Most people don’t listen the same way to music in a club as on the radio. go ask the worst thing that can happen is they’ll say no.

  13. Callum Perry says:

    I played my first gig Friday, spent the whole of last week meticulously preparing and practicing, and generally being nervous! It was at my local pub where I’ve spent many a night hustling and asking and nagging the DJ (who just set up a playlist by the way) for an hour slot; Friday happened, I nailed it and ended up playing the entire night, thank god I read Phil’s blogs about prepping more music! But, point being I know have a regular spot and Im getting ready for this weekend and I am also in touch with club owners and more of the local bar’s and it seems word has spread that I am “not half bad” at it and may be worth a shot!

    Get out there and try it is all I can say, its not as bad as you think! Best night of my life and cannot wait to get back at it!

  14. To quote the classic disco song, “Do the hustle.”

  15. Great, great article Phil. And I can totally relate to it. I began DJing over 20 years ago in Australia, first on public radio with a mate, and then organising our own parties (captive audience of friends to practice on! :-)

    I never went in too hard trying to get lots of gigs as my work has always been very consuming. But DJing now and then was great fun. And the gigs that I did create came from hustling and the notion of fake it ’til you make it. And doing those gigs I learned heaps, especially about what not to do. (such as, “oh, they’re not dancing, better turn it up louder!”). Living in New York for a while I got the occasional gig to keep me happy, then I got married, moved back to Australia, and had kids so hung up my DJing spurs for around 10 years.
    But I got the itch a few months ago to play again when I discovered a local wine bar that was begging for a vibe on a Saturday night. I’m old school with a capital OLD, so it would just be an eclectic mix of jazz, funk, soul, blues, downtempo electronic etc. but I knew the crowd would dig it.
    But the owner was incredibly hard to nail down to agree on it.
    After dropping off a demo disc (which took him 2 months to get around to listening to), emailing, popping in to say hi now and then, I finally thought, screw this, and went in and told him I had a big bunch of friends who want to hear me play and that I had told them I would be playing next weekend.
    He agreed on the spot. (it was all BS by the way!).
    I’ve now got a residency there, they’re making more money than ever because the crowd has grown, and am loving re-immersing myself in something which I truly love to do – playing tunes which get people’s hips swinging’.
    Sorry, story turned out to be longer than I intended!

  16. DJ Forced Hand says:

    Thanks Phil, I needed this article. I was once up-and-coming and had residency at a club and then the club I was working at closed… the rest of the clubs playing my music style wouldn’t ever respond to my requests for playing so I just… stopped asking and stopped playing to anyone but myself (and my girl).

    I guess the most important follow up to this article would be “HOW” do I ask for gigs without nagging and so I actually get a spot?

  17. Great article!
    I started DJing in the late 80s/early 90s, then had a break to raise a family.
    3 years ago, I was in the right place at the right time, and got offered a tryout at a retro club playing the same music I used to play all those years ago!
    It took a lot to get up in front of a crowd at age 40+ after more than 15 years away from performing, but I’m so glad I had another go.
    I’ve been a resident there ever since, and I still get nervous before every set.

  18. DJ Forced Hand says:

    I’m in this weird space right now where I know I was good at DJing the style of music I liked before (it seemed) everything went “screamy” (because I packed the dance floors when I was on). I hate screamy music so I’m leaving that style of music behind and now I’m taking the rest of what I liked and combining it with other styles of music and trying to put a cohesive sound together. It’s been difficult to “start again” and make all new connections, but I feel I must do this because going back isn’t an option… the real trick for me is trying to appeal to two different crowds. Should I start my own club at some tiny bar somewhere, or should I appeal to a club with my unique hybrid sound?

  19. luke James taylor says:

    Top article Phil, and so true.

  20. Neil McCall says:

    Great artical Phil , You could be describing me lol . I had a lucky break and have a weekly show on http://www.redseadanceradio.com but i still get nervous when i produce the show . I would love to play to a crowd but yes i have that voice in my head are you good enough what if i fail etc etc.
    By reading this artical (which found by accident)and all the comments has given me a lot more self confidence thank you to you all . :)

  21. Great article as always

    Where I stay we have a form of DJ mafia here,basically it is a group of DJs under one flag or manager that kind of runs a monopoly on the gigs available. However i think it is a great concept and very clever all of the DJs sound the same and play the same music, you can go from one bar or venue and you will find the same DJ playing.

    I have been playing for one of these venues for over a year now but only during quiet week nights. Due to the above reason the management of the venue was too afraid of giving me chance or get out of their comfort zones. But it took me over a year, of building relationships and actually playing out and basically practice publically, and guess what this pass weekend I played my first Saturday gig and I nailed it, not to overly boast, but i had the crowd eating of my hands,with hands in the air, by the end of the night I had an encore and people claping hands. The managemnt said that something like that only happens like once a year. I felt amazing not because my set was good but because all my dedication and playing to almost empty rooms during the week pulled of, so yes I agree fully with this article, get out there!

  22. DJ Gerard says:

    Thanks for broadening my vocabulary. I had to look up the definition of “charlatan”. Good article. I let my imagination and fears get the best of me often too. I have learned 90% of the work is just showing up.

  23. Dj prax says:

    Excellent helped me to clear my mind

  24. Audiorox says:

    I’ve been mixing about 17 years had a night going for over a year played at many bars and small clubs round London meet my misses had kids stopped djing for 2 years then got in to traktor and the whole digital thing 3 years ago happy days well I want to go out and get a gig and Im quite sure I could get one but I’m so worried about using my S2 controller what’s will the sound quality be like,where do I plug in to on there mixer what leads do I need how do I cross over from a Dj who is useing CDs with out stopping the music for 2 mins (none of this was a problem before a mixer 2 decks and a bag of vinyl) it can all be done I know Im just not to sure how and this place is my only port of call so help us out phil thanks mate

    • Sound quality will be fine, you plug into any spae channel on the club mixer, and you plug into the CD channel of the CD player he ISN’T using (ie the other one!) while he’s playing his last CD, so you can mix into it. We cover all of this in How To Digital DJ Fast, by the way, in bigger detail.

  25. Audiorox says:

    I’ve been mixing about 17 years had a night going for over a year played at many bars and small clubs round London meet my misses had kids stopped djing for 2 years then got in to whole digital thing 3 years ago happy days well I want to go out and get a gig and Im quite sure I could get one but I’m so worried about using my S2 controller what will the sound quality be like,where do I plug in to on there mixer what leads do I need how do I cross over from a Dj who is useing CDs with out stopping the music for 2 mins (none of this was a problem before a mixer 2 decks and a bag of vinyl) it can all be done I know Im just not to sure how and this place is my only port of call so help us out phil thanks mate.

  26. Definitely needed to read this thanks. I get the same nerves and worries too! That I’m going to be playing to an empty dancefloor (which I definitely have) or my equipment is going to fail.

    The first gig I did, no one showed up. I still played anyway. I wanted to know how some tunes sounded over big speakers. It’s important to practice because you need to learn how to fix levels live you know?

    Anyway, second gig I did, about 5-10 more showed up. Okay, this is getting kinda cool.

    Third gig, I did, about 20-40 people more showed up. Hard work pays off.

    Fourth gig I’m doing, I expect 200+ to show up =]

    This is all at the same venue by the way.

    So yeah, hustle hard, don’t sleep ever and be genuine about your craft.

    Most DJ’s take years and years to perfect their craft, it’s kind of a little shit maneuver to just come into the DJ world and expect people to worship you just because your picking a few tracks behind a mixer. We know good DJs from the bad.

  27. Gonzija says:

    Phil, excellent article, it helped me a lot! Here is my story:

    I am 15 years old and I’ve been DJing since I was 12. I really love house music, I spend lots of hours making my own beats or looking for new tunes. But my problem is not bad mixing or getting nervous on the dancefloor. It’s that here in Argentina most of the people don’t like house music! What can I do to make people like my music and get interested? And to get gigs? I would love to live in another country in where house music is popular, but here it isn’t :( And it’s true, I usually think of an empty dancefloor because people don’t like my music and I start to believe that DJing is not for me.

  28. I’ve played 4 empty rooms in the past month. I got booked again for the next two weekends because I showed up on time, acted professionally, played my music like the house was full and TOOK REQUESTS. It is not easy to stay enthusiastic when the only people listening are the bartenders but the music is loud, the stage lights are on and it all adds up to better things down the road. (DJing since Jan 2011).
    Thanks Phil

  29. Superb article, mostly because it describes my current DJ career. I think of myself as somewhere in between these two archetypal DJs.

    Until the end of this May, I was just a bedroom DJ with a brand new Traktor S2, a die-hard music fan who thought he had great ideas for how tunes could sync together but never put them to the test. I had gotten the S2 in February and I immediately put out a few mashups using my S2 that got me a lot of love from my friends. After that, I played mini-sets at my friends’ house parties, even though often I was playing to an empty room or a non-dancefloor party, and very likely looking like a fool lol. I took these opportunities (indeed I often asked for them–“hustled” even) just because I needed to experience an environment outside the controlled, free-of-distractions safe haven that is my “beat laboratory” (bedroom). It was a hustle even there, just putting my name out into my circle of friends and my law school classmates. I lucked out (kind of like “Peter”) in that I was good friends with the social chair for my law school, and she asked me if I wanted to do an opening set at an upcoming end of school party. Perhaps it wasn’t entirely luck, as I had sent her some of my stuff just because we were friends and I had my whole circle of friends vouching for my skills, but it certainly helped to be “connected.”

    In any event, I took the offer and hustled the crap out of my friends/the student body to show up, and it all went to plan: my set went great and the promoter for the night took down my info to do another gig. I did that one last Friday after hustling nonstop for a good three weeks, and it was a smash success–so take my story as a sign that you can go from being a bedroom DJ noob to a sometimes performer in only a few months.

    CAVEAT: I am thankful that I spent many hours a day/week practicing because when I was put on the spot in a club, I could fall back onto my skillset instead of sticking to a pre-canned setlist or–even worse–choking because I was so flustered by the pressure and lessened focus that come with having to deal with nonstop requests, drunk people in the booth, people wanting me to play “Call Me Maybe” at 10pm, 2-3 people demanding hip-hop when I was in the middle of a house groove and had a dancefloor going, etc. I should also add that I briefly owned a CDJ-and-mixer combo 5 years ago, and practiced with those for a few months before they were stolen during a break-in while I was on vacation, so I was already familiar with some of the DJing basics.

    -Full disclosure: I’m 100% digital and if I had to fall back onto analog DJing (CDJs/Turntables), there is no telling what might happen. For that reason, I often feel like a fraud…even if nobody is telling me that I’m a fraud.

    • Thanks for sharing David. digital DJs feeling like they’re soehow not “worthy” is a big thing we come across time and time again. It’s one of this website’s missions to counteract that!

  30. Nick Powers says:

    I am only 13 and started djing because I love music. I want to get out there but I’m not old enough to be in a club. I want to be the best I can so how can I get in public? Thanks for any help.

    • Nick, you can concentrate your efforts among your own community for starters. Think about school functions, dances, picnics, ceremonies for which you can volunteer your services as DJ. Also, tell your school friends you’ll play their parties, and don’t limit yourself to only your own school. I’m sure you’re whole school district would be excited to hear about you and could find reasons to bring you out.
      Thirteen can be a frustrating age, when you’re gaining interest in all the cool stuff older folks do but don’t yet have full access to it. Club & bar venues aren’t the only places that need music, and if I have one piece of advice is to be *creative* in the way you consider DJing. Find *any* venue that’ll let you play that isn’t adult-specific. They’re out there. Heck, even your parent’s company picnic is a good idea. And from that intro you may just score some more gigs. GOOD LUCK!

  31. All these comments is kind of the reason why I haven’t even budged from my bedroom yet. First I would like to thank Phil for his Digitial DJ class which I took. It was inspiring and educational. The problem is I’m a 32 year old who just startin getting into “DJing” this year. To hear people saying they’ve been doing this since they were teenagers or having teenagers on here talking about there experiences kind of makes me embarrassed and second guessing myself on why now I should make a career change (I also want to go into producing). I love all types of music especially House. Just don’t feel secure in my abilities as well as age in doing so. I would love to go out there and secure a gig but all I have done a make a few mashups which I posted on my site: synth3size.com. There aren’t that great but I am learning through trial and error as well as taking Traktor classes right now. But the devil on my shoulder is still kicking my butt, putting me down which scares me.

    • You should think of the positives – your 32 years of experience gives you things 20 year olds don’t have, like a broader musical knowledge to start with, and probably (generalising a bit here) the ability to plan slightly longer time with a bit more direction than someone younger might.

      • Thanks Phil. You sort of been like a big brother to me in a sense with this whole life change I’m starting to get into. I tried contacting you b4 via this website I even spoke with the gentleman who I purchased the wedding guide through your site and asked him I said hello. Is there some other way we can contact you with questions or tips?

  32. Anyone got any advice on creating a mix tape? How long? Whole songs? How many songs? I have just started out and just done a couple of weddings, but would like to try playing some bars as I hope I will be able to play music I am more interested in. Also I have not mastered beat matching by ear yet. Should that stop me or should I go for it anyway?

  33. Ryan Dejaegher says:

    Phil I don’t know how you do it but you manage to hit the nail on the head in so many articles. I love that there is a blog like this that is covering more of the mental (even philosophical?) side of DJing. Keep it up.

    • Ah, you’re too nice :) Just stuff I’ve picked up over the years, I have been doing this a fair while now (not that I’m ancient or anything :D )

  34. MADDMATT says:

    Phil, as always, another great and timely post!

    As other’s have stated, I too am ready to leave the house. So much so, that I didn’t want to look “unprofessional” out there, so I upgraded to an NS6, flight case and all.

    My question for you and the forum is, what is a minimal requirement to market yourself? ie; Demo CD to hand out or direct cIub/bar managers to a soundcloud or mixcrate site to hear your work? Business cards? Publish a website first? Or just plain old, get out there and introduce yourself?

    Thanks for everyone’s feedback and can’t wait to get out there!

    • You will very rarely get asked for a demo. They want to know how many people you can bring, or for a small bar gig, how reliable you are and how well you already know their venue. Get your name on a flyer, slap a mix up online, do a business car if you want, then get out there.

  35. Phil, as already stated, another great and timely post.

    I’ll pose my question to you and the rest of the forum.

    What is the min. requirements needed for marketing yourself? (ie; a Demo CD or direct club/bar managers to a soundcloud or mixcrate site to hear your work? Business cards? Publish a website first?) Or just plain old get out there and shake some hands and introduce yourself?

    I just don’t want to have someone say, “let’s hear what you got”, and I don’t have anything. I have no problem doing all of the above, just curious to hear what others are doing?

    Thanks everyone for your feedback/comments.

  36. Wow, what an awesome post.

    Im just starting out and Ive been feeling like this is impossible and how am I ever going to learn and to start DJing in clubs and bars. This was a really inspiring post. I learned a lot just from reading this.

    Thanks so much!

  37. Hi,

    I’m a french dj too, and i ‘ve begin with technics mk2, logically i pass to traktor scratch pro, but in France, it’s very difficult to find a place too, i’m in the south of france and almost of bar and club play on cd, i’m from the old school and i love the vinyl touch.
    It’s very hard if you are not the friend of someone who is in the business and i’m very confiant of my capacity in djing, and i’m bored to hear me tell “we already have 2 or 3 dj’s, then we don’t need others”, i’ve ask all the club near to me and i think it’s a shit answer, they don’t give a chance, only for a test, they don’t want, i’m really degusted of this shit business.
    But i will continue to hustle everyday…

  38. All of this sounds good, and there is so much truth to it. However, in my experience, if I am not associated with a promoter (who already has about 8 DJ friends to call on) no bar or lounged wanted me. They only care about the head-count you can bring in!

    I had to become my own promoter to finally get the breaks I needed. In my area, there are as many as 82 DJ’s (not all good) per square mile, all working in all major cities around me. Competition, networking and hustling is the only way to create opportunities in situations like this.

  39. Great article. I just started myself. Thx!

  40. John Rogue says:

    I have had only a few gigs so far and the last one was the most successful. I am a student and I work as a sound engineer in our university club (so it is alco-free) and I happen to DJ sometimes. My latest gig was at the graduation party. And the audience was a lot more loyal to music than students usually are (I guess they had happened to get something to drink beforehand), so I ended up playing some really hard electro tracks I had only listened to with my headphones)) The point is: gigs are supposed to happen in front of people that are there to dance…or move at least. But there are few places attended by such people nearby: there are a few local clubs, but I will never DJ there unless I want to get drunk, smoked, robbed and etc. afterwards and there are students in our university club. They are not always in the right mood to party and if they are, they have “normal” clubs at hand. Should I try to get there anyway?

  41. I completely agree with this commentary here.

    I picked up DJing less than a year ago and I’ve been fortunate to have friends in the industry to be able to get me gigs from the moment I thought I was ready for my first gig (which i clearly wasn’t ready for, but that’s another story). In the past 8-9 months since I started, I’ve learned just as is stated here that it is paramount to get our there. Nothing can replace the experience, the practice, and the confidence gained. I’ve ran into some less than ideal situations, but because I went through them, I learned and I’m more confident now because it is one less scenario I have to worry about whether i have the ability to get through.

    I’ve done my first few larger gigs (150+ people) over the past few weeks. Definitely started to push me out of my comfort zone. But I actually caught myself thinking mid-set this past weekend (a gig at a beachfront bar in Chicago), “Wow, there is no way I’d be at this point if I didn’t do any of the other lame gigs I did.” I can literally look back not in embarrassment for all my mistakes in public, but in fondness and good humor.

    If you are going to be a DJ, we’ll take for granted that you love doing it. But after the passion for music, you have to have confidence. Experience gets you there.

  42. El Loco says:

    Great article Phil!

    I started to mess around with djing and turntablism at 16. By 22, I lost the passion and sold all my gear (a very depressing time). Now, 5 years later (27yrs old) I’m just getting back into it again. I enjoy it more than the first time around.

    Cut a long story short, from 16-22 years old, I only played 2 gigs. Back then I was always the biggest critic of my ability. Now, I’m itching to get gigs and play out whether or not I make mistakes!

  43. Zelda508 says:

    Am Elliot :) But Great article!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  44. Nice Article
    I admit I have been a DJ for over 25 years at some point still get a little nervous.
    I used to do 2 gigs a day one in the mornings and then at night.
    I started when I was 12 years old and realized I had the skills and the passion.
    But when I got caught up in the night scene with drugs and alcohol I had to step away for 11 years.
    I held on to my vinyl and set up for 2 decades went back to college ,got married and had kids. Once in a while I would have a dream that I was still DJing I would wake up and take a look in my garage to see if my equipment was still there.
    In 2006 I was browsing through youtube and stumbled upon a old friend who was now a world known and very successful Dj (DJ Qbert) I also found another person who started when I did who goes by the name of Mix Master Mike.

    I began to research the latest equiptment and discovered a software called Serato which allowed DJs to use there traditional turntables along with mp3 or digital files.
    But Serato was overly priced and I had to put bread on the table for my family.
    Then I discovered Torq from M-Audio which was half the price.
    I saved up and bought the software and began practicing again and re-polishing my skills, this time around it was easier to gather information about Djing because of the Web.
    When I thought I was ready I entered a contest from Mix Mag online, I figured what the heck I should throw myself out on the web and see what other djs think.
    I came in the top 30 with very skilled DJs from around the world.
    The 2nd time around I placed in the top 10.
    Before I knew it M-Audio had contacted me and asked If I wanted to Endorse there product at NAMM 2008 I found myself in a room with highly respected and well known DJ’s from around the world including DJ Revolution from the Wake Up Show in Los Angeles.
    I knew I was there for a reason, NAMM was all I needed to boost my confidence.

    Being the Tech nerd I began to search for different type of software which would minimize my DJ equipment and allow me to carry less weight. I found djay by algoriddim it was a corky software still in the beta format but the user interface got my attention. I emailed the creators and they responded and put me on as a beta tester. I saw vast improvments within the years to come and now djay is a huge player in the advancment of dJ technology.
    Both on the mac and on the iPad.
    I now have another purpose and thats to show the world that no matter what equiptment you may own if you have a passion and determination you can be well respected Dj and still fill that void which completes you hearts desire.
    Thank you for reading
    I’m
    Masta Hanksta

  45. Phil, you pegged everyone’s inner dialogue with your two examples. Your post was very insightful and quite inspirational.

    I’ve a follow-up question to the Hustle issue: Can you share some details about the process of securing a gig? We know you have to pound pavement & meet managers & put promo in their hands. But what should you do once they say “Yes”?

    I’m talking about how one solidifies the agreement. Do you suggest a contract format or a handshake deal? What are some usual requirements? What are some of the business pitfalls to be wary of in club or bar gigs?

    I began as a special events DJ but I feel my skills and style (and heart) are most suited to the nightlife side of the industry. I’m plenty familiar with the contract format and agreement structure of mobile/corporate DJing, but what if I wanna make a residency based on the music I truly love, and seriously get-down? How do I do the business side of that?

    Do explain, Sensei. :)

  46. I wanted to dj so bad I played weekly (sunday midnight to six or whatever) at a kinda hole in the wall gay bar that i had to truck my own system into FOR FREE for ten months. And Im not gay. And there was noone really there. And, I dont care a bit, the practice of tearing your shit down and setting it up on a regular was invaluable, the manager that let me in ended up one of the coolest guys I know, and there were times that there were enough people there to count as a crowd….. and I never even noticed, really. I was allowed to go into my own world musically was never forced to take a request, it was heaven to me. Even for free. Thanks for reminding me my hustle is missing, its been months since Ive been out in public playing and there is no reason I cant be…. or any of us for that matter.

  47. Truly inspiring. Write ten books.

  48. DJ Mainz says:

    Great article very insightful comments also believe this is my first ever post on a forum and this topic happens to be relevant enough to me for a first :)

    I am 21 and have been DJing for around 7 years with production on the side but still learning, not confident enough to produce a “Quality sounding track”, although i still keep at it time to time. My main passion is for music and DJing but the area im in (Weymouth) is practically dead for music and i prefer to mix heavier music like Jump up Drum and bass, Dubstep (uplifting double drops ect) as i am best in these particular fields and always have been even tho i can play all styles and have been resident DJ playing house music at a Bar/Lounge but that was not for me. At this point id like to add i am a pure analogue DJ as i learnt to DJ on belt drives lol and it is where i am most in control and comfortable with my mixing. However as my area contains only a few promoters and only a few venues they all have there regular DJ’s under there regular promoters so to get a foot in is really hard and not to keep nagging and seem too pushy is a big problem as im sure you can all relate too also timing is difficult as planning for gigs by local promoters is sporadic due to not much demand in the area. I have played live a few times on small rigs (5k), Houseparties, Beachparties, and rarely in clubs because of fully booked DJ nights. Ive had very positive feedback always in my performances and have made alot of friends in music some of which are DJ’s them self, but my style aims towards a particular market so consistency of getting feedback is a issue. Ive recently put the gig side of DJing to one side and aimed towards other methods of getting coverage as a DJ which has worked out well as i am on 2 radio stations one of which led to the other one. Now the problem im facing is getting the reach and “Likes” in from my Facebook alone to be able to “get out there” because i dont know many people in the music industry or people connected with music through social networking “hustle”. At this point i need to add i DJ on radio digitally using only a mouse and headphones with no headphone cue ability as dont have the hardware so technically mixing blind but i would urge you all to practice DJing without headphones for the sake of timing and beatmatching in the mix (i use VDJ). With all this going on i am in the stages of debating whether or not to start my own promotions, i would love to see an article on how to promote nights, and for the up and coming less experienced DJ’s a article about reaching promoters you dont know, things to say things to be wary of and things to respect, after all its the promoters job to make sure the nights are a success and it can be very stressful so you gotta respect that. I actually signed up to DigitalDJTips out of the blue a while back and have viewed many of the topics love what you guys are doing and the diversity of it (Big ups to the comment-ers and Phil and Co.) Also to any new and upcomer DJs or DJs with low confidence (been there trust me) i stress you all not to worry about competition, being a “bad DJ” or a “Fraudulent DJ” end of the day its your unique spin on music your efforts and your dedication and your creativity that matters to people and if you play really good and you know your good that’s a bonus that comes with time and experience. please feel free to add me on Facebook and follow my wall for updates on my slots on radio and/or Email me directly, i am confident i can get other DJ’s on the radio too so feel free to ask me and i will ask the hosts that is no problem as i know their always looking for new talent and will help you setup so you can stream from your computer at home. hope this comment speaks to all you and inspires the less experienced.

    P.s Promotion of all standards is a fundamental to DJ’ing and DJ success.

    My Facebook Page:https://www.facebook.com/andy.quartermaine1
    My Email:[email protected]

  49. Well I want to have my first gig, but I don’t have any Idea how to get one? maybe I should walked in to a bar or club, and audition if i can be a DJ for the night? any tips for me I was like elliot I don’t have any believe in myself quiet guy, doesn’t know how to hype but thanks for this idea.

  50. Great Article!

    Coming from the Bronx in the 80’s, I was not the best DJ but I hustle for gigs. I played professionally at the age of 15 in 1980 at an adult night club, while most of my friends practiced at home. I say professional because I was paid for my efforts. When I joined the military, I approached the NCO and Officer Club and got a gig, after only being stationed there less than 60 days. I became a self-promoter (hustler), playing in night clubs on slow nights and becoming known as “The Ladies Man”, because I played at different clubs on “Ladies Night”, built my own following for 7 years, until I left the area.

    To aspiring DJ’s, there are always cheaper DJ’s as long as I can remember. It is the Hustler who get the work.

    I’d slowed down DJ’ing during the 90’s and completely stopped from 2000 until 2010 to focus on my family. Now that my kids are grown, I can enjoy entertaining people with music and tools that did not exist when I was hauling records, turntables and speakers.

    I play on my terms, get the money I want and have fun by allowing people to enjoy themselves. I love this business. The key is to Hustle.

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