Whether you've been a DJ for a month or many years, you'll probably have encountered a "DJ competition" at some point - if only the "DJ X-Factor" hype from earlier this year. It's not surprising: DJ contests have for a long time been used to generate healthy competition among DJs, to get bodies in nightclubs, to build hits on websites and so on.
Some of you might have entered DJ contests, and had both positive and negative experiences with them. Others might have never tried, but be curious. The goal today is to giver you a potted guide to DJ competitions, whether to enter them, and the best way to approach them.
The most important question to ask...
Before we go into the details on DJ contests, there is one question I want you to always have in your mind when you see an open call for DJs to enter a competition: Is this worth my time?
No matter if this is in a club or online, if this is about short mix sets, turntablism or controllerism. Doesn't make any difference what the rules are, who is running it, or even if it appears legitimate or rigged. You should always ask yourself if this DJ contest is worth your time. Forget if you think you can win or not - if it is not worth your time in some way, shape, or form, move on. People who run DJ competitions do it to get something out of it for themselves; make sure you're going to get something out of it for you, too.
Types of contest
You will encounter DJ contests everywhere in your life as a DJ. There are, of course, the typical DJ competitions held in a nightclub or concert hall where DJs are set up to perform one-by-one in short sets. There are online DJ contests where each contestant posts a mix or video. And there are just basic contests where a DJ really just gives up information in the hopes of winning a big prize (like the giveaways we have on here sometimes).
When it comes to in-person contests or online competitions that require you to perform, you should always veer towards contests with actual, named judges involved. If a DJ contest will have a panel of judges and listed criteria they will judge you on, then it's a more legitimate contest where your skills and talent will play a dominant role.
When it's simply about "audience approval", that's usually a euphemism for "popularity contest". Your talents as a DJ are not really tested as much as your talents as a promoter. In a club it's about how many of your friends you can get to come out for you. Online it's about how many people you can get to give personal information (name, address, email, etc.) or give Facebook Likes to the holder of the contest.
I personally think those "audience approval" DJ competitions are a waste of time, but ask yourself that question for yourself when you consider such a contest. Maybe you can't get 20 to 50 people to come out to a club, or do not want to spend all day begging people to sign up on a website or press a "Like" button - but you might find value in the contest nonetheless.
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For a rank amateur, such a contest is a chance to get into the booth at a club. Online it's a chance to make use of the many mixes you're probably making and posting already. Why not post one? Especially if it will lead to a constructive critique from the industry? Another reason to enter any type of contest is for the personal challenge. Recently, controllerism site DJTechTools wanted contestants to post a live performance on YouTube using one of its own products with a downloadable set of samples.
It's clear what the company gets out of it (publicity for the equipment it manufactures), but come now, how could anyone who's into this kind of thing and who's craving a challenge pass this up? At the very least, it's a video posted on YouTube that could lead to new fans.
How to win...
OK, so now that you've decided to enter, winning will of course be on your mind. You're reading this article either out of curiosity or because you would love to know how to win a DJ contest. I would tell you first to do your homework. Research who is running the contest, who will be judging, and what kind of audience will be there.
Judges or not, the audience will be a big factor in winning. That's why we DJ in front of crowds, after all. If you're going to be playing a 30-minute set at a local mainstream music club, then it might not be a good idea to come in pumping deep underground dubstep that would clear the floor.
If it's a 10-minute performance, then chances are you're doing controllerism or turntablism, so straight-playing a few songs like a normal set won't work.
Use your imagination and be creative
Use your imagination and be creative. The biggest mistake I see many make in DJ competitions is they come in and don't stretch their creativity beyond battle breaks or popular anthems.
Go crate-digging, pull out a classic you know no-one will play but that you judge will make people scream when they hear it. If you're using a laptop and controls of some sort, do a live remix with some familiar tune not meant for EDM. Imagine the crowd reaction when you took an old but familiar children’s record and laid it perfectly on a beat. That’s what makes winners.
The name of the game is to wow the crowd and the judges. It's like Gladiator. Regardless if you're playing online or offline, you want to make an impression. You might want to also think about your stage presence when you play a contest. Think about it, you sitting there in a suit and tie or wearing some “funky helmet” or mask when your opponents are all in T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers might be the difference it takes.
I’ll never forget one DJ competition where a hot girl in a costume beat out a bunch of male DJs. Her set was solid, but it was her stage presence that pushed her ahead of her competition.
In the end, you have to remember to be a performer first and foremost. You get a short amount of time to make an impression. Neither showing up with 20 new promos nor doing 1,000 DJ technique tricks no-one will notice will not help you win.
Make it your goal to simply impress everyone with your imagination behind the decks. Time and time again I’ve seen this thinking win DJ contests.
Have you ever entered a DJ competitions? Been tempted to? Seen one that worked really well, or that was run very badly? Have you even won one? We'd love you to share your thoughts in the comments.