DJ Contests: Which To Enter & How To Win

OUTLOOK

Ever been tempted to enter a DJ competition? Here's how to decide whether to bother, and how to win if you do...

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).

Facebook Likes

Even if you can't be bothered begging everyone you know for Facebook Likes, it may be worth entering the "popularity show"-style contests.

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.

DJ X Factor

So the DJ X Factor idea has been shelved, but no matter the contest, it pays to know who will be judging you.

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.

Finally...

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.

Comments

  1. I never enter online conests where the amount of Facebook likes decide who is the winner. In the end, it’s always the kid with the most buddies at school who wins.

    One thing that bothers me about DJ Contests, that are held “by” Star DJs (as in “Win a guest spot on DJ XYZ’s Ibiza party), is when the other contestants play some of that DJs biggest hits in their sets. As if they try to impress him by knowing what tracks he made.

  2. Any mix competition where you have to post it onto Mixcloud is a joke. It has nothing to do with the music, its just about facebook likes and re-tweets.

    The last time I entered one of those competitions I begged and pleaded with everyone I knew to play, like and tweet about it. I even set up fake Twitter, Facebook and Email accounts!

    Afterwards I felt dirty!

    (and still didn’t win)

    • Hi Rob,

      I have to disagree with you.
      I was one of the winners of the Competition Carl Cox held on Mixcloud this spring.
      There were quite a few mixes that had way more likes etc. than my mix had.
      But the jury picked my contribution.

      It’s important to read the rules of the competition. If there’s a jury involved you have good chances to win because of the music you play not the likes, re-tweets etc you get.

  3. We have entered the Philips O’neill DJ battle in Belgium. Actually won that because we interacted a lot with the crowd and being energetic does help to get the crowd moving.

    Those were the main causes why we won. Every dj in the contest could mix very good and we didn’t expected to win.

    The second battle we entered, wasn’t really our crowd. We were playing electro and there was a dubstep crowd. How we acted on the stage wasn’t really helping because it just wasn’t their music! That was really too bad. The jury said we could’ve done better if we interacted with the crowd more but untill today, I still think if we have just played dubstep, we could’ve get the crowd moving more!

    Greetings,
    Ling James from the Netherlands

  4. This was a fun article, and I enjoyed that the ending advice is something key to DJing as a whole:

    “Make it your goal to simply impress everyone with your imagination behind the decks. ”

    Everyone should be passionate about what they’re doing, especially since most try to do what they desire.

  5. I entered the Intel PowerUp competition that passed not too long ago. The rules stated they will use Facebook and Twitter votes to HELP decide on 18 winners. I finished 16th, and my friend finished 1st. In fairness we both had pretty tight mixes down but neither of us two, nor around 14 of the other top 18 even got through to the regional trials! Competitions based upon network popularity are a joke and a farce, and the undeserved quite often push out the deserved because of it.

    Rant over :)

  6. Stazbumpa says:

    I entered a DJ competition once. Came second to the guy whose mum and dad owned the club that held the competition.

    Funny that.

  7. Keep Kalm says:

    My advice for when you actually play, suss out the competition and be different. In one of my comps 3 out of the 10 people played levels and 2 of them played hangover. So definitely heed this articles advice and go crate digging for classics, find awesome remixes and mashups of old school songs or even make your own.
    And having a few neat little techniques doesn’t hurt as well

  8. Was a mix comp in my Town but only “Vinyl DJ’s” need apply.

  9. Another trend I see is the requirement to purchase the stubs or vocals for the remix. Many contestants don’t seem to mind because they think it “keeps out the riff-raff.” This is dubious, and I feel is not in the spirit of a competition. It seems just a way to increase purchases as well. Anyway, as if you couldn’t tell; I think it’s an annoying trend and I hope it does not continue.

  10. i recently entered one at one of the main local clubs, hosted and judged by a local radio dj…

    we had a half hour set at about 9pm (when the clubs in liverpool are fairly empty) fortunately i had roped some of my mates into going so i wan’t playing to an entirely empty room… turned out i won my heat and got through to the final.

    it was the same format for the final but this time the club was a bit fuller because it was sunny and people had gone out early… the guy who won it could barely string a mix together and basically played the top 10 from 10 to 1….

    afterwards the judge came over to me and said that the manager had told him to pick the person who brought the most people with him and that actually, if it had been based on talent, i would have won…

    biggest kick in the teeth ever! :(

    but for me it was a good way to get club experience as i had only been doing it for 4 months and could hardly find a gig at the time… not all bad but i think they are often fixed

  11. Again, I reiterate…always ask yourself if this contest is worth your time.

    Don’t just think of winning or losing, but perhaps if this is your chance to play in a big club, promote a new mix, another event, your online show, etc.

    Maybe you just make mixes every week and have nothing to lose in posting one.

    I agree many of these contests are rigged and/or poorly run, but sometimes you might find a hidden reward in the experience more than in possibly winning.

  12. Thanks for this post. I recently entered a DJ competition in April for a chance to play at the Wakarusa Music Festival. Like you stated, this one turned out to be a popularity contest without taking skill into consideration. Sadly enough, that’s not how it was supposed to be judged. Online presence and votes were to make up 60% of the winning outcome. The other 40% was to be decided by judges and crowd participation at the show. Sounded legit and fair.

    This contest was held in Dallas, TX. I just moved to Dallas that January so my local following was almost non-existant. I came into the contest with the most votes and most hits. Wakarusa Festival is held close to where I grew up so I had a huge following for the event (even though the contest was held in Dallas). Hands down a viable contest for me to enter. Turns out, none of the online voting counted and they gave it to the locals that had the largest crowd show up. The winner actually won the contest before the rest of the DJs even performed (had the most people show up to vote and then they left the show). Votes weren’t even held to after all of the acts.

    Very bogus. Was I frustrated? A little, but no big deal. I just felt sorry for everyone that took the time to place their votes and come to the event.

    Overall, great night! Everyone had a blast. The bogus voting scheme was not the DJs faults. Everyone was quite disappointed in the way it was held, but it didn’t take away from the amazing music(well, some of it wasn’t)that was being played that night.

    My advice to all DJs is to go for it no matter the outcome. I met great fans, great artists, and had a great time at one of the coolest venues Dallas has to offer, Trees.

    So get out there, enter some contests, and meet new people!

  13. Robert Weinhold says:

    I have entered 3 Beatport challenges. One remix and 2 producer challenges and find the audience like thing annoying as it is all about how many people you bribe. Have not quite figured out what the judging is based on but had fun making the tracks so that counts for something. As a DJ I think almost every competition is a personality or promotion vote. We have one at a club I frequent and I would never try myself at it because I may be good enough but don’t have the following here to even have a chance.

  14. Was thinking about this today actually thinking… why does Digital dj tips not do a mix comp… and have a dj contoller for the prize.. lets say the vestax vci-400…lol But yeah seriously phil & co. It would be good for PR for yourself plus a vibe amongst the forum. It would be a good target for all us djs as well… cau mixing is one thing but constructing a set is a whole different ball game

    Just do it.

    many thanks… Maximlee

    • great idea! I second this motion ;)

      • *nodding vigorously* I third the motion! LOL!!! I’ve never done any comps, but I am thinking of entering one that is doing well on one of the national radio stations. It has launched a one or two serious DJ careers in the land and given exposure to dozens more. Is it worth my time? Well, there is a countrywide audience, so I think so. We’ll see…

    • I’ve been thinking along the same lines for a while, but specifically for iOS DJs – or perhaps they should fall into the main mix comp too?

      @D-Jamm: “…you took an old but familiar children’s record and laid it perfectly on a beat…” – you’re letting everyone in on one of the few tricks I do well! Mickey Mouse March (Mike Curb Congregation) into Amerie “1 Thing” never fails to amuse.

    • We deliberately steer clear from endorsing or judging music, music styles etc – but that may change in the future, who knows? :)

  15. went to this local dj competition around 2-3 months ago, held in the club with jury and crowds
    The gears was cdj 2000, it was my 1st competition, when it was my turn to go, i started with the crosfader on the left, when i slammed the crossfader to the right, guess what the cdj stopped playing -_- i re-cued my cdj on my left side and slammed the crossfader back to the left same thing happened <.<, the cdj on my left side stopped playin lol! But i kept goin, even tough the gladiator already bleeding hard, but the show must go on, i made it thru the semifinal ^_^

    Lost to this 9 year old kids with already pre set cd recorded with all his sets so all he gotta do just scratch -_-

    But yes i agreed to the article writer, I my self found some hidden rewards, i met other fellow dj's i never met before, they ended up invited me to their gigs

  16. Here’s a contest I’d say is a waste of time…

    http://www.facebook.com/groovecruise/app_112813808737465

    Forget sounding good. It’s all about promotion. The only way you can win is to not only spam the world on social media, but get your following to then share.

  17. I imagine most of these competitions may well be rigged, or easily thrown.
    But It makes me think maybe if its held in a club with good lighting effects or interesting features, etc could be a great photo/video opportunity for your next website content (something i am guilty of sidelining and forgetting about myself) or your next own promotional posters or flyers. Gotta be better than throwing in stock images (again guilty myself on occasions). Sometimes more valuable to you than the prizes on offer anyways, just a thought.

  18. Thanks for all your comments and advices. I was supposed to enter a competition but I was invited to be a resident DJ at the same time, so I decided to go where I was sure to be paid for and I made fans in this small village. I will enter in some competition soon.

    I ‘m even thinking of creating one for my City. But I would do it with both the public price and the Judge price. 2 prices because I beleive both are important. An excellent DJ may be the best technically, and he(she) should be rewared for it. And if he’s really the best, he(she) should be rewarded for it. But money talks, and our main job is to make people dance, so the one plasing to the biggest crowd should also be recognized.

    If I had a choice between being “the best DJ” in the word or be “the most popular DJ” in the world, I would choose popularity. But that’s me! And contests are contests…. and the more visibility we get the better it is.

    Thanks.

  19. I entered a online dj competion there was 3 judges score from 1-10 judge 1 i receive 9 judge 2 8 judge 3 4,judge 3 low score cost me competion

  20. I have entered Redbull thre3style before as well as a few local club comps back home. Thre3style was really good as its a nice mix of DJ techniques mixed in with song selection, performance. The only downside is the whole genre thing as its hard to define genres these days as alot of music crosses the boarder between multiple genres. But your right, stage presence for a DJ is extremely important, I remember one of my older club comps I was in the final and up against a DJ who at the time was technically far better than me and his set showed it, but my stage presence and crowd control were far superior, he did end up winning but looking at the judges sheets he only won by a few points, so it can make a huge difference

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