Over To You: Should I Take A Gig Playing Music I've Grown Out Of?

calvin harris

Our reader started out DJing EDM from the likes of Calvin Harris (pictured) and Tiesto, but now he feels he's outgrown it. So should he take a gig playing it?
Pic from: soundcloud

Digital DJ Tips reader Michael writes: "After almost a year of DJing I have become comfortable with playing in public, many thanks to your website and advice.

"Some of the DJs in my area have told they could get me a gig at a place they have played at, a place I have been to and know the crowd and music. The gig would be helpful in getting my foot in the door of my local scene - however I know I would have to play the music they expect.

"The music is the quite popularised hard electro/"EDM" style that plays in 80% of the clubs where I live and pulls easily the biggest crowds. I will not deny that I started out playing the music of the Calvin Harrises and the Tiestos of this world, but with time I moved away from that and have grown a strong passion for a mixture of deep house, indie and nu disco.

"My question is: Should I take the gig for the quick stepping stone into the broader, popular scene which I have no passion for, or should I continue pursuing my passion and get into the niche market?"

Digital DJ Tips says:

Good question, and there's no easy answer. If it were me, I'd take the gig and try and get a set together that crossed over into what I liked, so I could learn something artistically from it while at the same time benefiting from the foot in the door you speak of. Real DJs play; pretend ones sit at home wishing they were playing!

But then again, if you really despise it, it maybe wouldn't make so much sense to take such a gig.

So I guess it depends to an extent on how far away you feel you've moved from that scene, and whether you think you could do a small bit of "education" as you entertained.

I am sure many readers have faced similar dilemmas though, so I'd like to throw this one open to see what our audience thinks.

So - over to you. Would you take the gig and get the experience and exposure, or would you hold out for a gig where you could play what you wanted? Please leave your advice for Michael below.

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  1. Don't do it. It did it and it doesn't feel good. It feels like work. It's also dependent on what kind of reputation you already have. If none is existent it is less of a bad idea, if you already build a brand you are risking all that you created.

    • Klaus Mogensen says:

      To me, DJ'ing IS work. For me it's part time, but it's still work just like every other job

      • Then you are probably not doing what you are most passionate about. ..

      • I'm inclined to say if you're not putting in actual work you're probably not that passionate about it.

      • Big problem this! It is work,that's why we have professional DJ's yep people who do it for a living.A big problem in this profession is when 50 quid Sid turns up and starts offering to play for peanuts and the struggling venue owners take them up on this cause they don't know any better.In the end lots of the PROFESSIONAL DJ's leave the industry because they can no longer make a living.Yes the industry another word relating to work.
        We will then end up with a situation where new dj's coming into the industry have nobody else to learn from except 50 quid Sid.The bars and clubs will be left wondering why they have no customers above the age of 20 and when eventually they are forced to close they will realize that old saying that if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.
        If you are good you should be paid accordingly and if you know you are good you should aim to get the best gigs and charge as much money as you possibly can,if you are good but not in the superstar league you should be aiming to be the highest paid DJ in your area.Do you really want to be known as 50 quid Sid cause if you work cheap that is what you are.
        Have you ever heard of anyone offering to plumb in a bathroom for cheap or free cause they enjoy it,your car breaks down at the side of the road in the wind and rain someone stops and says fixing cars is my hobby I will do it for nothing.Its not going to happen! but it happens in this job unfortunately.

  2. Klaus Mogensen says:

    I'd take it

    I never play what I like myself, since that would be odd/old rock and maybe old school rap and soul thrown into the mix

    Two days ago I played a 4h set at a company Christmas party (the dancing was between 10pm and 02am), and I played maybe one or two songs that at would actually listen to on my own

    So in my opinion you always take the gig, adjust your set(s), and build a reputation on it

  3. I would take the gig. Then I'd go 1 of 2 ways to get some music I like in there.
    First route is to play 3 songs the crowd want, followed by 1 or 2 tunes that you like that kind of fit in.
    Second method is to get the crowd on your side by playing an hour of their tunes, followed by 30 minutes or more of the stuff you like.

    As long as people are dancing, management almost certainly won't care.

  4. Remixes!

    They can do wonders. Familiar melodies combined to something you like and voila- you have your own style that most likely satisfies most people for part of the time. Then play some easy hits and combine the two, so you leave the management happy and customers with a feel that you're somhow different than most others. From that on, its marketing.

    • good idea, i've tried this. though it's not my favorite set, at least i enjoyed the songs.

    • This one is a sure winner!

      I have a lot of bootlegs and edits of well known tracks by Michael Jackson, Adele and other pop stars. Deep House and Nu-Disco, by the way.

      While I'm about to have my first big gig, in the little parties I've managed to play these tracks just rocked. Everyone enjoyed the bootleg remix of Adele's "Rolling In The Deep" and Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough". In between, I played tracks by Tigerskin, Miss Mara, Urulu and others.

      Of course, if you're takling about Electro House / Wannabe Trance stuff, then don't take the gig. If you know the venue is full of these type of DJs, then don't.

      But if it's more Housey a-la-Mischa Daniels' "So Strong" and less wooble bass/"Internet Friends", I'd take it.

  5. Michael! This is a dilemma every budding DJ faces. "Do I stay true to myself or do I 'Sell Out' to make money?" Well the truth is somewhere there in the middle. My advice is take the gig, push the buttons and build your career.You do want a career right? You understand the genre and you can take them on a journey with that understanding. As you have grown a bit and are now exploring other genre you may be able to accent your "Bangers" play list with a smattering of your new likes. Remember the objective as a DJ is to "read the room" and play what the room wants to hear, lightly accented with what you feel the room *needs* to hear. That is the interaction of a good DJ. If the room responds positively to your input of new material after awhile (remember that new music, good or bad, is a floor killer, they are deciding whether they like the tune or not, they won't dance on first listen; that's why you have to break them in at opportune times) then slowly you will be able to build a following who will be more accepting of your choices as opposed to what the charts/local stations are pushing. But it's a bit like gardening. You are planting seeds. I've done it a few times successfully. But any working DJ, even your favorite, can share some real horror stories of the bad gigs they've endured to get to the good ones. That's the business. Finally, remember that it's what the young ladies will dance to, that will always veto your choices if you want a dance floor. That's DJ 101, but it can't be stressed enough to be mindful of it always!

  6. Graeme Burch says:

    MMmm thats a good question .
    You can look at it 1 or 2 ways!

    Take the gig - As you might not be asked to play local again plus it keeps you in the loop of known Dj's in your town/county which might lead to other gig's although its not your genre of music but keeps you playing.(Warning ....Eventually You will get fed up & unhappy doing this)
    Knock it back ....Youve been there before & moved on !
    Stick to your guns ....It will pay off one day & you will be known for playing the genre you love best & happy with.
    (warning .... expect little gigs to start with, But on a positive note ...Start your own night)

  7. My advice: Take it, take it, take it.

    A gig is a gig. Getting your foot in the door is great. People will say that DJs that play to please the crowd are "sell outs". These people are die hard music enthusiasts, purists who think the mainstream has no place in a true DJs music library. These people are also very selfish DJs who wont go very far with a general audience.

    A good DJ will play music that will get the crowd dancing. A good DJ will control a venue's energy level via a good mix. A good DJ will play the right music at the right times. A GOOD DJ PLACES THE AURAL DIALOGUE WITH THE CROWD ABOVE HIS OR HER OWN MUSIC TASTE.

    You can't expect everyone to like the music you are especially passionate about, just as you don't like the music someone else might be especially passionate about. But here's the truth: If someone likes a piece of music, there is a reason. Yes, mainstream music all sounds the same. Yes, popularized EDM is force fed to the masses, and they have no appreciation of the culture that drives it. But should that matter? No. Do you think any average party goer is going specifically to be "enlightened" by a music purists hardcore jungle mix? No. They go to dance, they go to socialize, they go to get piss drunk and have the time of their lives.

    The music that plays on the radio is "bad" in the sense that there are politics and bullshit that get mixed in with it, but if you try and extract the music from all of that and just listen... guess what? I can dance to Levels. I can rage to a Justin Bieber remix by Ferry Corsten. And it's not because I have no taste, it's because I don't let music politics cloud my taste. I like music, some genres and artists more than others, but I will play whatever the crowd needs to here in a particular moment, even if it's top 20 EDM, because I can appreciate levels the 4,000th time I've heard it because some part of me liked it the first time. Just because it's wrung out and overplayed and the EDM song that even non EDM people know doesn't make it bad! It's well known for a reason!

    What I'm trying to say is this: The role of a DJ is to play music that people enjoy. Everything else doesn't matter. You have your own taste, that's great, and you can slip some of that in (Because if you do it right, and you introduce it correctly, people will see why you like it, and they'll like it too!), but don't think taking a gig like this is "stooping low". A DJ is a sell out the second he or she stops caring about what he or she plays, not when he masterfully drops a Tiesto jam right at the peak of a party and everyone can sing along to the dreamy lyrics. A DJ is a sell out when they do it for the money and the money alone, and slapping on the top 40 without -caring- will get you the money. A DJ is far from a sell out when he or she takes a gig and plays the right music and loves doing it, no matter what that music might be.

    • "A good DJ will play music that will get the crowd dancing. A good DJ will control a venue’s energy level via a good mix. A good DJ will play the right music at the right times. A GOOD DJ PLACES THE AURAL DIALOGUE WITH THE CROWD ABOVE HIS OR HER OWN MUSIC TASTE."

      double thumbs up.

    • Damn. I became a "sell out" after 17 years of DJing for a living and didn't realize it?? I am being sarcastic. TAKE THE MONEY!! It is work, not a hobby. If you do not particularly like the gig you are going to play charge more money. If they really want YOU specifically they will pay it. If DJing is what you do for a living see if you can find a gig that same night in the genre you like to play. I would quickly accept LESS money fot a gig I like to play than MORE money for a gig I do not care to play or less hours WORKING.
      Hmmm... Am I A DJ (occupational full time) or a "sell out" a guy with a regular job that likes to DJ as a hobby or for extra cash.... Either way you are still a DJ :) some just better than others

  8. There isn't any reason not to take the gig and mix it with your own style. What I have learned as a DJ is that it is our purpose to give people what they like while at the same tine making it our own. You can do this and make it interesting for you.

    • I agree. This often over looked. They may like the way you DJ not only what you DJ. Delivery is so important, not just when and what you play. It si not as important but certainly plays a role

  9. There are 2 types of DJs as I see it.

    1. Those who have a deep love of a certain type of music and want to share that music with people.

    2. Those who love DJing for DJing itself. For whom making people happy and making them dance is the source of their buzz.

    Nothing wrong with either, but I'm the second. If a room is going off, even if the track is not totally to my taste, that's good enough for me.

  10. I would take the job.
    I am in exact the same position as you are although my passion is strict minimal, if i could, i would play that music even while i'm asleep, but i know there is no big audience for that music in clubs i can get the chance to play in. So i have to go back in time and play that hard electro stuff, mixed up with some top 40s, that music that gives me headaches and just does not feel right for me to mix really!
    But when you dig for music, i will assure you that you can find something, that you can like and you audience will love. That's the best thing about the internet: if you search, you will find the best music you could possibly imagine of. So basically, dig for some tunes that are between your passion and the music beloved by your audience.
    And then, play them out. They will respond to that and believe me, if you have a good taste in music, even though it isn't their favourite style, they will dance. Not ecstatic maybe, but still dancing and having a good time. If they don't, you will have to play something you don't like and they know, but DJing is a job, you can say what you want, sometimes you just have to do things you don't love (but like, I guess) to get things you love. For me, this is a crowd going nuts.
    This also would be my résumé for your question: The best thing for me about DJing is to make the audience go crazy, share the love and try to give them the best time they have ever had. If I can make them happy just because I play, no matter what i play, I'm satisfied with me job. Sure, it is better when a I can mix the music that I love, but if you dug deep enough and found "comprising" music, it will be almost the same as good! And a crowd going crazy is always perfect, no matter what you play. Just enjoy playing out and making your audience have a good time.
    I really hoped i could help you to see this gig for a chance to enjoy being a DJ, regardless of what you play!

  11. lordamercy says:

    No right our wrong answer but I bet you a lot of big name DJs aren't into the music they're famous for.

    Keeping it real can hold back your DJ career if you let it. My own take is I could be working in an office and making nothing from djing but enjoying one night a month playing my small underground scene. Or do what i'm doing now, playing in strip clubs, bars and clubs minimum 5 days a week playing 90% stuff I don't particularly, like but enjoying that 10% even more.

    Uv got to be in it to win it I guarantee it'll be easier to have ur own night or different options having some kind of name or following than it is on a blank slate. Just like yr musical taste has changed yr punters taste changes too

    • Now there's more than a grain of truth in that. In the (excellent) recent DJTT interview with Armin van Buuren, he says as much - "if I played what I wanted it'd be two hours of ambient chillout electronica" or something similar.

      • Good call on that Phil I remember that interview im sure I saw it from this blog too. One big name there admitting it, a friend of mine used to be a sound engineer from ol skool rave days.He saw Carl Cox smashing an RnB set awhile ago. He said it was waaaaaaaaay too good to just be a one off. If u think about the elements used in a lot of remixes as well people sample some interesting sheeeeeeet because they like it and use it to influence their working scene

  12. If you want to be able to get gigs playing the music you love, especially if it is more underground, don't play cheesy music at cheesy gigs. You will regret it in the long run.

    The underground guys won't respect you and ultimately you should believe in what you are playing or you won't respect yourself.

    If you're gonna take it, play your sond but play the more accessible stuff.

    If you wan't to play niche music you have to do it with conviction and principles.

  13. I would do it. Honestly dude deep house and nu disco is a tough tough genre to work up. Doing it means making potential new friends and fans, it's all in service of the big picture. DJing is no different than any career ever - sometimes you gotta do shit you might not wanna do, and sometimes there's a purpose (though sometimes there's not - you'll never know if you don't take the risks). Being a year in more than likely means you have little to no following. The following is everything in the eyes of promoters - who could be very useful to know. It seriously sounds like a win win.

    Really what you gotta ask yourself though - what else were you gonna do that night anyway?

  14. Here's why you should take it...

    Most DJs hope to become that guy who can just walk in, play what they like, and the crowd will love him no matter what. They won't beg for pop music or tired stuff, and just party with the DJ running the music 100%.

    Unfortunately, the only guys who get this life are the headliners and bigger names who command a fan base.

    For the rest of us, we have to deal with the crowds dictating to us what we are to play, but if you become a regular or a resident, then what slowly happens is you build a trust with that crowd. So right now you're playing Call Me Maybe and Diamonds, but in a few months you're playing 1/2 the familiar pop stuff, but the other half totally the stuff you want to show a crowd...and they'll stay with you.

    Rome wasn't built in a day...so you have to work your way up into that comfort zone.

    • So right now you’re playing Call Me Maybe and Diamonds, but in a few months you’re playing 1/2 the familiar pop stuff, but the other half totally the stuff you want to show a crowd…and they’ll stay with you.

      ^^triple thumbs up. This is exactly how me and a group of DJ's converted my college house party scene from thug life hip hop to Aarmin and Afrojack with a monthly 1000-capacity rave sponsored by the city's bars. If you play what the audience wants/expects in the beginning, after months (or years, for UWW's case) the audience's tastes will change, or they'll just catch onto the music you've been introducing

  15. Underground guys don't respect anything tbh, keeping it so real they forget lifes for living. Tbh i've had enough of the underground scenes, way to much clique not enough enjoyment. People still getting Hung up on vinyl vs technology and u can't do this or do that because its not kool.

    I've seen many an underground head back peddle in my clubbing years. Saying they wouldn't touch this or that but you see them the year after getting into it because there's no girls left on their particular scene.

    Some good DJs do get boycotted as well because of crossing the line but for me there is no line. My jobs making people happy and keeping them spending at the bar, I do both well and get paid well to do it. I play anything and everything and can still mash up the dancefloor on my little slice of underground fetish. As thats unfortunately where these scenes usually stay because of closed minds.

  16. I've encountered enough frustrated professional musicians who play music they don't like and it's like listening to someone working on a spreadsheet.

  17. A while ago (can't remember the particular article) but DDT mentioned a method you could try:

    Try playing some of your stuff first (things they could warm up to) then slowly build into the peak times with some of your old tracks that you used to like the most.

    If you are getting booked in this way then it appears you know what you are doing, so I think you should not have any problems picking tunes that you like but the crowd would be somewhat receptive to as well. (Deep house and Nu-Disco is better for warming up since they are usually at slower bpms than EDC I have found, especially with younger crowds).

    In short, play your good sh*t first, then play what they want, but the tunes that you somewhat still like.

    Good luck and let us know how it goes if you take it!

  18. I say take the gig, what do you have to lose? I understand your interest in a certain market but the gig might take you somewhere different in you DJ adventure. But also you have to put the practice in for the certain gig.

  19. Something I learned the hard way when I was starting out. You won't like most of the songs you play at most of your gigs unless you are very lucky or you become a globe trotting producer/DJ. I can honestly say I have only played one gig that I didn't organize that I was actually passionate about the music I was playing.

    My advice, take the gig especially because you know the scene. You can even play some Deep House. Benediction is in the Top 40 pop chart in the UK now meaning Deep House has finally made the crossover to pop land and is accepted by the brain dead masses, hooray!

    Main thing to remember is you are performing at the end of the day. Even though you aren't feeling the music it will help allot to smile and dance. If you look like you're hating the music and having a bad time people will pick up on it. If you look like you are loving it people will pick up on that also, works both ways.

  20. Listen to your gut feelings. If you truly hate the gig, it will show in your performance. If it doesn't bother you playing the music, go ahead and do it. As for the respect of the "underground", I wouldn't give a rat's behind. Besides, cliques are usually formed by folks who couldn't fit in other groups. As the underground dudes get gigs once a month, I play everything and have a gig every week. I even play music I don't like. Yet, just like lordamercy mentioned, my main thing is making people happy.

  21. DJ_ForcedHand says:

    Honestly, I don't get people complaining about getting DJ slots. It's like a spoiled rich kid complaining that they got a BMW instead of a Porsche for their birthday. Most people don't have the luxury of being given a DJ set already chock-full of fans. I also don't get that you've outgrown a style of music. You either like it or you don't. It's not like there's an age stamp on the genre that says ages 16-21 only. Throwing this kind of question in the readership's faces is not only rude, it's self-entitled. Most people reading these posts could only wish to have your problems. Try and at least recognize what a tremendous opportunity you are being given and be thankful for it. Opportunities like this are rare. If you don't recognize that, please give the opportunity to someone who WILL value it.

    • Dude, there are DJs that want to play music for passion, and DJs who want to play music for recognition.

      Let's put it this way: We all start with some commercial tracks. For example, I started with Tiësto, Paul van Dyk and stuff like that. Then, moved into Mischa Daniëls, Deep Dish and stuff like that. Then I got tired of that and eventually ended on Deep House and Nu-Disco (and I'm getting tired of that also!).

      On the first side: We grow in our musical taste, we enjoy different things, but in the end, we still follow fads. Seriously, every underground DJ nowadays play Deep House and Tech-House. I played Deep House before a well known local DJ here started playing it also. Now everyone wants to play that thing.

      Then, there's the other side: DJs who enjoy the crowd. They love when people tell 'em "Hey, great music", even though they don't particularly like that music. Those do it both for power and a living. Why power? The power to make people dance. If people enjoy Calvin Harris, they'll play Calvin Harris. They might not like it, but they love when the crowd loves him.

      Now, there's a third side (yes, a love triangle): The guys who play whatever they want, for guys who enjoy whatever they play. James Holden plays whatever he wants. He's not into "underground crowds love this Deep House stuff, since it's underground I'll play it" or "People love this Afrojack stuff, it's popular, I'll play it". James Holden used to play Progressive House (circa 2005, of course) and then he got all IDM and stuff, so he dropped the previous. But that's damn too hard and take years and years of gigs and/or also a specific crowd. James got the second one on the beggining since he was on Border Community.

      Both underground and commercial DJs want recognition in a certain degree. The thing is to balance it up and provide good music with tracks people enjoy. Then, they'll think you're awesome and trust any choice you have, and you'll start becoming more real.

      I'll try to be on the third side and play music by Brandt Brauer Frick to some guys who love all this Deep House/Nu-Disco stuff on december 28th, so let's see how it goes.

  22. Simply put is the ONLY way you can take the gig is if can have fun at it, period! It's your energy that makes the first move, the music does secondly. If you enjoy the show so will they, you'll be remembered and they'll look for you. Then do your show but only one that one stipulation...

  23. Jam-Master Jake says:

    I would do it. It gets your foot in the door and you can--as Phil said--start to "educate" the crowds on other styles of music. Even if you're just sprinkling in a song or two of your tastes after every 5-6 songs of the popular genre, I see more positives than negatives. Remember that as DJ's, we often have to play music we don't like. Take the bad with the good and get out there and tear it up!

    Best of luck!

  24. Chuck "DJ Vintage" van Eekelen says:


    As said, no real wrong or right answers. Gotta follow your heart, just make sure you are smart about it. The fastest way from A to B is not always the straightest!

    In my early days I worked for Juliana's of London and got shipped all over the world DJ-ing in 5-star hotels. 6 days a week, 9pm - 3am. Sounds great? It was ... on the happening friday and saturday night when the place is packed and you are rocking as the jock of the town's hottest club.

    But then comes monday, tuesday and wednesday and thursday ... nights with sometimes absolutely NOBODY in the place, except the staff ... or one or two lost businessmen staying in the hotel. And you are expected to play, since you never know when a customer might walk in.

    So, was it work? Most definitely! Was it fun work, absolutely! You just take the lesser days with the great ones. And it sure helps if, even if you have moved to other musical preferences privately, you can keep an open mind to all music styles and (at least be very good at pretending to) like it.

    Apart from the ever important financial reward (man's gotta eat) the biggest reward for me in DJ-ing is seeing people out on the floor having a good time. And I'll play what it takes to make that happen. If it is something I love to play, so much the better, but if not, I am still a happy camper if the crowd doesn't want the night to end.

    Nothing wrong with ambitions, building a name and such. But until you can afford to pick only the gigs you want (because you get more offers than you can accept and the ones that you accept pay top dollar), I would rather spin and get paid and take some of the great advice offered here to heart and experiment with remixes, a little crowd educating and such than sit at home with my favorite music regretting that I could be out in the real world doing my thing.

    Chuck "DJ" Vintage

  25. I do this for a living. Whatever I need to play to make a buck. It's not about me.I'll listen to what I like in my truck on the way home with the clients money :0)

  26. Just do it. You might find that with the crowd participation you actually enjoy yourself. If you do it then walk away hating yourself you can think, "at least I gave it a shot". And let's be honest. If your too arrogant to play what the people want. You probably shouldn't be chasing work in venues. We are there to play what the people want.

  27. Like many have said here, I will just reiterate that there is no black or white and you should follow what feels right, but at the same token 1) you should always take gigs when you can because even if it's not one you are particularly fond of, it's good practice for more of the important skills in (reading a crowd, controlling energy, etc.), and 2) unless you pull your own heads into venues, you don't really have that leverage yet. A better way to build your brand would to be to rock any and every party you can gig at using your actual skills and not just the 'type' of music you play. I'd rather be known for my abilities to in-general "rock a party" than just solely based on the tracks and type of music I play.

    I'm actually a first year DJ myself, and I've struggled a bit with your same dilemma. But as I've practiced and improved over this past year, I've seen the feedback change from "I like your music" (which, let's be honest, is not even really mine because I'm playing music other people produced) to "you're a really great DJ". I actually had someone (a non-DJ in the crowd) tell me that I was great at controlling the ebb and flow and the energy during my set, which was far more satisfying than someone simply stating they shared my taste in music. If that's something an audience member picked up on, you can be sure that's something promoters will see. As DJs, most of us already have a great taste in music, so what will set you apart are the more subtle skills--the ones you only develop by actually playing out! Once you develop a following that way, then I think it gets a lot more easy to play what you really want to play because people already trust you. (I know a lot of this sounded braggy, but I swear that was not my intent. Just explaining my approach for brand building!)

  28. Isn't playing what the people want what it's all about? Don't most gigs have people come up and request songs? There will always be time to throw in what you want as well. You have to mix it up to please the biggest number of people.

  29. I play top 40 at events all the time and I can't stand it. I love House, Electro, and Trap! I do it for experience and to get my name out. Hopefully once Im more established I will be able to play what I want :)

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