Over To You: How Can An 18 Year Old Get A Club Booking?

Teenage girl DJ adjusting sound levels

So who'd book a teenage DJ? Truth is it's not about how old you are, but about how much experience you've got. Get that, and doors will open.

Digital DJ Tips reader DJ Rinzler writes: "Hi Phil! I've been into EDM for about two years now and got my first controller about six months ago. I am very dedicated to DJing even though I'm very new. I know you have a lot of info about how to get the first gig but here's the problem: I'm 18. I don't think any club or bar is going to want an 18-year-old to DJ for them. So my question is this: how does an 18-year-old get a first gig?"

Digital DJ Tips says:

Or a 21 year old, or a 25 year old… why would any venue take the chance on a new DJ, whatever their age? Look at it from their point of view - what have they got to gain by booking any unproven DJ - especially one that's so young? I'm not being negative, just realistic. So unless your dad owns a club, you need to find another way. The best way I know is to throw your own parties and build up a local following. When you have that, the clubs will be more likely to book you. That will be because you'll then have a following, but also, you'll be a good DJ.

Because right now, you may be dedicated, but until you've got those "air miles" under your belt, you're not a good DJ - public practice makes good DJs, not bedroom practice. Right now you're a DJ with (hopefully) bags of potential. Time to turn that into something real.

I'd like our readers to share with you too, as I know many people reading this have had to get their first breaks or did so when they were around your age.

So - over to you. Were you 18 when you first got a booking? Are you an 18-year-old who's successfully managed to get paid DJ work? Or like DJ Rinzler, are you struggling? Please share your thoughts, experiences and advice in the comments.

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Comments

  1. I’m 16 years old and I’ve played in one club so far. 3 years of experience.

  2. Mike Blades says:

    were you/are you popular at school??? do you have loads of friends on Facebook???? are you a girl??

    take advantage of these things if they are available to you.

    If you have loads of friends and KNOW they will come see you at a club, then make that your selling point to get into the venue “”hi club manager, i have 100+ friends from school who ALL want to come see me play…i can and WILL pack out this place for you””

    of if your a girl, dress sexy, and go see the venue owner/manager tell them your keen to DJ their club….if you dress sexy (not slutty) they may hire you on that basis too.

    But above all, make sure you are READY for the gig. Practise your mixing, get all the tunes you can.

    on the night, try to read the crowd (i.e if people are bopping their heads or tapping their feet, then its good. if they are looking around, and looked bored, change it up).

    GOOD LUCK!!!

  3. I’m just like DJ Rinzler. I’m 20, and for about 2 years now i got my controler. I played 2 or 3 public gigs, and it’s very hard to find club to book me. I think it’s cuz in my city drum and bass/dusbtep scene in not developed ;)

  4. Hey, I’m 18 years old and I started DJ’ing around one year ago with a simple mixtrack pro and I am now doing gigs in bars and clubs in my hometown. For example I’m supporting Krafty Kuts at the end of the month. At first I was into all the general commercial dance stuff like Afrojack, Knife party etc. Firstly I don’t know what you like to play but my main tip is to find a sound you’re really into. It takes time but it makes you stand out. I’ve found that deep house etc is a great genre to get into as it’s ideal for almost all clubs and nights etc as a warm-up DJ, which you will probably start off as first. Next, it’s really nothing to do with your DJ’ing skills. I practice alot and have become confident on CDJs which is essential for when you get your gigs etc. However I just found that talking to promoters is the best way, get to know them and don’t fly in with the DJ’ing talk. Another point as well is don’t be afraid to ask for things either, I set up my own night and I would happily take someone who asked and played the same style. But yeah hope this helps.

  5. Tom Dodge says:

    I managed to ” Break free ” from the bedroom at 17 and got public experience by DJing at local sports events, sure it may not be gucci or glamorous , but everyone needs to start somewhere! Once you have this experience then feel free to “jazz” it up when talking to club managers and promoters about it, it may just be the key to you getting in.

    Just remember, your not going to be able to walk into a club straight out of your bedroom , there is a sort of “limbo” period when your out and about getting practice and experience.
    But just keep in mind, even the biggest superstar DJ’s started small!

  6. I think getting your first gig as an 18-year old, is all about being social. That means being social in real life and also on the internet.

    – Go to your local events in which you would like to play in the future. Try to be present as often as possible. If the resident DJ’s recognise your face then sooner or later you can make friends with them and maybe get gigs.

    – Make yourself visible on the internet. Put together some mixtapes to promote yourself and try to make them visible to your target audience. You might not have club experience yet but you can still get a following with your mixtapes, a blog etc. Once you get a lot of plays on your mixtapes or your blog becomes popular you can contact promoters and they will see that you’re for real and give you your chance.

    Good Luck!

  7. If you know any other DJ’s (as in a friendly way) ask them or they know any places where they’re looking for new DJ’s (mostly for opening/closing an event) and like that network your way in. Also inviting other DJ’s to your event is always a good thing to do, they’ll stick around hear you play, maybe like what you do and think about you next time they have a place that needs filling. Furthermore the thing I do a lot is just go to the places I want to get in, get to know the staff and after a while (this took me more then 2 year) they’ll tip you at the manager as worth looking at, bam you’re in

    Best of luck in your adventure of being booked!

  8. well i had a lot of luck in this point. i just turned sixteen and already had some club gigs, which i got through connections. these connections brought me to an agency, that hired me, after they saw, how i DJed as a warm-up DJ and they liked it. so now i already have some gigs for this summer and i am very happy. thank you to phils how to digital dj fast, it was one of the factors that brought me to where i am now

  9. i am 17 and started djing 2 years ago. frequent clubbing is the answer. i went to clubs very frequently(just for fun and to meet people)and at the end i got to know pr managers, other djs and club owners. you will be a given very few shots however if you are doing fine(fine djing is more than enough for most clubs) then you will be able to have more sets and add a lot more in your resume. however don’t forget to change your djing style. me too was an edm dj however sometimes you will have to use top 40 songs or pop etc, djing is a job and sometimes it may not be as pleasing as we think. also practising is very important and getting to know the equipment.here in greece the 350-850 are very common in small clubs and the 1000/2000 in the bigger ones. look confident and try to dj the old fashioned way. if not use some old techniques in order to earn the respect of the veterna djs

  10. Hey, bro listen closely. I am 18 and I have DJ’d at not 1, not 2, but 3 different clubs. I started with house parties and I was packing them. This still is NOT what got me my job. As a DJ you have to be willing to do whatever it takes to get your gigs. If you want to DJ at a 21 ad up club you have to find a way to get in without being 21. There are several ways to do this you can come before the club opens or after it closes. You can get a fake ID or you can find a way to get in during club hours. Once inside you also need to know who to speak to. Now if this club does different guest DJ’s every week then you don’t really have a choice you need to find the promoter, the manager, or the owner. If this is a club that has permanent DJ’s do NOT talk to anyone except the DJ. DJ’s recognize talent and if another DJ puts in a good word for you that’s it, your job is done and yo have a gig. When talking to managers you have to send in mixes, and hope they’ll actually listen to it things like that. Again i’m 18 going to college DJing at 3 different clubs regularly. It’s all about putting yourself out there!! Hope this helps!!

    • Horrible advice, hate to say it. DON’T do “anything” to get you into a club, cause the quickest way to get blacklisted in a bunch of clubs, is get kicked out of one or get the owners in trouble for fake ID’s, sneaking in, lying, etc. If you are professional, and talk to the right people, you can get into the DJ booth at 18, 16, or 8, like the youngest DJ’s do.

      I have booked, and worked with several 18, 19, and 20 year olds in various clubs, but not because they were willing to do whatever it took to get the gig, but because they were worth booking. Also, many states have “Performer” clauses in their alcohol laws, which allows minors to perform without a problem as longs as certain guidelines are met.

  11. lordamercy says:

    Get to know promoters our get a Job at the venue.

    Some promoters use kids as warm up DJs to cut costs and could be an easy way to start out. If yr working at a venue getting on with the right people can open all sorts of doors for you.

  12. Hello,

    I can’t speak for today’s generation but I can share my experience that occurred in the early mid 90s. I got my first paid rave gig when I was 15 (in 1995), My first club guest appearance within a couple months and my first club residency the next year. I had been a part of my local scene passing out fliers, buying records, hanging with the DJ crowd, at the record stores, etc for the 2 years prior. So I spent a good 2 years just networking, gaining trust and forging strong relationships. Thats a lot of club nights ( Wed, Thursday, Friday, Sat and Sun). My domestic situation allowed me the opportunity to go out on school nights. I don’t know how people do it now days without brick and mortar record stores. Use to be you could hang at the store all day and be the first on certain days when the new records came in to maybe get a white label and have something unique that could establish your brand or set you apart from everyone else.

    So I guess my advice would be:

    1. Don’t expect an overnight solution
    2. Be true to yourself and focus on the music
    3. Be genuine when you network (e.g. reciprocate) and establish strong friendships. Marketing fits here. In my situation word of mouth marketing (from my peers, DJs, promoters) was stronger than anything I ever did (e.g. Mix tape cover art, promos, etc)
    4. Be unique/ standout (Make your tracks / loops in Ableton) or do something unique the crowd hasn’t heard. Take risks.
    – For example I remember one time in 95 we paid this UK DJ to come to our city in the midwest United States. He was ok but not many people danced. I think because the local scene style of music didn’t fit with his. The house club scene was highly educated with dance music. I played right after him. I threw on an old Sunscreem record on where I just played the intro vocal (heart beat) of love U more. I had two records so I played for a while. The nostalgia got the crowds attention and and built them up. I had the crowd in my hands before I even played the first record with a beat. Once I played that 1st record with a beat/energy the entire club dance floor was filled. The out of town headliner DJ looked at me and nodded with a smile. Credibility is built one performance at a time. Oh and I gave the out of town Headliners mix tapes to take home. That paid dividends as well.

  13. My advice would be to record a mix or two, preferably the best you can do and upload them to ur Soundcloud or YouTube account. I wouldn’t recommend making anymore than two mixes and I wouldn’t suggest making them any longer than 40 mins long (if you have no established fan base as yet) because people may get bored.

    Send the mixes to all your friends and to the people that listen to the genre of music that you play. There is no point in sending, for example, a House mix to somebody who listens solely to Hip Hop, lol!

    If your mix is good enough, you will start to get more of a following on your social networking sites, leading to more and more people interested in you. Once you have a good following, network with promoters!
    Don’t be afraid of rejection, we all have to start somewhere and unless you make the first move in todays society, it is unlikely you will be the next big thing. Don’t give up!!!

    Hope it goes well. :)

  14. mr. sprinkles says:

    In many cities in the U.S. any place that serves alcohol is going to have legal limits on the age of anyone that works or performs there. Depending on where you are located, this just may push you out a few years for most clubs.

    When I was underage, I wasn’t yet thinking about DJing in clubs, I was thinking about getting a little scene going. If you need a venue to DJ at, make one. I grew up in Cincinnati, which had many empty buildings. It was easy to know someone who knew someone who’s dad or uncle had a building to throw a party in. Before that, we threw parties in basements, garages, backyards. We even had a cheap generator and a cheap PA system that we threw in the back of a van. We would flyer other parties and basically throw impromptu afterparties in a local park. If cops showed up, we would just drive the party to another location.

    Think of other places you can play. Network. Get to know people in your community. A local coffee shop may let you play a downtempo set as an evening event. Galleries often use DJs for openings and events, and some even allow their space to be used for other events. Local and indie clothing stores often have seasonal events and fashion shows, both of which are prime opportunities to spin. Hell, even some vinyl stores have decks set up, and may let you spin for a couple hours. Seriously, use any chance to DJ in public, and practice, practice, practice.

    Also, when you get to know people, be genuine, develop friendships, and present what you can offer, not what you want to get. Be professional, and always follow through. Be known as that person that others can rely on. Trust me, as a former event organizer, the more I can check off my list during planning, the better. Someone who I know is trustworthy asks me to DJ the benefit I am planning? Awesome! One less thing to worry about!

    All of this gives you experience, and lays the ground work for working the venues you want in a few years. You’ll be amazed at how many connections people have, and how they will work for you if you develop your skills and a good reputation.

    tl;dr Develop your promotion skills to foster more places to DJ.

  15. Pbryandrums says:

    Great age to get involved in some type of band. Show up at all your local shows. These people are there for the music. Club life is about a lot of other things. Lastly being music. Learn some keyboards, be the guy who controls ableton for the band. I fell into the drums around 18. Ended up touring all over the states, played cbgb’s, festivals, opened up an outdoor rave in San Diego. Now I got an invite to Dj out in Cali because of the band thing. Take Cut Copy for example. Sorry if this is off topic but I have found the band scene to be supportive and most other bands want to help you out, its not a competition. I think it’s a great way to grow musically. Forces you to be accountable to band mates and collaboration is invaluable. It’s opened a lot of doors in my life.

  16. This brings back memories! When I first started DJing, I was about 19 or 20, and went into business with a buddy of mine who was the same age. We got our first “real” club/bar gig out of doing a youth dance for a local volunteer fire company we were members of. It turned out that one of the members also co-owned a local bar and liked what we did. We worked up a quick agreement to play for several weeks on a Friday night to see what kind of crowd we could grow.

    The bottom line is we used what opportunities we could.

    The youth dance was a pro bono gig to help the fire company out (and frankly, to get us some live experience as well). The deal with that bar was that we had six or eight (don’t remember now) to prove our worth. After that intro period, we renegotiated our rates and got our start.

    After being out of the business for a several years, I’m thinking about getting back into it. I have since moved to a new area, and have to start from scratch again (which means I have a second chance at doing it even better!). You seem to have the right attitude and if you can be creative, you will get a break.

  17. DJ Skittles says:

    I’m currently 19 years old with a year and a half of experience. It’s all about getting out there. Start playing parties, meeting other DJs, teaming up with other DJs, and going to events. It can take a while, but it is definitely worth it

  18. Chuck "DJ Vintage" van Eekelen says:

    Here’s a tip (not just for teenage DJ’s, goes for any starting DJ). Depending on your style this might work for you.

    Charities regularly host fundraising events (don’t think big money tuxedo affairs) and they have no money to spare. They are raising money after all, not trying to spend it … BUT … they have websites, usually lots of supporters and could be open to a dj who offers to musically support the event. Especially if you can get your hands on a small PA (maybe from a friend or a rental company willing to support you in supporting the charity), you can be THE guy livening up an otherwise less “happening” night.

    Your pay-off?
    * You get seen in action by a lot of people (potential customers?). Make sure you hand out cards, wear your t-shirt and have a few shoutouts with you.
    * You can have your name and link on the charity’s website.
    * If they have flyers/posters announcing the event, your name could be on those too.
    * You can perhaps get some (local) press coverage for doing this.
    * You get to work on enhancing your network.
    * You are doing your thing for society :-)
    * You are out playing live for a real audience

    Just a thought.

    Greetinx,
    Chuck “DJ Vintage” van Eekelen

  19. If you’re under 21, you’re fighting two things (more than someone under the age of 21) here: 1) You might not be legal to be allowed to play inside of some bars/clubs. 2) You are in the age-range where people get overtaken with emotion which translates to: They aren’t really known for their ability to act professionally.

    Even if you are the rare person who is wise beyond their age, it’s very hard for a professional establishment to simply take your word that you’ll follow the rules (of the establishment and local laws), remain cool and complete your set no matter what happens, and be open to changes if that’s what’s being asked of you by the establishment. No offense to you, but a lot of young entertainers get really angry when things don’t go as they imagined they would for the evening (especially after putting in all the hard work to get people there) and they just give up and walk out regardless of the number of people who paid to see you play. When an entertainer gives up and walks out, guess who’s left to deal with the problem… the venue representative.

    You combat these pre-conceived notions by having a list of establishment representatives who will vouch for you that you will play the full length of your contract and you’ll bring in people who won’t screw up the establishment (preferably people the owner knows), or pre-selling a lot of tickets to the event… not much else helps.

    Unfortunately, if the laws say no one under 21 in the bar, there’s nothing you can do (short of getting the local lawmakers to change the law) about local laws if the city/state doesn’t allow entertainers to play in a bar or club (sometimes, the laws are limited to certain hours). Some places don’t even allow a person under the age of 21 to get into a contract and when you get paid to play, that’s a contract. The venue representative will get fined and/or the venue will get closed down if they go against local laws and book you, so they won’t book you if they think there’s a chance of them getting busted. If your local laws dictate this, then find a “dry” (meaning no alcohol at all) venue to play in and get a parental agreement for working past curfew… and maybe a manager.

  20. Experience is a plus, but often (in my town at least) it’s all about what kind of crowd you can pull. We’ve got a few underage DJs, they get booked because they can bring in the people or have a following.

    Mixing isn’t always on the top of the promoters mind, filling the venue and their pockets however (not being rude, just honest) is normally a safe bet as to what’s on their mind.

    • ^ This. Last year I began to expand my operations from smaller scene parties into nightclubs. I remember going to a recruitment meeting held by a local promotion duo and to my surprise they weren’t very interested in fancy cards or mixes. After quickly checking me over the most pertinent question from their prospective was my ability to fill a room. Working on your skills as a DJ is integral, but working on your guest list is paramount in respect to acquiring certain bookings.

      I’m in the process of following my own advice. For quite some time I made a concerted effort to avoid the majority of online social networking platforms and discovered how limiting this approach was. DJing is form of expression, but in the context of working clubs it’s a business. Developing your sound while practicing sound business theory will only help.

  21. For me you should start on mobile djing to gain experience and confidence as well. Throw a regular block party on your place especially when there’s holiday occasions. You’ll then build contacts and eventually hookup on club gigs or even bigtime events…

    • I’d recommend mobile DJing as a starting point.
      I started off this way with a friend and we didn’t have any P.A or lights, so we hired them. We became regulars at the hire place, and they would recommend us for weddings, parties etc.
      This is a great way to learn your craft, especially how to read and control a crowd, and definitely how to recover from a “floor-clearer”!!!

  22. My point is you’ll then get recognize when you expose your passion (djing) on public. Playing live on your local or mobile gigs

  23. Bottom line is money, too many risks outweigh the rewards for a club owner. if you are a minor chances are you don’t know enough people over 21 that will drink and make the club money. also the risk of you or a friend drinking is enough to deter a club from hiring you

  24. habinpapa says:

    I think the question was more about the legal issue i.e., being underage.

  25. I know loads of gigging DJs that are aged 18-21. If you live in a city with other 18-21 year olds in (i.e a college/university) then it’s easy to get gigs and put your own nights on – d’ya get me ;)

  26. I’ve been djing for a few years now, since I was 17 (21 now) and already had some underground club experience in The Netherlands through some friends I have there.

    Though everything changed when I came to the USA for college. Here you usually have to be 21+ to not only go out in this city, but also to DJ… I got lucky with a newer place in town who was looking for something new, they gave me a shot and soon I was playing every Thursday and Saturday night for about a year. Seeing that I was getting some of the new EDM crowd to come out in a city where everyone thought EDM was dead, I got another gig at a more established club where they gave me my own night for EDM. So for about 3 months I was doing three nights a week at two clubs and I was only 19-20 the whole time. (only reason why I stopped was so I could get all my school work done)

    My advice, be able to throw yourself out there, offer free demos, live demos or hour sets for free to see if the manager likes your music, and just keep in touch with the owners and managers. I know all the club managers and owners in my area and all of them have offered me gigs just because I was polite, showed them something new that they wanted, and constantly stayed in touch. In short: networking. Also don’t be afraid to network with other DJs, they’ll give you more insight to the crowd in the area.

  27. Here might be a route you might think of going. I was 18 when I started DJ’ing (although not in a club). I started doing all of my High Schools (and a neighboring HS) dances and Prom etc… You might want to get a start that way to build your confidence playing in front of people. Then I moved on to college and marketed myself and got introduced to all the student organization leaders to hire me out for campus events. (Now this is more like a mobile DJ starting off but it gets me doing gigs, and yes this requires a PA system and mixer and stuff/all the equipment to start off but it is an investment because I have already made it back from the 15+ gigs I’ve done. Now the fun part, since people know I’m a DJ, I get invited to DJ a bunch of college house parties and I spin all night for a low fee and get really creative and have fun with my mix and techniques and interact with the party/crowd more. I also am slowly building up (I hope) an EDM scene by throwing snippets of popular EDM electro house songs into my Hip hop & RnB sets, so they can all become converted and let the EDM take over!!!!! haha, but yeah there is my take on that and how I got started :)

  28. Definitely about contacts. I was lucky enough to get my first break in a commercial club a few years back, after speaking to a dj, 1 practice run on cdj’s and he said come down and do this night for me. thrown in the deep a little but was a good stepping stone. Wasn’t my choice of music but it got me a name and in there.

    Now mixing at a few resident bars and take part in a couple underground club nights, with the hope to set up my own night very soon.

    Oh and business cards. I pretty much swear by them. Double up as roach card anyway

  29. I was under the impression this was going to answer the question of getting gigs in bars / clubs at the age of 18 when these places are Alcohol serving places
    and YOU as the 18- year old or even the 21- year old aren’t really allowed on their premisses.

    So with that in mind, what then do you do?

  30. DJAlexKayne says:

    If your under 18 a great way to start is to go mobile. I started when I was 17 as a mobile DJ doing my own parties, birthday parties, block parties, weddings, sweet sixteens, fairs, high school proms, and other events. But my goal was to work in clubs. An opportunity presented itself shortly after I turned 18 when a local club was looking for a new DJ. They held a “Battle of the DJs” turntablist/mixing contest and the only rule was you had to have never worked in a club. I won that battle, beating out 24 other DJs for the gig. The buzz created afterward got me a lot of work in clubs. Been a club DJ ever since. Mobile DJing is a great way for a young DJ to get known, make some money and create buzz. Competitions are another way to get in front of a crowd and showcase. Even if you don’t win, there are still many benefits to take advantage of.

  31. James Robinson says:

    Cannot emphasize enough how important house parties are as a first step to make your name locally. Prove yourself to your friends, prove yourself to their friends, and build gradually from there.

    Without this experience at first, there is no way you can make it straight out of your bedroom into a club. In order to secure your place as the DJ at small parties and gatherings, it is useful to buy a cheap PA system second hand, which you can sell on once you’re doing proper club gigs.

    Talk to anyone present who has anything to do with the local music scene (more often than not they’ll find you) befriend them and see if you can get a place on the bill of a small gig that they’re involved in. At this gig there will be more people involved the scene, and eventually if you spend enough time on small gigs, you will meet a promoter or venue owner who is willing to give you a shot.

    Start small and build up your confidence :)

  32. in my opinion, its not about the age! The boss of a club just wants people’s money! If you are good enough and you can make people consume enough and have fun in that club then it is possible enough to be a regular dj in it! Personally, i’m 18 years old and i’ve been playing in a local bar/club for about 2 years long and of course i’ve been paid for it! The only thing i did back then is ask the boss for a chance ! Just one night and he accepted it! I brought some friends of mine and it worked pretty well! As i remember i started djing when i was 12 years old and at the age of 14 i made my first mixes! When i was 15 i started playing for a local radio just for fun because i liked it (not getting paid) and it helped me very much to get rid of the stress that you get when you play in front of other people! So the thing i want to say is that you can just ask it and you may get your chance ! Just try! :)

  33. As harsh it sounds I always felt that with djin its not what u know….. It’s who u know.
    I got my first gig from meeting a promoter. He saw potential and gave me a chance. Smashed the set and all went from there. Started playing once a month then from being out in a ckub I meet more people who was willing to give me a chance and built ut up from there. Next thing I was playing regularly all around my home town. Im djin so much now due to family life being more important but for me it all started from meeting 1 person then networking.
    I have seen it first hand bad djs playing clubs and really good djs never leaveing the bedroom

    Another good place to meet people like promoters if u dnt no any is getting in a priate radio station if theres one in your area.

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