The 3 Big Assumptions That Nearly Destroyed My DJ Career

Assumption

Want to have real success as a DJ/producer? There are a few things you need to take a hard look at, says Mike Monday.

Mike Monday is a veteran music producer and DJ, who now helps beginners to big names like Claude VonStroke to enjoy making more music in less time with better results. Click here now for his free video training series and ebook on the most effective ways to get the music out of your head and into the world.

Since hanging up my headphones on a long, successful global DJ career a couple of years ago, I've helped hundreds do what I did. My mission is to help many hundreds more do much better than I did! And to do this one of the most useful questions I’ve asked myself is: If I knew then what I know now, what would I do differently?

My 17 years of studio experience, the hundreds of tunes I've released, the countless gigs I've played, the multiple record labels and club nights I've run, the hundreds of hours of research on how the creative process works - all have contributed to a unique perspective on what it takes to make it as a DJ/producer. And in my last post I started sharing this perspective with the three mistakes I made before my career as a globetrotting DJ took off. These mistakes meant it took me at least six years to get out of playing in my friends' kitchens and into clubs.

But I didn’t just make mistakes before I got going. There were also plenty during and after I got successful.

You see, I did pretty well. I got to have many experiences I dreamed of when I was a kid; performing to big crowds, travelling the world, earning a great living doing I what I loved. Although looking back now, I sometimes wonder how I got there at all. Because I made multiple mistaken (yet very common) assumptions about many things which held me back - assumptions that meant I made the same mistakes time and again. But there were three mistakes in particular that nearly ended my career. Here they are:

1. "I can't make decisions"

This isn't a good look for a DJ/producer. All we do is make decisions! Think about it. How many decisions do you have to make to do one single mix? What tune do you play next? When do you bring it in? How do you bring it in? How do you take the last one out? When do you take the last one out? Do you use effects? Which one(s)? This is before you make all the others. Like what kind of music you play, what equipment you use, what your DJ name is, what you want from your DJing (the list goes on).

Decision Ahead

A good decision is better than a bad decision, but both are better than no decision at all.

You see, any creative process is a very long list of very small decisions. And any creative career is another extremely long list of yet more decisions! These decisions will determine the quality of your career, DJ sets, mixtapes, life, happiness, fulfilment, bank balance; anything you care to mention. Now I knew this. But it totally freaked me out! So I did everything I could to put off that moment of decision. And I'm ashamed to say, in my most unfortunate moments, I made no decision at all.

For example, let's take the biggest decision I never made: My “sound”. As a classically trained musician (I did a music degree at Oxford Uni) I could have chosen almost anything. Any style, genre or sound. But instead of choosing anything, I chose everything. (Actually that's not strictly true, not absolutely everything. I don't recall playing any country and western gigs!) But I didn't decide. I never made that (admittedly difficult) choice. I just kept my options open. For 17 years!

And If I did start to get known for a particular sound? I’d promptly move onto something else. So promoters, audiences, other DJs - they never quite knew what they were going to get. Exciting? Maybe. A risk? Definitely. Because it was almost impossible to put me in the right clubs, at the right time, in front of the right people. It made it harder for me to be consistent and meant I had many more creative decisions to make with every gig, tune, remix and album.

I have no doubt this single “non-decision” limited my success. Worse than that, it nearly ruined my career on more than one occasion, because when I went in another direction, it was like starting all over again.

What I'd do differently now...

I spent countless hours honing my DJing and production skills. Because I had more expertise to draw on as time went on, of course this led to me making better decisions. But what about the shortcut? What about learning, honing and practising the skill which would have made decision making a million times easier and smoother? The skill of making great decisions fast! Learning how we decide. Understanding the various mental processes we use to make decisions. Using this to get better at decision making.

You see, I've now realised just how much time I wasted. Because if you don’t know how your brain makes decisions, the only thing you have to go on is the content of each decision. So you amass more information. You learn more stuff. You weigh up the pros and cons time and again. All of which you hope will help you come to a better, more informed decision. (Incidentally research has shown this is the worst way to make a good decision!)

And as result, too often you never make that decision. You run out of time. You let circumstances, events or other people decide for you. Or like me, you just avoid the decision altogether, spinning all manner of elaborate justifications for avoiding that hard choice. And this is a terrible strategy! I missed many opportunities by not making decisions. The biggest one being the success of my entire career.

And if I knew what I know now about decision making itself, this difficult decision would have been much easier. Because one of the best ways you can make great decisions fast is to learn how to make decisions! (Seems obvious doesn’t it?) So the next time you have a decision to make, please don't make my mistake. Make it. Remember, the best decision is a good decision. The next best is a bad decision. But the very worst decision you can make is to avoid deciding.

2. "That made me scared"

Happy sad faces

One bad review, and it could take months to get out of the lack of confidence caused.

I always assumed that my confidence was solely down to what happened. Like if I had a gig where the crowd went wild, or got a great review for one of my tunes, or an amazing reaction from one of my DJ heroes; my level of confidence would go up, and my fear and anxiety would go down. I'd ride that wave of confidence, and while it lasted it was exhilarating. I was on fire! I could do no wrong! What’s next?

But there’s a problem here. What goes up must come down. A dodgy gig, a bad review or a negative reaction... Where was my confidence now? Replaced by that familiar gnawing fear in the pit of my stomach. So all I could do was wait for the next good thing to happen. (Although somehow I always needed about five good to cancel out one bad!) This endless oscillation between confidence and fear was how the majority of my career went. And if I had a bad run? Getting out of a funk like that took months…

What I'd do differently now...

Of course your confidence grows when good stuff happens. And you will feel anxious when the inevitable bad stuff comes knocking. But my biggest mistake was thinking that my confidence or anxiety was solely down to what happened to me. Because it's a two-way street. When you're confident, stuff happens which makes you more confident. And when you're scared, you stop those things happening. This make you more scared. For instance, who's more likely to rock a crowd? A confident or a nervous DJ?

Plus, just like making great decisions, feeling the fear and doing it anyway is a skill. You can learn it and practise it. You see, it doesn't matter who you are. Even the biggest DJs in the world feel that fear. No matter how much swagger they exude. (Between you and me that swagger is usually a way of masking that fear!) Confidence is not an absence of fear. Confidence is the skill the DJs you love use to feel the fear and do it anyway. And there is nothing stopping you learning this skill too.

3. "I am [this]" or "I always [that]" or "I never [the other]"

How often do you find yourself saying something similar to "I'm lazy", or "I always procrastinate", or "I never have the willpower"? If you're anything like I was, you say stuff like this a lot. For example, I used to think I didn't have much willpower. I believed I was pretty useless at seeing stuff through. And I got into a mindset where I’d never make music when I was tired because... yup, "I don't have the willpower".

Now this was OK before I started playing everywhere. But to a DJ who plays all over the world every weekend? This single belief can fast be your biggest downfall. It has the potential to sink your career. Flying out of London on a Thursday or Friday (depending on whether I was playing in a country east or west) and getting back on a Sunday or Monday leaves you four days a week to produce music at best.

DJ airport

While on the outside, Mike Monday's DJ life had all the trappings of success (gigs abroad every weekend, a successful production career), the truth is he was making some big mistakes, any of which could have destroyed his career.

But as “I didn't have willpower”, that meant I needed at least two days' recovery time (to recharge and get what little willpower I had back). So that left two days. Put aside one of them for sorting out tunes for the next weekend, and I had one single day each week to make music. Music got me gigs. No music, no gigs. But “no willpower”? No music.

You see, in a sense I was correct, willpower does become depleted when you’re tired. It’s a finite resource. But being exhausted comes with the job. So does making music. And by telling myself (and others) constantly that "I didn't have willpower", I was doing the worst thing I could have possibly done to support myself. The truth is that assumptions like this are nearly always based on a partial assessment of the facts. When I had a big remix deadline I somehow managed to find the willpower to finish some of my best work, no matter how tired I was.

And take my “I can’t make decisions” assumption. Looking back I did make decisions, and some of them were great! Every time I invested in myself and decided to learn my craft in the studio and club; every time I took the plunge and did that thing which scared me most; every time I wasn't sure of the outcome but did it anyway. Actually, these were the decisions which created and defined my success.

How I'd think differently now...

This way of talking to yourself about yourself is actually what's behind the other two assumptions (and many others). It the most insidious assumption of the lot. I assumed the characteristics essential to success - like willpower, decisiveness, confidence - were just that. Character traits. Who I was. But by saying you are indecisive, you always procrastinate. By saying you don't have any willpower, you are making it true! And what’s worse, you are reinforcing the underlying assumption: The assumption that these traits are fixed. They are not.

Because where do your habits, willpower, courage, confidence, decisiveness, skill and even talent come from? They come from that lump of grey matter between your ears. And as the last 10 years of neuroscience has now proved, your brain is malleable and is constantly changing until the moment you draw your last breath. Some areas get bigger, thicker and stronger while others get weaker and smaller. It literally changes (and this is the important and massively exciting part) according to what you ask it to do.

So if you ask it to make decisions again and again? You will become more decisive. If you consistently take the action that scares you? You will become more confident. But if you give up time and again? You will lose your willpower. What does this mean? In both a physical sense and a literal sense - you are who you choose to be.

What to do now

Click here for Mike's his free video training series and "Seven Steps Every Music Producer Needs To Take" ebook on the most effective ways to get the music out of your head and into the world.

Did your career finally get going after a false start or two? Are you still waiting for something to happen to kickstart your career for you? Do you recognise the way you currently think in Mike's lessons? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Comments

  1. Good to see Mike Monday managed to break away from negativity and a bad self image. A very generic tale, basically applicable on anything in life. The way dealing with these issues as describes here sounds as easy as ‘just doing it’ though for some readers it might seem as an unclimable mountain. Nevertheless, just keep in mind… , as with most mental block, afterwards it actually feels as easy as ‘just doing it’ :P

    • Mike Monday says:

      “Just doing it” is rarely easy. Although it tends to be pretty simple.

      But simple ain’t easy!

      Luckily for me, when I took the time to learn and practice some simple mental techniques it became much easier.

      Many of those mountains became molehills…

  2. This was a great article, and I’m glad to see someone else has similar problems with their career that I’m having with mine. Especially regarding the decision making. My problem is more always saying yes, no matter if a gig really sounds boring/terrible I can’t seem to say no to people. I think this article will really help me to discover my style and stand up for what I want with my DJ career, thank you again.

    • I have this exact issue. Saying no to something I should avoid is sometimes detrimental to my aspirations, yet I continue to do it. I think the problem lies with what I learned from others when I was starting. A DJ who was my mentor once told me “Play everywhere and anywhere. You need it”, so I did. I played house parties, small venues, warm ups, public events, anything. It didn’t matter because he was right. This habit made me become a better DJ. The problem is that now I can’t stop saying yes to any gig that comes my way. This has lead to some terrible gigs along with some great ones. I think the “I can’t make decisions” part of this article comes in handy here. Learn to decide to say no. Great article once again, by the way. Cheers!

  3. “…feeling the fear and doing it anyway is a skill.”

    That is one of the best quotes I’ve heard in a long time. I’ve heard it spoken/written different ways, but it’s applicable in all walks of life. Great article!

  4. Really enjoying the direction these articles are taking, thanks for sharing!

  5. DJ Nesbeat says:

    digital dj tips you guys are providing great articles. Thanks Mike Monday for sharing I think a lot of performers not just DJ’s can relate to this.

  6. Javi Garcia says:

    Feel the fear and do it anyways good book look it up help me play in front of crowds

  7. What a great article! Like everyone else it sounds like you are speaking about me. I am new to djing (about a year) I had a music career before that, that never really took off despite having been signed to magor record labels, touring the world and writing numerous hits. I never had confidence in what I did and that must have showed. Over the years I have gradually lost contact with people I used to know in the music industry whilst many of the guys I was in bands with have move on and up in the music biz. Now I find myself in a job that is not music related and takes me sometimes a 6 or 7 hour drive away from home during the weeks.

    Being a lover of electronic music which i also produce, about a year ago I ( having no Dj experience ) called a company near where I llive to become a dj and they took me on….to do weddings!. Not exactly what I had in mind but its a start and has thrown me in the deep end and I have very quickly learnt a lot.

    About a month ago a friend invited me to guest at a pub in Sydney with a bunch of other ( real) djs. This was my first chance to put into practice the skilles I had just learned…. but playing MY music ( funk/breaks/d&b) it was unbelievable! The other djs were so positive, I had the dance floor packed, even the bar staff said that I was the best Dj they have had since they started promoting it. I know I have something to offer as a Dj.

    Next day I got in the work van and drove about 6 hours away to work that week and haven’t ( apart from weddings each Saturday ) played like that since.

    All day at work I think about the songs I am producing , my sets etc, but by the time I get to whatever dodgy hotel we are staying at that night , I don’t have the energy to even open a laptop let alone start working on songs or practice.

    I have a hard drive full of unfinished tracks and I really feel like I’m stuck in a rut, hundreds of miles away from where I want to be….in a job I hate.

    I am in my 40’s now married to a beautiful woman and I have a great 4 year old son, which is why I’ve had to ditch the music career for the solar panel industry.
    I don’t even know why I’m writhing this, I suppose I need to get it off my chest and this seems like the right place

    Do you think honestly someone like me can rebirth myself and enjoy a sustainable djing/ producing carrer at my age?

    Again thanks for the article..
    Daz

    • Mike Monday says:

      Daz, thank you for sharing your story here.

      Honestly (and I mean this from the bottom of my heart) I know it’s possible.

      It’s not usual. But then most of the people inspire you haven’t done what’s “usual” have they?

      While you will have certain challenges to overcome that a younger person won’t, you will also have many qualities and advantages over them.

      You might make it, you might not – but that is not because of your age, it down to the choices you make and what you DO.

      And anyway – what does “success” and “failure” mean?

      Isn’t the biggest success doing everything in your power to do what you love with your life?

      And isn’t the biggest failure always wondering “what if”?

  8. What a great article! Like everyone else it sounds like you are speaking about me. I am new to djing (about a year) I had a music career before that, that never really took off despite having been signed to magor record labels, touring the world and writing numerous hits. I never had confidence in what I did and that must have showed. Over the years I have gradually lost contact with people I used to know in the music industry whilst many of the guys I was in bands with have move on and up in the music biz. Now I find myself in a job that is not music related and takes me sometimes a 6 or 7 hour drive away from home during the weeks.

    Being a lover of electronic music which i also produce, about a year ago I ( having no Dj experience ) called a company near where I llive to become a dj and they took me on….to do weddings!. Not exactly what I had in mind but its a start and has thrown me in the deep end and I have very quickly learnt a lot.

    About a month ago a friend invited me to guest at a pub in Sydney with a bunch of other ( real) djs. This was my first chance to put into practice the skilles I had just learned…. but playing MY music ( funk/breaks/d&b) it was unbelievable! The other djs were so positive, I had the dance floor pumping, even the bar staff said that I was the best Dj they have had since they started promoting it. I know I have something to offer as a Dj.

    Next day I got in the work van and drove about 6 hours away to work that week and haven’t ( apart from weddings each Saturday ) played like that since.

    All day at work I think about the songs I am producing , my sets etc, but by the time I get to whatever dodgy hotel we are staying at that night , I don’t have the energy to even open a laptop let alone start working on songs or practice.

    I have a hard drive full of unfinished tracks and I really feel like I’m stuck in a rut, hundreds of miles away from where I want to be….in a job I hate.

    I am in my 40’s now married to a beautiful woman and I have a great 4 year old son, which is why I’ve had to ditch the music career for the solar panel industry.
    I don’t even know why I’m writing this, I suppose I need to get it off my chest and this seems like the right place

    Do you honestly think someone like me can rebirth myself and enjoy a sustainable djing/ producing career at my age?

    Again thanks for the article..
    Daz

    • Hi Mike, thanks for your reply. You know… yesterday I tried to send that post a few times but due to weak mobile signal in the Aussie outback, it didn’t seem go through. Eventually I got on line and sent it last nite only to realise it was already up… which made me feel like a real NOB….. But I’m so glad I did, you are right, it’s not for you to tell me if I can achieve success as a Dj it’s for me to DO IT.

      This is weird, today my wife went to pick up a cd from the mobile Dj Co. I work for, the guy that runs it told her that in the short time that I’ve been there, I have become one of his best djs, he gets nothing but great feedback and wanted to know if I’d be up to doing younger parties and maybe a nite at one of the clubs he supplies djs for. He thought I was some rock dude and had no idea that I was into electro music.

      Sure, this is nothing to crow about, but it made me realise that under a year ago I’d never even djed before, now I’m doing it every weekend and getting paid for it, and finally it feels like I’m moving in the right direction at least.

      I’ve also been asked back to play at that pub again next month.. Which is great!
      I’m gonna dig up on of my unfinished tracks work on it ,and if its good enough, drop it somewhere in that set and see what happens…

      I guess being so isolated with my day job, this site and community is priceless to me cause it means I can now interact with like minded people…this and you have helped me immensely.

      There must be heaps of people like me out there, that have put music careers on hold so they can provide for their families, it is a noble thing to do… But to resign your self to a job you hate when you know with every fibre of your body that you need to be making and playing music is horrible.

      Yeah, I might be playing at weddings on the weekends at the moment but its a stepping stone, and I’m stepping all over it.

      Reading about the challenges and roadblocks you have come across in your career and pushed through , I have realised that I am not so different from you… and maybe it time for me to do a little pushing myself…

      You asked me what success means to me?
      To be honest if one day I’ve motivated somebody to think and feel the way you have made me…. That would be pretty damn cool…. But I wouldn’t mind releasing some wicked tracks and playing some great clubs along the way too…

      Keep up the good work bro! I am a follower.

      Dazmatron .

      • I can’t believe I just did it again… please disregard the first of the above two posts it was a draft..

        Daz

  9. Great post.

    I myself have always wanted to start djing but never could. (no money)
    Sinds 3 months now I have bought a Numark Mixtrack pro and been recording the switches I make from song to song (I choose them randomly).

    But everytime I fail or don’t know how to put some track in over the other or the drop didn’t sound right I began to doubt myself.
    But the thought of standing before a crowd keeps me pumped up to keep going.

    I am to lazy sometimes like right now when I am writing this I’m thinking about picking up everyting and start playing.

    This article helped me much of understanding that I’m not alone with this and I’m really looking forward to watching you videos

    thnks,
    Jeroen

  10. Mike,
    This is really speaking to me. I definitely see a lot of parallels in our stories. While I wish this was available to read years ago, it is helpful to me now. I am going to actively change the way I think. It’s great to see this sort of information coming from someone in the industry.

  11. Hello Mike Monday, I wanted to thank you for this knowledge you are giving us aspiring musical scientists. Especially the third assumption because I do Procrast a lot. But now as long as I am having fun and working to get to my goal I will make it’s all in the mind

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