Over To You: What Was Your Very First DJ Gig?

OTY-rave-gig-digital-dj-tips

My first gig was at a rave in the middle of a forest in the outskirts of Moscow, a real baptism of fire.

Alongside this week's launch of our 7 Ways To Get A Gig series, we want to hear tales of how you landed your first gig and how it went. What bit of advice would you give a beginner DJ before their first gig that you wish you had known before yours?

My first gig was bizarre to say the least. I had moved to Russia a few months earlier and after spending some time networking and building my friendship group, one of my new friends, Misha, mentioned that there might be a slot for me to play at a forest rave. I jumped at the chance and it was agreed that I would close the event in the early morning.

I was told that I would be playing on CDJs, which I hadn't done before but not to worry, as I would be given a quick tutorial before my set. Having spent all week preparing my CDs, Saturday evening finally came. We went along to the rave and I really wasn't prepared for what I saw upon arrival. It was a drum and bass / hardcore rave, exactly like the one here. Absolute mayhem, with fire shows and dancers to boot. Russians really know how to party!

I spent most of the time wandering around, struggling to take it all in until it was time for me to play. Just before I got on the stage, I felt something on my neck and went to grab it. It turned out to be a wasp, which promptly stung me. Before I could take stock of the situation, I was on the stage and then I saw that there were wasps all over the joint. Something I should add here is that I have an irrational fear of the little blighters, spheksophobia, for those who don't know. As if things couldn't get any worse, the promised quick run through of how the CDJs work that I mentioned earlier never came, with Misha telling me: "It's easy mate, you'll figure it out," before walking off. Ace.

Having been stung already, the surrounding wasps bothered me less than usual and I put my CDs into the CDJs. Not having any idea of how to use them, I hit play and by hook or by crook, bungled through my one hour set with barely a matched beat in sight. At first, it was pretty frustrating but then I loosened up and just went for it. As I was playing the last track, some of the guys who were running the bar and other stalls on the sidelines came over and said it was the best music they had heard all night. That was really cool and made everything completely worthwhile. It was only when I got off the stage did I start to feel where I had been stung!

I came away relieved and in a way proud that I had managed to take the first step of playing for the public. I learnt a lot from my first gig, mainly to find out what sort of event you are playing at and to be absolutely sure of how to use the equipment before you play.

So, over to you: What was your very first DJ gig? How did it go, and how did you get it? What did you learn from your experience? Let us know in the comments below...

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Comments

  1. DJ Hombre says:

    The year was 1991, I was 16 & had only just picked up my first pair of belt drive decks, mixer & some very loud speakers. I thought I was the bees knees. When an attractive female at college asked if I could DJ at the weekend I jumped at the chance. I'd seen her out at the same clubs & raves as me, so I thought this could be fun.

    I bowled up with a couple of crates crammed with my best UK hardcore & acid house tracks, only to find the party in question was for her younger brother ... who was turning 7. Strangely the 4pm start time didn't ring any alarm bells beforehand! It was a shockingly bad gig, the children didn't seem to care - an odd sight to see 25 kids bouncing around to underground rave tracks.

    Do your research & know your audience are the key lessons learned here. Also, no shame in admitting that not everyone lands the perfect gig first time...in fact it took many attempts to get comfortable playing out Live.

  2. In the late '80s and early '90s it was tradition for older brothers to DJ our middle school dances. When I was in 7th and 8th grade, I thought the high school kids sucked at programming a night. When I was in high school, I DJed a ton of my sisters' middle school dances. It was a janky affair with every home speaker and amp system that I could wire together, along with two cassette decks and a ton of cassingles. Still, I was hella better than the guys who mixed a few years before me. At least I thought so at the time...

  3. DJ Sure Shot says:

    Sorry for the long draw out story....

    My very first gig wasn't even paid. It was at my house back in 2015. My wife and I wanted to start throwing annual "all white attire" parties at our cavernous home in a new city (I say that because the great room where the main party would be held had 20+ ft high vaulted ceilings and the that main space was 40ft x 35ft). My wife's plan was to simply run an ipod through the 7.2 surround home theater system and call it a day. Well, considering this would be the first of many many parties at our home in a new city, I thought that wouldn't cut it. So I purchased a super ghetto, 4000 watt QFX speaker with 3 12" woofers in it and 3 tweeters and a bunch of LEDs on it, HAHAHA!. I then got a Numark IDJ Pro and taught myself to DJ watching youtube videos...afterwhich I found DDJT. Armed with 300 R&B, Dancehall Reggae, Hip Hop and Deep House tracks ripped from YouTube, I played that party to death, from the inside balcony overlooking the great room. =) Because of that one party I landed enough gigs to do at least one a week for the next year.

    Since then, I sold the previous setup and amassed dozens of PAR LED lights, lighting stands, uplights, PA Speakers, various sized sub's, tables, scrimms, various DJ facades, etc. I still rock my iPad and IDJ Controller though. I was able to take that love of music and join various DJ Pools, get top quality Mp3's (numbering in the 10s of thousands) and start a part time mobile DJ'ing service, doing huge parties, weddings, formals and gigantic all white attire parties throughout our city.

    Although that first gig was in my home and unpaid, it opened up an entire world of DJ'ing for the love of it and getting paid for it. One of the best decisions I could have made...

  4. Dennis Parrott says:

    Well, my first gig went a bit better than Christian's wasp-a-palooza!

    I had started thinking about DJing because my wife Kate & I were at a wedding with an absolutely atrocious DJ who was playing (badly) copied CDs of country music on a system that was too small and unprofessional for a party of 400+ attendees. To make matters worse, all of his CDs skipped like schoolkids at recess. My thought was "I can do better just playing out of iTunes on my live rig!" (I owned a decent set of kit for doing live shows... nice JBL stuff, Crown amps...)

    Fast forward a bit, a guy I worked with ran fundraising parties in his rather large back yard (his son had contracted multiple sclerosis and he raised funds for them -- $25,000 at a weekend party, not bad...). He was carping about the DJ he had at the prior year's party -- cost him a lot, he played stuff the crowd did not like (most of the people were older, the 40-65 crowd. I volunteered to come and play my collection of 60s stuff - Motown, garage rock, etc. - since that would go down with the crowd his party attracted.

    The party was a smash and we had a very full dance floor all night long. And to tell the truth I knew NOTHING about "real DJing" at that point. I was literally just a human-operated jukebox playing songs I loved that a crowd of my peers would like.

    What is even more hilarious is that I had some very nice pro-level sound gear from my live sound activities but ABSOLUTELY NO DJ GEAR. No decks, no DJ mixer (and no crossfader...), no nothing.

    I built up a cheap and cheerful "DJ rig" that worked okay... I had a Window XP laptop running a combination of 3 software bits: Winamp, iTunes and some offbeat MP3 player. I attached a Griffin iMic USB sound card to the laptop. Winamp was playing a playlist through the iMic to the dance floor. I chose Winamp because I could choose a sound card to play through and because Winamp would let me rearrange the playlist dynamically by dragging and dropping. I used iTunes to search for music to play and I could drag a song from iTunes to the the offbeat player window so I could play the song in my headphones to pre-listen.

    I hooked the output of the iMic sound card to a channel on a small mixer (not a DJ mixer!) and as the song would be ending, I would do a sharp fade out on the channel, click the fast-forward button in Winamp and then do a sharp fade up on the channel. This eliminated any of the dreaded 2 second gap issues you can get with some MP3 or CD players. That fade out/fast forward/fade in sequence got to the point where I would have a less than half a second gap. The dancers would pause, hear the next song coming in and keep right on dancing. Once I dropped a song that several people made a frowny face at and started to walk off the floor! I shouted out "Wait!" and clicked to the next song. They all turned around when they heard a song more to their liking and the dancing continued to rage on.

    I learned something very valuable that evening. I learned that no matter what gear you have, what tricks you can do, etc. means little if the dancers don't like your music. Our highest service as DJs to our fellow humans is give them some music they can get immersed in and forget about the world for a while and maybe remember what is like to be happy.

    These days I have copies of Traktor [*], an S4 and an S2 and Traktor DJ on an iPad and an iPhone and dog knows what else. And I'm working to learn how to do things with the remix decks and all of that because I want to be thought of as a very skilled DJ but I always remember that a full dance floor and people saying at the end of the set that they want more is way more important than any bit of kit I have or any DJ trick I can perform. Deft mixing is great but a full dance floor is the only thing that really matters.

    Thanks for reading all the way to the end of that!

    Dennis
    --------------------
    [*] - yes, I have Traktor but what I really want to do is switch to Serato... That is thanks to Phil and the Power Mixing course (and yes, this is a shameless plug) as it taught me about "elastic beatgridding" and that is a feature that would make it way easier for me to mix the old 60s/Motown/soul/rock/disco stuff I really love. I wish that DDJT and Power Mixing had been available to me when I bought into the Traktor universe!

    So here is the lesson: consider the types of music you want to mix before buying into your DJing software!! If you want to work with music that was played by humans from the era before producing everything on a beat grid or to a click track, Traktor might not be your best bet.

    Phil -- thanks to you and the DDJT team for producing Power Mixing. It is BRILLIANT.

    • Christian Yates (DDJT Team) says:

      A great story and some fantastic advice there, Dennis.

      "I learned something very valuable that evening. I learned that no matter what gear you have, what tricks you can do, etc. means little if the dancers don't like your music. Our highest service as DJs to our fellow humans is give them some music they can get immersed in and forget about the world for a while and maybe remember what is like to be happy."

      Really well put! :-)

  5. Jabba The Shedd says:

    My first paid-for gig was in a local church hall for kids somewhere about 1980.

    I was a chef at the time and the pot wash guy's sister's youth leader was looking for a DJ and he tip the nod and I got the gig.

    Two hours in front of a bunch of kids was more nerve wracking than the many 20-30 minutes of cover I'd done for a DJ in an alt scene club I went to (that got me into DJing in the first place) ever was.

    I've been gigging on-and-off ever since. Never really wanted to make a career out of it, per se, but it has been my sole income at various times over the years.

  6. Rick Dawson says:

    first gig... of many
    was what you could call the internet version of pirate radio...
    video streaming using livestream.com Original service network.
    i think they were purposely limiting us and making the service bad on purpose as they didn't want us on their network with music.
    next was ustream. and then eventually along came Mixify.com
    they quit to Chew.tv. and here I am now streaming on Chew.tv
    and chew is going strong that it's met the GoFundMe target and is rallying for subscribers.

    I don't know if you can call getting a couple of Mixes played on DigitallyImported.com a gig?
    That was back in erm... iirc 2009

    although I'd love a real gig outside of home.

    • Christian Yates (DDJT Team) says:

      Hey Rick, I was streaming for a while and people were saying that I was ready but I wasn't going to do it for myself. I needed the kick up the jacksy to get out and play in front of people I didn't know. Check out the articles on how to get some gigs, would love to hear back if you got any gigs from using any of the advice :-)

  7. DJ Vintage says:

    My first "official" gig was a class party in 1977, around this time of year. Which makes it 40 years ago!

    We can argue if it was proper DJ-ing, but we had to turntables and a stack of our own 7" vinyl and those people had brought in 😀 . So, I am counting it as such.

    My first "paid" gig was not too much later than that when a family friend opened a bar/bistro kinda place. Opening friday night I was behind the bar all night, opening saturday night I was in the booth (about the size of a small toilet!) getting everyone moving after the eating part of the night was over.

    My big residency was at the age of 21 working for a DJ agency out of London, Juliana's. They offered DJ services to 5-star hotels all over the world. Those were 6 night a week 6-8 hour a night gigs. I travelled the world, stayed in those wonderful hotels and learned a LOT about playing for the audience in front of you. Every country having it's own particular things, own charts, own culture. It was great fun and highly educational. Something I have taken away for the rest of my DJ-ing "career".

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