How To Succeed At DJing, Part 3: Get Involved In Your Local Scene

D-Jam | Read time: 5 mins
beginner how to promotion
Last updated 6 April, 2018


To prove you're a good bet for a booking, don't stay home - get out there and put something back into your scene first.
To prove you’re a good bet for a booking, don’t stay home – get out there and put something back into your scene.

In the last article, I spoke about how you have to play the popularity game in order to move up the ladder of DJing and get the more lucrative gigs. Part of the success of many local DJs who get a good start is the fact they were social butterflies. To illustrate what I mean, let me start with a story.

Back in the late 1990s, my hometown’s club scene (I’m from Chicago) began a large change that forever redefined it. We began to go from a purely local DJ scene to a global DJ scene. It was the time when the terms “headliner” and “opening DJ” really started to be used and made sense. Before that, most DJ nights were simply two or three local DJs trading off throughout the night without one being a clear “headliner”. Now you have big names from around the world being flown in and instantly given the best time of the night to play, and many coming out just to see this DJ. Still, promoters needed DJs to fill in the spots the headliner wasn’t playing, thus the evolution of the opener and even the closer.

In the beginning they would simply use resident DJs from their own crew, but as the audiences demanded DJs who fit the style of the headliner, promoters had to look beyond their own crew for DJs in order to have the musical vibe be fluid throughout the night. They would then start booking many local DJs to play guest spots in these positions rather than just rely on their residents.

Who you know matters

We’d like to think promoters were simply just going though demo CDs and even web sites to find the best local talent, but the reality is that a lot of DJs were more booked through their social skills on top of talent they had on the decks.

You would see some guys lament on all the politics that is out there in the scene, and even talk of the guys who kiss arse getting the gigs, but the truth is those guys got the gigs because they played the popularity game we were speaking about last week. They got out of their bedrooms and became socially known in the cliques and groups they wanted to DJ for.

Nine out of ten times nowadays, getting those local DJ gigs is more going to happen because promoters know you, like you, and connect with you socially. They’ll listen to your demo to make sure you’re not going to come in pounding gabber when the headliner is playing tech house, but they’re less likely to book someone local they don’t know unless that DJ already has a guaranteed following to bring in.

Give and you’ll get

I’ve known many guys here in Chicago who were booked to open for big names, and these guys have not even DJed very long. What they did do was go out many nights a week. They would hit up the weeknight events of the big promoters, hang out, have drinks, socialize without mentioning the DJ thing too much, and thus become friendly with the promoters.

DJing’s fun, going out is fun, and people tend to want to work with people they like. So get out there and show you love the scene you’re in.

At first these guys come off as total strangers, then familiars, then regulars, then eventually they’re invited to sit in the booth with the promoter and share his bottle of vodka. They might even head off with with the promoter to some after-hours or other.

Eventually a mention comes out of the promoter needing to find more openers and the word from his friends is you’re a great DJ. He knows you, likes you as a person, gives your demo a quick listen, and then you’re booked. Even if your demo is decent compared to a bedroom savant who can spin rings around you, the reality is you got booked because the promoter knows you and likes you. You played the popularity game.

See the promoter’s point of view

You can’t be a hermit and get local DJ bookings. It just doesn’t work. If you really want to see why this happens, try promoting a night. I remember the many times I’d throw and promote weekly nights at various venues, I’d get loads of guys rolling through with demo CDs.

The wrong way to do it
Most of them show up, try to talk to me a bit, small chat, then a CD comes out. Sometime after I take the CD these guys are gone. They didn’t hang out or even buy a drink. They showed me they have no real interest in my night, or what I was trying to build. They just saw it as another spot to play. When I gave one of these guys a shot, he showed up alone to play, and his friends were out in the car waiting for him. He played, then took off, even saying when I’m done for the night to come hang out with his crew at some other event. Needless to say I never booked that guy again.

This guy pretty much saw my night as an open pair of decks for him, and could care less if I succeeded or failed. Why should I support him or any other DJs who just “show up” one night to give me a demo, but nothing else?

The right way to do it
Another guy did come out every week to hang. He offered his insight on the night, and even gave flyers to his co-workers to come out, when I never even asked him to. This guy never even gave me a demo or asked me for a spot. I ended up asking him because I liked him, loved how he was supporting my efforts on making an underground night, and thus in my book he earned a shot. This rule applies to most of the DJ buckets we spoke about in the first part of this series.

When you’re going to the raves and hanging with the regulars, they will be the ones talking you up to their promoter friends to book you. When you hang out in that college bar every week (because you like it) and suddenly the DJ has a falling out with the owner, you’re more likely to get hired on to play If the owner knows you and likes you. In the clubs (both mainstream and underground), it’s the same thing.

Just go out once a week…

Name another job where this constitutes work! So get out there and do it.

If you want to succeed locally, then make the time to practice, play well, hunt for music, craft yourself a style, make the perfect demos and so on, but also get out of your house. Go out at least once a week socially.

Find the local event or promoter you would love to play for, come out, pay cover, buy drinks, hang out, socialise, keep demos in your pocket (but don’t push them on anyone), and just become a regular and even friend to that promoter.

I guarantee you’ll get booked way before the other guys who never come out except to badger the promoter with a demo.

• D-Jam is a Chicago nightclub and rave DJ by night, and a branding expert by day. Check out his website.

Check out the other parts in this series:

Have you got bookings because of who you know, not what you know? Have you been passed over for a booking because the promoter’s mate got it instread? Or are you a promoter who has handled this situation from the other side? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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