Way back in the 90s, when I decided I wanted to take a crack at playing in clubs and events, the most valuable piece of advice I was given was: Network your butt off. That’s been the major rule for a DJ of any bucket to get those gigs. Yet networking sometimes has an image of sleazy wannabe businessmen pressing their cards into each others’ hands at breakfast meetings.
The truth is that proper networking is an art form, and while many of us can get decent at it, only a few can truly network with the same level of talent that Michelangelo could paint. But from my own experiences both in the DJ realm and even in the “business professional” realm, it’s way more than just shoving marketing items into people’s hands with a smile.
Networking is a game
The game of networking is played on the idea of two sides trying to figure out if there is a benefit one can get from the other and thus one or both sides grow from it. When a DJ is trying to network his way into getting gigs, he’s thinking mainly of how to get into the booth and hopefully get paid.
On the other side, the promoter is wondering if you will bring them revenue and maybe new patrons coming out specifically because you’re playing. Even event planners think in terms of if this DJ will show up on time, be a professional, have all the music the crowd wants, and work his/her tail off to make it a fun party.
That’s the game of networking when you look at the bottom line. The object is to socialise your way into getting something out of the important folk you’re networking with, by bringing a benefit to them as well. A continued mutual benefit means this network can grow to a solid connection and thus both sides continually win as long as both sides continue to bring their benefit to one another.
Start with the internet
I’ve mentioned in the past about not being a hermit in your bedroom when you want to land gigs, and it is the truth. Unfortunately, just showing up to events and stepping up to total strangers can come off as creepy, rather than sociable. People are sometimes instinctively anti-social and cliquey, and thus it’s often not just a big happy open time at any club or bar.
The best place to start is the internet. Many promoters and other groups will be all over social networks, localised blogs, and message boards. They’ll chat all day about nonsense, music, clubs, etc… and then run into one another on the weekend. Join these message boards and social media groups. Just start chatting, contributing, posting your mixes in their music sections and so on.
Get to know these people and let them get to know you. These are generally the regulars who go to said events, and they’ll even speak up on where they’re going on the weekend. So a post about “who’s going to see Nick Holden?” comes up, and you can chime in that you’re going. Suddenly these people will say “we’ll be hanging by the back bar, come say hi” and you’re in.
Give before you take
When starting out on the internet, there are a couple of things I want you to be aware of and careful of.
First of all, do not go on boards or groups as a promoter. Don’t just go in and immediately spam the hell out of that site with mixes and events. You’ll get ignored quickly enough, and even labelled as annoying. Respect the site you’re on. I’ve seen many amateurs just pop on the “general chat” area and immediately just post event listings. Is it a surprise they get banned and no one comes to their events?
Make sure you contribute. Chat, talk, add in your two cents’-worth on matters. Be yourself. You’re looking to build a connection with these people. Again when I mentioned the example in the last paragraph, no-one liked the guys who just show up to post hype. They liked those who chatted and contributed, and I’ve seen DJ’s in that bunch land gigs.
It also helps if you don’t wind people up. If you see everyone on the board is a die-hard liberal and you’re more conservative, just leave it be. Don’t suddenly get into a political discussion that will end up in an online fight. Lord knows I’ve had many clashes with many fragile egos online, and it did not help me in the DJ realm. Remember the rule your mother taught you: if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing. Don’t front an ego either. I’ve seen some do this and claim it works, but no one likes a narcissist. It’s OK to be confident, but it’s amazing how many overinflated egos there are online, and to no surprise that’s the only spot they will have the ego, or be seen. Be personable and likable. You’ll go further.
Watch out for the troublemakers. This is a big one, and I’ve had issues with this in the past. Since this is the internet, many out there with no life and/or no ethics simply enjoy hiding behind a screen name and spending their day making others angry for their amusement. There are people who simply want to get you angry by insulting you, making fun of you, cyber bullying you and so on.
So how do you handle a situation when you see some guy hiding behind a screen name who does nothing more than insult you over and over? Take a cue from Deadmau5. He used to chat on many message boards before he blew up, then ended up with many folks who simply sat there all day bashing him because he became a big name. While many would “fight back”, he simply ignored the haters and only talked when it was a logical conversation.
Do the same. These jerks want to get a rise out of you, and you getting angry or fighting back only ruins your brand image in the long run. If you see the problem folk are “popular” on this message board or group, which means everyone will side with the jerk over you, then leave. Don’t waste your time. I’ve seen plenty of message boards for promoters become absolutely horrible because the promoter’s close friends on the boards were these types. It’s no surprise those promoters also failed (and couldn’t see that) because newcomers got the image that their events were full of immature jerks. Brand image, remember?
When you pick blogs, message boards, and social media groups to join, make sure they are going to benefit you, and not be a waste of time. Don’t join a dark underground techno message board when you’re playing hip-hop or trance. Don’t join the trendy glam club promoter board when you’re pushing yourself as a drum and bass DJ.
Taking it offline
OK, so now I imagine you’ve been chatting it up online and made some online friends while dodging the immature haters. Let’s say it’s the night of the imaginary Nick Holden event mentioned earlier and you go. You show up, go to the back bar, see a few familiar faces, and you all recognise one another.
Be 50% personable and 50% business. No one wants to be out partying at the club and have this annoying creature who’s only talking about trying to get a gig. It’s their night out after all. Relax. Would you want to be at a sporting event and have your cell go off every five minutes with someone wanting to talk about things other than the game?
Your goal when you network is simply to meet people, make friends, and make connections. Everyone is important. Don’t just walk into the club and aim right for the promoter and DJs. The popular girl who comes out all the time can be a greater help if she’s handing the demo you gave her to the promoter (who is her friend) and saying how you rock.
The clubbers who come to the web site every day to talk on the board might suddenly be all into you when they get to know you. If a promoter sees you post a mix and 90% of the board downloads it and it becomes a 20-page topic about the music, the sound, etc… he’ll know you would attract those people out.
So when you’re at the club, your goal is to get to know the regulars, be their pal, give them free CDs and so on. They have to like you and think you’re “one of them”. You will eventually meet the promoter and the DJs as well, but they’ll more likely want to meet you if they see their regulars like you.
Always have demos with you
This goes for any type of DJ. Those moments of opportunity come up when you least expect them, and it’s so easy to lose it all when you’re fumbling around looking for a business card or demo CD to give. If you’re not carrying a messenger bag or some kind of “man purse” with you, get one. Have a few demos and any other materials you think you would need in that bag. If you get booked for an event and have flyers to give out, it’s better to keep them in your bag with you. I know it’s taboo to hand out flyers at another person’s event, but it’s another thing if a patron asks when you’re playing next, and you give them one. At that point it’s OK.
Those demos aren’t just for the promoters. When you make a new mix, and have a rapport with the folks on the website, message board, or social network you’re chatting on, give out some CDs. Come in all excited and hand out some CDs to your new buddies. You would be surprised how far this will go. Sometimes those patrons are also smaller-league promoters, and they will give you that shot you want.
What about mobile DJs?
For mobile DJs, your world isn’t inside the clubs. Most of your work is based on word of mouth. Some find out about you through friends, former clients, and even other avenues that could sell you. So you might wonder where you can get your name out there.
Networking for you should start on websites and messageboards that talk about weddings, event planning and the like. Your potential clientele and connections will be there.
Besides the suggestion of working trendy bars and for an entertainment company, you can also network with event photographers, planners, banquet halls and so on. Sometimes you might have to wheel and deal even. Like give the person who referred you a little money, or a client right back.
You might want to get out into those after-work corporate events at times and see if you meet any planners; those people who throw corporate events, charity functions and similar. Charities help too. You maybe do a few for free or very little, and they remember you. Plus others will ask about you. The key goal is to be liked and show you provide benefit.
No matter what realm of DJing you’re aiming at, the goal in networking is to build connections and trade benefit to one another. You have to become someone they like. Get to know them. Get them on your side. They will not only hook you up with the people you need to get to, but they’ll also support you and promote for you.
I mentioned demos here today. Next week we’re going to dive in to the best practices and new ideas in making your demo and press kit. We’ll explore what you might need and what directions you should try. See you then!
Check out the other parts in this series:
- How To Succeed At DJing, Part 1: What Type Of DJ Do You Want To Be?
- How To Succeed at DJing, Part 2: Play the Popularity Game
- How To Succeed at DJing, Part 3: Get Involved in Your Local Scene
- How To Succeed at DJing, Part 4: Join an Entertainment Firm or Promotion Crew
- How To Succeed at DJing, Part 5: Make it a Full-time Effort
- How To Succeed at DJing, Part 6: Accept This Is the Music Industry
- How To Succeed at DJing, Part 7: Market Yourself Like a Pro
- How To Succeed at DJing, Part 9: Get a Demo & Press Kit
- How To Succeed at DJing, Part 10: Hit the Street
- How To Succeed at DJing, Part 11: Promote Yourself Online
- How To Succeed at DJing, Part 12: Build Yourself a Website
- How To Succeed at DJing, Part 13: Think Beyond Gigs
Has networking worked for you in your DJing or in your work life? Do you struggle to make connections in this way? Have you got any networking successes to share with us? Let us know in the comments.