Imagine this: It’s Friday evening. You just got home from a long day at work where your boss has no clue that you are the superstar DJ tonight, so he insists on making you work late. On top of that, you got very little sleep last night because you wanted to finish that new track you have been working on so it would be ready in time for tonight’s gig.
No time for dinner because you have to get some promo CDs burned, labelled and ready to be handed out later. Now there’s just enough time for a quick shower, then you’re dressed and out the door… not exactly the ideal run-up to a new and important gig, is it? But hey, you’re a worker by day and a DJ by night, and this is what life can be like sometimes.
And unfortunately, until you make a smash hit and get signed to Ultra Records, limos and handlers are not going to make sure you show up on time, happy and ready to wow – that part is up to you. The thing is though, if you want to be taken seriously as a DJ, you have to be ready to perform when you say you will. You don’t get to have bad days. You have to be 100% reliable. Yet so much is out there, waiting to trip you up…
Our seven deadly traps for up and coming DJs
So just to prepare you for the less glamorous side of DJing as you work your way to the top, here’s a list of seven pitfalls that you will most likely encounter, and a bit of advice on how to handle them.
Sure you’re tired sometimes. Maybe a gig lands on a Saturday and you were out with your friends a bit too late the night before. Or, like the anecdote above, you have been working hard and been stressed out all day. Part of you just wants to relax and dance the night away like everyone else, but this is not an option. You are responsible for everyone else’s good time.
No choice but to slam an energy drink, get out there and put on a show, no matter what. The good part is that if the crowd is into it, you will wake right up and feed off their energy. (Besides, it’s what you live for, right?)
2. Personal problems
I have had some great nights on the decks, and some horrible ones. I basically got dumped by my long-time girlfriend once while I was playing out! That was not a great way to finish out the night, but it’s a paying gig, and I am there to do a job. I just sucked it up and acted like nothing happened, played my set, went home and got nice and drunk.
3. Injury or illness
Some things will, of course, prevent you from playing (like broken hands…). But when Armin van Buuren injured his neck last summer, he was forced to take pain meds that made him feel tired and a bit loopy. But he still got up on the decks at Amnesia and played a great set. I know this because I was there, and had no clue anything was amiss; I only found out from his Twitter feed the next day that he was hurt. This is exactly how it should be.
My friends are great. They support me and my crazy musical dreams to the fullest. But they also have lives, and not all of them like clubbing and dance music. So more often than not I have found myself alone at a gig. This can be unsettling at first, especially in a new venue, and also cause some mixed emotions, especially when your friends are all off having fun doing more normal things.
This whole situation can also apply to boyfriends/girlfriends (but seeing as mine dumped me mid-gig, I may not be the best guy to give advice on that right now!). It’s hard to imagine DJing being a lonely thing, but it often is. Just accepting this and being ready for it is a big help in dealing with it.
5. Schedule conflicts
Once you start getting more and more gig offers, they will start to intertwine with your daily life. You have to be extra careful and organised in order to avoid booking a gig when you have prior obligations, or, for instance, when you have an early morning shift the next day. (That, or just suck it up and make it in on time.)
That also means that no, you can’t be a party animal at every show and hit up after-parties till dawn. Big name jocks only got where they are by learning effective time management and organisational skills, and by working very hard. They earned the right to party after a few gigs. That, and they have people to help them.
Until you do too, you are the only one who can make sure you get to your gig, play a great set, and then make it to work so you can keep a roof over your head. (You need somewhere to keep your equipment, after all…)
6. Awful venues
I’ve got some bad news for any would-be DJs reading this: most of the gigs you play for a few years might actually suck. Take restaurants for example. I have a regular spot DJing at a college eatery. They also happen to serve pitcher-sized margaritas, so it can be a rocking place from time to time.
But it’s a restaurant, and sometimes people are just there to eat. They don’t care one bit about the music. No one is even tapping their feet or bopping their head, let alone dancing. So I have to pick out my most laid back tunes and do what I can to make the best out of a bad situation. It’s all experience, and you have to look like you’re having fun even when you’re not.
7. Not wanting to play
Sometimes you just don’t want to play. Staying home in your pyjamas watching a movie sounds so much nicer than getting all dressed up, dragging all your gear out there and facing a (perhaps) hostile crowd. It happens. But, as I’ve said before, you have obligations. You would be ill-advised to be a no show at a gig. Promoters usually know each other, and if you screw one over, it’s not going to help you get in the good graces with any others they may know.
The truth of the matter…
DJing is the greatest job in the world, that’s for sure. But the truth is… it’s still a job! There are bad times, and sometimes it can be more work than fun. But as any big name DJ will tell you, you have to be prepared to suffer for a while on your way to the top. And no, there are no guarantees you will get there.
The solution is some stamina mixed with a healthy does of determination, and a sprinkling of blind faith. However you feel on any particular night, you have to show up, play the game right, and trust that the music and crowd will get you there in the end. Thankfully, they usually do.
• Chandler Shortlidge is a club DJ and house music producer from Colorado, USA. He’s also at university studying journalism. Check out his SoundCloud.
Have you had to deal with tiredness, or a personal issue when DJing? Maybe your boss has made it hard for you to get to a gig? Does your partner support you, or hate you DJing late nights? Let us know your DJ dilemmas in the comments!