I’ve not got your typical DJ/promoter’s history. Before I entered the DJ world, I hosted open mic nights. My most successful event ever was a (still ongoing) poetry night, which I started in 1995!
When my DJ career began, I realised that many of the lessons I learned from hosting open mic nights apply equally to promoting DJ events. So after over 15 years of grassroots promoting, here are my 10 non-nonsense tips for promoting your own DJ nights. You may not agree with them all, but they’re all true for me.
- Always remember that the night is for the patrons – It always comes back to this. They may come because of you. Yet, the night is really for them. Let this fact inform your decisions and behaviour
- Ignore “experts”, but find a mentor – With every event I’ve ever put together, someone has given me their unsolicited advice; unsolicited advice that was pretty much always wrong. In the DJ’s case, sometimes it’s a know-it-all claiming to be a DJ themselves. So who do you listen to? Easy – someone you know personally who possesses experience doing what you’re doing now. When I started out, not only did my experienced DJ friend give me music, he also gave me tips. His tips worked pretty damned good too
- Be tolerant of other cultures, racial/ethnic groups, sexual persuasions… – If you come across as some kind of a bigot, word will travel fast. Being tolerant adds more money to your night, which makes bar and club owners happy. So even if you don’t care for someone’s lifestyle, respect them like you yourself would want to be respected
- Realise you’re the boss – Even though the night is for the patrons, don’t let them run over you. The biggest complainers about my nights are those who attempted running over me and failed. Even if you’re a DJ who has to play every request, you’re still the boss. (In this instance, I learned not to play requests immediately, even if the person tipped. You’re not a jukebox. You’re a DJ…)
- Don’t expect to make money right away – If you’re dealing with a bar or club owner out for a quick buck, consider changing residency. Events take time to build an audience. Any bar or club owner who can’t accept that is someone whose business may close very soon
- Learn basic graphic design – Sometimes, a graphic designer who does things for free can prove to be unreliable and/or unpredictable. They may take their sweet time making your flyer or poster when you need it as soon as possible. Sometimes, they even include things on the flyer or poster that may inspire you to want to punch them! If you can laptop DJ, you can at least learn to make basic flyers and posters
- Use the social networks ethically – Now, here’s the trick. When it comes to Facebook or whatever, only invite people who you think might be interested in your night. When out of curiosity I attended an inappropriate-for-me event a promoter had invited me to on Facebook, folks looked at me weird – even the promoter! I then realised the promoter didn’t really want to be my Facebook friend, they were just after my money. Don’t let your future patrons think about you this way
- Tell the media – At least, make sure your night gets listed in the nightlife section of your local press. Even in the Facebook age, this is still important
- Be cautious of close-minded patrons – Here’s a story. I love rock music. Yet, for years, I’ve always disliked some rock music lovers. I still do. Of all groups, I find members of this tribe to not only be the most racist, they also run off the women. You don’t believe me? Stop playing the funky “ethnic” music, start playing rock music most of the night and see what happens (actually, please don’t). Never cater to people who thinks certain music is too “ethnic”, too “gay” or whatever. In my experience, when I see bar owners catering to those types, the bar eventually changes ownership
- Have fun – Sometimes, I’ll play the most offensive dance song just to liven the crowd. One of my favourites is The Whisper Song by The Ying Yang Twins. Not only do people start saying the lyrics, booties also start shaking. (By this time, intolerant-types start complaining and request non-danceable music – see the point above!)
Now, if you’ve done these things and nothing happens, the fault may not be all yours. Sometimes, it’s the place itself…
Some people just should not own bars or clubs. Many owners can’t comprehend good customer service. Also, some cater more to the wrong people versus the ones who can really bring in money. Another thing could be the bar or club’s location, a location many people don’t travel to. You should stick at it, but there’s also an art to knowing when to give up and try something elsewhere.
• DJ Stone Crazy is a DJ from Central Florida, USA. Here’s his blog.
Do you agree or disagree with DJ Stone Crazy? Have you had similar issues when promoting? Got any surprising or little-heard tips you’d like to share about dealing with the public and bar owners while promoting? Please let us know in the comments!