How To Book Guest DJs For Your Club Night, Part 1

Last updated 5 April, 2018

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Guest DJ
Booking guest DJs is not as hard as you may think, and done right it can catapult your night from nothing to ‘on the map’. Here’s how…

So you have started a small club night in your town to showcase your DJing, and you want to book guest DJs to play at it alongside you.

Today we’re going to look at some of the dos and don’ts when it comes to hiring in DJs, who to book (and who not to book), and how to try and negotiate a price you can afford. In the next part, How To Book Guest DJs For Your Club Night, Part 2, we look at what happens after that. But first, let’s consider why you may want to book guest DJs at all.

Why book guest DJs?

The thing is, if you start a little club night playing your type of music, nobody else really knows what that type of music is. Sure, you can attempt to define your music style on the flyer (I don’t recommend this for lots of reasons). But there truly is no better way to say “this is a quality progressive house night” (for instance), than by booking John Digweed!

One really bad reason to book guest DJs, though, is to do it simply to make your flyer look better, or to make your night appear “part of a scene”, or just because you’ve got a massive inferiority complex and you think only by having hired-in talent can your fledgling DJ event survive. Truth is, your night will have to survive on your DJ skills anyway as it’s unlikely you’ll be able to book guest DJs every week, so it pays to believe in your own skills and music and only book guest as the “icing on the cake”.

Ram your flyer with inappropriate DJs because you think they’ll make your night look good, and you’ll just dilute your style/brand. Do it yourself and keep tighter control of the music. But guest DJs chosen carefully and used sparingly can be good for DJ-led smaller club nights. You get to meet people you admire, make contacts, and watch other DJs close-hand. It’s a great learning experience as much as anything else. So let’s look at some of the dos and don’ts of booking guest DJs:

5 tips for booking guest DJs for your club night

  • Find the right person to talk to. Some DJs have agents, some might not. Some may have an agent for a country that isn’t yours (so that would be the wrong person to speak to). Some have a wife or girlfriend who handles their bookings. But you need to find the right person to talk to – even if it’s just the DJ themselves. Follow and befriend them (or their friends) on Twitter; try Facebook messages; chat to them on SoundCloud; ask other promoters (top tip, that one!) – but find the right person to talk to for your territory
  • When choosing who to try for, go for acts that are rising. Realistically, you won’t be able to afford the John Digweeds of this world for your prog house night. Instead, go for promising newcomers. Hopefully after you’ve agreed a low fee, they’ll get lucky and have a big tune out that everyone goes crazy for, and you’ll have a superstar on your hands at a cut down price. I often think booking policy for small clubs is basically all about booking tomorrow’s big names first in this way. Don’t be scared to ask your favourite producers if they also DJ – many do, and will jump at the chance
  • Forget filling in booking request forms. Do you think the big promoters do that? Nah. Try and get the right person on the phone. Once you do, be business-like and urgent. Tell them a little about your event from their point of view: Things like how your event can help them break into the scene where you are, who else has played there who they might know, how the music policy suits their style of DJing – anything true that will make playing for you more attractive for the guest. Remember, DJs and agents need bookings, so it’s a win/win if done right. There’s nothing wrong with fronting it a bit – truth is agents rarely know which promoters are hot and which not in the next city, never mind a different state or country. If you’re sure you can provide a good time, I think it’s OK to be a bit bullish about it
  • Know what you can afford before asking the fee. Work out honestly what you can pay for a guest DJ. When you ask the fee, be sure to say stuff like “I’d like your best price for a small, credible club”. Remember that many DJs prefer playing cool, underground nights where they can do what they want, so if that’s what you have, use it to your advantage. When they tell you the fee, halve or third it immediately in your head and stat negotiating there. Tell the agent honestly what you can afford and leave it with them. A refusal this week is often followed by a phone call in a couple of weeks with a counter-offer, as diaries have to be filled. I’ve frequently booked DJs at a third or even a quarter of the original agent-offered “list” price
  • Consider teaming up with other promoters. Can’t afford to fly in a guest you really want? Why not have strategic partnerships with promoters in other close-by cities? You can share many of the costs, and offer a two- or three-date “mini tour” to the DJ you want to book to make it more appealing for them to do the shows

Next week…

So you’ve booked a guest DJ or two. What next? How do you maximise your booking? How do you deal with contracts, riders and so on? And what are you meant to do on the night? What are and aren’t your responsibilities? That’s all the stuff we look at next, in How To Book Guest DJs For Your Club Night, Part 2.

Do you want to start your own event and start booking guest DJs? Have you done so? got any tricks you’d like to share, or want to highlight any pitfalls for the unwary? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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