Build A Scene And DJing Success Will Follow…

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Building a scene Pro
Last updated 10 April, 2018

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So there's no scene in your city playing the music you love? Nobody reaching for their chequebook to pay you to play your style of underground music? What are you going to do - moan, or act?
So there’s no scene in your city playing the music you love? Nobody reaching for their chequebook to pay you to play your style of underground music? What are you going to do – moan, or act?

Seriously and honestly. I think if I have to endure another article on the internet about how things are “so horrible” or how DJ culture is in decline due to the pop/EDM phenomena, I’m going to toss my Midi controllers out the window! I was away on holiday last year when DJ Zimmie’s rant on “The End Of DJing” made the rounds on the internet. I read every detail while on a car ride to a little village in Slovakia, and found myself rolling my eyes over and over again. With every one of this type of article, I keep seeing it either as young naive DJs who now realise there isn’t a 10,000-person festival for their particular offbeat form of underground music, or older DJs who perhaps had some success, but now gripe because their 15 minutes of fame is drying up, and thus they blame the scene for it.

I’ve been around long enough to tell you a big truth here: Most of the problems ranted about in these types of articles aren’t some new product of the internet age and digital DJ technology. Shady promoters, cheap managers / owners, undercutters, bad DJs who have social popularity, and uninterested club patrons are nothing new. Come to think of it, literally everything I see complained about by disgruntled DJs nowadays I saw happen in some way or form many times before Serato or Traktor ever saw the light of day. Yes, there is a difference in how we approached it all in the past versus now…. I’m going to get onto that in a bit. But here’s the big, bad, brutal secret to DJing success, the thing all these moaners either don’t get, or if they do get it, choose not to act on: To get DJing success, you have to build something… like a scene.

Take your cue from those who do it, not those who moan about it

In between eye rolls as I was reading that article, I started to remember things I’d seen and read. The varied pieces of video documentary on London’s pirate radio scene, especially in the late 80s and early 90s (before the internet made it easier to broadcast). The attitude of most rave promoters I knew from the 90s and early 00s. What stood out in my mind was how all of these people and more chose to build something, rather than just complain. They’re the ones who decided that if the current world wasn’t going to give them opportunity or support the music they loved, then they would build something to make the world into something they like.

Setting up aerials on London tower blocks in the 80s: It was dangerous and illegal... but it's an example of making a scene for music that had no representation, in the best traditions of pirate radio, going back to Radio Luxembourg and Radio Caroline decades earlier.
Setting up aerials on London tower blocks in the 80s: It was dangerous and illegal… but it’s an example of making a scene for music that had no representation, in the best traditions of pirate radio, going back to Radio Luxembourg and Radio Caroline decades earlier.

Making money and building popularity are viable reasons in this industry to throw events, make music, do podcasts, and so on. There’s nothing wrong with that. But so many people miss the point, and hapazardly throw their promotions together chasing nothing more than personal fame, rather than seeing the bigger picture and building a community or movement around what they’re passionate about.

The guys at Studio.FM back in the Summer of Love perhaps had notions about being rich or popular, but they also wanted to build a scene. The acid house scene that the normal mainstream nightlife and media would not support was all part of what pushed Danny Rampling to start Shoom, Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton to bring it to the Hacienda, and all those other events we’ve read about. Seriously, if you’re looking for success from DJing, ask yourself in all your DJ efforts… what are you building?

Think bigger than yourself

It has to be more than just about you. The most successful promoters and DJs in the world I’ve seen are the ones who build scenes. Even if we want to moan about the Las Vegas glam bottle service scene, it was still a masterpiece built by a few forward-thinkers who wanted something different than dark/dank spaces with pounding underground music. Before them, there were the guys who built rave culture in the clubs. Someone else had to have the dream and drive that became the Ministry of Sound, or Sensation, or Creamfields, or even Ultra Music Festival. Do you think those massive ideas would have come from just DJs wanting to play the music they like in bigger events?

This is Club Vibes in Amsterdam. Are you going to get rich fighting to fill a small venue like this to push your scene? No. Will it earn you the experience needed to slowly build a sustainable, successful following for the scene you are going to help make? Absolutely!
This is Club Vibes in Amsterdam. Are you going to get rich fighting to fill a small venue like this to push your scene? No. Will it earn you the experience needed to slowly build a sustainable, successful following? Absolutely!

Here at Digital DJ Tips, we have written many articles on promoting yourself and promoting events. If you hate your current music scene, have you sought out like-minded people? Have you tried to throw an event, even for just those few people? If you have, did you then try to find a balance so you perhaps lure some of those Top 40 people to try something new? (You would be shocked how many who can’t fathom underground music would go to an event if they knew it was an amazing party. I speak from experience here.)

What about you, if you do internet radio or podcasting? Are you trying to build a scene? Do you just spend an hour DJing, or do you try to show people new music in a more “radio broadcast” style with talk and announcements? Do you allow guest DJs? Do you do interviews on your show? Do you ever think about running audio ads for local events… thus helping to build a scene? I see everyone trying to be “global”, in the hopes they’ll blow up, but become “local” and you’ll first build an empire in your own city… which will lead to bigger things. (After all, Facebook was once focused on just the one university…).

When we stop being a bunch of individuals fighting for a few scraps, and instead build our own scenes where things will run in a way that gives us what we like while balancing and attracting “outsiders” into the fold, genuine things grow.

Now I’m going to help you…

There is a practical point to this article. After all, this is Digital DJ Tips, not Digital DJ Rants! As well as being a DJ and writer (among other things) I also help to moderate the Digital DJ Tips forum. Based on questions you all post on the forum, I’m kicking off a series on building promotional materials, starting next week. I touched on some of this back in my series’ on promoting yourself and promoting events, but I want to get more in-depth and give you guidance on a few subjects you have asked about. Things like: Writing a DJ bio, designing a DJ logo, taking a promo photo, designing flyers, email marketing, and making promotional videos.

Now, there are past articles that covered some other topics related to this (such as a website and press kit). If you can’t wait for the new series, take a look at Market Yourself Like A Pro, Build Yourself A Website, and Get A Demo & Press Kit. But as I say this new six-parter will go into lots more detail than ever before on these things. Again, though, I’m going to be totally honest with you. These things are all essentials: All successful DJs have them. But just because you’ve got them, doesn’t mean you’ll automatically become a successful DJ. That distinction is vital. Before you get going on any of this, remember… think beyond yourself. Grow a “scene” and you’ll grow with it. You’ve got a week to think about that before I start giving you some practicals. Use it well.

Have you seen people “all come up together” by collaborating, building scenes and getting established where you live? Have you done it yourself? Or do you struggle to get any kind of scene going where you live? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments.

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