DJs today are set on a pedestal: Whether it’s in front of a thousands-strong crowd at a massive outdoor festival, or in the dark recesses of an underground club, the DJ is enjoying a wave of unprecedented popularity in modern pop culture. Mainstream news is packed with stories on how a handful of DJs are earning megabucks through touring and making music, living a life of glitz and glamour that musicians often dream of.
But despite this current lofty status, most DJs struggle to make a living full time, and for those of us who aren’t in the Forbes list of highest earning DJs, the best way to be a DJ and make ends meet is simply to juggle a day job with an evening DJing “second life”. Not only does DJing then become an extra not a sole source of income, but a hobby is often much more fun that something you’re relying on to support yourself and your family.
A little bit about me…
I was a claims manager at a national insurance company not too long ago. I was also the sole management trainee at the time, meaning I was being shown the ropes as the reins of the company were to be handed over to me in the not so distant future. I was also about to embark on my MBA degree, a necessity for CEOs in the corporate world. Career-wise, this was it for me!
Too bad I was obsessed with music: I was in a punk band (think the Sex Pistols meet Gallows), and had been DJing on weekends. As the months wore on, I started accepting more DJ gigs, often four nights a week, and had to deal with waking up at 6am for my morning commute to work. Of course, this wasn’t ideal as I had only climbed into bed at four the night before!
Things were this way for a few years, until I eventually burned out and had to make a decision: Do I focus on making my mark in the corporate world, or do I dedicate my entire life to music and DJing? I’ll tell you a bit more about the choice I made at the end, but first, here are some tips that’ll help you survive your life inside a cubicle and behind the DJs booth:
1. Draw a line between work & DJing
The best way to juggle a day job and DJing is to be structured and organised. This is a non-negotiable fact of leading this double life: You need to have set hours for work, meaning you can’t work overtime when you’re supposed to be performing, and set hours for DJing, meaning you can’t stay up until 6am partying if you have to be at work by eight.
2. Schedule your weekdays and stick to it
If you’re the “chaotic creative” type (who isn’t?) who finishes work at the very last minute and doesn’t have a plan, you’re going to need one: How can you finish anything when you don’t plan out ahead of time how you’re going to fit your day job and DJing in a 24-hour period?
Try creating a rigid schedule that you can adhere to at work so you get stuff done without the need for overtime. No need for drastic changes at this point; small steps frequently done will net you longer lasting results. For example, planning your week then working out what you have to do today and tomorrow to make sure you’re on track for finishing everything by the end of the week is a basic habit that can revolutionise your working day.
3. Multi-tasking is the enemy
When you’re at your 9 to 5, focus on it 100%, and when it’s time to DJ, say 8-12pm, don’t let work get in the way, period. Multi-tasking is a myth, and doing your social media promotion and DJ e-mail blasts while you’re at the office takes away from your attention and energies that should be devoted to getting work done, the same way that worrying about your angry boss while you’re dropping peak time bangers will turn even the most uplifting experience sour. Compartmentalise…
4. Think long term, then calibrate
Sure, it’s definitely possible to DJ four days a week for a few hours, head home, get six hours of sleep, wake up in the morning and then head to work. But how do you think this will affect your mind, body, and career years down the road?
If you’ve got a desk job that isn’t very demanding, perhaps you can have more than one gig during the work week, but it’s all too easy to just keep accepting gigs until you finally realise that you’re burning the candle at both ends! As such, it’s important to…
5. Have an office pal assess you continuously
Keeping in line with the previous tip, it helps to have someone in your office keep you in check. Get someone who you can trust and who can be honest with you, because this person will be the one who’ll be noticing any red flags (eg being late all the time, unfinished work, debilitating stress) as you go about your work week – before your supervisor does!
6. Use technology to gain the upper hand
You thought working a day job was tough? Well, it’s about to get tougher because now you’ve practically got two jobs to fill! When I was in my last days at my claims manager job, I learned the value of having two separate mobile phones: One for office-related calls, and another for personal and DJ-related conversations. I never mixed the two.
These days, you can have one smartphone managing multiple accounts. I strongly suggest having separate office and DJ e-mail addresses so you don’t get into any trouble sending e-mails from the wrong addresses (highly probable). Further, imagine if you accidentally sent confidential office information to your DJ mailing list!
I also highly suggest having this suite of apps in your laptop and mobile device: Gmail (or your mail app), Evernote for note taking, and something like Wunderlist for To-Do lists (you can create as many lists as you like!). Also, having your DJ music on your phone likewise can give you a chance to start prepping for your gig on the bus home…
7. Keep your health and your habits in check
Tired from last night’s gig? While a quadruple espresso shot would definitely clear your head, this isn’t something that you should be doing regularly. Your job may come with health benefits, and if it comes with an option for an annual checkup, I suggest taking it soon as you can so you have a baseline with which you can compare your physical performance later on: Are the late nights wearing you thin? Did you just lack sleep which is why you’re feeling a bit drowsy, or are you truly fatigued? A comprehensive physical exam will provide a clearer and more authoritative answer to these.
8. Have a “sober kit”
There will be nights that’ll just mess you up: Either your set was going too well and people didn’t want it to end, or your performance started two hours behind schedule. Whatever the reason, there will be extreme cases where you’ll just finish a lot later than you thought.
If you can’t afford to come in late, say you’ve got an important breakfast meeting, I suggest stashing a kit in your desk or car boot at all times that contains everything you need to look like you actually got a good night’s sleep and are ready to work:
- Clean, pressed change of clothes – A white shirt and tie, trousers and socks, a pair of polished shoes, whatever works for your job…
- Toiletries and strong mouthwash – Because stale alcohol breath is a dead giveaway
- Energy drink as a pick-me-upper – These come in small, shot-sized bottles now, so have one or two in your pack
- Recovery supplements and vitamins – I take a special blend from a company called Onnit which I order online. It helps me get through extremely long days and is all natural, but check with your physician first
- Facial wash, eye stick, and travel razor – Nothing screams “I’m hungover!” more than tired skin, puffy eyes, and yesterday’s 5 o’clock shadow
Having these available to you at a moment’s notice can be a lifesaver during those days when you have no choice but to head to work straight from your gig, cream cheese bagel and 24 oz coffee in hand….
9. Have an exit plan
If your DJing becomes too lucrative and you decide to do it full-time, or if your performance at your day job is starting to get compromised because of DJing, have a plan in place: If you temporarily give up your Wednesday residency, do you have a friend who can take over while you sort things out at work? If you’re going to quit your day job to really focus on DJing, how long before your contract with your employer expires? These are things that, when taken into consideration way ahead before they actually happen, can ease you into making that transition.
It also helps to have some savings to tide you over if you decide to quit work. A good rule of thumb is to have six months of monthly living expenses stashed away, so if you don’t have it right now, set aside a portion of your monthly income to building that. You’ll be glad you did instead of having to live on credit cards and small loans!
Hoping that these tips that helped me out during my corporate years can give you some ideas on how to cope with having two demanding occupations. If you’re at that point in journey where you aren’t sure if you want to DJ full time, I highly recommend that you stick to your day job for now: Just be sure that you do everything you can to manage and excel at both of them.
Oh, me? Well, maybe this could have been a point 10, but I ended up ditching the corporate world and working as assistant editor here on Digital DJ Tips. Having a “day job” that is related to your DJing (reviewing gear, making music and playing music loud sure ticks my boxes) – and one where your boss is sympathetic to the odd late morning due to DJing – sure makes it easier to combine the two. The old days of working in a record shop by day and DJing at night are sadly now long gone, but there are lots of music-related jobs out there if you care to look. This post might give you some ideas…
How have you coped with working a day job and DJing? Do you have any tips that you’d want to share with our readers? Let us know what you think in the comments below!