10 Secrets Of Highly Successful DJs


What are the things that successful DJs tend to know that others maybe struggle to work out? Apart from the skills of doing the job, what makes some DJs last the pace while others burn out or get disillusioned? That's what we're looking at today.

In today's article, I'm going to step back from the specifics (we're busy teaching all of those in our DJ courses every day) and look at the big, overarching things that you'll need to get right if you want real, lasting success in this game. If that's your aim, I hope these points help you to "fine tune" your approach and get where you want to go a little more easily.

  1. Get some work experience - Want to be a DJ? Then get out there! Nobody ever learned anything in their bedroom. So you can't get a gig? Then help someone else. Do some flyering. Help set up the gear, or a club night's decor. Offer to collect email addresses for a local DJ when he or she plays. Offer to do a half-hour warm-up before the club opens. Be inventive - but get out there. That's where you'll learn
  2. Be a music fan first - and don't be in too much of a hurry - Good DJs aren't born, they're made. Behind every great DJ is a wealth of clubbing, crate-digging, mix-swapping and general music loving. Don't forget to develop your taste as you develop your DJ skills. However much you're itching to get behind those decks, if you've got nothing to say when you do, you got there too early. Enjoy the music. Learn everything you can about it. You don't become a music expert overnight, so enjoy the learning curve. It'll all aid you when you finally do get your break
  3. Focus hard on your music collection - Individual gigs, club residencies, even whole scenes come and go, but the best DJs have music collections they spend a lifetime slowly, slowly building up. This "behind the scenes" work isn't glamorous, but great music is the foundations of your career. When you finally surface as a polished, professional DJ with a crate full of magic, only you will know how you collected those tunes over the years - and nobody will be able to reverse engineer your path. You'll be unique. You'll have earned it
  4. Work hard and remember nobody is indispensable - Putting the hours in is of the utmost importance. Nobody is so gifted that they can just "wing it", and if you don't commit to this and work hard, trust me - somebody else will and they'll nab your spot every time. People who work hard and make a big effort to go the extra mile do stand out at any stage in their career. It's always a good thing to remind yourself that you can't take anything you have for granted, that no one is indispensable, not even you...
  5. Look and act the part - If you turn up late and scruffy, the impression you give is "don't give a damn". It's important to be both reliable and well turned out. By looking and acting like "somebody", (and I don't mean being cocky and diva-like, I just mean well dressed, washed, alert and with a sparkle in your eye!) you say: "I'm the person in charge of this party, I'm someone to lead tonight's fun, trust me - and let's go!" It's partly how you dress/appear, but also partly your professionalism. Be the pro. People remember and prefer to work with pros
  6. Disregard your age (young or old) - You're never too young to "make it" (at least, early 20s is old enough); it's to an extent a young person's game. But they again, there's something weird about DJing. It seems to really not matter so much how old people are. Maybe it's because age = a good tune collection, but if you can keep up, you're going to be fine. What's more important than how old you are is how relevant you are. If you can't connect with your audience, you can't expect them to connect with you. If you decided to shut yourself off from the music they love years ago, well they're not going to give much time to the music YOU love when you play a tired DJ set in front of them. Stay in touch, stay enthusiastic, and age is - to quote the cliche - simply a number
  7. Take time to relax and recharge - You're in this for the long run, so don't burn out. Sure you're passionate, sure you've got to put the work in - but if you put so much work in that you lose perspective on the bigger picture (family, rest, rejuvenation, stuff outside of DJing), in the end, you lose. Whether it's a month a year completely off, every Monday and Tuesday relaxing after a hard weekend working, or just a sacrosanct barbecue every Sunday with the family - pick your relaxation, and enjoy it. Remember, a lot of creative thinking gets done when we take time to kick back
  8. Find a way to unwind after gigs - Getting home at 4am or whatever having just played an electric DJ set can leave you wired and far from ready for sleep! It's an adrenalin thing and it goes with the territory, but you need tactics for relaxing and unwinding. One good "balancer" for me has always been exercise - just running four or five times a week seems to leave me properly ready for sleep at night even if I've been DJing or whatever. If I don't do it I seem to get lethargic and restless at the same time. Do what works for you - but remember that finding a way to unwind is important in this game
  9. Control your nerves - All DJs get nervous. If you don't, you're doing it wrong. The trick is to be professional enough to hide it. Sure, stuff can go wrong, but your job as a DJ is to hide that side of things form the audience as much as you can. They don't care, it's not their problem! Good DJs realise that and fix stuff unobtrusively and deftly. Of course, experience gets you better at this, but remember that having nerves is fine. It keeps you on your toes, and that's actually a good thing
  10. Have confidence in yourself and your abilities - Again it's a cliche, but often the only thing holding you back is you. Dare to dream. Have a vision for where you want to be. Sure, you might not be the polished, finished article, but it's in our nature to put our own efforts down and elevate those of others. Be aware of this and compensate for it. Chance are you HAVE "got it", you ARE "good enough". A bit more self belief can be all it takes to accelerate your career. Being a bit easier on yourself will make your journey more fun. Ask for the advice and opinion of those who you respect, enjoy the ride, and trust in yourself

What else do you think are qualities all successful DJs share? A business-minded approach? A family background of success? Immense self belief? "Right place, right time"? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. Great article Phil! Some things that came to mind when I was guessing some of the 10 points before reading the article were:
    1- It's not only What you can do but also Who you know,
    2- right place right time,
    3- keeping a good life-Balance,
    4-regarding DJing as a fun job, but still a job (having a professional attitude towards it),
    5-being a Producer with some hits under your belt will also improve your DJcareer (for example I saw an Avicci documentary once where he said he didn't even DJ at first only after getting success as a producer did he learn how to DJ) and people will love hearing the guy who actually made that song play it too!
    6- Being marketable (whatever that might entail) and getting a following (on social media).
    Just some things off the top of my head. All the best Phil

    • Thanks EZE. Number 5 for sure, but not for all DJs - hence I tried to keep the list really universal (you don't see a huge number of wedding DJs banging out Beatport top 10 productions, for instance 😉 )

  2. Another great article Phil. It's important every now & then for every DJ to remember the basics. It takes me 3 decades to learn everything I know about music, working in the music industry is pleasure & pain at the same time. I'm 45 years old, spinning since 16 and everyday I learn something new for my job and as a human being. Most important thing in my opinion is my music knowledge, to know how to tell a story with my sets. I come from the old school but I don't feel nostalgic about the past, I enjoy the present and I hope to see what's coming next. I love every second mixing with Traktor but never forget my vinyl roots as I'm still a record collector. Music speaks louder than words!

  3. Rasmus Lingemyr says:

    One thing that I would say is important is being able to adapt. It can be in any way but a couple of examples: I got a gig at a local university's club, I came there and played pretty much exclusively house, then I realized that people didn't want to hear house the entire night, they wanted it parts of the night, but mixed with some top 40 and some older hits, so I adapted to that and started building my hits and top 40 collection.

    Other example: I use a controller for DJing, but like to use CDJs whenever they're available, so at a place I play regularly they have a pair of CDJ 800 (mk 1) so what did I do? I figured out a system for CDs and started burning a bunch of CDs so I could use their equipment...

    Always adapt to the situation/places you play at... Club owners appreciate that kind of thing!

    • Comes with open-mindedness too, doesn't it? If you decide you're only this or that, when the other comes along, are you gonna take it or turn away? I agree completely with you, Rasmus. By adapting, we learn.

  4. could not agree more with the article and the following comments. after 18 years in the game I’v just managed to turn it in to a full time Job. it was only when I realised that the key for me was point 10 “self belief” (3 years ago) that I started to get real success. and now I’m loving it and doing all of the other points on a daily and weekly basis... at least in the winter. thanks for your help phill. love your work.

    • Very inspiring, Dave. I also believe in the enormous importance of our mindset and belief system. Great to have a living example for it. Wish you the best of success!

      Thanks for the great article Phil.
      It's almost like a general guide to success 😉

  5. DJ KenBaxter says:

    Very good feature!
    Couldn't agree more

  6. Nice one Phil!
    This is actually relevant to all the arts, good article.

  7. nice article like always phil! :)
    keep on moving, cheers form argentina!

  8. I needed to read this as I'm struggling with #10 right now. Realizing your hindrance is the first step in correcting problem. Time to step out of the comfort zone :-)

  9. 1. Produce, produce, produce.
    2. Produce good stuff; or at least something that makes people dance.
    3. Know the right people. Without contacts, you are dead.
    4. For Gods sake, forget about drugs!

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