What is it that successful DJs do “behind the scenes” that others don’t? Sure, they are clearly networking with the right people, they obviously obtain (and often make) great music, and they demonstrably know the technical skills of DJing. But what is it about their mindset, the way they use their time, and their attitude to the temptations of clubland that keeps them laser-focused on success?
Having worked for many years as a DJ, producer, and now writer/DJ tutor, I’ve not only been along this learning path myself, but met many others who have done so too, and I believe there are certain things most successful DJs share in common. Some are applicable to any career, some specifically to DJing, but all are important if you want a long, happy and successful DJing life, whether that’s as a hobby or a full-time vocation.
So if you’re struggling to make the progress in your DJing week by week you think you ought to be making, try putting some or all of the following suggestions into play in your life. I think you’ll start to see improvements really quickly!
The 6 Daily Habits
1. Stick to a schedule
One of the most important things you can do right now for your career is to create a schedule and to stick to it. DJing has a lot to do with nightlife culture, and it’s easy to get lost in all the fun and chaos that partying brings. Having a schedule keeps you grounded because it forces you to make compromises and helps keep you in check when you’re considering going on a bender on a week night, for instance.
If you DJ throughout the week, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of the “party all week” mindset, something I personally fell victim to when I was a bit younger. Never revolve your schedule around your DJ gigs; designing your day around your performances is the perfect way to create an erratic and chaotic lifestyle, one which you’ll be constantly redesigning as gigs come and go and as you get older. Instead, make a schedule and adjust your gigs to fit into it instead. This encourages you to counter-balance DJing with other important parts of your life (of course there’s more to life than DJing, right? 😉 )
Tip: Have a set time for waking up, regardless of whether it’s the weekend or not. Getting used to jumping out of bed at 8.30am daily locks in your body clock and makes it easier for you to get up even after an all-nighter. When you’ve done this, you’ll rarely have to “sleep in” on weekends.
2. Practise early in your day
If you want to make something a habit, do it enough times that it becomes routine for you (experts say every day for three weeks should lock any habit in). This is the best way to approach practising as a DJ; do it regularly so you don’t even have to think about doing it. Of course, this is a challenge in itself.
One of the most powerful ways to make sure that a habit sticks is to consistently do it first thing when you wake up, just when your willpower is at its strongest. If it’s working on your four-deck mixing or practising a new type of scratch, do it before you go about with your day; the longer you leave it out till day’s end, the less likely you’ll get it done.
This isn’t even about whether or not you’re more productive or creative in the morning, it’s just about prioritising that routine first thing before anything else to ensure it gets done. Doing significant work or tasks that require high amounts of focus (eg DJing) is also best done soon as you wake up because you’re at your absolute freshest. Willpower and self-control are like muscles: The more you use them, the more fatigued they get.
Tip: When you’re developing new habits, create an environment that makes it super convenient and easy to do so: Leave your DJ gear set up and ready the night before so when you wake up, you can get at it without delay. Every second you spend thinking about setting your gear up and connecting leads takes you further away from getting any practice done.
3. Ask yourself what your “one thing” is
Remember when we asked you about your DJ goal for this year? What have you been doing to get closer to it?
If you find yourself stuck or at a loss with how to go about it, ask yourself what’s the “one thing” you could do today that would get you closer and make it easier to reach your goal. Not two things, not three: Just one. If it’s learning how to scratch, your one thing today might be to learn the baby scratch. If it’s learning how to mix without using sync, your one thing today may be to watch or read something on the principles behind beatmatching. Choosing just one task that gets you closer to your big goal lets you focus all your energies into finishing it.
Even if you think there are a hundred things to do in order to get closer to your DJ goal, there always is just one thing that will net you the most significant results for your time and effort. If you don’t know what that is yet, your one thing today is to figure out what it is!
Tip: Block a set amount of time daily in your schedule to work on your one thing. Whether it’s 30 minutes or two hours, this is time that you’re unreachable by friends and family. Disconnect from social media and turn off your mobile devices to eliminate distractions. Treat your time block as sacred time that you dedicate to your long term DJ goal. To find out more, check out The One Thing by Gary Keller.
4. Plan your next day the night before
You’ve already created a daily schedule, now it’s time to make a list of DJ-related tasks like promotions and social media that need to be done. I like doing that the night before using an app like Wunderlist; I write what I’ve got to do the next day, so when I wake up I can take a look and know exactly what I’ve got to do without having to worry about stuff that I might’ve forgotten (I’m super forgetful).
I have to admit I was a highly disorganised person before working for Digital DJ Tips, and doing this has really helped me get things done since I started in 2013. It’s a total game changer, and has really helped me get all the small things done that would otherwise have fallen by the wayside.
Tip: End your day by going through your list and making sure you haven’t missed anything, then start making a new list for tomorrow. Wash, rinse, repeat.
5. Intentionally discover new music
When I was in my teens I was obsessed with music and listened to anything and everything. Now that I’m in my 30s, it gets harder and harder to listen to new stuff even though I’m a DJ, mainly because I don’t have as much time to devote to it as I used to when all I had to worry about was homework.
These days, I deliberately carve out an hour every day to expose myself to new tunes online because I know myself too well and otherwise, I’ll just end up listen to music that I loved listening to growing up – or worse, nothing at all. You can do the same; in fact, you don’t even need an hour: Just make sure you’re actively listening to a handful of new songs on a daily basis. This will do wonders for your set programming, I promise!
Tip: Set up a Spotify or YouTube playlist where you can store new music that you discover on these streaming sites. This acts as a bookmark for new songs that you like as the week wears on, and when the weekend swings around, go through your list and cherrypick the ones that you can add into your DJ library. Another trick I like to do is to use an aggregator like Feedly. Add in all the music blogs you frequent and organise them in categories according to general music styles (eg Techno, EDM, House, Pop, etc). When a blog posts a new song that you’re interested in, it’s easy to hit the “save for later” button so you can check it if you’re out or in transit.
6. Learn a new DJ trick
Think you know everything about DJing? There’s always something new to learn! If you’re a scratch DJ, there’s a new trick around every corner. If you’re more of the mixing type, why not learn how to create your own edits? Or what about learning how to DJ with acapellas, or finding out how to craft mixtapes the right way… These days, everyone gets the impression that DJing is “easy”. But pressing play isn’t what DJing is all about, and you know better than anyone that a lot of work goes behind that hour-long set you play at your mate’s party.
Tip: Include a few minutes of checking new performance routines or choosing a DJ course to do next in your daily time block, then when you want to learn how to do it, include practising those techniques or taking those lessons in your morning ritual.
The key to success in DJing as a career / second income / serious hobby is to treat it like a marathon, not a sprint: You set goals and do small things daily that get you closer to those goals. Although there’s an extremely slim chance that you can get internet famous overnight, the only way to improve your chances of long-term DJ success is to keep at it daily without losing focus.
All those small things add up to something big, and that big thing could end up being your greatest musical achievement down the road. These six habits form a solid system that can help you improve your skills, freshen up your music library, and deepen your knowledge of the craft every single day.
Do you have any DJ success habits that you’d like to share with us? We’d love to hear how you’ve gotten to where you are now, so please let us know in the comments below!