We’re rightfully concerned with the technical and musical aspects of DJing when we start out as DJs, but a lot of the work that a busy DJ does has to do with getting his or her name out there in order to get gigs. And we’re not just talking about posting an event invite or your latest mix on Facebook – you also need to do some good ol’ human face-to-face interaction.
If you find yourself in a gig slump right now, or you just want to book more shows but don’t know how, these seven tips – part one of our Getting Gigs Week – have everything to do with making the type of human connections that will give you the kick in the pants that you need (and hopefully, help you get that foot in the door, too)…
7 Ways To Get A Gig
1. Connect with other DJs at shows
Here’s a shocker: one of the best sources of gigs are… other DJs! My first DJ gig at a bar happened when I was 17 (shhh…) at this joint my friends and I would go to every Friday night. One night after the primetime DJ’s slot, I asked him if I could spin there some time, and he agreed that I could do closing the following week if I gave him a 60-minute cassette mixtape (this was the 90s, folks…)
You don’t have to ask every other DJ for a slot soon as he or she gets down from the booth, but it really helps to chat up other DJs and engage with them meaningfully – basically, focus more on you guys hanging out instead of you trying to squeeze a gig out of the interaction. You come across as more authentic, and it makes you less of an annoying jock begging for a spot behind the decks. Interacting and adding value to your circle of DJ acquaintances will net you gigs later on, so don’t rush.
Get on it: While we’re all careful about protecting our slots (especially for those who do it for a living), sick days and days off for even the most hardworking of DJs are inevitable. Be the guy or girl who takes advantage of this and present yourself as their “backup” when they need some downtime.
There’s nothing wrong with being forward about this – just don’t be too pushy especially if you’re just connecting for the first few time!
2. Personally hand out mixes so people get to know you and your sound
Stand outside a club on a busy Saturday night and hand out your hottest mix. Punters heading out of a club will want music, and they’ll want it even more if it’s free and easy to listen to, meaning it’s in a medium that they can quickly listen to.
Ultimately, this will depend on your city or part of the world you’re in: do people take cars just to get to a party? Burn your mix to CD and give it away. Do clubgoers take the bus / train, or walk? Offer a link to your mix on Mixcloud so they can pop in their earbuds and listen to you on the way home. Live in a hipster town? Dub the mix to tape and watch them twirl their handlebars in glee.
While these folks won’t normally give you a gig in exchange for your mix, what they will give you in return are listens and, potentially, word of mouth about your sound (and your late night hustle standing out the club in zero-degree weather).
Get on it: While you’re giving away a mix, why not soup it up and turn into a press pack? Don’t give just about any piece of printed paper (anyone can do that). Instead, make it a bit more interactive: put a QR code in it that links to even more mixes and content, or download an app like Layar to turn it into an Augmented Reality experience, and so on. Get a bit creative for maximum impact – one of my favourite chillout mixtapes came in a ziplock with a tracklist written on rolling paper, for instance.
3. Systematically visit all your local bars
One of the reasons why you may have a gig drought is because you just never really bothered to ask every single venue in your town.
I approached the owner of a 24-hour restaurant / bar and asked if I could spin for one of their Thursday nights. They’ve never had a DJ on before (usually it’s just a solo singer / songwriter or acoustic duo), so the management was initially hesitant, especially since they didn’t want to rent out DJ gear. This is where having a DJ controller comes in really handy – I told them I’d bring all the gear I need. That night turned into a well-paying year-long gig, all because I saw an opportunity and asked.
Get on it: Make a list of all the usual gig spots in your town for (eg clubs, popular bars, and so on). Once you’ve shortlisted all the obvious joints, spend some time researching and asking around about smaller pubs, bars, and bistros that may not even have entertained the idea of having a DJ on. Chances are they’re still piping in music from a CD player or an iPhone – as a live DJ, you can do them one better since you’re constantly reading the room instead of entrusting the entire evening to an algorithm.
You’d be surprised at how many bar owners are hesitant to get a DJ simply because they don’t have the gear and don’t want to spend to rent, so make sure to mention that you’ve got all the DJ gear you need and you just need to connect to their sound system.
4. Always take your thumb drives to parties (and after parties)
Keep a USB filled with tunes on your key fob, along with a foldable pair of headphones (or in-ear monitors) in your pocket whenever you go out. You never know when you’ll get the chance to spin (eg the night’s DJ is still in an Uber and you’re ready to get on). Also, spinning doesn’t just happen in front of a dancefloor. Lots of magic happens at “back to mine” parties. If the group you’re with finds out you’re a DJ, you might be able to take your little crowd on an extended journey well into the next day. Someone might spot you, and you’ll get a “real” booking out of it.
Get on it: Keep two folders on your USB stick – one for your latest mixtapes, and one for your individual songs. The mixtapes are for you to play when you need a bit of extra time to switch between DJs (or if you just want to play a mix at a party), so always keep this folder fresh. Also doubles as a way to get your mixtape out in case other friends or DJs want to copy it – make sure to fill out all the metadata and put album art with your branding on it!
5 . Ask festival / event organisers if you can be the opening act
Big shows like festivals always need more “content” to make their lineups more appealing to ticket buyers, and they want to pack in as much as they can within budget. I opened for CHVRCHES as well as Toro Y Moi when they were doing their Asia tour by asking the organisers if I could DJ while the audience piled into the venue, and while I didn’t get paid much for it, it was the right kind of “exposure” I needed at the time.
Get on it: Try getting in touch with local organisers in your city and ask if you can play warm up for their events for a small amount. Granted, these slots will probably be at the “worst” hours of the lineup (either at the beginning of the day, or at the very end), but it’s one way for you to gig out and work your way into their space. Do it again and again, and you may soon find yourself getting closer to more coveted time slots, which really do come with time.
6. Serve a mix to bar staff and get “sticky”
When everyone’s gone home at closing, or while everyone’s still about to get to the club early in the day, the bar staff usually spin a mix on a CD or USB stick, and more often than not they’re either really old discs or tunes that are inappropriate for the slot (EDM bangers at 7pm, Celine Dion at 6am, and so on). Why not give them a copy of your mix on a thumb drive and give them proper warm up / closing down music? You’re doing them a favour by allowing them to worry less about music, and it also gets you brownie points with the management.
Oddly enough, this little trick got me into making music playlists for a small chain of restaurants (Spotify wasn’t around then), and it was a fun way to get paid to curate tunes – they paid for all the appropriate performance licences, and they gave me a music budget to work with every month, along with a nice little paycheck.
Get on it: Get your latest mixes on an inexpensive USB thumb stick and hand it to bar’s manager or someone in charge. Be sure to add DJ idents to your mixes so the staff (and whoever else is there at the time) will know whose mix it is – it just could increase the chance of you getting booked the next time they have a think about who they should get onboard in the future.
7. Chat up the event organiser at a function
I built a couple of months’ worth of DJ business just by asking the wedding planner or event coordinator when I was at such events if they needed a DJ at their next reception or function. A lot of DJs overlook this simply because they don’t want to think about work while they’re enjoying the party, but being in the same space as the person who could potentially book you makes for a more convincing pitch because you’ve basically got face time with him or her already. If the event is a huge success, the organisers will be on a high and be more receptive to what you have to say.
Get on it: The next time you’re at function or wedding event, seek out the folk running it behind the curtains, sincerely congratulate them on a job well done, and deliver your “elevator pitch”, which is like a short intro to who you are, what you do differently compared to other DJs, and how you could help them.
Everyone including your grandmother is on social media, so while it’s a basic requirement in your promotions, it’s also extremely crowded and noisy.
In an increasingly fast digital world, it’s those who also make time to do old school in-person interactions who reap the benefits that only a real-life human connection can give.
Check out the other parts in this series:
- 7 Ways To Get Gigs Without Leaving The House
- 7 Ways To Get DJ Gigs By Owning A PA System
- 7 Unusual Types Of Venues To Approach For Gigs
- 7 Ways To Get Gigs While You Sleep
- 7 Ways To Get Gigs While You’re On Holiday
- 7 Ways Partnering With Others Can Get You Gigs
Do you have any tips to add to this list? How did you get your most lucrative gig to date? Share your thoughts below.