Going full time as a DJ is a bold, exciting and potentially life-changing move. But should you? And if so, when? In this article, I’ll go through some positives and negatives, share some thoughts – then give you a couple of solid recommendations.
Watch the live show…
This article is based on an episode of our Tuesday Tips Live weekly broadcast on our Facebook Page, YouTube channel, and in our Global DJ Network Facebook Group. You can watch the original broadcast in any of those places, and see the hundreds of comments from real DJs who have – or haven’t – decided to go “full time” there. you can even join in!
So… what do we mean by “going full time”? Basically, doing what you love – without having another job. If you do have another job, it’s so closely related as to still count as being a “full-time DJ”. For instance, if you produce music, then you’re a DJ/producer – it counts! If you DJ weddings for a living, it counts! If you (as I was) are a DJ/promoter, it counts…
One of the truths about this game is that many people are in a “slash” career – that is to say, they’re a DJ “slash” something else. Nowadays, for instance, personally, I guess I’m a DJ/author/tutor/entrepreneur!
Four reasons why you should go full time…
So let’s start by looking at some arguments FOR going full time as a DJ…
- It’s the only decision if you really want to “make it” – Years ago, dance group The KLF released a book called “The Manual” (long out of print, but you can read it here). It was about having a number one hit, and on the first page, they say, “if you’re in a job, leave it”. Truth is, if you want to make it – really make it, with private jets, worldwide bookings, millions in the bank – you’ll never get there part-time. So if that’s your ambition, you’ve got no choice
- It feel like you’re living the dream – If this is something you truly, madly, deeply want to do, trust me, it feels f***ing great to do it with every living second of your life. “Great” like there’s a film crew following you around. Every decision you make, every fibre you twitch, is aimed towards your goal. How many people can say they do what they truly love? It’s an awesome feeling
- You’ll never know otherwise – “It’s better to regret something you have done,” goes the saying, “than to regret something you haven’t done.” One of the biggest groups of DJs we work with here at Digital DJ Tips are DJs “returning to the game”, because they miss DJing so much, despite having had careers, kids and so on. It never leaves you, that’s for sure. So if you think you’ll always regret not giving it a go, then consider it seriously
- Yes, you CAN make money at it – With me, it was – as I said above – DJ/promoting. I promoted events, booking myself. I got to DJ, and I got to keep the door money after expenses. It wasn’t easy, but after five years of hard struggle, my DJing partner Terry Pointon and myself hit gold – and I had managed to pay for my house in cash shortly after. So while you’re gonna need luck, blind faith, and more hard work than you’ve ever put into anything, for years and years and years – it IS possible. (Note I said “possible”, not “guaranteed” or even “likely…”)
…and four arguments against it
Now let’s get realistic and look at things you’re going to have to weigh up on the negative side…
- You’re going to be completely broke for a long time – For years, I remember clearly turning up at people’s houses at dinner time because I was hungry, just on the off-chance they’d ask me to stay for food. When the supermarket wars of 1996 in the UK meant baked beans and white bread were down to 20p for both, that’s what I lived on for a whole summer. Going full-time at something you’re new at or not used to doing full time is usually a recipe for having zero cash – not for days, weeks or months, but years
- You’re going to turn into a selfish tw*t – You’re the sucker taking the risks here. It’s your life, your dream, your future. To NOT be selfish would be to let yourself down, big style. Once you’ve taken the plunge, you’re going to need to swim against the tide so hard that it’ll be all you can do. Family, friends, partners – if you’ve got ’em, they’re all going to suffer. So they’re going to need to buy in 100% to what you’re doing, or you’re in trouble
- Most of the money is not in what you (probably) want to do – Some people go into this game expecting glamorous DJ residencies, amazing clubs and festivals, awesome gigs where everyone “gets you” and loves your music… when the truth is, it’ll probably be low-budget weddings, 10-hour days for a paltry payment, kids’ parties, charity events, and so on, at least at first. Even once established, many DJs end up playing the gigs “where the money is” to finance the ones where it isn’t
- Your life as a full-time DJ will not be how you expect – Following on from the above, you’re gonna be making some pretty big compromises – but also you’re going to be learning to be a marketer, copywriter, publicist, accountant, web programmer, social media expert, video maker, photographer, negotiator, and so much more – all just to support your nascent one-person DJ career. Surprisingly little of this will be DJing. And it will come slower and less consistently that you think. Be ready for that!
So when’s the best time to become a full-time DJ?
The truth is, for many people, it’s “never”. This is a GREAT hobby! But if you’re not put off yet, and still hell-bent on this, here are a couple of thoughts.
- If you want to be a superstar DJ/producer (and yes, you’ll have to produce as well)… Doing it while young is usually the best bet. You have fewer responsibilities, and frankly more time to burn. You can be selfish. You can spend half a decade learning your trade. And hopefully, all your mates are poor too, so hey – who gives a toss? You hopefully don’t have kids, a mortgage, dependants and so on yet. These are golden times, so if you can, nd you really want to – take them.
- If you’re thinking “I’d really like to start my own DJ business”… so you’re moving more towards maybe an agency, a wedding DJ company, event/corporate DJing, and so on – then you have more scope to do it at any time. In fact, the average age people start businesses is actually 40! You’re wiser, and more likely to stick it out (if only because you’ve got more to lose…)
Fact: We’ve taught hundreds of DJs who’ve gone on to be full time here at Digital DJ Tips, and most are in the second of these categories.
So you want to go for it?
So if you decide to do it, I just want to leave you with two closing thoughts:
First, be sure you have the right thing motivating you, because that’ll give you your “drive”. Fame and sex are not a good motivations, for instance: You won’t be able to afford the drugs for years, and there’s a high likelihood you won’t get laid you until you’re famous anyway.
Trust me, you won’t have the staying power to get that far. Lose/lose/lose. Money is a better driver actually, but passion – knowing you were born into this – is the best. But whatever your personal “driving force”, you need a good one, or it’ll all fall apart.
And finally, save something for yourself! When you turn your hobby and passion into a job, it changes your relationship with it – and rarely for the better. You simply must save something artistic and creative that’s just for you – that you do for the hell of it, not for money.
With me, it’s acoustic guitar and slow guitar music that I like to play and listen to – it ain’t DJing and I don’t teach it or even share it. But I love it. So do keep a hobby. Not everything is meant to be a side hustle or career. Always do something creative just for your soul, too
Do you DJ full time? What’s your story? Would you recommend anyone else do it? Have you tried and failed, maybe? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.