Watch the show…
This was also the subject of an episode of our Tuesday Tips Live show, on our Global DJ Network Facebook Group, our Facebook Page, and our YouTube channel. Subscribe in any of those places to catch the show live, every Tuesday at 4pm London time.
Let’s say you’ve been DJing for a while now – you’ve gone from spinning in your bedroom to actually spinning in front of people. You’ve got gigs under your belt, maybe you’ve even scored a weekly residency at the local pub. Awesome.
You’re happy with how things are going, but you want more: you want to play more venues, play more music, and for more people.
Congratulations, you’ve just arrived at your first major turning point as a gigging DJ – this is when you get to decide whether to keep doing what you’re doing (because there’s nothing wrong with just gigging once in a while) or if you’ve got grander DJ ambitions, this is when you start planning to make bigger moves for the rest of the year and the years to come.
But where do you start? How do you go from a neighbourhood DJ, to a local hero, to a pro touring DJ? You’ve got to take some chances – there is hardly a straight path from bedroom to main room.
In this piece we cover three tips on how to get started on your path to becoming a touring DJ.
1. Gig out of your comfort zone
Perhaps the one biggest thing that can kickstart your DJing at any career stage would be to accept gigs that frighten you. If the thought of spinning a certain kind of show makes your palms sweat, then you’re on the right track.
Let me explain: let’s say you’ve been DJing for a few months or years now at your favourite venue. The crowd loves you, the promoters like having you there, and the manager trusts that you’re going to bring it every time you get behind the decks. That’s great, but success isn’t always the best teacher – we all know at least one DJ who’d rather not gig outside of his or her chosen spot. “I love it here, I know the crowd and the crowd knows me, and I know what to play every single time. Why do anything else?”
That DJ has become comfortable.
There’s nothing wrong with playing at your favourite haunt (maybe you’re even a resident DJ now). It feels good because it feels like home. But if your biggest success to date is playing that slot at that spot for that crowd, you’ve also got to ask yourself: “What else is out there? What’s next for me?”
This invariably goes hand in hand with playing for people who don’t know you, playing for venues where you have to learn your way around the sound system again, and the type of crowd reading that has you on your toes the entire set instead of relying on tried and tested playlists. But this is exactly what makes “great DJs” great DJs: it’s the willingness to put themselves to the test and to put their careers on the line, at the risk of emptying dancefloors and failing to connect with crowds, that makes them different.
Elite-level globetrotting DJs cut their teeth by doing this over and over again, and building a deep library of music and knowledge that they can call upon when faced with unfamiliar and challenging situations. It also builds your confidence behind the decks, which bleeds into other aspects of your life too.
Of course, if your aspirations don’t go beyond playing a show once in a while that’s totally fine, but if you’re hungry and you want to get onboard the next wave of big, influential DJs, you’ve got to keep pushing. Everything you want in life is just outside your comfort zone, as the saying goes.
How I did it
Our founder Phil Morse is no stranger to international gigging. Here’s how he got to play the main room of the biggest club in the world, Privilege in Ibiza…
I did what’s called a “resident swap”: I booked the resident DJ (who was also the promoter) from a big night at that club to play with me at a my own club night in Manchester, England. In return, he invited me to play at his club – which just happened to be Privilege! If you promote and DJ at your own club night, this is a great way to spread your wings globally.
2. Think regional before international
Many DJs, having played in and around their locale, are satisfied with keeping things that way. Again, if your ambition is to entertain and serve around your area, then that’s cool. But if you want to stretch your DJing further you’ve got to purposely take your sound away from your city. Gigs away from home have a different impact on your career, no matter how busy your local gig diary is.
This isn’t as difficult as it seems: if you live in the US, crossing state lines is simple enough, and if you’re in Europe all the big cities are just a few hours away by plane or train. The biggest challenge here is putting the time and effort into developing relationships with and reaching out to promoters and venues in other cities and countries.
There is a level of tenacity and bullheadedness needed to get past rejections and to keep following up, but that’s how touring DJs become touring DJs: they tour. And to tour, you need to be gritty.
The most important thing about playing around your region is that you learn how the system works: the logistics, the financials, the people skills needed to deal with shady promoters, knowing how to get around lost luggage (travel insurance is never a bad idea), what to do if the venue provides crap gear (bring a backup player or controller) and so on. Once you’ve got that regional experience under your belt, you’re better equipped to handle situations that may happen when you’re playing in a different continent with an entirely different culture that speaks languages you’ve never encountered in real life.
Almost just as importantly, you’ll realise that while it looks glamorous on Instagram, the reality is much less so. You will sleep in cheap motels, eat cheap food, nap in train stations, freeze or sweat depending on the season. You may even have to shell out some of your own money or take a loss just to make a gig happen.
But that’s what touring is all about – welcome to its stark realities. If, after all of these, you still have that fire in your belly to go out and make the moments, then you know you’ve found something that you can stick with no matter how hard things get. Even the greatest DJs have had to go through this at some point in their careers, so you’re in good company.
How I did it
Content creator Marc Santaromana also happens to be a touring DJ who plays shows around the United States. Here’s how he got started…
I started DJing in small bars and made it a point to network as much as possible. As my network grew, I received opportunities to open and close for DJs from out of town. I built relationships with them and was invited to play in a different state. I then maed more connections during that trip. Now, I’m at a point where I DJ around the US, and it all started from the friendships I made.
3. Release music you’ve made
True story: last week I asked an international promoter if he could help me land bookings in key dance music cities around Asia (eg Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong). I wanted to shift my style from what I normally play (top 40 / club) to a more European house / disco style.
“Sure, I can put you in touch. Have you released any music, and have you played any notable festivals or shows?”
I should’ve known he would ask me that. While I did have playlists that I could turn into a mixtape, I didn’t have any productions that I could send.
“OK. Doesn’t hurt to try, but doing it from scratch will be tough.”
And he’s absolutely right: why would anyone want to book you if they’ve never heard of you? Promoters and venues are also risk managers. They want to bring in DJs who can bring in a crowd, which leads to ticket and bar sales. The best way to know who they are, if you aren’t a celebrity DJ (or influencer)? Put out a track.
It’s not that mixtapes are irrelevant – they still are, but because making mixtapes is so easy these days that anyone can do it, you’re not really doing anything special, especially in an era dominated by on-demand Spotify streaming and playlists.
Your best bet for letting your music speak for yourself is to put out a production. This can either be a full-on original song that you made from the ground up, a remix , or even a re-edit of an existing track that is representative of your DJing and producing skills. The latter is particularly useful if you’re of the crate digging variety of DJ who has a knack for unearthing quality gems lost to time and fashioning them into modern day dance productions.
Take a risk by putting out a track you’re proud of, because a lot of DJs still don’t want to do that in a world dominated by instant gratification because yes, it does take time and effort to come up with a quality production. The good news here is that when you’ve got one, you’ve got a leg up over every other DJ who doesn’t!
How I did it
Our scratch tutor and operations manager Steve Canueto has worked in the dance music industry as both a DJ and as part of club megabrand Ministry Of Sound. Here’s how he built a career in dance music…
I had day job that let me move in the scene doing work for small labels. During all this time I was meeting people and making connections – and that’s how the opportunity for gigs came about. It happened because I was in it for the love of the music, everything else came as a result of that passion
There is no growth in comfort. That’s true in DJing and in life as a whole. It’s entirely up to you how you want your DJ career to unfold: whether you want to be a world-touring star or the local hero, there is no right or wrong way to go about it. For those who want the former, you’ll encounter the points we presented earlier sooner or later, and for those who aren’t yet sure what they want to do, they are ideas for you to consider. Whichever path you choose, the most important thing to realise is that how your DJing turns out is entirely up to you.
What are your ambitions as a DJ? Do you want to go around the world spinning, or is your aim to play at house parties with friends and family? Share your thoughts with us below.