Picture a line of Olympic runners all on their starting blocks and bracing for the sound of the firing pistol – on your marks, get set….
Right now that’s you, lined up alongside every single DJ on the planet. You’re on your marks, you’ve been ready to go since what seems like an eternity – but did you get set? I mean really, really properly set?
Because however else this so-called “new normal” is going to manifest itself, here are three things we can say for certain:
- There are going to be fewer venues, which means there’s going to be far more competition
- Many of the DJs you’re competing against for a spot at those venues have been using this time to up their game, learning new skills and preparing for battle
- This situation will be further compounded by a massive influx of new wannabe DJs who’ve spent all of lockdown practising obsessively and now feel that they’re ready for the big time
If your legs suddenly feel shaky on your starting block, don’t worry, there’s still time before the pistol fires. So what can you start doing now to get set? Well, here are 10 ideas:
10 Things To Do…
1. Get your musical house in order
I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you’ve had this at the top of your DJ to-do list for weeks and weeks now but have done pretty much everything else, from binge-watching half of Netflix to learning Esperanto – anything other than this.
What do I mean? I’m talking about tackling the labyrinth of folders, poorly labelled files, duplicates, iffy YouTube rips you meant to delete and randomly strewn unlabelled memory sticks that currently comprises your music collection.
It’s time. Roll up your sleeves, count to three and just dive straight in! (You can thank us later.)
Read this next: 7 Rules Of Music Organisation For DJs
2. Get digital crate-digging
Hands up if you’ve ever had to hastily grab a few top ten tracks off Beatport mere minutes before a gig without ever really listening to them properly? Y’know, just meant to tide you over till you have a chance to have a proper listening session?
Except you then end up repeating the process the following weekend because you never seem to find that time. Even if you’ve never done this yourself chances are you know plenty DJs who do this constantly.
But with the scene pretty much on pause there’s really no excuse not to spend your time properly digging. Not just discovering new music, labels, styles and scenes, but actually looking at ways of sourcing new music too, like music pools.
In the past, juggling DJ commitments with a full time job made this harder, but if you’re a nine-to-fiver lucky enough to be working from home, you can essentially get your crate-digging subsidised. Just make sure to turn off whatever you’re listening to when it’s time for those dreaded Zoom calls with the corporate overlords…
3. Plan your future sets
One of the immediate benefits of getting your music library organised is that you will invariably find a ton music you’ve most likely forgotten about. It could well be you find a treasure trove of absolute bangers you never even realised you had – which is especially handy at a time when we’re all trying to save cash.
Another reason for getting your library organised is that, with your new system in place, it allows you to build better habits in terms of set preparation, whereby you start cataloguing music automatically while you listen. Already you’ll be formulating ideas as to which tracks work together, allowing you to work on the flow of future sets – something few DJs seem to have sufficient time for.
Read this next: 7 Set-Planning Secrets Of Professional DJs
Once again this gives you an edge, because now you’ll have a carefully curated selection of unique tracks to suit all moods and occasions, which you can pull up instantly. No more “what will I play next?”, because you’ll have this mapped out in your mind intuitively.
This is the difference between an OK DJ, who mixes from track to track adequately, to one who’s thinking several tracks ahead. One who can react quickly to conditions as the moment dictates and take the dancefloor on a proper musical journey.
4. Get digitising…
Digitising your vinyl, ripping old CDs, recovering those tunes from that knackered old hard drive – now is the perfect time to finish all those, “I’ll do it some day” tasks. Don’t be one of those DJs who said, “yeah I should have done but I never got round to it” – get it sorted!
You’ll feel a warm sense of accomplishment and, once again, you may unearth a huge cache of classic tunes to drop which nobody will be expecting. Then just sit back and watch all those, “man I haven’t heard this tune in ages!” faces.
So just a little word of advice here: Digitising old vinyl is great fun, but frankly it isn’t really worth doing if you can buy the digital files for, like, 99c each. Your results will never sound as good, and it takes age. Save it for the truly hard-to-find stuff that will really turn heads.
5. Learn to rock it old skool!
Never learned to mix on vinyl? No time like the present eh? Maybe, like me, you’re a little bit rusty (OK, fairly rusty in my case) so it’s a good time to practise at home. It’s also fun to start learning to use DVS if you’ve never done so already – nothing like the rugged tactile response of a proper turntable. Once you get used to it you may never want to go back to plastic platters again.
But really, you can insert in this section ANY skill you said you’d accomplish in lockdown that you haven’t actually got around to. Mastering drum programming? Learning to play a few chords on a keyboard? Manual beatmixing?
We’ve got a course for that! Digital DJ Tips courses
There is still time to get to the point where you feel you’ve accomplished something before the “new normal” (don’t you hate that term?), so START!
6. Try some new software
We’ve all experienced this, the proverbial changing of the guards, when the new DJ needs to swap out a controller resulting in technical issues. Perhaps you’ve experienced such a mortifying moment yourself, when the music stops temporarily and the dancefloor reacts quite vocally – every DJs worst nightmare.
This is where versatility can be a huge asset, being able to just pop in a memory stick and carry on seamlessly without any hiccups, regardless of what platform or controller is in the booth.
Know Serato inside out? Learn to use Traktor. Know them both? How familiar are you with CDJs and Rekordbox? Expert on all of the above, well then dive into Ableton and take your first steps from being just a DJ to becoming a DJ/Producer – a surefire way to stand out.
7. Learn to scratch
“What is a DJ if he can’t scratch?” – Egyptian Lover
Those immortal words from the dapper don of old skool electro have haunted me for years, so during lockdown I decided it was high time to at least learn the basics.
Now you might be thinking that scratching isn’t something which suits your genre, but trust me, throwing in a few little routines at the right moments can add some serious spice to your set and never fails to elicit a massive cheer from the dancefloor.
Learn to scratch with us: Scratching For Controller DJs
Plus, once you’ve got the basics down you can scratch on almost anything, even a budget DJ controller. So the next time some raver-geezer rolls his eyes and says you’re “not a real DJ” because you don’t use Technics, bust out some blistering scratches and watch his mouth shut fast!
8. Up your social game
When it comes to social media the majority of DJs tend to fall into two diametrically opposed categories, enthusiastically active ones and digital hermits. Only a few manage to use social media correctly – in a way that leverages the platform to build their fanbase and results in more paid gigs.
If all you’re doing is broadcasting without engaging then you’re not using your time wisely, you need to remember that it’s not about you, it’s about your audience. Whereas if you’re one of those digital hermits carping on about these “new Instagram DJs” you’re missing the point too.
You’re a DJ and social media is your audience, a global audience in fact, but you still call the shots just like when you’re in the booth. So don’t sweat it if you’re introverted or otherwise camera shy. Most people don’t care what you ate for breakfast but they might love that last mix you put up on Mixcloud.
Read this next: 5 Killer Instagram Tips For DJs
There are people who will click Like on anything because that’s all they ever do, whereas the ones who click Like on your mixes are far more likely to come to gigs. So if you’re a DJ who prefers to let the music do the talking, do that, do it regularly and do it consistently and you’ll start see the benefit immediately.
9. Learn some digital marketing
Then again maybe you’re a social media maven and perhaps, as many of our readers are, you’re no stranger to getting down and geeky with new technological challenges. By now you’re already a veteran live streamer and eagerly looking for something else to master – if so I’ve got just the thing.
If you really want to come out of your corner swinging and knocking out the competition maybe it’s time to start getting in-depth with digital marketing. YouTube is the obvious next choice, but don’t ignore the potential of blogging or even article websites like Medium as ways to help get your voice heard, potentially unlocking a massive global audience.
How about a website – have you got one yet? These days buying your own domain is cheaper than ever and thanks to platforms like WordPress, you can create your own website for free, from scratch, potentially in the space of a weekend without needing to learn to code (though it’s always a handy skill to learn anyway).
For those who find such a task daunting, something like Squarespace might be more appropriate, with ready-made but mobile-friendly templates you can customise and brand simply but effectively.
How’s it looking on Google? Can’t find it? Then it’s time to start learning search engine optimisation (SEO) – you’ve heard of that right? It’s pretty geeky stuff but useful to know, especially if, for example, you work in a highly-competitive field such as mobile and/or events DJing. Getting to the top of Google for your locality takes time, of course, but that’s time well used while social distancing is still a reality.
Learning any new skill is always valuable, obviously, but I can personally testify that these skills are also highly monetisable, especially now, as businesses, venues, not to mention fellow DJs, are looking for anything which can help them stand out, stay relevant and otherwise weather the storm.
10. Learn to network like a pro
Of course as lockdowns ease you’re no doubt eager to get out from behind a screen and back into the real world. Social media networks are a great way to network digitally but now is the time to become a master of the “elbow bump” or your local equivalent.
Does that sound daunting to you? Then all the more reason to do it – remember the more scary obstacles you overcome the more successful you’ll eventually be. People book DJs they know and like. Or, to put it another way, nobody ever got successful by not leaving the house. Deals are done face to face, or they were – and they will be again.
Why not start listing the people you know you’d like to get to know in your local scene and get a plan in place to make that happen, once you’re able to get out an socialise again?
Right now the world is full of small venues, clubs, bars and cafes all fearing for their survival and very soon they’ll all be desperately competing to try and bring in the punters.
At the same time, the world is about to be hit with a deluge of hungry DJs, all desperately competing for what little venues there are left.
So stand out by being the most organised, the most knowledgeable, the most professional and serious DJ around. And get ahead of the pack by reaching out to venues now with a ready-made solution and a proven audience, both online and off. They’d be fools not to listen.