These are hard times for DJs, with COVID-19 decimating the industry (and of course so many other industries and things we’d taken for granted in our lives). But it isn’t as if it was rosy before, assuming you can remember that far back. Increased competition, plus the natural “boom and bust” of the music world, have always made life challenging for a certain number of DJs at any given time.
But a note in our student group caught my eye this week:
“Really. I love DJing more than anything else. Doing it for 10 years now. But the DJ world sucks. Nobody gives a s***, they always try to put you down and take advantage of you, jealousy is key. Theres no such thing as real talent any more. Think I’m gonna quit and sell my stuff. Is there any hope left?”
I really felt for this person. Not only have I felt like that myself in the past, but I have coached many of our students through similar feelings – so I wanted to share a few tips that I’ve learned over the years and that I share with students in our courses. I have, of course, shared this with the person who wrote the above, but it seemed a shame not to share it wider too. So here goes…
8 Tips If You Feel Like Giving Up DJing
1. Do the work
It’s the dedication and work behind the scenes that will separate you from everyone else, eventually. Anyone can talk the talk – but it’s those who set goals, achieve them, and then gun for even higher goals, who succeed finally.
Read this next: The 5 Steps To DJing Success
Think of how hard athletes work for that once-every-four-years shot at Olympic glory. It’s not the behind the scenes stuff we see – it’s the victory lap. With athletes, it’s implicit that they’ve done the work. But it turns out, it’s the same in creative endeavours too.
The fact that these goals often have to be self-imposed makes it even harder (after all, there’s no career path in DJing) – but if you truly love what you do, you’ll find a way.
Gigs, mixtapes, livestreams, blog articles, Spotify playlists, re-edits, productions, charity gigs, collaborations, partnerships, teaching, podcasts… there are dozens of ways DJs can actually deliver something to the world.
In many ways, those who deliver the most are the ones who get ahead. If the hard work you’re doing is not leading to outcomes, there’s not much point in doing it – so ask yourself, “What have I delivered to the world recently?” and if it is nothing, change that! If there are no gigs, try some of the other options listed here.
3. Play the long game
Anyone can seem like they’re doing better than you short-term, and likewise it’s easy to tell yourself you’re failing, short-term. But caving in to such “short term-ism” can be devastating. As they say in sport, your position in the league at the end of the full season doesn’t lie.
A good piece of news here is that those who aren’t truly passionate about their art rarely make the grade, precisely because of this fact. Being motivated by money or fame is rarely enough to get you through the hard work needed to play the long game. If you love DJing more than anything else, you already have a solid advantage here – it’s just that right now, you’re struggling to see it.
4. Find the others who are like you
If it doesn’t exist, make it. If you don’t like it, change it. And if people are pissing you off, find the others who they piss off too.
These people are your tribe. You belong with them. Together, articulate what it is you’re not happy about, and together, do something positive about it. They say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know – and that’s true, but as you see, it isn’t how it looks.
It’s much easier to get to where you want to go alongside others who’ve got your back, and vice versa. And it’s also far less lonely – and more fun.
DJing is always moving on. Stay in the game! Try Digital DJ Lab today.
At the very least, partner up with someone. I’ve build two notable businesses over my lifetime in music (a club brand, and this DJ school, Digital DJ Tips) and both have benefited from solid partnerships at the top, that have made them all the better. It’s one of the reasons why maverick solo musical artists rarely last long – there isn’t the tempering influence of “the rest of the band” (or skilled management fulfilling that role, just out of sight).
5. Accept that talent is subjective
Comparing yourself – and your assessment of how talented you are – with everyone else (and, of course, with your assessment of how talented they are) is fruitless and destructive.
So don’t do it.
You may be someone who over-estimates or under-estimates your “talent” – possibly both at the same time! (I remember feeling just like you do now at times in my DJing journey, feeling that I was better than others – but at the same time, frequently feeling like a complete imposter behind the decks.)
Some people think if a DJ looks the part and appears to be totally into it, they’re a “natural”. Others value the ability of a DJ to pull out just the right song at the right time. For others, it is all about the mixing. And for others still, it is just the fact that a DJ is playing at a certain venue, or for a certain brand, that bestows upon them their “talent”.
Finally, it could be the number of social media followers they have or the number of hangers-on they can bring with them.
And you know what? All those definitions of talent can be argued for.
The trick is not to get into a comparison mindset, and instead just to work on what you think you can improve about yourself at any given time.
6. Realise that jealousy is a sign that you are doing something right
Nobody is jealous of a nobody. But the thing is, just as you feel people are jealous of you (and so that they are capable of doing anything in order to hold you down and tread all over you), the trap is to feel the same in reverse – and secretly resolve to do the same to them if and when you get the chance.
Read this next: Should DJs Play The Whole Track? Well, That Depends…
Instead, it can be useful to think about how jealousy from others means you’re on the right track. If you can find a way to ignore it and maybe even meet it with generosity, karma will win out in the end – and you’ll sleep better at night, too.
7. Try to accept things how they are
Here are a few truths about this business. It is really flaky. There is little consistency. Few people make decent money. It isn’t fair. Talent along is rarely enough. Numbers DO count (a DJ who brings a crowd does have value, regardless of their talent).
But here’s the thing – it was always that way! And if you truly love it, you have to accept it and work within it, by following the above points, enjoying the journey, and trusting in the long-term outcome – while at the same time not allowing your success or otherwise to define you.
And if you can’t, maybe you don’t love it as much as you think you do, and instead, you’re in love with an idealised version of it. You have a real choice to make here, because you won’t change the way things are.
8. Don’t feed yourself the “it’s not about talent” bullshit
You’re just feeling fed up, and I think you know it. Of course it’s about talent. If you don’t see it, step back and look for it. Expand your world.
As a DJ, I play tracks by artists who, when I do a bit of research on them, I may find have “only” 500 followers. I have to tell you, I am in awe of these artists. I wish I had the talent that some of these guys (and increasingly, girls) clearly, to me, have in abundance. To me, they’ve already “made it”.
DJing is always moving on. Stay in the game! Try Digital DJ Lab today.
Is their current level of success indicative of their talent? The truth is, it’s an impossible question to answer. But for them to be noticed by me, I can guarantee to you they are doing all the things I have written about the above – working hard, delivering, playing the long-game, finding the others who think like them, concentrating on their own game, and trying to ignore the detractors.
Success is a by-product of doing what you want to do creatively. It is not the reason for doing it. Just look at all the artists who only achieved fame after their own deaths. Try to separate your art from how the world views it at any given time, and don’t fall for this line that it isn’t about talent any more – you just have to think harder about what you mean by “it” in that sentence!
These are fragile times. In the book “Things That Gain From Disorder” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, he discusses ways to become “antifragile”. If DJing really is the thing you value most in the world, you have to find it within yourself to set up the way you approach this game, so that you become “antifragile” in the face of what is going to be thrown your way on your journey.
Hopefully the points above will help you to have a think about that – and if they don’t help, take heed of the words of General “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell – “Don’t let the bastards get you down”!
What advice would you give to this person? Have you ever felt this way? Share your thoughts in the comments.