Not all gigs are down your local bar, at some cool house party or warming up for the latest-and-greatest visiting superstar DJ at the swanky club in town. It’s not always easy to get those types of bookings anyway, because of course they’re the ones everyone else is going for too.
So what’s the gig-starved up-and-coming DJ to do? The answer is to look a bit further afield. Here are just five very different real-life gigs that DJs right now are being booked for. They won’t all be for you, but they’re all unusual, and they’re also all definitely achievable. And remember, the words “learning” and “curve” definitely belong together. No gig is a bad gig for a new DJ.
1. DJing in shops
Trendy clothes shops, skate shops, club gear shops, herbal high emporia, alternative shopping centres… all are good stomping grounds for club people, and so good places for DJs to play. Typically a Saturday afternoon gig, you’ll be spinning to people doing some shopping before a night of heavy clubbing later.
“I DJed in shops for a long time,” says Billy, a DJ from Manchester, UK, “while I was also running club nights locally. “I got to give out flyers (they put them in every bag for me too), and people asked where I was playing later. It was a good way to get my face about while it was still daylight!”
The best way to get these gigs is simply to ask likely shops, or see where other DJs are doing it and ask why they’re no longer there the week you don’t see them! Perseverance, as always, pays.
2. Being a cruise ship resident DJ
Cruises – big floating hotels that traditionally took the silver set on gentile tours of Mediterranean ports, across the Atlantic, or to discover far-flung Scandinavian capital cities – have undergone a bit of a renaissance recently. No longer just the preserve of the over-50s, there are often semi-trendy discotheques on board these cities of the sea – and discos need DJs.
The good thing is that once the rope is reeled in, there’s no competition for your job – you’re the DJ, end of story! Typically a booking will last for a season, too – unless you mess up, that is. The biggest mistake is sleeping with the guests. “That’s a big no-no,” says Tony, a cruise-ship photographer who found out the hard way. “Getting lobbed off the boat in Iceland because they caught you with a Russian divorcee is not what you ideally want,” he recounts. Ouch.
3. DJing at posh charity events
They go something like this. Someone rents a high-class venue (typically a luxury hotel) and puts on a charity night. They hire a celebrity such as a sportsman for the night to do a little talk. There’s a meal, and a band, and then finally a DJ for the last couple of hours. Tables are sold for hundreds, maybe thousands of pounds / dollars / euros etc to local businessmen and the rich set.
This is a niche of mobile DJing, but a good one if you can get into it – best way to do it is to get in with either the venues that always host the events, or the tribute-style bands that play at them; one or other of these is often asked to provide the DJ. You often end up having a free feed, meeting a minor celeb, and then playing for a couple of hours as the middle-aged charity donors use up their last few ounces of energy on the swish dancefloor.
“I got booked to do one of these, with Fabio Capello [England’s soccer manager],” says one of my DJ pals, Jason. “But they were all playing golf the next morning, and at the last minute someone decided they’d all be knackered after a big meal, Fabio’s talk and a band, so it got pulled.” Whoops! Can’t win ’em all, but then again, who wants to DJ to a load of male golfers? 😀 Still, good money if you can get it.
4. Playing on hospital radio
If this concept is new to you, you may not have these venerable institutions in your area. Basically, they used to be small, typically broom-cupboard studios in hospitals where volunteer DJs put on shows to patients, who all had little headsets by their beds. Brilliant, eh? They’ve changed loads since their heyday in the 80s when there were 100s such stations in the UK alone; now they have consolidated into fewer, better-run affairs. But they remain a stomping ground for new talent.
A black sense of humour is probably essential – but as times have changed, so have these stations, so expect the chance to do four-hour late-night dance sets – just like with other type of radio. After all, why should the healthy have all the fun?
5. Touring as a band’s DJ
Many bands take DJs on tour with them, some quite high profile. But bands also get thrown out on first tours without even a second thought about this, so the opportunity is there to spot bands on the up, and muscle in and offer your services.
It’s not always what you think, though. An old friend of mine, progressive house DJ Podje from Dublin, DJed for U2 on one of their US tours back in the late 90s, as the band were particularly into that sound at the time. But instead of DJing in the arena, he was typically given a club over the street to play in, as a kind of pre/after party thing.
“It was good fun, but back then, nobody knew what progressive house was, especially in America,” he recounts. “I ended up playing to half-full venues of very puzzled US rock fans!”
Where’s the most unusual gig you’ve ever played? Do you know of cool or successful DJs with dark DJing secrets in their pasts? Is there any kind of gig you wouldn’t do on your way to the top? Do let us know your experiences and views in the comments!