How To Succeed At DJing, Pt 6: Accept This Is The Music Industry

Read time: 4 mins
Last updated 28 November, 2017

DJ Rap
DJ Rap: A good example of the modern truth that while talent is necessary to stay in the game, image and brand are increasingly necessary to get you there.

Back when I started spinning in 1992, DJing was more a world of “hired hands” and “underground creatives”. It was people who never really saw this as any kind of a multi-million stardom kind of thing. Even the original pioneers of house music here in Chicago never even fathomed the idea of being “superstars”. Most simply saw it as a job and a passion.

Now we’re in 2011. We see websites and flyers with DJs being displayed in the same level of fame as most pop artists you see in the charts. We’re even seeing many attempts at the image of a guy with a killer athletic body, wearing some hot youth culture fashion of “now” and looking as if he could sell music, fast food, or T-shirts. That or the “hip nerd” who grew up into being the cool guy who’s ahead of everyone in terms of culture. We’ll also see female DJs all clad in stylish clubwear, looking as if they could double as fashion models.

I remember in the past, many DJs, like rock musicians, were not the most visually appealing people in the world. Most of the time males who were not the most physically beautiful people dominated the scene. People I’m sure would make Simon Cowell say something along the lines of “he’s not promotable”, despite his/her talent.

DJing is now part of the music business

But the reality today is that this is now the music industry, and while in the past DJ culture used to be autonomous from the world of pop superstardom, now it’s become aligned. Is it totally fair that one has to have a marketable “image” in order to grow big? Perhaps, but look at how many musicians also complain about the same thing. It’s a fact of life now, and you can see it by how many DJs are going all-out to get professional photo-shoots done, and working very hard to make an image, as well as a sound.

You don’t need to be a chiselled, tanned muscle God or an airbrushed model to snag an image that’ll take you to the top: Look at deadmau5.

Now if you’re not the kind of guy or girl who could grace the cover of a fashion magazine, fear not, there is hope. Look at Deadmau5, or Daft Punk. We really don’t know what they look like, but they manage to sell an image. Same as the Bloody Beetroots, so you don’t have to invest in an expensive helmet. MF Doom simply wears a replica of the mask used in the movie Gladiator, and yet it makes him memorable.

Even in the underground scene, image can sell a lot. You notice how trance DJs all have a certain fashion, and dubstep DJs have their fashion, as well as mashup guys? This is not accidental, but more or less it’s a part of their culture… and many wanting to get into those cultures dress and appear in a way that appeals to those scenes.

If you don’t believe me, find out how well someone who looks like Pauly D would fare in a room full of hipsters looking for dubstep.

The key to this game goes back to how I stated that this is a popularity contest. People need to know you, remember you, and like you for you to be successful. The music industry is partly an image thing now. Accept it. I’m not saying someone “ugly” can’t make it, but you need to be liked and memorable. Think about that. You’re not just presenting a demo mix, but a personality.

Pseudonyms for different bins

At one point, I was about to dive deeper in to producing. I wanted to make house, trance, and breaks, but I knew no one would accept all those styles from “D-Jam”. I ended up attempting to create personas that catered to each of those scenes. For house I remained “D-Jam”, but for trance I created the name “Hyperion”. I was planning on dressing more “European” and thus looking the part. For breaks, I created the persona “Hedlytez” and was planning on only showing photos of a toy robot as the promotion.

While I ended up not staying in producing, I still think building a likeable image to the market you want to aim for is essential now in growing as a DJ. Easiest way to approach this is to remember that in your town or country there’s hundreds or thousands of guys all trying to do what you do. Maybe you found some tunes that make you stand out in sound… but if you walked into a DJ convention and saw a sea of Ed Hardy clothes and ONE guy wearing a suit with sneakers…which guy will you honestly remember the most?

Stand out to get on

Be independent, be different, be something interesting. That’s how you hook people, then you solidify them as your fans with your sound and talent.

Sell an image, a personality. That’s how the music industry works. DJs are part of the music industry now. Play the game.

• D-Jam is a Chicago nightclub and rave DJ by night, and a branding expert by day. Check out his website.

Check out the other parts in this series:

Is this your experience? Do you think image and brand are as important as music nowadays? How have you seen people use these techniques to break through? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Digital DJ Lab