Why You Need Regular DJ Gigs
Really, when we say ‘DJing success’ we mean ‘DJ gigs’. The skills of DJing can only be sharpened against the steel of the public. If you want to get better at knowing the right track for right now, you need people in front of you to give you the feedback that you improve from. If you want to know whether the transition you just performed bored or delighted, you need people in front of you to watch. If you want to build your confidence around knowing how to get your body language, behaviour and tone right to bring a cold room of strangers to a warm, welcoming mass of happy humanity…I think you get the idea. Without the humanity to feed off, it’s a non-starter.
Not only that, but gigs lead to more gigs. One of the best ways to get booked is to be the one playing the tunes, because the people who hire DJs are often among the people you’re DJing to. If you’ve ever looked from the outside and wondered how to break into a circle of a small number of DJs who are constantly getting all the work they can handle, one of the truths is that the circle is self- perpetuating. In other words, once you’re in, you’re in. Finally, never forget that gigs are fun. They’re addictive. When you’ve had the real thing, there’s no going back.
Once you’re regularly DJing in public, you tend to find that people assume you can do all types of DJing. If you’re bold and prepared to work hard at doing a good job of whatever comes your way, this can be a good thing. You may think you’re an underground house DJ, but your workmate asks you to play her dad’s birthday party, so you have to shuffle together a commercial set. At that party, it turns out one of your friend’s dad’s mates runs a local bar and needs a regular DJ for a Sunday daytime Ibiza-style chill-out gig. So you assemble your favourite B-sides and back-to-mine type tracks and take the gig – and end up loving it. And eventually, that bar residency leads to you being asked to fill in for an absent DJ warming up a local club. Suddenly, you’re playing the underground house sound you love every week, and getting paid for it. Bingo! And it was being versatile that led you to where you wanted to be all along. Indeed, if a tiny bit of you says, ‘I could do that’ when you’re offered a gig, even if the rest of you is screaming, ‘No!’, seriously consider taking a deep breath and going for it.
Types of gigs to go for
Private parties for family and friends are a traditional starting point for DJs. They are easy to get, and a good place to practise. On the downside, they are unpredictable, can be totally naff, and are hard work (you may need to bring all the gear, and then put up with constant harassment from people ‘wanting a go’ or trying to dictate the music). These types of gigs are hard to turn down, but it’s best not to base your DJing dreams on landing a regular stream of them.
You may choose to advertise your services as a mobile or corporate DJ, playing company parties, birthdays, school events, and so on. It’s easier than you might think to get set up to do this kind of event (we have a chapter on it coming up), and it’s the best way of getting into a situation where paying work leads to more paying work, so if your personal definition of DJing success is ‘paying gigs’ rather than just ‘gigs’, this could be your best route. Or you may be lucky enough to land yourself a regular slot in your local club right from the off, although such gigs are extremely rare for new DJs. The competition is invariably fierce, and you need to know how to stand out to have any chance – or know the club owner. (There’s actually a better way of getting club gigs, and we cover it in a coming chapter, too.)
Which leads on to bar gigs. luckily, most of us live in or near enough to a town or city with at least a handful of half- decent bars, pubs or lounges where music is played. Getting a slot in such a venue is possibly your best chance of playing regularly when you’re starting out, giving you the opportunity to practise your skills week in, week out, and play some semblance of the music that got you into all of this in the first place – even if it is to a half-empty pub on a Tuesday night. Such bookings are fantastic for getting you out of the domestic and into the real world in public, where the dynamic is completely different to spinning at parties for friends and family. You’re on show, and despite the fact that you may often find yourself playing to a handful of people, you have a reliable, hopefully weekly, gig on which to build. Bar gigs are more attainable than club gigs, and they require less commitment as far as finances and organisation are concerned than setting up as a commercially available mobile DJ. And if you play for six months to a half-empty bar once a week, suddenly you’ve got twenty-five DJ gigs under your belt. Something will come of that, I can guarantee you.
There are only two types of gigs to put from your mind at this stage, one because if you mess it up you ruin someone’s life, and the other because you’re not going to get it.
The first of these is the wedding DJ booking. Wedding gigs involve far more than playing music. You are a compere, often an MC, taking charge of various aspects of the day and following a protocol that you need to understand to get right. You have a single chance to do so, and if you mess up, two people who have been looking forward to this day all of their lives are rightfully going to be livid with you. Weddings are for specialists who know what they’re doing; they are not places to fake it till you make it. If you’re interested in wedding DJing, befriending and shadowing a DJ who already does it, or at least getting some specialist training, is essential.
The second type of booking to forget about is the big festival-style gig, where you tour your country or continent, being put up on the big stage to play your hour of huge tracks in front of tens of thousands of adoring fans. The truth is that you’re not going to get booked to play outside of your home city at all, never mind on the big stage, until you’ve done what I’m suggesting: taking small bar gigs and building up, honing your craft, and in many cases taking ten years to become an ‘overnight success’. Another truth is that only when you’ve got music out there that you’ve produced yourself will people come to shows to hear you play.
Actually, making your own music is perfectly possible, and when you do, you’ll have a huge advantage over many people who produce their own music and then get booked to DJ: you’ll already know how to DJ. A good route to the festival stage, then, is to learn to DJ, learn to produce music next, then start gunning for such gigs when the agents who can get you them start knocking on your door, which will be when one of your self-produced tracks blows up.
So easy, tiger. In both of these cases, there’s a path to be trodden first. He who gigs, wins, so at first, go for the gigs that aren’t life or death, specifically those that you can actually get.
One thing that’ll make it much easier to get any type of DJ gig is a decent online profile. That’s what we’ll look at in the next chapter.