Your Questions: “After 12 Years Of Paid DJing, I Feel Completely Stuck…”

Phil Morse | Read time: 4 mins
Pro your questions
Last updated 25 March, 2018


Digital DJ Tips student Peter writes: “For over 10 years I’ve been playing every Friday and Saturday at lounge and restaurant venues as my bread and butter, but I’ve also played once or twice a month at either small festivals, clubs, or special events (corporate shows / weddings, and so on) depending on the season.

“The common denominator has always been the need to earn good money as I’ve been a professional working DJ for over 12 years. Yet 95% of the gigs I’ve done have not required me to promote myself to any degree.

“For the last three years I’ve been DJing at a club in a casino slightly out of town. And again I do not need to promote as I’ve been the resident there, and my job has been to keep patrons, not bring them. I have done over 15,000 hours of DJing and want to expand to bigger local clubs and even tour internationally.

“Yet I feel stuck. I never got into DJing 17 years ago for the popularity contest or the business side of it. The challenge is that I don’t have a solid brand or ‘sound’ that defines me and I don’t have a massive following in town or online. Large clubs want one or the other (or both) for me to play as it’s ‘all about the money’, which is understandable. It’s just frustrating that they don’t seem to care I can, humbly speaking, outperform 75% of the local DJs.

“So should I get an agent? Spend hundreds of hours trying to produce a hit? Get a business coach and rebrand? Hire someone to do my social media? Start from the bottom and grind up? Move to another city and try there? I’ve been stuck on and off for the last seven years, and keep going in circles…”

Digital DJ Tips says:

Firstly, please recognise your achievement in surviving as a pro DJ for 12 years, Peter. Many of our students would already count you as a complete success!

But I think you need to stop fighting the reality of how things are out there. You grudgingly admit that business is all about money, and that it’s understandable clubs will go with DJs who can fill dancefloors – and indeed you are frank in stating that you’ve always gone where the money is yourself, too. We have to do so in order to survive, right?

DJs fill dancefloors for all types of reasons. They play amazing, new music in ways that people haven’t seen before, and gather followings by the sheer originality of what they do. They are incredibly good-looking / charismatic, and people flock to – literally – “see” them as much as hear them. They master social media or marketing. They have a great big hit and everyone comes to their shows on the back of that. They do clever business deals with clubs that get them prime, well-paid slots. They own the clubs. They establish awesome mobile DJ businesses to play parties, weddings and corporate events. They promote club nights and “book” themselves. I could go on, but you get the idea, right?

For all successful DJs, there’s something that they do exceptionally well.

If you’re not prepared to market yourself and increase your value to the market, which means also taking care of the business side of things, you almost certainly won’t achieve the higher success. Nobody cares how experienced you are or how long you’ve been doing this: In my big long list above, only the first reason I gave for DJs achieving success requires exceptional DJing skills.

The highest paid DJs are, in actual fact, rarely the best. They’re just good enough so that their DJing doesn’t let them down while they do something else exceptionally well (eg, business, marketing, having hit singles, being good-looking, knowing the right people… take your pick).

So if you want to play big clubs and tour, you need to hustle (you’re right, make a hit record) – and there’s still no guarantee of success: You’ll be doing it for passion and love, not primarily money. If you want big, reliable money, it’s far more realistic to start a great mobile / wedding DJ business – but again, you need to do the marketing and business side exceptionally well.

A business coach won’t help you, as you’d still need to do the work (enter the “popularity contest”, start taking responsibility for your marketing). And paying someone to do your social media would be cool if you cold afford someone decent, but you’d still need to lead from the front – nobody’s going to do a good job of your social media if you wash your hands of the idea to begin with.

Also there’s no point moving cities – it sounds like there are plenty of opportunities in yours, and you’ll likely only have the same problems anywhere you go.

Finally, you mention agencies. If you want an agent to miraculously hustle you gigs in clubs and festivals worldwide, forget it: They’ll come to you when they think you’re marketable, and you’ll need to do a lot of marketing and business stuff yourself (and have that hit song) to get there.

But… if you want to earn money DJing weddings, corporate events and parties, but really don’t want to do the marketing and business stuff, so-called “multi-op agencies” (with several mobile DJs on their books) are an option: You sign up, they get you gigs, you just go and play them. I suspect the pay and restrictions they’ll impose on you won’t be to your liking, though.

So just to say again, thinking like a one-person business and realising that marketing is simply taking charge of showing the world your talents (and fine-tuning them to something people will be interested in) is simply the way things are out there. This is what you need to stop fighting against. Instead, you have to find the drive to roll your sleeves up and and get on with it.

Have you found yourself “stuck” like Peter? What did you do to make the next step? Do you have any advice to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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