I remember reading a newspaper headline about six months ago, saying something to the effect of: laid-off workers going to deejay schools trying to get a leg up on a new career. I gazed at that headline with such an incredulous, slack-jawed stare, wondering who convinced these people that this was a great new career choice for workers in a rut in NYC.
If anything, 2010 is one the worst times to try to break into the DJ scene locally. Yet, everyday at least one person asks me for my advice on how to do it. While I’m still trying to figure out how I did it, here are a few tips that I’ve learned along the way.
Plan on losing more money than you make for the first year you DJ.
When you’re just starting out, most bars will give you a weeknight that you have to build up yourself, and the only way you get paid is if the bar gets paid. Most places will only pay you 10% of whatever the bar makes at the end of the night. So if you have a Wednesday residency, you could easily play for five hours and only earn $50 for your efforts if only a few people show. That’s almost guaranteed to happen every other week that you play. And I don’t care if you only use two iPods with mp3′s downloaded for free off the Internet, you’re still losing money. So if you have a day job, KEEP IT!
Your social networking skills are just as important as your DJ skills.
I know quite a few brilliant, technically gifted DJ’s who can’t keep a residency because they never leave the house when they aren’t playing and because they’re too self-contained. DJing is a lot different than being a musician because you’re really only worth something to promoters or clubs if you can bring a crowd, or if you’re affiliated with a certain scene, or if they see you around. If there are certain DJs that you love and respect, go out to their nights and support them. Dance, socialize and get to know likeminded individuals who share the same taste in music that you do.
Two or three heads are always better than one.
I threw a successful party with two other likeminded individuals called Negroclash and we all met and formulated the party because we all saw each other out and we were all fans of each other’s DJ’ing. This party was very expensive to throw and we never made as much money as people thought we did, but our audience got bigger and there have been so many opportunities that each of us gained on an individual level because we teamed up with each other.
Multi-task like a mutha!
I just finished a remix for a friend’s band yesterday and as I tippity-type this, I’m also listening to potential songs to select for a new DJ mix I’m making to post on the Outsdie Broadcast blog I share with another DJ colleague, in order to promote the party we’ll both be playing at. One of the easiest ways to build an audience is to put up DJ mixes. There are so many tools you can utilize to promote whatever it is you do. It can be something as simple as posting a link to a mix that you made on your Facebook status or writing reviews for your roommate’s blog. These things help out quite a bit and keep people interested. Everyone’s attention span is pretty short these days and the more things that you can do expands your audience and keeps your core loyal.
Be open-minded about music and potential gigs at all times.
Not all DJ opportunities are exclusive to clubs and parties. I’ve played fashion shows, photo shoots, clothing stores and VIP rooms at award shows. A lot of times people forget that you don’t necessarily have to play big clubs or European festivals in order to be successful. You have to be open-minded about where you play out and what you play. One of the most successful DJs I know got bored with playing in expensive mainstream clubs and is now exclusively doing weddings every weekend. He’s not only having a great time, he is making a lot more money doing than he ever did in the clubs. There’s a whole lot of music out there and almost every genre has something interesting going on. All of my fave DJs are the ones whose palette runs the gamut and who are passionate about all kinds of music, even if they specialize in playing one specific genre.
These five things helped me get to this point some 14 years later. If I can do it, anybody can do it I guess, but it wasn’t without a lot of help and support from others. I have no clue how long I’ll be DJ’ing professionally, but I can say it’s been one of the most rewarding and creative jobs I could have ever hoped to have.