Like a crowded bazaar, the marketplace for DJing is saturated. There simply isn’t enough space for everyone to gain opportunities to raise their profile by performing to the ‘right’ people. Yet time after time, new DJs emerge with a ‘started from the bottom’ approach, expecting that both financial and creative success is simply a matter of time. But there’s one question every new student of DJing should be asking themselves: what is it about me that makes the people care? If you haven’t answered that one yet, here are some alternative approaches to the cookie-cutter approach.
Get the gig
How have the world’s best DJs made their name? Regardless of how you decide what ‘the best’ means, it was probably through a combination of good taste, charm and luck. But one thing is certain: all of us are a dirty MP3 rip or a speaker fail away from losing the gig. There are armies of others pushing up to take your place at the table. You need to be unique and indispensable to your community. Even when they’re offering lower pay or a kids birthday party, you want to be the first person they call. The gigs you don’t want to do are the ones that enable you to do what they want. Let your surrounding marketplace subsidize your passion. It’s still better than a day job.
Do the admin
Nobody really wants to act on the following piece of advice, but those who do want to learn DJing for real and follow it have an advantage. Here it is: for every hour you sit on YouTube getting ‘inspired’, you’ve lost an hour of practice. The idea that you’re going to make a name for yourself as a DJ without doing a whole lot of behind-the-scenes work is a little bit poisonous. DJing is as much about curating databases and libraries of files and clients and social media schedules as it is about playing music. The music is the fun part, which fuels the excitement for everything else. Without it, there’s no career. Remain inspired by it, but get your business set up as early as possible, if a career is what you’re really after.
Unlike most other art forms, mastery of DJing is about mastery of technology. No matter how outstanding your taste in music, there’s nothing stopping someone else from playing the same exact setlist besides you getting the tracks first. Get to know the gear inside out. If you’re a laptop DJ, practice on turntables. If you’re decks, practice on controllers. Find new ways of making your set interesting. Nicholas Jaar plays a ghetto blaster at his events. It doesn’t have to be that offbeat, but certainly expand your range. Always remember, though: the gear doesn’t make the DJ. The music makes the DJ.
John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.