The more established you are as a DJ, the more inquiries you’ll receive. These can range from one-line Facebook messages like ‘what do you charge?’ to full proposals with a budget and logistics already outlined. Oftentimes, the sender will have no idea what your preference or personal taste is, and might assume you operate a simple music playback service or PA speaker hire business. So what do you do when you get a booking request for a type of music or event that you’ve never done before?
Turning it down
You might still feel like a student of DJing, but it’s your responsibility to educate the client about what you do and don’t do. It’s also worth having a response prepared for inquiries that don’t suit your taste. If you aim to turn it down because you can’t realistically see yourself playing a toddler birthday in a clown suit, it’s always a good idea to have someone else to whom you can refer the client. That way, they remember you as being helpful rather than a dead end, and are more likely to get in touch with more suitable events in the future.
So let’s assume that you’re able to accommodate the client, even though you might not have actually played mariachi music at a themed taco night in the past. Your first question should be: is the fee substantially higher than your normal event fee? If you aren’t very familiar or don’t like playing the type of music you’re asked for, you should be charging more. As you might know, a truckload of preparation, research and track acquisition goes into an entirely new set. Don’t be afraid to aim high if the target is really niche. You might be down in a list of others who have already turned it down because it’s too much work for the payoff. Learning to DJ professionally means being realistic with your time estimates and charging accordingly.
Know what you’re doing
So, you’ve decided to go ahead with it and the client is happy with the rate. Now it’s up to you to make sure you have the gems in the required genre. In every style, there’s a Top 20 or Top 100 that are guaranteed crowd-pleasers. Find out what they are and get a hold of them. Listen to every track at least once before the time. Definitely practice mixing them beforehand. Hip hop is harder to beat-match than house because there are fewer beats per minute and therefore fewer chances to match up the snare and kicks. Along with online DJ lessons, beat-matching and practicing transitions in new genres is a great way to grow as a DJ.
Hit the scene
If you have time, go to an event featuring the type of music you’re booked to play. This is a quick way to see what effect certain tracks have on the people and the floor. Install Shazam (if you haven’t already!) and use it to discover selections that might not have made the list. And don’t let yourself be fooled by lists or charts online. The best way to find out what’s banging is to go out yourself. Talk to people about the music. It’s one of the ultimate conversation topics, and you can learn a lot in a few minutes. You never know, you might find a new love for it!
Refusing for good reason
Refusing to play because you’re unprepared might be a good move. If the idea of playing the gig makes you feel a bit queasy, rather turn it down than agree and make a poor job of it. The client will generally respect honesty and consider you again for more suitable events in the future. The long game as a music businessperson all relies heavily on your reputation as a negotiator. If clients can trust that you can deliver on what you promise and your rates are reasonable, you’ll find yourself in ever-higher circles.
There isn’t a successful DJ on the planet that has not played an event outside of their comfort zone at some point. Putting together mixes and DJing house parties is a cool hobby, but if you’re serious about performing professionally, you’ll need to play more events which require new and unfamiliar material. Don’t roll your eyes next time someone offers you a spot at a bluegrass event. Get researching and find out what works. The best marketing is performing at an event in front of a crowd of happy people. Do what it takes to make it happen. Learn more on how to go pro with the courses DJ Courses Online has to offer.
John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.