It’s an all-too-familiar story: a DJ of any experience level with plenty of mixing skills, fancy DJ gear, and the latest killer tracks, but no gigs in sight. As DJing continues to grow in popularity around the world, gigs can be difficult to pick up.
Nick Minieri examined some fact in his article which are very helpful. We consider that so helpful that we decided to share so as many of you newcomers can hear these and consider taking smart steps.
His words that were previously shared on djtechtools.com, you can read in full below.
The dreaded empty gig calendar.
Every once in awhile I get emails from frustrated DJs who have tried it all: they bought equipment, spent thousands of dollars on music, practised for countless hours, and want to play out – but they’re just not getting gigs. I know exactly how this feels. I wish I could say getting booked is easy, but the harsh reality is that it simply isn’t. The market is flooded with DJs, all of who are as driven and dedicated to establishing themselves as you are.
It’s no secret we’re witnessing tectonic shifts both in dance music, as well the role of the DJ, in 2012. Before the Internet, DJs were coveted because they were the “gatekeeper” of the music. It was much more difficult and expensive to build a decent library in the 1980s and 90s. Their importance even became grossly overestimated by the rise of the “superstar DJ” persona at the turn of the century. The playing field has since been levelled, with fewer barriers to entry or “gatekeepers”. Everyone can become an “expert” on dance music nowadays…and as the famous saying goes:
When everyone is an expert, nobody is.
Similar to most other endeavours, who you know will get you much further than what you know. This was true 25 years ago, and it’s true today. I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times already, but the nightlife industry is all about connections. Skills get you nowhere if you don’t know people. Period.
This is not the type of article where I’m going to spew a bullshit 10-step list you can follow to put you on the road to fame, five-figure paydays, and the red carpet treatment. Dance music (EDM) might be in vogue again (especially here in USA), but the fact still remains that DJing is an activity that calls many, and chooses few. Fewer than 5% of DJs who start out will be able to make a living just from playing music that isn’t Top-40. Yet I’m willing to bet ALL of those “chosen few” aren’t making the mistakes I discuss below, especially during their formative years.
Think carefully to yourself if you are getting caught up in any of these traps as well; they could be the difference between routine bookings and complete obscurity. You’re not getting booked because:
1. YOU HAVEN’T DEFINED YOURSELF AS A DJ
Isn’t it pretty sad to think there are more DJs than ever, yet every time you go out they’re playing from the Beatport Top 100? It’s funny how when DJs had limited access to music 20 years ago, one would have a completely different set of tracks in his or her flight case than the next. Most everyone had the “anthems”, of course, but generally speaking, every set you would hear at a party would be unique.
Now we have more access to music than most could have dreamed of in 1990. Yet it has encouraged many DJs to become lazy and just search the charts on sites like Beatport. Just because finding music is convenient nowadays doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time to still do some digging. Next time you’re on Beatport, why not click through the “New Releases” section (within the genre you play), instead of the Top 100?
Try doing some sifting through demos that suit your style next time you’re on Soundcloud. There is going to be plenty of junk, but when you stumble across that gem that almost no one has heard, the effort pays off. While you always have to cater to the crowd, you should still take risks and balance it with music they’ve never heard before.
Ask yourself one question: Who are you as a DJ? This can be answered by identifying yourself through your music selection. There is software out there that can mix and key match for you, but no machine will be able to SELECT your music the way you can. It’s still the one way you can separate yourself from the rest of the pack. You aren’t giving promoters any reason to book you if all you do is rally behind the anthems everyone else hammers. There are countless other DJs who can do the exact same thing….let alone a jukebox which doesn’t require a rider and a paycheck. Do you want to be a clone or do you want to stand out? Define yourself.
2. YOU’RE NOT PRACTICING ON A REGULAR BASIS
Practicing means a number of things. It means taking the time, every day, to search for unique music, and building an encyclopedia-like knowledge of it. It means organizing your digital collection by key & BPM tagging, adding cue points & metadata, and more. It means knowing every song in your library inside and out. Figuring out which tracks go best together, where the build-ups and break-downs are, when to mix in and out, and on which occasions it is most appropriate to play each one. What good are 25,000 tracks on a hard drive if you only know a couple dozen?
Get ready to spend a lot of time on the decks if you want to play with the A-listers in your hometown.
DJs who don’t practice struggle to build a cohesive set that organically evolves in response to what the dancefloor is doing. For every Danny Howells, there are thousands of DJs who haphazardly chuck songs on that don’t fit together, or even worse, pre-plan entire sets without taking any cues from the crowd. There’s nothing wrong with plotting out chunks of two or three songs at a time that work great together, but you can’t interact with the crowd properly if your full set is pre-planned. This wouldn’t be a problem if you knew all your tracks inside and out in the first place. Malcolm Gladwell’s infamous 10,000-hour rule makes no exceptions for DJs.
More importantly, practicing is the only way you will truly define yourself. It’s quite uncommon to become successful just from DJ’ing, but the ones who do have generally added a different or unusual twist to the craft. Sasha and Richie Hawtin were two of the first DJs to utilize Ableton as a performance tool, back when very few people knew the software even existed. Jeff Mills and Andy C became renowned as DJs who could fluidly mix more than just two songs playing simultaneously using three or even four decks. Madeon and AraabMUZIK are currently pushing things forward using MIDI controllers and Akai MPCs to smash existing songs apart and play them back in completely different ways, all live.
In all these cases, thousands of DJs have tried imitating their styles, many rather successfully. But this is tantamount to the thousands of guitarists who can play like Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix obviously made a name for himself by being one of the first to push the newly invented electric guitar to the max with his rapid-fire licks and groundbreaking use of distortion and overdrive. But by playing just like him 45 years later, you aren’t creating anything new, you’re merely repeating something that already happened. And just because you are really good at mixing doesn’t mean you are going to be the next James Zabiela, either. Think of how you can approach the craft of mixing songs in new and different ways, and this will surely help you take more creative ownership in what you are trying to do. This vision only becomes a reality after years of practice.
3. NOT SUPPORTING EVENTS YOU SOMEDAY HOPE TO PLAY AT
Just because there isn’t a headliner doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be a fun party
This one should be obvious: if you’re not already well known as a DJ locally, don’t even consider asking a promoter to play at their event unless you’ve checked it out a couple times. Successful local events target specific music styles. They attract people who know exactly what to expect when they stop by after a long stressful day at the office. You really won’t know whether the genre a creative director at an ad agency if you had a background in finance, would you? Nor would you want to ask the promoter of a deep house night at an upscale lounge if you could get on at an upcoming show if you play flashy saw-wave electro.
It’s understandable that getting out to every party seven nights a week isn’t going to happen. You’re an adult and you have responsibilities….trust me, I get it. Promoters will notice and appreciate your support, even if it’s only once a month. Especially if it’s on a night when a headliner isn’t booked. If you have a chance to introduce yourself to a promoter, don’t open the conversation by telling them you want to play their night; just talk with them about music, the scene, or other stuff (like TV shows, sports, whatever). Don’t be shy; in fact, if you are, you’re probably in the wrong business altogether. Remember, DJ gigs are about who you know, not what you know.
At the end of the conversation, hand the promoter a business card with all your contact information. Don’t bother giving them a physical CD at their events, they’re busy and it will get lost in the shuffle. Then follow up online (see below!).