Welcome to the biz....
Yet another friend has decided to get into the trade of being a dj. Asking for advice and helpful hints. This really came to head last year when I did a grad party for a kid who wanted to be a graphic artist. I told him to stop by my studio and I would show him the programs and give him some advice. He called up later and wanted me to show him how to DJ. He got madder and confused as I tried to explain I couldn't. I use equipment no other dj does and I don't know how to teach years of knowledge and music taste.
Now do not get me wrong. Anyone can do my job, but almost no one can do it great.
First off a DJ, is the easiest job legally to do. No license required. No fees to pay. All legal responsibilities revert back to your employer. So music, equipment and a booking makes you a working DJ. Like I said. We all can pick out music and play it on a PA system. Unfortunately the first problem you run into is. Not everyone knows what good music is. Most people pick what they want to hear or like. This would be their first mistake. This is why they make cd players in cars. Listen to your shit their.
You have a room full of diverse people who like worse music than you and better music than you. The hipsters are up on all the stuff the radio won't play. Everyone else knows the programmed radio hits. I use to do it a lot and I still throw one in, now and then. That really cool song everyone should know, but doesn't. You know you played one of these when someone comes up and says, "Who was that last song?"
Music is everything. it's why people are there and stay. It's what makes the first difference in all DJs. I was late on my music studies. I didn't discover it until high school and MTV. Hell the Bee Gees taught me the Beatles. Say Say Say was the first I heard of Stevie or Paul. Flash forward 30 years and I have a very extensive catalog and play list for every occasion. Of course, I have falling out with new music. Back in the day. All music artists fit in a nice small handbook. Since the internet wave. There are millions of artists. Spitting out more music in a week than Randy Newman could do in his life and then some. So it is hard to keep up. Nor less find or hear some of the requests people ask for.
Your next step in the DJ process is learning how to transition and mix. This alone can make you a successful working DJ.
90% of your work is playing the music and having no breaks or silence. I have gone through so many devices trying to figure the best way. That would be a digital turntable that interacts with your computer audio program. The minute I got one. My level increased a 1000 fold. With proper practice and many crazy looks from people. You can become a Grand Master Flash in no time.
Your next step is getting work, getting paid and building your business. Yes, your business. Here is where most djs fail. People have to see you, know you and know how to find you. Of course, this is much easier in our social media world. No more handing fliers out citywide. Although it still works and teaches you a lot about life, like interaction.
For 5 years I begged for work. Lots of free gigs at festivals and non profit events. Lots of working for a bar tab shit. Any working DJ will put you down when they hear this. Fuck them. They aren't hiring you or talking good about you. They're not trying to help you out. You do what you have to do. Yes it costs money everytime that equipment is used or breaks.
Speaking of equipment. I have gone through it all. From the bottom to the top. Drake style. My current public setups. I have 2-3 depending on how they are set up. The cost of one setup at a show is about $9000. Computer, devices, PA system, booth, lights,etc. You start cheap and build. Like I said, I am very unique with what I use. Making my cost always sky high. So in perspective. Without even performing the gig. I have over an hour setup and nearly 10 grand of stuff to pack, load, unload and not break. Which happens often. Especially after a few drinks.
This is something you have to work into your cost.
I was told the biggest part of my success is I showed up. Which I have adhered to forever. Although I missed one gig, that was rescheduled and not transferred to my new i phone device and forgotten.
I gave them a future free gig that worked out. It has been a long haul. Do not get me wrong. I ran out of money trying to build my business. Then 9-11 hit and my phone didn't ring for 5 months. My only gig was for a bar tab at that time. I had to do one of those residential gigs for 5 years, 6 days a week. Bringing only my computer and voice to work. That taught me many lessons......
Move to present time. I have 3 weekly gigs. All 3 are the biggest nights in Winchester for their days. Fridays is a competition against every venue in town with bands. The national radio station in the area promotes and hires me for all their events. Almost every venue in the area I work at regularly or on special occasions. With the amount of events I do. Nearly everyone in the area has seen me or knows who I am. I have 3 venues that I call home now and another 4 that see me on a more than they want to basis. I have 3 different shows I offer. A Trivia show. A karaoke show and a straight DJ, drop the beat show. All 3 have a constant demand that I turn down. Why?
Ten years ago I saturated myself and tried too much. I was the guy that was always there... everywhere. (I still am!)
No value, but what I was paid for the gig. It was give or take me. I now have 2 venues for both shows I offer. The Blue Fox, which has grown along with me in the last 10 years. I do Trivia and Karaoke. I gave up the DJing there. Once I accepted the hottest Friday night gig in town. I was happy for that to be my one big performance. This allowed me to let Saturdays be my big money maker with private gigs. It is now to the point. I love when I have a Saturday off.
None of this would have happened if I didn't do that turn in the fork of the road. Many years ago. When those young fresh Executive Directors of Non Profits would say...."Do you think you could help us out? We don't have any money." All of those people, except one, has stayed loyal to me. They have found me paying gigs from others. They have moved up to other jobs that can pay me. They continue to refer and promote my business free of charge to the world. I am so grateful to them. I now bank a $1000 to $2000 a week just on gigging. I still have never stopped helping the ones out that have no budget either, because it has always came back to me.
So my advice for everyone out there thinking about this lifestyle and will probably give it up within a year.....
If you want to have the perks of: Free bartabs at too many places.
Free admission & VIP (treatment more than usual) at the best events. Having every stop you make in town an encounter with someone who knows you. Getting to be the party at the party. Making money for pressing buttons and having a good time. Meeting new people daily and weekly. Supporting yourself at something that starts as a hobby. Making 1000s of people monthly happy when they go out. Having that one person come up to you with that nod. "You made my night." or "You are the only reason I come here."
This is what you have to do........
More Free and Discounted gigs than you will ever want to. Each one of those and every other gig. You will have to sort, pack, setup and tear down each one of them by yourself. The bigger the setup. The more time involved. Bring extra clothes. You will sweat... and pull your back out often. You will have to be submissive to most and nice to others as you build your network of contacts that will be your sales force and sometimes only line of work. You will spend more money than you will make. For how long is up to you. Market the hell out of yourself. Spend that money on T-Shirts, banners, stickers, pens, posters. You will be working when everyone is partying. You will have to build a tolerance for everything and everyone. You will get ripped off. You will get talked about good and very badly. Equipment will malfunction and break. Sometimes before or during your performance. Your vehicle may even die on the way to the gig. You will be taking advantage of, as often as you let happen. You will end up hating music and drunk people. Just remember this. The music you like and love. Never play. Save that for you. This was the first thing I said. Your music is yours. After you have to play that song 1000s of time. It has the same effect on you, as the people that created it have. They get sick of playing it. You wear it out. Finally, also remember. This is a job. No matter how big the party. You have to work. You are the party. Everything else is secondary.
This is my only advice to all out there. I have been doing this for 15 years.
Whether I have broke even. I may never know. I do know for every ounce I hate it. There is ten ounces of love that comes from it. The internet tells you every answer to any question you have. Youtube has far too many videos to make you a star. It's all up to you and your motivation. DJs are as big or bigger as bands in this new age.