Getting DJ gigs in a flooded music industry is tough, especially if you want to showcase your latest productions to a live audience for the first time, it can be quite a nerve-racking experience. However, how do you get to that stage when you know no one in the music industry, and you've got no connections or solid relationships with the right people? Where do you start as an upcoming producer? When you’ve perhaps been a hermit for so long, trying to perfect your music for years locked away in your studio? All for that one moment to finally get the chance to get your first DJ gig and cement a residency position at your local nightclub.
My name is Mike Power. I am the founder of The DJ Disclosure and I want to help you and many other upcoming producers who struggle to get gigs in clubs. I struggled myself for many years to get the results I wanted, so I don’t want you to make the same mistakes, or even worse, quit on your dream of showcasing your music onstage, as I have seen so many do. I am not your superstar DJ or producer like some others out there. However, I had the pleasure of working with an amazing company called Majik Entertainment here in Melbourne, Australia.
I have learned a lot not only as a DJ for them but, also a Promoter, so I will be giving you multiple perspectives on this topic, allowing you to gain a deeper understanding of what works and what does not work. I want you to understand this is a process and there’s not just one way to get gigs. It can be a tough and unfair road in the nightclub/music industry, as you know. All I ask you to do as the reader is not only to understand the information I am giving you, but also to act. Some of this may seem like common sense, but unfortunately, it’s not common practice. There will also be quite a lot of new things you will learn too, so I hope you get some terrific value from this article.
Ask yourself, can I replace my local DJ?
Before I talk about persisting with your local nightclubs, where it is ideal to start, I want to talk about the fundamentals when it comes to your skills, sound, music, your online presence and most importantly your beliefs. To get gigs in clubs, you must be able to put another DJ that is most likely more established and experienced than yourself out of a job. You must be able to differentiate yourself enough to not be like them but also fill a potential time slot for that nightclub and offer your own individuality. Obviously, you want your own sound and music to align with the nightclub or event you are looking to get involved.
As an upcoming producer, you may not have a lot of DJing experience and that’s fine, as you must start somewhere. I would recommend brushing up on your skills on the decks, getting a DJ mix of what you as an artist stand for with your sound/style and music taste. This is much more important than stressing over how well your beat matching and mixing skills are. Sure you must be able to DJ, and that is a no brainer, but your music defines you as an artist.
Having music that few other artists have should be your main aim, which differentiates you from the rest. I recommend besides looking on Beatport, iTunes or Soundcloud to find music, to network online in Facebook groups and forums to get unreleased bootlegs, remixes from other artists in your genres. Of course, relationships will have to be built first, as I will talk more about the networking side later.
Every bedroom producer wants their own sound and to play what I would like to call a producer set, playing the majority of his or her music in a set. As an upcoming producer, don’t worry that you have not nailed your own sound just yet, this isn’t a massive limitation. You will always be a work in progress. While a promoter may favour a more established sound and producer, this should not stop you.
A promoter likes to see effort, not perfection, when it comes to putting out your own music, which means putting out music every month. As an upcoming artist that wants success in the music industry, you must play the long strategic game, starting off local and building your own tribe and important connections that will serve you later down the track. Just be known for consistently putting out music and having a sound that can be identifiable at this stage.
Do you look like you have you have yourself sorted?
Have you got your artist logo consistent with who you are as an artist?
Do you have neat, professional photos taken from a photographer that will reflect your persona? Is your image consistent with your Facebook and Instagram profiles? Do you have your own website to start collecting emails and build your tribe? Most importantly, do you have a story to tell your audience?
This is so important; a story will define you as an artist. Most people have similar music tastes, but no one will ever have the same story as you, which is a game changer. Share your story, share your struggle, and share your success. When a promoter looks to book a DJ, they look for social engagement and activity on your social profiles, as well as how well you present yourself. You have to look like you can bring a crowd with you into the nightclubs; it’s not always about how many likes and plays you get with your music.
The raving fans are the only ones that will come to watch you play a DJ set, but there’s no point having 1000 followers if only a handful of them care about what you do. Treat your fans like your best friends online, it makes all the difference.
Do you believe you are ready to get out there? This comes down to confidence. How do you know If you’re ready to play in the nightclubs? Have you handed out your DJ mixes to club DJ’s that are experienced and qualified to give you critical feedback on your music? Are your mixes getting attention online like plays, shares, and social engagement? This is the feedback loop and you will know after you get that confirmation, which will turn into confidence and let you know you’re ready.
Target and treat your local nightclub as a second home
The biggest and most frequent problem I see with most upcoming producers is they don’t get out there enough. I like to use the term “be seen in the scene” you must get on people’s radars, become known, liked, and trusted. This is the sequence to building relationships with people. First, you get attention by putting yourself out there. When you do it consistently, you will become known to people, which will then lead to conversations and exchanging value to then become liked, then over time become trusted.
Unfortunately, I find that most producers give up after they don’t get the attention they feel they deserve. I am a strong believer you should use a combination of both online and offline networking, but more importantly, get out there to begin with. You want to get a group of friends to go out to the nightclubs every week with you, the nightclub you can see yourself becoming a part of. If you are an introvert and loner like I used to be, with little people interested in the music you are interested in, you must make new like-minded friends. Also, your success depends on you doing this anyway.
This is where it all begins. Yes, it takes a little courage to put yourself out there, but you start by getting to know the bar staff, security (for the right reasons), then you start meeting other like-minded and local patrons, then you eventually get on the radar and become known for making new friends. You find out who the promoters are not to pitch your music at this stage but to become friends with, same with the DJ’s. Your aim is to show loyalty and commitment to one club and one club only.
I don’t recommend doing the rounds with every nightclub, but instead go all in with one club. It’s a small world, you don’t want to be the guy or girl that comes across desperate trying to sell themselves to every club. People and promoters notice, and despite what may you think, word gets around. Loyalty and consistent effort shows you are dedicated to a nightclub, you are interested in seeing the club succeed and it shows that you are not just in it for your own gain. So many DJ/Producers I see are only in it for themselves, I hope you’re not one of them because it doesn’t get you very far.
When a promoter or DJ sees that you are the type of person that supports others, they will give you their time and show mutual respect. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule, and there will be some people that will be arrogant and disrespectful and even take advantage of your good intentions. But, ask yourself, if they are like that would you want to become a part of that club?
Promoters see value, rather than skills
A promoter and nightclub owner will put on an artist that will make them money and give the nightclub a great reputation. Nightclubs are becoming scarcer these days because they are dependent on the DJ’s and Promoters bringing the numbers through the door. I am not going to beat around the bush; they want and need consistent numbers every week. It's tough out there. I have been a part of clubs that have gone down the drain, and it’s heartbreaking to see a club everyone has worked towards fail due to not being popular enough to continue.
It does not matter how good you are. As a DJ, if you don’t have a tribe of loyal fans to support you, you won’t get booked. On average, a local DJ and promoter needs to bring around 20 - 30 people each week to keep a night going. Of course, it varies on club size but when you have normally around 10 promoters and a couple of DJ’s all playing their part, it can bring in anywhere from 200 - 300 plus people, enough to keep it running provided the club rooms are in proportion.
What can you do to create more value for the nightclubs?
1. Become more valuable by bringing friends every week. Before asking for a gig, show that you can bring a crowd despite not playing yet. This will spark attention from a promoter as they will see you as an asset, which will further your chances of playing and you will jump ahead of the queue of DJ/Producers that are not making those efforts.
2. Become a promoter and get involved in the inner circle. This is the key to building important industry connections that will eventuate into you getting gigs. What does a promoter do? Promote event flyers, sell tickets, spread the news by word of mouth, make calls, and bring people through that door.
3. Give your fresh new music to established DJ’s; they are always looking for new music to play in the clubs. If your music is good enough and works in a club, plus it sparks a massive crowd reaction, word will go around, and people will ask questions. “Who made this track” etc., it can be a foot in the door, just build a relationship with people first, don’t become a salesman on the first attempt.
But I still struggle to get to know the right people and build a network?
I used to as well, so don’t worry. This comes down to doing your research, ask yourself where do the like-minded hang out, both online and offline.
Is great for being a detective, fishing for important people and looking into other artists, agencies, promoters and nightclubs. What forums and Facebook groups are they involved in? Find out where they go and what they are interested in both personally and professionally. Share common interests, ask questions, give compliments, and add value by helping them with their problems. This will build rapport and overtime relationships with continued effort. Online is great to get to know people but you eventually want to meet up and connect face to face, this is where business is done.
I have already mentioned the nightclubs, so I want to mention where you can get in touch face to face with a promoter to ask about getting gigs for the first time. You want to attend a promoter’s meetings, which should be held once a month during the middle of any given week. This is where everybody like Promoters, DJ’s and the owner come together to discuss the future of a nightclub and what they can do better to enhance it. This is how to become a part of the music industry by association. And it is ideal to talk to people with the power to book you.
An upcoming producer will make the mistake of asking for a gig in a nightclub when everyone is busy and distracted, which is not ideal. You want to find out and ask during a meeting or face to face over coffee.
There is no secret pitch, what have you done lately?
I can’t stress enough about the importance of adding value to people before asking anything from them. Have you shown an interest in them first? Have you helped them in any way? Did you bring people into the clubs consistently or can you show them your influential by your online profile that is getting high levels of engagement? Even if you are a popular producer, be a person that has given value before asking for any DJ gigs. No perfect pitch will get you a gig, I am sorry if that’s what you are waiting for. There is no secret sauce; there really are no secrets.
How to never get DJ gigs again
Here is how you can expect not to get booked ever again from doing the following.
1. Not promoting the nightclub you play at: When you do get the gigs, a promoter expects you not just to promote yourself and your music, but also the nightclub. An artist should always be, consistently promoting their work on social media. Flyers should be promoted on all socials a couple of times a week leading up to the event. Sounds like a given, but you would be surprised by how many artists don’t do it enough, because they think only promoters should do it.
2. Lack of respect for other DJs: As a newbie, you will rarely ever get the time-slot you want; you must earn your way up the ladder. It’s a DJ’s job to play to the time-slot that gets given to them and not to burn the next DJ. This means you don't play peak time music in a warm up set - play the right music for your set. A common error I see with an upcoming producer is they finally get their moment to shine and want to play all the music they have produced just for the sake of it. If your music is not appropriate for your set, don't play it, you will have to wait for next time.
You want to show a promoter you know how to play a controlled set especially if it’s your first time. This is how you will get more later on down the track. And whatever position you do get with the set times, make sure you are grateful and thankful to the promoter.
3. Not bringing your tribe into the nightclub: Never make promises you can’t deliver when it comes to bringing numbers through the door. Some DJ’s I have witnessed in my time have done this so they can finally get a foot in the door. Saying they can bring 30 people and getting 5 people and sometimes none. The fastest way to lose trust and burn your bridges by lying intentionally and making up excuses. Be honest and continually work on building a fan base if you feel short on numbers.
4. Distancing yourself from the people: A promoter likes to see the DJ communicating and interacting with others before and after their set. Further networking and acting like a member of the audience, not a Hollywood superstar. Remember, more relationships need to be built and just because you’re Djing on the lineup, it doesn’t mean everyone is going to be there for you or even know who you are. The majority will most likely be for the Main international DJ. So, my advice is to be friendly and approachable and remember it’s not always about you.
A nightclub thrives under a great community of people. They can just as much as the DJ make or break the night. So, try to bring people that are in it for the music and not to cause trouble. Many nightclubs in Melbourne have closed down due to substance abuse and people fighting. You are who you surround yourself with; make sure they are winners and passionate music enthusiasts.
Remember why you want to play
When you enter the music industry, you will encounter a lot of politics, people backstabbing other DJ’s, Producers, and Promoters. Sadly, it’s inevitable. My advice is to remember your reasons why you want gigs when you are struggling to get them. This will happen; it’s not a matter of if, but when. It takes a lot of resilience to play on the big stages and get to where you want to be. Unfortunately, some people may take it away from you, not always intentionally, but just for the main reason that there are better artists out there with a bigger fan base.
If you are super passionate about the music you write and are wanting to play to inspire others to have a great time and share an experience, you will get there if you persist. If you want instant gratification, fame, and expect to find a short cut I guarantee you, you won’t find one. Best of luck, fellow producers, and hope to hear from you with questions.