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7 things you should do to get your first DJ gig

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Hey there reader,

I understand you’re looking for some advice on how to get booked as a DJ. Well, you’ve come to the right place.  

“But who on earth is this guy to be giving me tips on how to get a DJ gig?”, I hear you ask with such malign (and rightly so). 

Well, I’m the mild-mannered Communications Manager at Pirate Studios by day, and… erm… the similarly mild-mannered DJ Jimmy Fader by night. I’m certainly no superstar but I’ve been DJing around the world for almost ten years with some of the biggest names in dance music, and I’ve run some pretty successful club nights in my time. Cue shameless Instagram plug.

Here are my 7 top tips on how to land your first gig and go from the bedroom DJ to club superstar. 

Tip 1. Perfect your craft

Granted, this first tip might sound a little patronising (not to mention obvious), but it’s by far the most important factor when discussing how to get a DJ gig. “Get good” as a solitary statement isn’t necessarily the most constructive advice in the world, so here are a few quick bullets on the specific areas you might want to zero in on:

  • Practise, practise again, practise a bit more and then – once the mere sight of a CDJ makes you want to curl up in a ball and stab yourself repeatedly in the eardrum – practise some more. Get your mixes sounding airtight. Improve your ear for EQing. Nail down some signature effects. It’s never a bad look to be known for being buttery smooth at the technical aspects of DJing. If, like me, you aren’t lucky enough to have decks to practise on at home, check into your nearest Pirate Studios location.
  • Dig deep for hidden gems. To me, a DJ’s arsenal of music is just as (if not more) important as their technical prowess behind the decks. Setting yourself apart from everyone else is crucial. So put in the hours to sift through music, old and new, and discover the heck out of those bewitching tracks that nobody else is playing.
  • Master the nuances of the warmup DJ set. You simply aren’t going to be asked to play a peak time set in the infancy of your DJ career. That is, unless you’re the next Jimmy Fader. Baddummm tschhhh! (Jokes aside, I’m nine years into my DJ career and still struggling to get headline slots). Learning the craft of the early set, which revolves around selflessly building up a suitable atmosphere for the headline act, will impress promoters and bookers massively.
  • Learn from the best. Sometimes the best way to supercharge your mixing skills is with expert guidance. If you’re just starting out or you want to take your skills to the next level then why not look for a tutor. There are thousands of tutorials online. Or you can shortcut the hassle with a 1-2-1 course such as Pirate Studios’s DJ Academy which has a range of classes from beginner to advanced.
Tip 2. Network with as many clubs and promoters as you can

If you’re regularly going out to see DJs that inspire you at events you like, you’re naturally doing this one already. If not, start to seek out the kind of events you see yourself performing at.

Promoters and bookers tend to book artists that they’re familiar and friendly with, so get out there and start getting friendly and familiar with the movers and shakers in your local club scene. Once you start to show support for the music community, the community tends to give back.

I’m fairly certain that my first bookings at Cakeshop only came through because I lingered around that place like a bad smell. I made a huge effort to get to know everyone within that microcosm of culture. Fast forward to today: the Cakeshop crew are among my best friends in the world, and over the years I’ve been lucky enough to have performed with a bunch of my heroes at the club. 

Tip 3. Seek out a regular slot on radio (internet, pirate or local)

A radio residency can be a powerful tool for up-and-coming DJs for a number of reasons. First off, it’s a regular touchpoint with an audience, which can be a chance for you to showcase your sound and style far and wide.

You’ll also feel obliged to dig for new music more often. If you have a weekly or monthly radio slot, you’re probably going to want to keep it sounding fresh with new tracks for each show. With a regular radio residency, you’ll find yourself going that extra mile in digging for new music far more often, building up your repertoire of tracks and as a result: improving yourself as a DJ.

Radio can also be a direct route to getting booked for gigs in itself. Stations often run their own events and club nights, and when they do – more often than not – they’ll book the DJs that feature on their airwaves.

It’ll be difficult for a fledgeling DJ to jump straight into a Rinse FM residency; that level of exposure takes time to achieve. It’s best to target the smaller operations and build from there. There’s a plethora of local and online radio stations out there looking for new talent to showcase, so record a demo and get it sent out to as many stations as you can.

Tip 4. Run your own club nights and house parties

The single most proactive way to go about getting booked as a DJ is to create your own gigs. This can be as simple as throwing a house party between your pals with a set of decks and some punchy speakers or, on the flipside, as challenging as reaching out to a local venue to run your own club night.

Long before my first ever club booking, I’d ferry my decks to every house party I was invited to. And yes, your suspicions are well-placed; I wasn’t invited to many house parties. Whilst not the most glamourous gigs in the world, I quickly found that any kind of live DJ experience with an audience present was vital for me as a budding DJ. Getting over that early-career stagefright, learning which tracks are most impactful and getting to grips with reading a crowd are skills that can only be picked up with ample experience.

Running your own club night is a surefire way to guarantee yourself a set, and a brilliant way to become a serious DJ. You’ll be able to position yourself as a curator with your choices on who else performs with you on the bill, and if all goes exceptionally well – you could even make some money. A word of warning though: running a club night is incredibly hard work, and getting people through the doors is no mean feat.

In my time as a promoter, I’ve probably lost money on two events for every profitable event, and played to a half-empty room for a similar ratio. If you’re going to run your own club night, do it out of passion for the kind of music you want to promote. Any other reason is likely to set you up for disappointment.

Tip 5. Enter every DJ competition and challenge you can find

DJ competitions can be a fast-track to getting your name in the flashing lights. Yes, they’re highly competitive by nature, but if you nail the above tips – you should be a shoo-in.

Back in 2012, my older sister pointed me in the direction of a DJ competition run by Metro Newspaper in collaboration with BBC Radio 1’s Benji B. On a whim, I submitted an entry for the competition and I ended up winning the darned thing outright. Mental, I know; maybe nobody else entered. My point is, I had zero knowledge on how to get a dj gig at this time, I had no social media following, I wasn’t a peerlessly technical DJ, and I damn sure wasn’t expecting to win. It was simply the right opportunity at the right time. If you see a DJ competition, enter it. You have nothing to lose.

Festivals, DJ equipment brands, music publications, club promoters and electronic music conferences all run competitions nowadays to unearth talent, but a good place to start would be the Pirate Studios competition hub.

Tip 6. Become a producer

I know it’s not easy, however, this is one of the most effective ways of kick-starting your DJ career and turning DJing from a hobby to a full-time job. The chances are if you can produce a good track, all the previous steps become redundant and you will soon find yourself needing a DJ booking agent to help manage all those requests. You can do this on a budget. No need for a full-home setup, a laptop and headphones should be fine, then you need to learn the basics of music production and practice, practice and again practice. If you are stuck, Pirate is here to help with a full range of music production courses to help kick-start your career.

Tip 7. Use social media to get DJ gigs

It’s easy to find DJ gigs advertised on social media if you use the right tactics. Check out the Pirate Studios Facebook page and join our community of artists for a start! You can also use social media to identify club promoters and steal tactics used by other DJs to get gigs. Secondly, hate to state the obvious but make sure you have a profile on all the major platforms and keep them up to date with engaging content. Also, do your homework on what other DJs are doing online, steal the best tactics that work for you and come up with your own social media strategy. Remember you can’t do it alone, be sure to work with other DJ’s, club promoters, producers and organisations to raise your profile.

Still need help getting DJ gigs?

DJ courses with the Pirate Studios Academy can guide you through the technical bits as well as offering training on social media, industry insider tips and PR advice.2

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Listen to Jimmy Fader host The Pirate Studios Show on Reprezent FM here.

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