How To Break Into The Music Industry
“It takes years for almost everyone, of grafting and playing to nobody for shit money. If you love it you will keep going.” - Om Unit
To better understand how artists take their musical pursuits from passion to profession, we asked four of our favourite DJs if they could identify one opportunity that really launched their career.
Below, Plastician, Om Unit, NAINA and DJ Harpz describe how they got their ‘break’ and share advice on how emerging artists can take their careers to the next level.
A leading figure in the worlds of Grime and Dubstep, Plastician is a multi-talented DJ, producer and label boss (Terrorhythm Records) from Croydon.
He describes a fairly rapid rise to the top of his game, due to pioneering a brand new genre which later exploded - Grime:
DJ Slimzee was definitely the first person to give me a break. He was a really important figure in the UK Garage scene at the time that the Grime sound was just starting.
He played a couple of my tracks in his sets and then signed them to his label which helped establish me right away as the Grime scene was so small - being associated with him put me among the top tier almost instantly.
Despite this, Plastician’s advice to emerging artists trying to level-up doesn’t involve starting an entirely new genre. Rather, he recommends a practice which have sustained his career - networking:
My best advice is to actually get out to clubs and meet the people who run parties or livestream events. Whatever it is you aspire to do, meeting people face to face and being visible at real-life events has a massive impact on your opportunity to get involved.
If you want to play at a particular club night, get down there early, talk to the promoter before it gets busy and bring a USB with a mix on it or something.
As somebody who promotes parties myself, I often get DJs asking if I'd be interested in booking them. I'm much more inclined to offer slots to DJs who have come through the events and supported the night in advance.
You need to give a little in this game and small gestures like actually attending the parties and understanding what the DJs are spinning there will give you an advantage.
NAINA is a London-based DJ, radio presenter and co-founder of emerging label Hooversound with SHERELLE. She describes breaking into the industry by successfully applying to an opportunity at Reprezent Radio:
Reprezent Radio gave me my first ever radio show. I’d done a guest mix on a previous show there, and when they next did a call out for new talent, I went for a pilot. I had a music degree and some previous DJ experience from playing in Southampton (where I went to university) but that was it really.
Gavin, who used to work there, gave me a shot and said he saw the passion and love I had for music. That gave me a huge confidence boost which really helped with my show.
I did a late night weekly Wednesday show for a few years until I finally got given the Friday night spot.
NAINA’s advice to artists looking to infiltrate the industry is to practice a lot, maintain consistency and of course, get used to networking:
People are always listening, always watching. Consistency is key, so keep going even if you feel like it's not going anywhere.
Practice, practice, practice, talent will always shine through.
Speak to people, meet people, join new programmes and platforms. If you feel like those platforms aren't taking notice, create your own.
As a producer and DJ, Om Unit has been a significant and pioneering presence in various electronic music circles for the past decade, an alias which he took on in 2009. When discussing his ‘break’, he recalls his first commercial release:
A guy called Darren Hemmings (now CEO of PR firm Motive Unknown) released my first commercial releases as 2tall in 2002-2004 or so. I’m forever grateful.
His advice to emerging artists is to be community-minded, to dig into the roots of the music you play and to be patient:
Talent is not the whole equation. You can be as 'slept on' as you like, but if you are genuinely hungry to do this for a living then you need more than just skills behind the decks. Nobody is going to make it happen for you based on talent, you have to get out and meet people and make it a real-world real-time passion outside of the bedroom/studio.
It's about community first, not just yourself on your own against the world. Destroy the idea of competition being your leading drive because comparison just leads to crippling anxiety.
Really work on playing music you really love in your own style and become a complete nerd for digging into the deepest roots of the music you love, go and discover the history and context of where it comes from and soak it all up.
It doesn't happen overnight, despite what other people's social media might make you think. The truth is, people who blow up overnight often pack it in because they lack other skills such as basic personal management.
It takes years for almost everyone, of grafting and playing to nobody for shit money. If you love it you will keep going and learn. It's not supposed to be easy, but it should still be fun.
DJ Harpz is a DJ, producer and key player in the UK Bhangra scene. Talking about the opportunities that launched his career, he references two key mentors:
There are two key people who gave me my first big breaks. The first was my best friend, the late Inder from Twin Beats. He was the first one to give me advice on DJing and mentored me in music production.
The second person was Panjabi MC (Beware Of The Boys) who has always been a big influence, he’s one of the reasons I got interested in making music in the first place. Now I'm lucky enough to call him my friend.
Discussing how emerging artists can take their careers to the next level, DJ Harpz encourages harnessing the power of social media:
Keep learning your craft daily and use social media to the fullest.
I come from an era where there was no Instagram or Twitter. The new generation of artists can reach out to promoters and others in the industry on their phones.
Create an online presence by livestreaming and sharing your work. Use that to help get the attention of promoters and the wider industry.
The main takeaway from each of these DJs accounts is that networking, be that networking in person or online, is key to breaking into the industry.
None of the DJs interviewed would have gotten to where they are today without the support of their peers, and neither should you expect to.
Go on nights out, join online communities and speak to everyone you meet - you'll probably find yourself one step closer to getting that 'break', even if it's not a massive one to begin with.
For more music industry tips, tricks and advice, or to access up-to-date music industry news, head to the Pirate.com Blog.
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