Our Guide to Getting Gigs as a DJ
Written by Kenny Palmer.
One of the most common questions I get asked at the agency is "How to get DJ gigs at clubs".
When I started out as a DJ during the early 90's the internet wasn't a thing. So when I was looking for work the only was to go out and meet promoters at clubs. It took weeks (sometimes months) of going to an event before you could hand over your mix tape. Yes, tapes (wow, I feel old).
It panned out well for me though and all the hard work (and partying) paid off!
I managed to get DJ residencies at a number of club events in London. These included The Cross, Heaven, The Glasshouse and The Hanover Grand.
So what's the best way to get DJ gigs now? You actually have a few options and ways available to you. Below I cover the 4 ways I think are the best as well as 4 ways I would avoid.
My quick top tips to help get more DJ gigs
Here are some of my quick top tips to help set you up for success.
- Learn how to promote yourself online via social media
- Start your own Facebook DJ page
- Have a mobile friendly DJ website made for you by a designer
- Get professional promo photos (they are well worth paying for)
- Produce your own music
- Start your own record label
- Put on your own club nights and events
- Join a DJ agency to promote you for gigs
- Pay a writer to make your biography look professional
- Get out and meet people at events
- Be a trendsetter and pioneer your own sound
- Work harder than others
- Be genuine and have a good personality
4 Ways of Getting DJ Gigs (I think you should avoid)
1) Pay to play / Ticket Selling
Something that seems to be coming more common is paying to play or selling tickets. This all started quite a few years ago now. It happens quite a bit at clubs such as the Ministry of Sound which brings in smaller promoters. It's something that I am personally against. I think it's the promoters job to promote their event, not rely on a DJ to do their work.
So what's it all about? A promoter basically gives a host of DJ small sets (30 minutes to 45 minutes). They set a minimum amount of tickets the DJ has to sell in order to play. Unless the DJ sells any tickets they won't play or get any money for their set. It may work out well if you have lots of friends who can come along. But can you do this on a regular basis? Why should you have too?
For the above reasons, I think you should avoid paying to play.
2) Playing gigs for free
"But I want to get my name out there", you may be thinking. That's a valid thought, but no DJ should be playing a gig for free. When I run my events everyone got paid. Even the warm up DJs who had never played a gig before. I paid DJs out of principle and made sure that they got at least £50. Even when the event first started and crowds were low, DJs still got paid their money. Out of my own pocket.
Being a DJ is very time consuming with practicing and promotion. It also costs quite a bit of money buying new music and equipment. For those reasons it's unfair to ask a DJ to play for free. At the very least a promoter should be covering the DJs expenses and buying them a few drinks. I think the only time a DJ should consider playing for free is if it is a massive brand. One that will greatly improve your CV. But there's not many events like that around anyway.
Do not sell yourself short by playing for free.
3) DJ competitions
It's just my own personal point of view, but I think most DJ competitions are a waste of time. I see these as an extension of the "pay to play / ticket selling" idea. Especially the ones which are social media based. "Enter our competition and the person with the most likes and shares wins". Seems fair doesn't it? I also question how genuine half of these contests for DJs actually are.
Is it just a way to get more likes for a promotion on Facebook? Or more retweets on Twitter?
I'm not saying all DJ competitions are not worth it, but I do think your time as a DJ can be better spent. Yes, there are famous DJs such as James Zabiela who made their name as a result of a contest. But that was a completely different era and the scene was more pure back then. Obviously, if you are an amazing turntable DJ, something like the DMC mixing championship is well worth your time.
I think you will have more success with the other methods in this guide, but it's up to you.
4) Using a ghost producer to make your music
If you want to release music but don't have the time, you can always hire a ghost producer. So what is a ghost producer? It's a mix engineer who makes tracks for you, but they don't take any credit. This way of doing music is really frowned upon in the industry. It's something many people don't like and there is a big stigma attached to it.
The fact is though, there's lots of big name DJs who use ghost writers. It's been like this for years. So why would you want an engineer to help you make your tracks? Because releasing good music is one of the best ways to get gigs as a DJ. Not everyone has the time to learn for years to become a top producer. That's where a mix engineer / ghost producer comes in. You can book a mix engineer for a day and they will help turn your music ideas into a track. The engineer will arrange the music in the DAW and also take care of the mix down so it sounds professional.
There's quite a few pros out there who can help you make a release ready track. If you were a trance DJ you could use someone like producer Denis Sheperd. He has worked with producers such as Markus Schulz, Rank 1 and Ronski Speed. It's very costly though. Someone of Denis's stature charges around £1500 per track.
So why's using a ghost engineer on my avoid list when I think producing music helps to get gigs? Because I'd rather learn how to produce music myself. I'm not sure I could get any satisfaction knowing someone done all the track for me. It would be their track and not mine. It will be much more satisfying knowing you made every part of the track. You will also not need to rely on someone else and it won't cost as much.
The 4 Best Ways of Getting DJ Gigs (I think you should try)
1) Go out and meet people at clubs
It was the best way during the early clubbing days and it's still a really effective method of promotion now. It involves going out to events (sounds like fun hey?) - obviously. But there is more to it than that. The first thing you need to do is identify club events which fit your music style. As well as being a good music fit, it will have to be easy for you to attend regularly. There's no point whatsoever in fixating on a club in Manchester if you live in London. Unless you fancy going on regular trips, of course. If so, fair play to you.
One of the most important things to remember: Do not rock up on the first night and start the promo train going. You may have a result, but chances are you're just going to annoy the promoter. And you don't want to do that, do you? As I mentioned earlier, I used to attend weekly club events without fail - every week. You become a face that people know at the event and one who people like to talk to. You will obviously need a good personality for this.
If the opportunity arises (it will do at some point), mention that you're a DJ. Tell the promoter how much you love the event and could he/she possibly listen to your mixes. Whatever you do, do not mention money. They will be doing you a favour if they book you for a gig. You can always talk about that if they offer you a set.
After that, continue going to the event. Don't just give up because you think you've done what you had to. Try and become friends with the promoter(s) and build a relationship with them. It may sound like a lot of work, but it really isn't. At the end of the day, you should want to be going out and meeting people anyway. Something I would like to mention is - Please be genuine.
To this day, I've still got several really good friends who I met out at clubs. And yes, a handful of them were promoters who gave me my first gigs!
2) Put on / promote your own club night
After I got my first few DJ residencies I took things to the next level by starting my own club night. Don't get me wrong, it was really hard work. It's not until you put on your own event that you realise just how much goes into it all.
So how did it help take my DJ career to the next level?
Firstly, it gave me two regular DJ gigs every month. The night (which was called SuperSexy) ended up becoming a really big success. By the time my co promoter and I decided to call it a day, it'd been held in 10 cities. This included Birmingham, Cardiff, Hull, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield. This meant I had now built a name as a DJ in more UK cities as well as London. Having your own night can help you achieve much more as a DJ.
2.1) Trade gigs with other DJs / clubs
Secondly, it opened up new avenues for me with promoters from other events who were also DJs. By having my own successful event I was able to trade gigs. A sort of you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. As a result of this I got to play two of my dream gigs. One was at Sundissential and the other was at their after party called Afterssential. To this day I still think back fondly of playing before Andy Farley at 8am in the morning in Birmingham. I went on to play much bigger gigs around the world, but it was still one of my best achievements. Would I have got my dream gigs without my own event and trading gigs? No, I wouldn't have.
Something to always remember is that the more high profile bookings you get, the more well known you become. Having your own club promotion will open up quite a few doors around the UK for you as a DJ.
3) Become a music producer and release music
As the DJ industry has evolved over the years it's becoming more important to make your own music. How many top DJs can you think of who don't release tracks? I am actually struggling to think of any! Something to remember though, just like becoming a top DJ, it's going to take you time to learn music production.
It can take years upon years to get yourself to a standard where labels will release your music. There's lots of hard work which goes into it all and getting your music released. But that's for another guide.
Out of all the ways to get gigs, I think this is probably the best route for the long term. Yes, it will take lots of your time learning it all but the rewards are worth it. Having a string of successful tracks will work wonders for your gig diary. People will be coming to you (or your agent) because they want "your sound" at their events. It's much easier - and quicker - to learn now. There are thousands of videos on YouTube and great sites like Sonic Academy with helpful music production courses.
If you have the time and dedication this is a sure fire winner.
4) Sign up with a DJ agency
When I first started out I eventually got an agent. It was one of the promoters who gave me my residencies at Heaven and The Cross. When I got a bit bigger and more in demand I went in search for a proper agency. It was really difficult then. Unless you were someone like Carl Cox, agencies wouldn't give you the time of day. There definitely wasn't as many good options as there is now. it's much easier having the internet (and Google).
In the end I started my own DJ agency. Back in the late 1990s. It was one of the original type of agencies. We then progressed to be internet based only and managed a host of names. These included DJs such as Peter Presta, Pig & Dan, Thomas Penton, Alan Fitzpatrick, Marc Vedo and Christopher Lawrence. Running the agency really did end up taking my career to places I never thought it could go.
I got to play in 20 different countries, playing everything from club events, to festivals and even fashion shows. One of my best DJ gigs was playing by the Sakkara pyramids in Cairo (Egypt) at a festival. None of this would have been possible without an agency.
So should you sign up and join a DJ agency? Yes, most definitely. Be aware that the old style of agent will only be interested in you if you're a big name. At the end of the day, they earn a percentage of your gig fees. So you will need to have demand there for them to show interest. But you do have the new style of agency available to you.
One like ours will promote your for bookings online and you don't have to be a household name. We get all of our bookings through high quality online marketing. When I was still DJing 10 years ago it helped me get lots of gigs abroad. I first started an online agency back in around 2001 and it got me 100's of sets. So if you can find a really good online booking agent like ours, that will really help. Another option would be using a site like DJ Jobs as they post quite a few good looking adverts. So it may be worth checking them out.
I would like to point one thing out. An agency is not a miracle worker. In order to get gigs as a DJ you're going to need to have a good profile. A well written bio, top mixes and amazing photos. If you do not have all of those yet, work on your image and promotion first. Because no agency will be able to help you get gigs otherwise.
That's all with the guide for now
Thanks for taking the time to read my guide. I hope you find it of some help. I will be adding to this in the future. The main thing was to get some ideas online.
Here is an old photo of me playing at the Hanover Grand in the mid 1990's. Good times!