[Editors Note: This article was written on DJ Tips.]
In today’s article, we’re going to step back from the specifics (we’re busy teaching all of those in our DJ courses every day) and look at the big, overarching things that you’ll need to get right if you want real, lasting success in this game. If that’s your aim, I hope these points help you to “fine tune” your approach and get where you want to go a little more easily.
1. Get some work experience – Want to be a DJ? Then get out there! Nobody ever learned anything in their bedroom. So you can’t get a gig? Then help someone else. Do some flyering. Help set up the gear, or a club night’s decor. Offer to collect email addresses for a local DJ when he or she plays. Offer to do a half-hour warm-up before the club opens. Be inventive – but get out there. That’s where you’ll learn.
2. Be a music fan first – and don’t be in too much of a hurry – Good DJs aren’t born, they’re made. Behind every great DJ is a wealth of clubbing, crate-digging, mix-swapping and general music loving. Don’t forget to develop your taste as you develop your DJ skills. However much you’re itching to get behind those decks, if you’ve got nothing to say when you do, you got there too early. Enjoy the music. Learn everything you can about it. You don’t become a music expert overnight, so enjoy the learning curve. It’ll all aid you when you finally do get your break.
3. Focus hard on your music collection – Individual gigs, club residencies, even whole scenes come and go, but the best DJs have music collections they spend a lifetime slowly, slowly building up. This “behind the scenes” work isn’t glamorous, but great music is the foundations of your career. When you finally surface as a polished, professional DJ with a crate full of magic, only you will know how you collected those tunes over the years – and nobody will be able to reverse engineer your path. You’ll be unique. You’ll have earned it.
4. Work hard and remember nobody is indispensable – Putting the hours it is of the utmost importance. Nobody is so gifted that they can just “wing it”, and if you don’t commit to this and work hard, trust me – somebody else will and they’ll nab your spot every time. People who work hard and make a big effort to go the extra mile to stand out at any stage in their career. It’s always a good thing to remind yourself that you can’t take anything you have for granted, that no one is indispensable, not even you…
5. Look and act the part – If you turn up late and scruffy, the impression you give is “don’t give a damn”. It’s important to be both reliable and well turned out. By looking and acting like “somebody”, (and I don’t mean being cocky and diva-like, I just mean well dressed, washed, alert and with a sparkle in your eye!) you say: “I’m the person in charge of this party, I’m someone to lead tonight’s fun, trust me – and let’s go!” It’s partly how you dress/appear, but also partly your professionalism. Be the pro. People remember and prefer to work with pros
6. Disregard your age (young or old) – You’re never too young to “make it” (at least, the early 20s is old enough); it’s to an extent a young person’s game. But then again, there’s something weird about DJing. It seems to really not matter so much how old people are. Maybe it’s because age = a good tune collection, but if you can keep up, you’re going to be fine. What’s more important than how old you are is how relevant you are. If you can’t connect with your audience, you can’t expect them to connect with you. If you decided to shut yourself off from the music they love years ago, well they’re not going to give much time to the music YOU love when you play a tired DJ set in front of them. Stay in touch, stay enthusiastic, and age is – to quote the cliche – simply a number.
7. Take time to relax and recharge – You’re in this for the long run, so don’t burn out. Sure you’re passionate, sure you’ve got to put the work in – but if you put so much work in that you lose perspective on the bigger picture (family, rest, rejuvenation, stuff outside of DJing), in the end, you lose. Whether it’s a month a year completely off, every Monday and Tuesday relaxing after a hard weekend working, or just a sacrosanct barbecue every Sunday with the family – pick your relaxation, and enjoy it. Remember, a lot of creative thinking gets done when we take time to kick back.
8. Find a way to unwind after gigs – Getting home at 4am or whatever having just played an electric DJ set can leave you wired and far from ready for sleep! It’s an adrenalin thing and it goes with the territory, but you need tactics for relaxing and unwinding. One good “balancer” for me has always been exercise – just running four or five times a week seems to leave me properly ready for sleep at night even if I’ve been DJing or whatever. If I don’t do it I seem to get lethargic and restless at the same time. Do what works for you – but remember that finding a way to unwind is important in this game.
9. Control your nerves – All DJs get nervous. If you don’t, you’re doing it wrong. The trick is to be professional enough to hide it. Sure, stuff can go wrong, but your job as a DJ is to hide that side of things form the audience as much as you can. They don’t care, it’s not their problem! Good DJs realize that and fix stuff unobtrusively and deftly. Of course, the experience gets you better at this, but remember that having nerves is fine. It keeps you on your toes, and that’s actually a good thing.
10. Have confidence in yourself and your abilities – Again it’s a cliche, but often the only thing holding you back is you. Dare to dream. Have a vision for where you want to be. Sure, you might not be the polished, finished article, but it’s in our nature to put our own efforts down and elevate those of others. Be aware of this and compensate for it. Chance are you HAVE “got it”, you ARE “good enough”. A bit more self-belief can be all it takes to accelerate your career. Being a bit easier on yourself will make your journey more fun. Ask for the advice and opinion of those who you respect, enjoy the ride, and trust in yourself.