[Editors Note: This article was written on DJ Tips.]
So you make a great mixtape (or online mix). You give it out to everyone you can think of who may be able to get you a gig. You sit back, confident that by the weight of sheer numbers, someone will give you a booking. And… nothing. So you get to wondering. Why did it not go right?
OK, so let’s start exploring that. If you submitted an objectively poor mix (badly done, given out without your number on it, and so on), then anyone can see it’s unlikely to get you success, but assuming you got those basics right, what’s the issue?
Is it that mixtapes are dead, that they’re too easy to make so they hold no currency anymore, that maybe you should have submitted a performance video or a screenshot of a Facebook Page with 30,000 followers or something else like that?
Actually, hold on there! That’s not the whole truth, not by any means, even in this oversaturated, social media-driven DJ market. A good mixtape can still be a good business card for your efforts, even if it isn’t the whole story about you as a DJ.
So instead, is it that everyone in your town is against you, that they’re simply ignoring your genius? After all, your friends all told you that your mix was amazing, better than the DJ they heard playing at that club you really want to play in. So why is he getting the gigs and you’re not? It must be a conspiracy! At the very least, it makes no sense.
Well, it’s not a conspiracy, and actually it does make sense – perfect sense. And in this article, I’m going to show you seven reasons why pretty much every mixtape given out is destined to fail.
Take two pieces of comfort from what you’re about to be told. One: You’re not alone. And two: You can fix every one of these.
The 7 Reasons
1. Nobody asked you for the mix
In all of these circumstances, someone wanted something in the first place. But if you shoot off mixtapes to randoms – no matter how many hundreds you send out – how can you really expect anyone to pay attention? It’s no more likely than speculatively sending out job CVs, or turning up on matchday expecting to play football.You see a job advert, you submit a covering letter and CV. Your neighborhood football team advertises for new players, so you head down for a trial. Your local club puts the call out for new DJs, so you submit a mix.
Do you really think the promoter has nothing better to do than listen to your unsolicited mix, or they have no other mixtapes knocking around vying for their attention? Even though they have no openings, no vacancies, no need for new DJs?
Try this instead: Learn what’s going on in your town. Ask around to find out when new venues may be opening, or new festivals or club nights might be starting. Then investigate further, asking who is doing the booking. However you do it, when you give out a mix, know that the venue or organization you’re sending to is actually, you know, looking for people to do some DJing for them. Otherwise, what’s the point? The first hurdle fail!
2. The person you addressed it to didn’t get it
Most mixtapes are going to end up washed up on barren, foreign beaches, never to be found again… is yours heading that way too?
“To: The Manager”. Right. Let me tell you a truth: Unless it has “final demand” written on it in red and is in a very official looking envelope, nothing without someone’s actual name written on it is even going to get opened in a business. Anyone worth what they’re paid below the person you’re aiming at is going to save them the job and bin it for them, and you’re showing zero initiative by being so lazy as to not at least find out who the person doing the hiring is.
Not addressing something correctly is the most common reason mixtapes don’t get into the right hands. Handing them in at the bar “to give to the manager” is another. The outcome is the same: Waste of time.
Try this instead: Put your mix CD in an envelope stamped “FINAL DEMAND” in red. (Nah, only joking. Find out the person’s bloody name! Ring up and ask. Is it really that difficult?)
3. The person you addressed it to doesn’t know who you are
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is just as true in DJing and the music industry as in many other industries, especially those where there are no qualifications to help people weed good out from bad, and where both promoters and DJs can be flaky, unreliable or just damned untrustworthy. A personal relationship is often the single factor that decides if two people decide to work together (ie, a promoter decides to hire you to DJ for them.)
For example, Every single person who works for Digital DJ Tips was known to us before we gave them the job. Sure, they all still applied when we advertised, sent to CVs, were shortlisted and interviewed… but it turned out those who got the positions had approached us many times before, or taken some of our courses, or made themselves known through commenting on our work, or offered to help. It’s very usual.
Try this instead: Get to know the promoters, other DJs, club and venue owners and bookers in your town. Make sure they know who you are too. Hang out where they hang out. Offer to help with their events (flyering, holding a clipboard on the door, even ferrying DJs from airport or hotel to venue. Trust me. These guys always need extra hands.) Establish a network and relationships before pushing mixes on people. (This will also help you with point 1, as you’ll find out before many people about DJ vacancies in the first place.)
4. The person you gave it to didn’t listen to it
So you know someone’s looking for a DJ, you got your mix to the right person, they already knew your name or face. Well done, you did better than most. Trouble is, you sent a crappy letter or a CD in a see-through wallet with a cheap business card, or just submitted a handwritten name and phone number…
“Hmmm I’ll just put this generic, badly presented CD-R mix into the car stereo on my way home… ” said no promoter, ever. How are you going to make your mix stand out so it becomes one of the few that actually does get given a chance?
I’m actually getting bored typing this, thinking back to the piles of CDs I used to have all around my office when I was a promoter. Yeah, I knew loads of those guys. Actually, that made it worse, because I didn’t want to upset them by listening to their mixes and then having to turn them down.
Why? Because you can tell – trust me, you can tell – when a mix is definitely not going to be good enough to get you past the impression of someone you get from a badly presented package. No effort in the package, not enough effort on the night from the DJ – they go hand in hand. So the mixes just sit there unlistened to, in a big pile.
If you think you’ve got what it takes to stand out from everyone else behind the decks, you better damn well do it when submitting a mix to someone who’s got the power to put you there!
Try this instead: Try presenting your CD in a metal can. Or professionally print the label. Maybe use a snazzy seal or hologram sticker. Why not send it to a charged MP3 player with a pair of headphones, or on an ACTUAL tape, complete with a little tape player? you could brand it with the club’s logo… Get the idea? You gotta stand out, sister.
5. You didn’t tailor it to the venue, event or club night
Remember, you are up against potentially scores of other DJs. Imagine that a promoter who’s got enough time and enough generosity in his soul to listen to your mix does so, only to find that you’ve submitted a deep house mix for his bass night. In what parallel world would any DJ think that was remotely OK?
Yet it happens. It happens all the time. Yeah, you spent ages getting your one and only mix right. But that ain’t gonna impress anyone unless that one and the only mix is exactly what they were looking for in the first place. All it says is, “this shows I can sling a few tunes together, you’re going to have to guess if I can actually do it in the style of music you want me to play, OK?”
This kind of thing – like sending a generic CV for a job application – shows you don’t care enough to make something special for that one opportunity. Or worse, you actually aren’t skilled enough to do so. Neither is a good thing, by the way.
Try this instead: Be sure of the type of music being asked for, and capitalize on any other clues you have (eg if you know the audition is for a warm-up DJ, submit a warm-up set). And then make sure what you give them is tailored to that exact slot.
6. You didn’t follow up
Smart DJs ensure they book a follow-up call at the time they first get someone to agree to take a mix of them… and they also always remember to make that call.
Whereas us DJs like to think a promoter is going to hear our mix and drop everything in order to 1) Tell all their friends how great this new DJ they’ve discovered is, and 2) Call you immediately to book you, that’s sadly not how it usually works.
What happens is the promoter you know vaguely through a friend and who you’ve met once or twice picks your nicely presented mix out of a pile, and have had it on for 20 minutes, realizes it’s roughly what she’s looking for, and it doesn’t suck. Then, she gets distracted, and two weeks later when it’s time to think about that resident DJ she’s been thinking of hiring, she’s forgotten all about your CD.
At that stage, you may or may not get “remembered”, depending on countless possible circumstances, all of which are pretty much out of your control.
Try this instead: When you hand the CD over or agree with someone that you’re going to send it, agree also a follow-up date. “I’ll call you in two weeks if I haven’t heard from you to see if you like it, is that OK? Can I just check I’ve got your right mobile number?” is the kind of thing that does the trick. Once you get someone to agree to talk to you in a couple of weeks, they won’t mind you calling to do just that. They may have listened to 20 CDs, but I pretty much guarantee you’ll be one of the few who actually gets to speak to them again about the opening, which may be the difference between being forgotten and getting the job.
7. You gave up
You know, you could do all of the above. Right person, right time. Agree a follow-up. Present a brilliant mix that hits the spot. You could even have them agree to give you a trial gig, maybe after your third follow-up call. And then… the bottom falls out of it all.
The promoter has the venue (or their financing) pulled. The DJ they wanted to do it originally but who couldn’t suddenly can again. Ticket sales are poor so the room you were booked for is not going to open. There are countless ways failure can snatch you from the jaws of victory.
The amateurs give up at this point. But that’s a huge error. Think about it this way: You’ve now got a promoter who knows and likes you and is prepared to offer you work; that is a very, very good thing. Gig or no gig, you just won something. You’re on your way to success. This is a bad, bad time to give up.
Try this instead: Get the promoter to introduce you to other people who may be able to give you work. Ask them for a reference. Put the flyer (for the night you never played at) on your website (why not? It exists; you were on it…). Agree with the promoter a time in the future when you can speak again about any opportunities that may arise. Ask if you can come to VIP backstage on the night anyway, and see who you meet. Turn up with your USB stick and headphones anyway (somebody else might not turn up). But whatever you do, don’t give up. One thing no new DJ ever gets in their career is consistency. Take the hits. That’s what pros do.
Everyone who gets DJ bookings tries a lot harder than the rest – but everyone who tries a lot harder than the rest doesn’t always get booked. If you really want this, you have to do better than that.
Ultimately, the truth is that the people who succeed are the ones who can see things not only how they really are (which this article has given you a window into), but also who see things from the point of view of the person or people who have the thing they want (DJ slots, in this case).
Once you can do this, you stop taking stuff personally and start doing all the right things to earn your place where you want to be. You learn bona fide ways to judge your progress. And you gain the strength to keep going where others get bitter and give up.
Don’t stop making mixtapes. Just be smart about it. See it as part of the bigger picture of everything else you have to do to succeed as a DJ. And most importantly of all – enjoy the ride!