With electronic music more popular and varied than ever before there has never been a better time to jump behind the decks and start a career as a DJ. Becoming a DJ involves far less expensive private tuition than, say, aspiring to play in an orchestra. That’s how so many innovators from disadvantaged backgrounds created the genre, after all. But as with all creative pursuits, becoming a DJ takes practice, time, luck and a lot of skill. To help you out, here is our step by step guide to making it big in the world of House.
No matter how hard you try, it will be hard to up your mixing skills without access to some decks. You may know someone whose gear you can use to practice on, but for the most part it is best to start to build a rig of your own.
Basic gear every starter DJ will need includes – Turntables, Mixer, RCA Cable.
At this point though it is important to consider what kind of DJ you want to be. Think about whether you want to work with vinyl records, CDs, or computer DJ software. Depending on which of these routes you pick to start with, you will need to adjust your setup accordingly. CDJs, for example, will need CDJ turntables. Digital-only DJs will need good DJ software and possibly a turntable interface. This guide from Turntable Lab breaks down the necessities in more detail.
Most DJs use a combination of techniques in their sets, but to start with you should choose to focus on one. Take MN2S artist David Puentez. As he explains in his Top DJ Tips, he currently uses Pioneer CDJs and a 900 mixer with a Macbook Pro when he is on tour. When he started out he had a simple 2-channel mixer from Behringer, an old Technics turntable and even a DVD player.
As you can see here there is no need to worry about buying the most expensive gear when you are starting out as a DJ. No amount of expensive or flashy equipment will be a substitute for poor DJing, so the most important thing is to get practising.
‘Practice makes perfect’ became a cliche for a reason. Putting in the hard work is the only way to raise the level of your DJ skills. Before you take your new equipment rig to the clubs, you need to try it out in your bedroom. Or living room or kitchen or bathroom or garage.
Mixing is a fine art. Matching rhythms, setting loops, shuffling beats, lining tracks up at the same speed, even flourishes like scratching, all take time to get right. You may have to spend a whole practice session getting one track change right, but it will be worth it. Digital DJ Tips have more on how to get the most from practice sessions if you think you need more help.
It should be noted that picking tracks for a mix is a big part of being a DJ. Make sure you listen to as much music as you can to find music you love, and that you know your future audiences will love. Then you can start playing it to them.
Once you are comfortable with your level of skill, you have to take your mixes to the booths. Practice in your room all you like, but nothing can replace the live experience. Good DJing is about connecting with a crowd. You can’t learn that without playing for crowds.
If your eye on any club nights you think you could play – one that takes chances on a lot of up and comers, for example – then go to that night as much as you can. Bring friends, schmooze, introduce yourself to the promoters – but don’t waste their time. This will put you in good standing to get a gig there next time they are looking for new people. Spin Academy has more on targeting specific club nights for gigs.
Another way to get your first gigs is to book out venues and throw parties yourself. As discussed on Digital DJ Tips, this is a great way to prove to a venue that you can DJ well with minimal risk for them.
Make sure you post mixes online, on a platform like Soundcloud or Mixcloud, so you can send it to promoters or venue staff who are considering booking you. You can also use this mix to promote your party if you have booked out the venue yourself. However you got your first gig, make sure you promote it as much as you can on social media to prove you can pull in a crowd.
Once you have played your first gigs, you can start to make a name for yourself and build up a following. Use social media promotion to build appetite for gigs.
Once you are seeing regular success, it may be time to get yourself a booking agent, like the lovely people at MN2S, for example.
From here, you can get more gigs, make more noise, put out your own productions, start your own label, and clear out space on your mantelpiece for your shiny music industry awards.