How to Establish and Sustain a Career as a DJ
A lot of people might roll their eyes at the words “DJ” and “career” being used in the same sentence, but the industry doesn’t just have to be for unreliable party animals or Peter Pans trying to hold on to their youth. If you play your cards right, you can look forward to a long career, and live quite comfortably.
First and foremost, don’t just play for your personal music taste. Come to learn and nail a vast range of genres that work together. Don’t go for just music fads either - dubstep and EDM can get pretty repetitive and only have so much longevity.
Build a huge collection and it will save you in a variety of situations, including getting booed off a stage. Knowing your audience and not being tone-deaf to their vibe is essential. Then again, knowing the difference between being a crowd pleaser and a multi-genre music specialist in different contexts is also essential.
Learn both analog and digital, even if you decide to go one route over the other. A digital set-up allows for the most mobility, and learning how to beat-match much easier thanks to a software system and BPM counter. For these reasons, digital is often considered easier to tackle by many.
Analog is for those who appreciate the old school aspect of DJing and want to enhance their learning curve along with learning the lost art of scratching. Gathering a vinyl collection, unless borrowed, can make this a pricey and less portable option, albeit a more authentic one for many.
If you’re doing it for appearances instead of the music, you won’t go far. You need to truly love the music you play, otherwise you won’t be fulfilled and neither will your listeners. Learn to be obsessed with music, almost unhealthily, until you absorb as many genres as possible and develop a more finessed ear for structure and timing.
In terms of how you act before, during and after a set, be confident and approachable. No one likes the dude that never takes requests and acts like an asshole because he thinks that makes him cool. Don’t see this as a party hobby, even though your parents might have ingrained that way of thinking into you. See it as a serious career and invest serious time into learning and honing the craft, as you would with any other industry.
A common stereotype of DJs is that they show up late, wasted, and mess up sets due to both of those factors. Showing up as an on-time DJ with no drama makes more a different than you think. Never complain about a gig on social media or that annoying guy with requests. Keep it professional and respectful for everyone involved.
In the end, understand that growing, pivoting and trial and error all play significant roles. It’s ok to start as a House DJ and evolve into a jazz one, as your identity grows and expands. Always keep an open mind and be open to learning more - if you settle and regurgitate the same boring mix time after time, your DJ expiration date might be coming near.