TIPs for New Deejays – DJ Gigs You Should Avoid

If you are a new deejay and you spin electronic music, there are certain gigs that you must avoid:

Nearly any work opportunity on craigslist, especially under the “Gigs” section will suck.  There’s two types of people that try to find deejays on Craigslist.  The first type is someone who is so socially inept that they have absolutely no connections whatsoever.  This means that they do  not know any DJs.  Today, like the mid 1990’s, everyone is a DJ.  Imagine how bad someone’s event is going to be if they do not know any djs in their personal network.  The other type of person that looks for DJs on craigslist is someone that has a social network and knows DJs.  He tries to reach out to his personal network but all the DJs he knows respond with a resounding, “Hell Fuck No!”  So what does that leave him with?  Craigslist.  So he posts some ads on craigslist and tries to scoop up someone willing to DJ for no pay or low pay.

If your friend is having a party and she knows you are a DJ, she might ask you to perform.  Since she is your friend, you will probably do it for free.  This almost always leads to a bad result.  Realize that you understand a lot more about electronic music than she probably does.  You are an expert at recognizing what’s hot and play the latest tracks and underground music.  You practice a lot in your bedroom and you are hungry for a gig.  She is hot and so are her friends.  She says she loves EDM, House, and Techno.  Tiesto is her favorite.  Unfortunately when you start performing, her definition of electronic music is not the same as yours.  Then everyone at the party starts getting drunk.  You better have a hard disk full of David Guetta’s remixes of Rihanna, Avicii, Macklemore, 2 Chainz, and plenty of hipster rock.  If you are not prepared for this, be prepared to destroy her party.  If you are performing in front of a crowd that does not recognize the good stuff, do not destroy their mood and kill the party by showing them the good stuff.  Keep it underground.  And if you cannot stomach playing mainstream music, do not get into this situation again.  The lesson learned here is that you have to be smarter than the person booking you.  You have to assess their needs.  Even if they tell you they heard your demo, love your style, and that’s what they want you to play, always assume they never actually listened to your demo and have no idea what you play and what real dj’ing is even about.  Obviously some of your friends get it.  Some of your friends understand the House Music scene, but that’s usually not the case with most of your friends.

If you are new to DJ’ing this is one of the hardest things to avoid.  DJ’ing for free.  A dude approaches you and asks you to DJ at their event for free.  “It’s good exposure” he says.  “We can cross-promote” he says.  And look, let’s be honest, you have no name recognition whatsoever and could use the practice, right?  Sounds pretty good, you might even get free drinks.  You might even get your name on a flyer, that helps you, right? Wrong. Totally wrong.  First off, if you are a bedroom dj, you probably have at least $2,000.00 worth of equipment.  You probably will need to rent speakers, that will set you back at least $100 for a small event.  You will have to work 12 hours picking up the speakers, moving your equipment, striking your equipment, returning speakers, and then you still have to DJ for at least 4-8 hours.  You also have to pay gas money to handle all the logistics.  Also, you should have at least a friend there that can help you out here and there and watch your equipment so it isn’t stolen.

Once you start performing at your free gig, the person that booked you with no pay might not realize what kind of music you play whatsoever.  Now they are going to start making requests.  And you are going to start resenting them.  Here you are, working your ass off for free and person that booked you has just turned you into a jukebox.  You might ask yourself, “why did this dude book me if he knows I only play dubstep?”  The truth is, he only booked you because you are the only sucker that he could find that would dj for free.  So it never really mattered to him, at least he found a dj.  Now, here’s your dilemma.  You can either keep playing the dubstep tracks that you love and destroy the event, you can change it up and play mainstream, or you can walk.  Because after all, you are not getting paid.  No matter what you do at any gig, people will always hate on you.  There’s nothing worse than people hating on you and making unreasonable demands, then driving home exhausted, unpacking your equipment, and realizing you have nothing whatsoever to say for it.   It might take you a couple of free gigs until you follow my advice.  That’s ok.  It’s a rite of passage.

From time to time people have approached me saying they can align me with a famous dj for $5,000.  No thanks.  If you have to pay money to play somewhere, it’s worse than not getting paid. And it’s a scam.  Imagine how damaging it would be to your reputation if someone found out that you paid to open up for a famous DJ.

This is the most common thing you run across when talking to a club or bar owner.  They always will ask you, “How many heads can you bring in?”  If you can bring in a certain amount of people, they will let you DJ there.  In return, they will give you $100.

Say no thanks.  Here’s why.  Hypothetically, pretend you can pull in 25 people.  Do the math.  25 heads multiplied by a modest cover of $10 gets the place $250.  Now, assume at least half of those people buy three drinks that average $5.  That’s almost another $200.  Suddenly you’ve brought in almost $500 of business for the bar.  How does that benefit you when you’re getting paid $100?  It takes a huge effort to get 25 people to come out and see you DJ.  Especially when you are getting started.  The amount of promoting, flyers, telephone calls, Facebook invites, etc., to get 25 people in the door is not easy.  That could take at least 40 hours of work.  Not to mention you have to prepare your set, show up, and DJ.  Then you have to network with those 25 people.  Is all of that worth $100?  Of course not.  In the end, all you just did was help brand and promote the bar’s name.

If a bar needs you to bring in 25 people for them, they’re not making money and simply trying to make money by hoping you bring your friends in to spend money.  This strategy works occasionally for the unsuccessful bar owner/manager but not for you.  They just cycle in tons of DJs and acts.  DJs and acts that usually have no business performing in front of anyone but their friends.

These are definitely the worst types of gigs possible.  The person hiring you expects you to bring all of the equipment and wants to pay you nothing.  If you are not in the mobile DJ business, do not waste your time.  You really need to be a professional mobile DJ to handle these gigs.  If you get asked to play at a wedding, sweet 16, high school prom, or similar type of gig, you should probably just say “no”.   You should question why they are not hiring a professional mobile DJ.  Why would they want to hire you, a brand new DJ that’s never DJ’ed at an event like that before?  The reason: they want to pay you $500.  The money sounds pretty decent for someone starting out.  But here’s the deal.  There’s a reason why a good mobile DJ gets paid $3,000-15,000 to do a wedding.  It’s hard work, there’s liability issues, and you need a lot of experience to know how to please a crowd like that.  You also need all of the right equipment.  You need the correct type of lighting, speakers, and plenty of knowledge about what works best in the venue.  You should also have insurance on all of your equipment and some type of liability insurance to protect yourself incase someone gets injured from your equipment.

Regardless, if you take the gig, be prepared to be hated on by nearly everyone.  This type of gig is a service oriented one.  You are the servant of the host.  It’s not the time and place to crack out your unique dubstep style.  If you need to take a mobile DJ gig to pay your rent or buy some new gear, here’s a few pointers:

  • Consult with the host well in advance;
  • Get a playlist from the host;
  • Find out whether explicit lyrics are acceptable;
  • If the host is a control freak, they normally will give you a couple hundred of their favorite songs.  99% of the time, their choice of songs will not work at their function.  You need to at least bullshit that you are confident at what you are doing on this gig.  You should advise them that they may absolutely love Jethro Tull’s Greatest Hits but playing 5 songs from that album will not please their guests.  Tell them that you know what works and your goal is to help them have a successful party where their guests leave happy.  Explain to them that you do not like hip hop music either, but it is nearly essential that you play some hip hop.  Mobile DJs know that hip hop is pretty much universal amongst any crowd.  Playing NOTORIOUS B.I.G. Hypnotize works on nearly any crowd.  Even amongst 50 year old white people.
  • Find a good Mobile DJ forum and read through playlists posted by Professional Mobile DJ’s.  These DJs have been in the business for decades.  They know what works and what does not.  This is not the type of gig to invent a new style.  Get a few good playlists, find out all the tracks like Hypnotize that consistently work.  Incorporate several genres from Country Music to LMFAO.  Make sure to keep up with Billboard’s Hot 100;
  • Do not play depressing songs;
  • Make sure you have a backup system;
  • Contact the venue ahead of time, find out the size of the space, where electricity is, what time you can load in and load out.  Nothing is worse than being locked in or locked out;
  • Understand electricity, make sure you have the adequate power supply to handle your PA and mixing equipment (this might sound ridiculous but it causes significant issues 50% of the time). Always have lots of gaff tape and duct tape on hand.  For example, if you are DJing at a hotel convention space, engineers will constantly monitor what you are doing.  They usually will not allow you to have cords that are not taped down;
  • Have a microphone and be prepared to make a lot of announcements;
  • Make sure that your fog machine will not set off the smoke detectors.  There are several different types of smoke detectors.  Some smoke detectors are tripped by fog, some aren’t.  Do your research and know which kind the venue has.  Nothing is worse than getting a party going, filling it with fog, then an hour later the fire department shows up.  30 days later you will be in court, defending a lawsuit from the wedding party that wants $20,000 from you for destroying the reception.  Then tack on punitive damages.
  • Have an assistant with you and make sure to pay them.  Do not be a douchebag that uses people for free.  Consider that when you have people helping you, you should also have insurance for them.  If they drop a speaker on their foot, it’s workers comp time.  Are you prepared for it Boss?
  • Understand that this type of DJing is a Service Industry type of job.  You are in the business of customer service.  This means that you, the caterers, the photographers, and anyone else the host paid to provide services for the event will be a scapegoat;
  • I could give you a hundred more tips but the point is, if you take one of the gigs for $500, you are screwing yourself over.  It’s not worth it.  Also, you are undercutting professional DJ’s and fucking them out of the market.  That’s never good.  How are you ever going to earn $6,000 off of these events when the next person the next kid that got Traktor for Christmas will do it for $500?

This is never a good situation unless you know the bar is rocking. If you are only getting a percentage of the bar sales, it better be a hot spot that consistently brings in big dollars on the night you have to DJ.  Some places might want to see $3,000 in alcohol sales before they give you a %. You should always negotiate a flat rate before that target is reached.  For example, $500 + a % of alcohol sales above $3,000.

The whole point is, never work for free and certainly never DJ for free.  Sure you can be starry eyed and have dreams to travel the world as a famous DJ.  That’s rad!  But you have to realize that people hiring you know that you have dreams and goals.  When they realize how passionate you are about DJ’ing, they can quickly manipulate you and pay you less.

Ultimately if you DJ for free you are effectively stating that your skills are worthless.  And you are undercutting the market.   In the long run this reduces the amount that experienced DJs get paid.  Why should you care if an experienced DJ loses a gig to someone that charges 1/8th the price? Because one day, when you have more experience and do not want other DJs to get the gig because they charge a fraction of a fair price.