Landing My First Festival Gig – Soup To Nuts

What follows is a detailed log of every interaction that led me from my first connection all the way to being tapped to spin my first festival gig in front of thousands of people opening for the Plain White T’s. Each connection I made over the years was one small step that culminated this long journey.  I ultimately garnered a strong word of mouth reputation that caught the eye of the man in charge of putting together the festival lineup. 

August 2013 – The first connection

I have the first of four consecutive TalentFest gigs at the hedge-fund I work at, the largest gig I’d ever done at the time of three-four hundred people. I’m playing music between bands and take over the night for a final two hour silent-disco set. There is one guy (we’ll call him Joe) administering wireless headsets for 300 people for silent disco. One guy to turn them on, make sure they’re working, set them accordingly. Then once the music cuts he has to hand them out as the mass of people rush the table. Turns out this guy has a broken leg and can hardly walk or stand. Despite his resolve he’s clearly struggling so I make a point to help him out.

Colored headsets
Silent Disco wireless headsets

Towards the end of the night as I’m done packing my gear I decide to help him close shop so he can go home sometime before the sun comes up. He’s very appreciative and compliments me on my set, mentioning my style fits the CT area well. I of course don’t think I did too well but it wasn’t bad for my first silent disco affair. He mentions this private DJ group he’s a part of, that he’ll try to plug me in the group. We shake hands, exchange business cards and we go on our way.

September 2014 – We meet again

A year passes. We exchange an email or two but our next meaningful interaction is TalentFest 2014. We laugh over the previous year’s ordeal with his broken leg. He again mentions this group but we lose touch until the same gig rolls around the following year.

October 2015 – My big in

After our third TalentFest working together he texts and asks if I’m free on Halloween. The collective needs a fill-in and he referred me. This would be my first public bar/club gig, hell yeah I’ll take it!

I get on the phone with the owner (we’ll call him Carl). He gives me almost an hour run-down of everything his business is up to. The company is a venue talent management firm. It’s a multi-op specializing in higher end corporations & umbrella companies. The idea is to manage relationships with professional entities who operate more than one venue and can actually pay.

It takes me five minutes to take my jaw off the floor with all the big names he’s worked with. On top of this he manages the annual summer festival in downtown Stamford. And every New Years Eve he sends DJs down to the Caribbean for all expenses paid parties.

Chyeahhhh.

A few days following my intro convo they call me for a second Halloween gig. A second gig before I could prove I’m not a fuckup at the first one! Alrighttt let’s do it.

It turns out that the first gig was supposed to begin an hour earlier than I was told. I was there so early and was able to set up so fast that it didn’t matter, I still started on time. Bonus points w/ the boss.

Over the months following Halloween my interaction with the owner Carl is very light. My next gig would be for NYE.

December 2015 – Venue prep & networking

I had never been to the NYE’s venue so I check the place out the preceding Saturday. I introduce myself to the DJ (we’ll call him Jimmy), being that we’re both in the collective. This relationship grows in the coming months after grabbing lunch a few times. My friendship with Jimmy leads to a residency a year later in tandem with mutual gig swaps.

DJ behind booth
Me at my NYE gig

January 2016 – I meet the owner

At a fill-in gig for the collective Carl rolls in with a big birthday party. I’m shitting bricks as this guy had never actually heard me spin before, nor have I even met him yet. Of course my next hour of mixing is shoddy AF but I slowly get back into a rhythm. One of the guys comes up to introduce himself and compliments my set. He asks for my email to send over some tracks he thinks I’d like, of course I hand him a biz card w/ my info. He’s another DJ in the collective, we develop a relationship grabbing coffee every few months and drop in on each other’s sets.

February 2016 – Bombing for the Boss

A month later I get a call from the collective’s coordinator. It’s 10:15 PM and I’m out grabbing a beer. “Can you fill in?” …now? Fuckit, “Sure!” Carl’s already there to cover the no-show but he’s using just his laptop. By the time I get over there setup its an hour before they close, so super short set. Later in the week we jump on the phone to chat and halfway through he mentions my mixing. Between the place being empty, the tracks in my collection at the time, the two-three beers in my system from the previous bar (I didn’t drive), and the request to spin straight pop, I was transitioning with basic cuts and fades. His comment touched on the fact I didn’t blend any tracks. He then spends over 15 minutes describing what beatmatching is and how songs can blend seamlessly together.

Oof.

At this point I didn’t think I’d ever get called again.

“I blew it”, I thought to myself. A great opportunity squandered because my Pop mixing skill just didn’t cut it.

“The hell didn’t you practice more? You know the types of venues they manage,” I’m thinking to myself

I struggle with my ‘dropping the ball’ over the ensuing months. It doesn’t help I don’t get called for another gig for four months. Finally I decide to forget about the poor impression I had made and instead focusing on kicking ass in every way that I know how. There’s no sense in worrying about things out of my control or in that past. I do get called back, but only twice in the twelve months following that last-minute fill-in. Frankly I was surprised they called back after the beatmatching overview altogether.

March 2016 – More networking

Around the time Burning Man tickets went on sale I connect Carl with the guy who runs Burning Man’s largest sound camp, Root Society. Prior to making the intro I made sure to follow proper networking etiquette by getting buy-in from both people. (This prevents the awkward situation where either person doesn’t actually want the introduction.) I thought synergy would lie in Carl supplying talent for each night’s setlist on the playa. They instead connected on organizing a potential music festival in the Caribbean. One had the existing venue relationship and talent, the other had stage accommodations with tier 1 talent connects for the roster. (Nothing’s come of it yet but they were grateful for the introduction.)

Root Society stage
Root Society at Burning Man 2014

August 2016 – A taste of what’s to come

I reach out to Carl to grab drinks, part of my networking due diligence to stay connected. Instead I’m invited with a backstage pass to the summer festival downtown to meet the crew and check out the setup. He introduces me to a good friend of his who was attending Burning Man for the first time (we’ll call him Steve). In the weeks leading to the trip I help the virgin burner get situated with everything he can expect in the desert. (Steve and I develop a relationship over poker, drinks, supporting each other’s gigs. This also results in gig swaps and being included in his rotation of Sunday brunch DJs.)

January 2017 – Biz cards & residencies

It’s almost exactly a year following the infamous emergency gig where I shat the bed in front of the owner. I get called to spin at that same venue. I go in with a positive mindset, get to know the bar staff and just do my thing. As they complimented my set throughout the night, I make a point to hand back business cards. Wouldn’t you know the manager liked me so much they requested me back! They start plugging me in once a month because of that one impression. This would later turn into a few gigs a month.

If I had not handed them my card, they would not have had a memento to pass along word to the coordinator the next day. Chances are they wouldn’t even have remembered my name!

Mikro glow
My business card on my Maschine Mikro

February 2017 – Desperate times…

Next month they call me for a gig next door. I get there early but they’re not ready for me to set up yet. All good, I sit down and order some food. It turns out they were waiting for me to setup, when I was waiting for them to set up.

Oy.

So now I’m running late despite showing up early. Little do I realize that I don’t have what I need to plug in to the house system. I have all sorts of plugs, cables, adaptors, and whizzbangs in my car.. but not what I need. Of course I’d have had time to run home and come back while I was waiting around… Now I’m scrambling, all because I had waited until the last minute to check my connections.

Dohh!

Being in rush of course doesn’t help. Quickly thinking through my options I decide quickest and easiest thing is to go next store and see if the other DJ who works for Carl has what I need.

Super embarrassing, but you gotta do what you gotta do man. No shame in my game.

Luckily he has exactly what I need, and on him no less. After saving my ass I formally introduce myself at the end of our gigs. We hit it off bullshitting outside the bar for two hours until 4 in the morning. (He is another DJ I grab lunch with a few times every year to strengthen my network.)

March 2017 – Helping the newbie

This girl comes up at one of my gigs and introduces herself as a new DJ in the group. She asks a few questions about the setup as she’s got her first gig the following Friday. I point her to the inputs, but she’s still confused… they’re just RCA jacks.

This might be her first gig, ever.

All good we each start somewhere. I hand her my card and tell her to shoot me any questions over email. Mid-week she reaches out and asks some questions on the bar’s vibe and what I play there. She already spent the previous Friday there, wouldn’t she already know?

Whatever, I tell her I’d do her one better. I sent her a list of the exact songs I played from two separate nights. Reason being, there are two managers who have different tastes. You have to switch it up depending who’s working that night. She’s ever grateful and I bid her good luck. (One more DJ to add to my network.)

May 2017 – Festival gig landed

As part of my weekly lunches I touch base with Carl. He invites me over to his studio and we end up chatting the entire day caught up in conversation. Mid-way he tells me that I’m opening for the Plain White T’s at Stamford’s summer festival for thousands of people! Despite not having much personal interaction with him personally, he’s heard great things about me from so many other people that he trusts.

The gig is three months away, but now I have to practice and get used to manually beatmatching on the fly. I’m going b2b with Jimmy who I met December of 2015.

Festival Gig Flyer

How’d I actually get that festival gig?

I wasn’t gunning for the festival. All I was doing was purposefully building my network by being helpful with folks around the industry. Every single person I mention above had a connection with Carl. Over time he heard things about me through those people. If I don’t develop these connections, the friendships and business relationships, do I get this gig?

Probably not.

My primary focus all along was to A) meet new people in the industry and B) be as helpful as possible. I knew that if I executed along those lines my business would grow. Just like going to the gym results to inevitably improved fitness, I knew it was inevitable my business would grow if I met new people and provided value.

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