Gig Rewind: 5 Tips to Become a Bar-staff Favorite

Originally I wasn’t looking forward to this gig.

Standard Pop 40 crowd.. “Blegh”. Not even a dance-floor to run.

The last time I had been there didn’t exactly go as planned. I played to what management wanted as opposed to what I liked and thought would go well. My performance resulted in the talent coordinator giving a 15 minute introduction to what a transition was and how to beatmatch. He had been at the bar. Oops. My Pop 40 cut/fade heavy transitions made a strong impression. Just, not the one I wanted..

Fast forward a year

I get called for a fill in spot. Of course I take it, it’s January. Ain’t shit goin on anyway. In the days leading to the gig I catch myself in this dread. I remind myself to challenge my assumptions, something I picked up on the Art of Charm podcast.

A lot had changed in the year since Intro to Beatmatching 101. I wasn’t nearly as busy or polished back then. This time I’d be in the midst of a killer few months with tons of practice and increased versatility, thanks to the wide range of gigs I’d been doing.

No, I’m going to go in there and have fun. I’m going to do my thing and unapologetically throw down a killer vibe.

The first thing I do when I get there is introduce myself to the floor managers and took note of their names. I grab a water from the bar and follow suit, immediately putting their names in my phone so I don’t forget. You’re more memorable when you address people by their name.

Two seconds later a second bartender comes up and asks if I want anything. Nice. After giving my order I made sure to point out how uncommon that is. Usually you need to go up and get your own drinks so this was much appreciated. Great first impression!

The little things: Tip your bartenders

Next time I go to get a drink I make sure to tip the bartenders for the night. I feel like an idiot because of all my bar gigs, I never once thought to tip the bartenders when I had a covered DJ tab.. doh!

It’s small, but something I’m sure many DJs miss on. What might cost you $5-10 will immediately set you apart from every other ding-dong that walks into the place to spin (which admittedly included myself for the longest time). Keep the bartenders happy and they’ll have your back. On a dead night I’ll often ask what they’d like to hear. Half the time they won’t have any requests anyway, and since you’re not playing to a dance floor you might as well play to some audience. Win over the bartenders and you’re halfway to getting called back.

As the night goes on the staff peppers compliments, making unflattering references to their DJ the night before. Now, whether their comments are positive or negative refrain from piling on. If their comments are not flattering, respond saying it might have just been a bad night. If it’s positive comment that you’ll have to come back and check them out next time. The point is to take the high road, in an industry known for its ego even neutrality stands out in a big way.

Nailing the close

The place starts clearing out around 12:15 so we wrap up early. The bar manager again makes a comment on my good night. I thank him and mention he should pass the feedback up to management if they’d like me back. I give him a pair of my business cards, this way he’ll know exactly who I was later on, not to mention indicating I have my shit together.

Lo and behold a few days later the talent coordinator texts me that she heard good things from the venue. She books me on the spot later that month. Boom!

Leveraging Mental Framing for DJing

Now if I had gone in there with my negative impression, continuing with my poor mindset and assumption of what should have been played, I would have been terrible. My mood would have been colored, less cheerful and I’d have seemed callous to the bar staff.

The positive mindset opened the door to connect with decision makers, enabling me to stand out. Sticking to my sound allowed me to inject my personality into the night and leave the best of impressions. As a result I hit a home run that looks to bring in recurring gigs going forward.

To Recap:

  1. Take note of bar staff names, address them personally
  2. Tip the bartenders if you order drinks
  3. Banter, smile, and joke with bar staff (where appropriate)
  4. Highlight what they can do to bring you back “Hey if you’d like me back pass along feedback to the [promoter/booking coord/owner/etc]”
  5. Offer business cards to folks who compliment your set

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