How to Spin Private Events ASAP

Can’t get work because you have no experience, can’t get experience because you have no work!

Confused

We’ve all been there. Bedroom DJ or recent college graduate, you know the cliche. It can be paralyzing with how helpless you feel. That struggle is real folks. Someone just needs to drop down from the sky and give you that one chance. Right?

Guess what. You’re going to manufacture that chance yourself. And many of them.

Many DJs have been there before. They made it through, just like you will. What follows is a framework applying the concepts I used myself to get out of the bedroom.

To get paid.

And paid well.

To get hired, most clients want to know that you are professional and that you can do the job. Folks are usually judging your ability and service before they’ve ever actually seen you in person. Since many gigs that DJs pick up are word of mouth referrals, much of what clients are going off of is your online presence rather than your actual level of performance and service.

Given that, your goal is to ultimately build a digital business card you can leverage to pick up gigs.

Below is the exact framework I used to double my revenue and number of gigs every year for five straight years. Don’t say you ‘Don’t know where to start’ because it’s all right here!

Reverse Engineering Your Brand

  • So we need a website. Setting one up on Weebly.com can take just one day costing $8 per month. That even includes your domain for the first year.
  • But wait, to do this well you need a few decent photos, preferably at gigs. A list of venues you’ve played at also helps. Don’t have any at the moment?
  • The solution to building your marketing portfolio from scratch: charity events. Volunteer organizations typically have tight budgets and will happily promote you in exchange for your services. Reach out to non-profits in your area and let them know you’d love to DJ their next event.
  • I’ve found that for every event I spin there’s a significant chance I get asked to spin another gig from guests. Spinning one event for free might lead to a chain of two-three more.

Maximizing Opportunity

  • Once you’re booked for an event, ask the coordinator if you can touch base with their photographer. Reach out and see if you can get a few shots to market with and offer some cash for the convenience. (Most times I’ve done this they refused payment)
  • If they don’t have a photographer but need one, find a one in your network (there’s always a few). Confirm they’re open to doing the event/are available and pass along the lead. Guess who’s going to call you when they need a DJ in the future?
  • Worse case scenario, walk around before your event and take a few shots of your clean booth setup and the venue. Using your phone is just fine, you can get creative with filters after the fact to make them a little nicer.
  • Now that you have some decent shots, start an Instagram account and post only DJ relevant material. Tie this to your website, then happily throw the Instagram icon all over your promotional material including your handle. Your professional meter just went up a tick.

Creating Awareness (and not coming off like a jackass)

If no one in your immediate network knows you’re a DJ, you’ve lost. Most people you’re connected to should be aware you’re a DJ. Go about this in the most non-pushy way possible. Below are some examples of what this might like look.

  • Posting on social media about your progress, your struggles, your goals, your small wins
  • Gigs when you eventually pick them up
  • Pick up a fresh new piece of equipment? Post an unboxing photo!
  • Manage to fix that rattle in your speaker cabinet? Share your relief and triumph!
  • Working on a business card? Reach out directly and ask for feedback

By following the above framework I’ve built enough of an online presence that I now get booked through cold leads on sites like Gigmasters, going off of nothing other than my digital calling card.

Once your talent and networking becomes good enough you’ll be getting a large majority of your gigs through word of mouth alone.

Once you start getting gigs: What to charge

Right now I’m in the process of refining a tool that will systematically tell you what you can charge each and every time based on all of that criteria. You will readily be able to tap into the knowledge of DJs who have made a living spinning & getting paid, combined with country-wide data based on events in YOUR area, all at the click of a button. FREE! Check out the current version here, and if you want to be the first to know about updates sign up for my newsletter up at the top.

How to Fund Your First DJ Rig with NO Cash

I get it. DJ gear is expensive. It’s a pricey hobby to get into. Will I even be any good? Might I ever get any money out of this?
You don’t have to break the bank on gear before you pick up your first gig!
Even if you’ve never used a controller before, you need no more than 30 days from bedroom to ballroom. I know because I did it myself. There’s no reason you can’t either by crushing Ellaskin’s Beginner Lessons on YouTube.

You may be scared shitless to play your first event, not confident in your ability to play out. But guess what? You’ll never ‘feel ready’.

Think I felt ready to spin right after Major Lazer and Alok at Burning Man this year? Hellll nah!

And once you secure your first gig, you’ll be more motivated than ever before to quickly get up to par.

I talk about how to nab your first event in another post, for now let’s get to the nitty gritty of what you actually need and how to bootstrap your way into spinning your first event.

Breakdown

  • Controller – $150
  • Laptop – $150
  • Speaker rental – $100
  • Misc – $50
Controller
A used Mixtrack Quad can also be picked up for ~150 on eBay, here you get a 4 channel controller that will work out of the box with the free versions of Serato and Virtual DJ. Don’t lament over which controller to get! Buy one that is ‘good enough’ and move on. You can’t go wrong with any of the DJ software out there today. Serato has a small advantage with their video plugin, but most of us never actually ever use it anyway. If you really want to dig deeper, check out Phil Morse’s DJ controller guide. If you’re uncertain about the whole CDJ vs controller decision, this article walks you through the distinctions. In either case, pick an option and move on. Honestly making a decision and taking action is just as important, if not more important than what decision you ultimately make.
Laptop
A used windows laptop can be had for ~$150 on eBay. I bought one for myself one as my backup. All you really need is a 2.4 Ghz i5 processor and 4GB of RAM to get rolling.
Speakers

A pair of K12’s can be rented for $100 (including cables and stands) at your local Guitar Center, you’ll just have to put up a $160 deposit. It breaks down to 10% for everything you rent. Other shops will offer comparable rates floating around 5-10% of your gear’s MSRP, I just used Guitar Center as an example since they’re everywhere.

Misc
You don’t need the most expensive headphones in the world, in fact even cheap ear buds will work just fine for the first few gigs as long as you’re not in a loud club. You might need a $2 adapter to plug into you’re controller, but don’t let this become something keeping you from getting gigs! The other two cables we’re buying will run from your phone to one speaker (headphone to RCA) and allow you to daisy chain (XLR connecting speaker A to speaker B) in the event our laptop or controller craps the bed. Some speakers don’t have RCA connections on the amp, so check this out if you rent anything besides QSC speakers. Here’s a basic diagram of how to hookup your gear to save your behind in case of an emergency failure.
bare-speaker-setup
The key to funding your rig with no cash: get your first paid event before you buy anything. Locking up a first gig at $350-450 is not unreasonable, and that’s all you really need to get started. Even less if you already have a laptop. On top of that, getting your 50% deposit helps cover your controller and laptop up front.

But what do I charge?

Knowing what to charge for your services can be daunting. You certainly don’t want to undercharge and leave money on the table, but overcharge and you lose the gig entirely! Right now I’m in the process of designing a tool that will systematically tell you what to charge each and every time based on the event, your skill, and geographic location. You will easily be able to tap into the knowledge of DJs who have made a living spinning & getting paid, combined with country-wide data based on events in YOUR area, all at the click of a button. FREE! Check it out here, and if you want to be the first to know about updates sign up for my newsletter up at the top.

 

Cheers!

Approaching a Broke Bar Owner Who Refused to Pay

This past Halloween I had the opportunity to wrestle with an unruly bar owner for over two and a half weeks to get paid for a successful party I had DJ’ed. I ultimately managed to get paid, but not without hours of wasted time and extensive agita. Below is the story followed by tips and strategies you can use yourself to ensure you get paid with as little hassle as possible.

It all started when I accepted the gig within less than 24 hours of the event. I always ensure I have a signed contract signed in hand for each and every private event I spin, unfortunately I let that slide given the short notice and that it’s a little harder to get done with bars/promoters.

The night of, the party went well. The place was hopping, a bunch of people requested my card, the bartenders were jumping around to the music and were plenty busy pouring drinks. As I was wrapping up the promoter says he can’t pay me tonight. I get on him because he’s a DJ as well, he knows how it’s supposed to work. You pay the DJ night of, end of story. Something about the registers needing to be counted blah blah blah. Tomorrow he says.

I follow-up the next day. And the day after. And the day after that, excuse after excuse. Finally he says come by this Saturday. Unfortunately I had plans to head to DC for the weekend so that was out. A few days later he says to drop in that Tuesday. I walk in, lo and behold the owner’s sitting at the bar at that very moment with his books open.

Me: Hi I’m Dan, I DJed the Halloween party the other Saturday.

Owner: What are you charging?

Me: $300

Owner: *Laughs* These kids…

Owner: Tell you what. I’ll do $200.

Me: That doesn’t work. Your promoter and I agreed on $300.

Owner: These kids y’know, that’s expensive. Tell you what, we need someone for Christmas, what’s your rate?

Me: *Chuckle* Private parties are different, but I’m not here to talk about that. Look you guys did well that night, place was packed. You definitely got your money’s worth. Your guy already brought me down from my original rate.

Owner: *Delaying* These kids man..

Me: Not to mention Saturday of a prime weekend, that’s a premium night. $300 is a good deal.

Owner: …

Owner: Alright, $300

I deposit the check as soon as I get home with my banking app, I wanted this saga to be over. A few days later as I’m relaxing my way through a Netflix binge a Mint notification pops up on my phone: “You were just charged a banking fee of $12”. What the.. As I’m waiting for the page to load I realize it could be only one thing. This guy’s check bounced on me. Not only was I still not paid for this event, I lost $12 for the pleasure of it! Unbelievable.

Initially I walk down to my own bank to see if there’s anything they can do but they instruct me to check in with the issuer’s bank, the one listed on the check. Luckily Wells Fargo is down the street so I head right over.

After letting the teller know what happened, she confirmed that the payer did in fact have funds in the account and was safe to cash it. Sweeeet.

“If you’d like I can cash the check right here for a fee.”

“What’s the fee?”

“Hmm let’s see. $7.50”

It had been nineteen days too long not getting paid, and I had much better things to do.

*I slide the check back to her*

“I’ll take it”

Proactive Tactics

  • To help reduce any friction in the first place, show up on time!
  • Try to get payment up front
  • Have them sign a contract. Sometimes in a bar/setting this can be a hassle, but even if you have a mini-contract signed on a notecard with just basic logistics this can help greatly.
  • Have contact info- Phone number, Name, get in synch on what you will be paid, when & by whom.
    • You may work with a promoter, but they may not be the one paying you! If they manage to get you out the door without payment, you can follow-up via text/phone.
  • When you have the name of the person who will be paying you, you can then followup with other employees of the bar to find out when they will be in. To boost your leverage even more, find out who the owner or a more senior manager is. Then show up in person, this will improve your case dramatically.

In negotiating

  • Focus on them, not you
    • Highlight how they benefited
    • Call out how good of a deal they’re getting based on the benefits of what you provide(d)
      • Ex. If the place was packed, they made a lot of money. Paying you X in that context is very reasonable. “The bartenders (use names if possible) were very pleased with the night and how many people I brought in (if true).”
    • Know as much as possible about what the going rate is and how you fit into that.
    • If it is standard to pay all bar/club DJ’s in your area $250 for a full night, that is a floor which they’re most likely aware of. If you assertively call that out, you’ll see their micro-expression which opens your window.
  • Be firm, hold your frame. Assertive body language (back straight, shoulders back, head tall). If you look like a pushover they will push you over!
    • Dress matters here. If you go in with a button down, business casual they will respect you more than if you rolled in unshaven, hoodie, ripped jeans.
  • Do not be accusatory or hostile, be as calm as you can. Instead of using emotional words or words that might elicit a defensive response such as ‘you’, ‘fair’, depersonalize the issue.
  • Approach as if you are on the same team, ‘Win-Win’
  • Mirroring: repeat their last one to three words
    • “By repeating the other person’s last few words, just one to three of them, you can indicate that you are listening. Not only that, but it pushes the conversation forward as the person feels free to delve in deeper. Repeating someone’s last words also gives you time to think about your own place in negotiation.” Source

Bounced Checks

This is the worst. Not only did you think you were already paid, but you have to pay a fee on top of it! For their screwup! No need for alarm. If you’ve been dealing with an unruly character, chances are the last thing you want to do is go back to them (again) to get paid.

 

What you can do instead is to go to the bank listed on the check. The teller will be able to see whether or not the person/company has enough funds currently in their account for you to cash it! Luckily when this happened to me I deposited the check digitally so I still had the original in hand. Otherwise you have to wait until the bank sends you another copy via snail mail.

Pricing Your Services

Taking a step back, how did I even know what to charge for my services? Bar and club gigs are different than private events, and prices will fluctuate wildly depending on your geographic location. Right now I’m in the process of designing a tool that will systematically tell you what you can charge each and every time based on all of that criteria. You will readily be able to tap into the knowledge of DJs who have made a living spinning & getting paid, combined with country-wide data based on events in YOUR area, all at the click of a button. FREE! Check out the current version here, and if you want to be the first to know about future updates sign up for my newsletter up at the top.

Note: I am not a lawyer and none of this constitutes as legal advice.

Behind the decks view of getting more gigs.