How to Spin Bars & Clubs ASAP

This post assumes you’ve got a few gigs under your belt and have a business card and website to throw around. If not, check out my previous article here.

You’ve heard it dozens of times. If you want to spin at a venue go every week, get to know the staff. Hope. Pray.

MAYBE you’ll work your way on the decks. After, what… months? Hundreds of dollars spent on booze? Tons of precious weekend time? Feeling like a jackass as you try to befriend someone when they’re trying to work?

Let’s, not.

After spending almost a decade in the industry spinning weddings, clubs, hedge fund parties, Burning Man, you name it, I sat down with a few other successful DJs and brainstormed a few tactics that would have saved us loads of time.

One of the quickest approaches we found to meet folks that are both willing, able to hire and pay you to DJ is by going to industry nights.

What’s an industry night?

Where the Fish are

It’s when members of the bar and restaurant scene go out for their weekend.

Don’t waste months trying to meet promoters and bar managers while they’re working, meet them in a casual environment where they’re more receptive to meeting new people. Anyone can go to these. The simple fact that you’re there is an implicit indication you’re in the industry. And helloo, you’re a DJ remember? Technically you are!

“How the heck do I know where to find them. I dont work in the industry!”

Just Google ‘industry night & <your town name>’ and see how easy they are to find.

…I’ll wait.

If you’re a dancing machine there are even industry nights posted regularly on Resident Advisor.

Biohacking Spontaneous Conversation

Small talk with just ONE person each outing and you’ll eventually get to know a handful of promotors, bar managers and many other relevant people in the scene over time. Develop these relationships and you’ll soon find yourself getting called to play out.

Make it fun by bringing a friend along. Challenge each other to say Hi as people order their drinks at the bar. Talk about low pressure, each person has an easy out as soon as they pick up their drink. “Have any go-to drinks when you come here?” It’s that simple.

Still nervous as hell about going out?

  1. Optimize your non-verbal communication. Imagine a string pulling your head upwards, roll your shoulders back while taking a deep breath and notice how your posture straightens. It communicates confidence. You’ll also feel more confident! Now splash a smile across your face. “It’s simple, but it’s definitely not stupid. Smiling is an invitation to others to talk to you.” It’s a sign of confidence. Get this right, because what you first say never means a damn thing. Can you recall the first 60 seconds from the last time you met someone? Didn’t think so.
  2. Know that your first three interactions are throwaways. They’re going to be rusty so accept it’s going to happen and power through to the good stuff. It only gets easier the more you do it.
  3. Chat with anyone, even the two awkward guys begging for someone to talk with them. No they’re not literally begging, but their body language is. You know who they are. Beer held in front of their chest, eyes darting around the room looking around instead of talking with each other. This is an open invitation to walk up and say pretty much anything. They’ll be relieved you came up and said hello!

Keep in mind that meeting new people is like a muscle, it improves with reps. It’s going to initially be difficult so start with small baby steps. You might initially just go and grab drinks to familiarize yourself with the venue. Next time you say Hi to one person, ramping up from there.

The road less trodden

At the end of the day, you’re not going out to meet people to get gigs. What? Yep. Picking up gigs not what you’re looking to accomplish here. You’re meeting people and developing relationships over time first and foremost. Opportunities will come down the line as a result of growing your network of connections.

You haven’t earned the right to ask strangers to give you gigs. Don’t be like other DJs. Pushy, egotistical, brash. Separate yourself by being different. Developing these connections will ensure more value long term for all parties involved and will help you stand out from a notoriously crass crowd.

Attending industry nights focuses your energy, your time, and increases the probability of developing a genuine connection w/ folks who will eventually love to help you. Provide value and support them in any way possible. If they’re also a DJ, listen to some of their mixes online and comment, or show your support by attending gigs of theirs.

Enjoy what they’re throwing down? Offer a drink to the DJ! Find out who they are and follow them on social media. Next time they’re in your area, show your support and keep offering drinks. By the third or fourth time you do this, you’ll have a conversation opener on a dead night. Follow-up a week or so later and see if they want to grab coffee/lunch/whatever. Build this relationship you’ll have a successful DJ you can bounce ideas off of in your area. Eventually you might start getting offers for gigs, especially if you forward gigs over that you can’t do yourself.

Pricing the market once you get called to spin

Bar and club gigs are different than private events, and prices between them will fluctuate wildly depending on your geographic location. 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 it out here. And if you want to be the first to know about updates, sign up for my newsletter up at the top.

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!

Behind the decks view of getting more gigs.