Have you ever wanted to become a full-time DJ, be one as a side hustle or even just as a hobby that you enjoy? Then this article is what you need to understand how to get started with 11 simple steps to help you succeed. Learn from DJ Cubillan just what to do.
The 11 Simple Steps to beginning a Successful DJ career are:
- Understand the Job
- Choose your DJ Type
- Pick your Musical Genre
- Where do DJs get their music?
- Learn the Computer Software DJ’s Use
- What DJ equipment will you need
- Develop your unique Mixing Style
- Create a Personal Brand
- Market yourself Online and Offline
- Understand the Business Skills required
- Practice Practice Practice
Let’s have a look at each of these steps and help you on your way to being a successful DJ.
What does a dj do? Understanding the job
So what is a DJ? The traditional Disc Jockey or DJ is a person who plays prerecorded music for a live audience. What was once a simple job has developed into a much more technical art form. DJs control the flow and speed of the music to elicit an emotional response from their listeners. This is done by blending prerecorded music or their own original material as well as including sound effects, beats, and overlaying vocal tracks.
So why do you want to be a DJ? Are you doing it as a hobby, for fun, or for work? Depending on what type of DJ you want to be will determine the amount of time and effort required to succeed. If it is just for fun or a hobby you can spend as little or as much time doing it as you like. There are plenty of people that make a part-time income from being a weekend DJ that is a hobby that makes them money or at least pays the bills.
If you are starting from scratch and you intend to be a DJ as a job, let me tell you that things are not as easy as they seem, but not impossible either if you follow these steps. Most of the great DJs have years dedicated to the industry and consequently have developed skills that have allowed them to succeed. Being a great DJ is not just the music but also being able to market yourself, knowing the business, being persistent, and honing your craft. There are many people that would like to be a DJ and you need to put the effort into developing the right skills you need to stand out from the crowd.
What types of DJ’s are there? Choose a DJ Type
Your DJ type determines the rest of the choices you make and once chosen allows you to focus your time on the specific skills that are required for that particular type of DJ.
The types of DJ you can be are:
- Resident DJ: in a club, bar, or venue.
- Mobile DJ: You go to them for private parties, birthdays, weddings, etc.
- Music Artist DJ: Making albums and then guest present at different clubs, events, and festivals.
- Radio DJ: Normally premixed tapes with some live spots.
Now that you know what types of DJ there are think about which one suits your particular situation and use that as a lense to look at the rest of the article with.
What are the music categories for DJing? Pick your Music Genre
When people think of being a DJ they often think of dance or trance music but there are many different genres you can DJ in. Starting with the commercial genres like Pop, Rock, Hip Hop & Rap, Country, Easy Listening, and Jazz where most of the most popular get bundled into Top 40 or Dance. But if you choose an electronic genre there are many other styles as well like House, Jungle, Techno Trance, and many more.
You can find the growing list of electronic genres on the link below:
As a music artist, it is always a good idea to spend some time experiencing many of the main genre types to see what ones you are really passionate about. That will provide the flare for why your mixing style and brand are different from the other DJs in the market.
It is still important to know the core commercial types when you are starting out as most of your work will probably come from there at first as well as keeping up to date with the trends. Knowing the trends of what people are interested in is much easier these days by looking at what they search for on the internet. Keep in mind you must also know the scene in your local country and area as well.
So pick a genre you are passionate about as it will help with your motivation and drive to succeed also look at whether this genre type is growing or not by looking at the online trends.
LINK: Google Trends
Where do DJs get their music?
Something that surely many of the new DJs wonder about is where or on what pages they can search, buy or download music, but today it is much easier than you imagine. One of the best places to search and download music is Soundeo, this is the one I like to use, but I will tell you another alternative that I also use and that might interest you like Bandcamp.
But if you want my favorite platform to download any kind of electronic music, Soundeo is the best platform to do it.
Check this article What is Soundeo and how to use it to download music? Including tips to get the most out of it to learn how to create an account, how to search for music, what music formats are available, how to download music, and more.
Learn the Computer Software DJ’s Use
Most of your spare time when being a full-time DJ will be used to hone your craft and lay down tracks to use when performing. Creating a library of music that will allow you to control the emotions of the crowd and smoothly transition between genres if required are core requirements of being a DJ.
The first software package you will need is your mixing software and the second is your audio editing software. After you have this you can start practicing while you learn the rest of the skills you will need.
For many years the market has been held by two major players and they are Traktor Pro by Native Instruments and Serato DJ Pro. They both allow you to organize and prepare your music, mix with up to four decks, slice and loop sections of tracks, trigger samples, and change effects.
Both can analyze your tracks to tell you what musical key and BPM or Tempo each song is as well as automatically sync any song to match the track that is currently playing. Traktor Pro has a unique file format called STEMS that lets you record a song in four separate tracks separating your vocals, bass, drums, and melody.
While most professional DJs including myself prefer Traktor Serato does have a lite-free version for getting started. There are other DJ software products on the market like Rekordbox DJ, Virtual DJ, and Mixxx that you can use as a hobbyist or for fun.
You can find Traktor Pro here
And Serato DJ Pro here
What DJ equipment will you need?
So what DJ equipment will you need to purchase and learn to use?
Whether you pick PC or Mac is fine but portable for taking to gigs or work is a must. And know that there are more applications available on Windows even though a lot of DJs use Macs for the in-built sound connectivity. You can easily get these connectors for Windows as well but just another connector to carry.
When talking hardware either AMD or Intel is fine as long as you get a processor with at least 4 cores. Solid-state hard disks are preferred for laying your tracks and also are not affected by sudden movement. So you don’t lose all the tracks you haven’t backed up to the google or apple cloud.
Do back up your important tracks to the cloud as they take a lot of time to replace. Or at least back them up to a second portable drive. The size of the storage is important as each 1 minute of compressed audio (MP3) is 1MB and uncompressed is even larger (WAV). RAM is the other important part of your laptop purchase. 16 to 32 gig of RAM is the dream but you can get away with 8gig in a pinch.
Practice Mixing Deck (Optional)
While most venues have their own gear and if you are at home you can start with just a laptop if you are a mobile DJ this is a mandatory requirement. It is nice to have a deck of your own to practice on and there are many types to choose from.
Pioneer leads the market in sales having almost half of the DJ market share with Numark and Native Instruments Traktor taking other large chunks. My preference is a pioneer for the deck but you may find a more affordable option with the Traktor alternatives. This is a big area and we will go further into this in the article on Mixing Decks.
This is a large topic and it depends on whether you are a hobbyist or a professional DJ. As a hobbyist, any headset that you like will do but professional noise-canceling headphones are a must. Other things you may want to look at are swivel cups, cable type, single-side cable, audio range, comfort, and connector type. We also go into this in another article as it is quite an important topic.
Cables & Connectors
While not the most exciting part of the job it is very important when you arrive at a gig without the right cables and you can’t do your job. No cables no pay. I am guessing I have your attention now. Your cables are broken down into Digital and Analog.
– RCA – is the most common unbalanced sound.
– XLR – for balanced sound
– TRS / TS – 1/4″ and 1/8″ known as the standard headphone jack type
– Optical – Specialist cable
– Firewire – Mac inbuilt and some Windows Laptops with connector
– USB – Windows and Mac laptops inbuilt connectors for cable
– Midi – Old style cable
Develop your unique Mixing Style
Each DJ has their own style or way of mixing, this also depends on the equipment (hardware and software) they use. The most popular DJ equipment may not be right for your mixing style so shop around and you may find a deck that suits your needs better.
Currently, there are many very good brands with not-so-high prices so research what each brand can do for you, and after you have selected and bought your equipment and software start creating your style and increase your mixing ability.
Create a Personal Brand
Creating a Personal Brand is the best way of standing out from the many other people looking for work as a DJ. So what is a personal brand? It is defining who you are with a DJ Name, Marketing Graphics & Logos, Personality, Clothing Style, Music Genre, and Mixing Style. The easiest first step is to pick a DJ Name that defines your style of music and yourself. If you are struggling to find a name then just use your first or last name. My DJ name is Cubillan which is my last name.
After that, you can create an online presence with a simple Word Press website for free and start promoting yourself. You will need to create a DJ logo and some graphics for the site that you can make yourself or get someone to create for a small fee on a site like fiverr.com. Then you need to think about your dress and hairstyle that will uniquely identify you. Being in an artistic industry it is ok to go a little extreme and for inspiration look to the existing music and DJ scene.
Market yourself Online and Offline
When you are starting out the hardest thing to do is to become known on the scene. This has two important components and that is what you can do online and what you can do in the real world.
Online this means marketing your website and signing up to social media as well as important websites. I would suggest creating a professional email address at Gmail or linking to your website and signing up to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube. As well to these sites I would also recommend SoundCloud.com as it is the largest streaming music website in the world with 275 million unique visitors per day.
Look at all the other DJs on SoundCloud and see where you could make a name for yourself. Initially learn mixing offline but once you are confident post your tracks to SoundCloud and Youtube. The amount of people interested on Youtube is great feedback for you as well as maybe some ad revenue. Growing your online following is one factor that will be looked at when hiring you the people that like you will pay to attend.
In the Real World
Offline you can start going to clubs and finding others DJs and club managers and start to understand the music and people in your area. Look for what major annual music events are in your area and attend them. You can start introducing yourself around. Never try to push your tracks or cards on anyone just be nice and be memorable. Talk to people about which DJs they like and why and research and link to them online.
Don’t be afraid to DJ anywhere you can for free that lines up with your brand. Clothing stores love a “DJ for a Day” during a sale especially if free and it helps promote both of you if the clothes suit the scene you want to be part of. Restaurants and Bars are also great places to start for free. You will get paid once you know what you are doing. But whether it is a restaurant, bar, club, or rave the amount of extra money they bring because of you is what they are looking for.
Understand the Business Skills required
Whether it is for the important first full-time job or a contract for a mobile DJ you need to know how to protect yourself. Make sure you know what music you need a license for or if the club has valid licensing for what you are playing. Know what goes into a standard DJ full-time contract or your event-style Mobile DJ Contract. Know what promoters of major events expect of artists and who those major promoters are in your area and country.
If you are faced with a legal contract don’t just sign it then and there make sure you get a lawyer to look over it for you. If the person presenting the contract does not want to do that then there must be something fishy going on. It is ok to do cash jobs if they pay on the night but don’t let what they owe build up. And know your Tax considerations for being a DJ in your state or country. Know what legal recourse you have if someone doesn’t pay and which government department looks after this. So enough of the boring stuff and back to being a DJ.
Practice Practice Practice
When starting out and one of the mistakes I made after learning to mix a couple of songs and record it I thought I was ready to start sending demos to clubs and this can be a mistake. You only have one first chance to impress so make sure you have given yourself time to learn.
I would recommend that you create several tracks and leave them for a while and then listen to them again later. This is because after recording it you will be riding the emotional wave of your success of making your first tracks and days later you will notice what you did right and wrong instead. Play for friends and family at social events for free to get used to what gets people on the dance floor and what different types of people like. Knowing your audience is key to a successful DJ.
Research the best DJ’s in the world and see what you could learn. How do they transition between tracks and what hooks their audience and how do you feel when you hear them DJ? Break down that feeling into tempo, sound effects, vocals, and melodies, and see if you can reproduce it.
Find other online DJ communities like in the groups on Facebook or on websites and ask other professionals questions to learn and grow. And know that you will always be honing your craft and each day you will learn something new.
Most of all enjoy yourself being a DJ.