Every DJ out there had to start somewhere, right? Just like you, I was once a beginner DJ, thinking about how to get to the next level and what it will take. I studied DJs, read stories, and watched videos of other DJs’ journeys to becoming professionals. Even though everyone’s road is different, there are some similarities we do encounter. Here are my five tips on making that transition from a beginner DJ to a pro.
Tip #1 – Consistency is Key
This is a MUST! If you want to be a pro, you have to practice like one. If you want to make DJing your full-time gig and livelihood, you need to put in that work! The goal is to constantly grow, hone your craft, and add to your DJ arsenal. So practice several times throughout the week, watch videos, and stay on top of your crates. Remember, practice makes pay!
Tip #2 – Identify the Type of DJ You Want To Be
This may change as time goes on, and that’s okay, but it’s helpful to lock into one idea to start building your foundation as a DJ. When I started out, I was focused more on the corporate side of things and eventually landed a job with Dash Radio, where I was able to build my radio brand, “The Corner.”
There are so many different types of DJs: turntablist, battle DJs, club DJs, sports team DJs, wedding DJs, and the list goes on. Find one that fits your style and goals, and get to work. You can always be more than one to build versatility!
Tip #3 – Brand + Market Yourself as a Real Business
As I mentioned before, this is your livelihood! You want to be a pro, and most (if not all) pro DJs work hard on their brand. Think about A-Trak’s “Fool’s Gold,” DJ Clue with his trademark question mark and mixtapes, and S!C!CK with his masks. You want to be identifiable and taken seriously, so take the necessary steps.
Once you have your pro DJ name figured out, get a logo made, then lock down all of the social media profiles to coincide with your name. After those steps are handled, book a professional photoshoot and start posting!
You can also lock down a domain name via web hosts like GoDaddy and have your own website created. Create business or promo cards to hand out to important contacts at your gigs. Try to find a designer that does all of those things so you can build that relationship and get a better price. Also, have them create your EPK (electronic press kit). Lastly, be sure to have a Mixcloud or SoundCloud where people can listen to your mixes.
Bonus tip – make your DJ business an LLC so you can handle taxes properly and apply for loans if necessary. You can also write off things like gas!
Tip #4 – Secure A Residency
As a DJ, a stable income is important, not only to pay the bills, but to reinvest in yourself as a DJ. Equipment isn’t cheap, and neither is vehicle upkeep or fashion.
Securing a residency is beneficial for so many reasons! First, it’s a place where you can start building your audience and playing for a crowd outside of your hometown. Second, a residency helps you get reps in and learn how to read a crowd. And finally, it’s here you can build your reputation as a pro while collecting a steady income.
You don’t have to go all out for your first residency even though that would be fantastic! My first residency was at a hotel in Brooklyn. Today I have a stable residency that kind of serves as my “9 to 5” in a sports bar. Some residences can align with your brand perfectly. In those cases, make sure to add it to your marketing materials like your EPK.
Tip #5 – Have Fun
I know you’re probably thinking, what, have FUN!? Yes, because if you don’t, DJing just becomes a regular job with regular stress. You don’t want that! You want to enjoy your career as much as possible. Do this daily and remember to do it with the same love you started out with. There will be bad days – that’s just life – but make sure the good outweighs the bad! I have only been doing this for five years, but I strive to maintain the same excitement and hunger I had as when I started. All those emotions keep me here and keep me building!
Bonus Tip – Build Content
Now I’ll be honest I don’t love this part. But I love the art of DJing, so having to do extra stuff around it is part of the game. Today, a lot of things are built around content. DJs create videos and post them online to build a buzz. Some DJs make vlogs or tutorials. You can even write blogs or create a mix series or mixshow. Content serves as leverage when trying to land a major residency or a spot with management or a booking agency. It also helps you reach a bigger audience and keeps you active.
So these are just a few of the tips to start making that transition from beginner DJ to pro. Do each one step-by-step and watch the results start to happen. Each DJ will have a different experience, but the outcome of becoming a professional will no doubt happen in time. Stay a student, remain humble, and keep your love for DJing front of mind. If you do these things, you will see your career blossom.
About the Writer
Brooklyn native Cory Giles has a ten-year history in the music industry, working with companies such as Def Jam Recordings and Hot 97. A graduate of Jam Master Jay’s Scratch DJ Academy in NYC, Giles has worked with brands like Louis Vuitton, Mohegan Sun, The W, T-Mobile, and the WWE. In 2018, Giles joined Dash Radio’s Taste Radio Channel as a weekly host and DJ on “The Corner.” He is also the official DJ for the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun.