- Apr 16, 2018
I’ll go ahead and say it: DJs are today’s rockstars. Travel the world, play music in front of an adoring crowd, make tons of money… that sounds pretty rockstar to me. But for every deadmau5 and Chainsmokers playing giant festivals, there must be countless DJs slogging it out in small clubs.
You may not think it based on those big shows, but even superstar DJs started out small. In the DJ and EDM scenes, everyone has to pay their dues. If you’re an aspiring DJ or producer you need to earn some street cred before you can move to the big leagues… and even then, there’s no guarantee.
This article isn’t about what to do once you’ve made it to the big leagues. Chances are, you already have that figured out. (I’ve yet to meet a musician without some ultra-detailed plan) This article is about how to make a living while you work on that master plan of yours.
Us creative types usually forget to focus on more mundane needs, like how to earn money for rent or groceries. It’s totally un-sexy to consider those needs, but that’s reality. Without a roof over your head or food on the table, how can you expect to work on your DJ career?
With that said, here’s a list of strategies that could set you on the path to greater DJ success.
1. Get some wedding, bar mitzvah, or birthday gigs
You don’t always have to start at clubs. It may not seem unexciting, but playing private events is s a great way to sharpen your skills. Think about it: you’ll be playing to rooms full of kids, parents, grandparents, and random guests. If you can win over a crowd as diverse as that, you can win over any crowd.
Also, these types of gigs are easier to get. You can start with your own network; call relatives, or check local bulletin boards. Word of mouth is a big factor, so make sure you make a good impression.
2. Upload playlists on Spotify
This isn’t a money-making idea per se; it’s more of a way to promote yourself. You can use Spotify as a calling card or portfolio of your skills. DJing is all about song selection. So create a few playlists full of the freshest tracks. Be sure you set the playlists to public so people can find them and, most important, know who created them.
3. Sell official merch
Some of the greatest DJs have memorable branding and visuals. Daft Punk, Skrillex, deadmau5… all these guys have cool logos to go with their cool onstage personas. These logos translate well to official shirts, caps, and other merch. You should also invest in a cool logo, one that looks cool and would make people want to wear it on a piece of clothing. In effect, you’re turning people into walking advertisements for your music… except, they’re paying you!
4. Hold DJ lessons
Once upon a time, kids wanted to be Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen. Now, they want to be David Guetta or Alesso. I’ve seen kids begging their parents for DJ classes instead of guitar lessons. That said, guitar teachers still outnumber DJ instructors. So there’s a demand that isn’t being fulfilled. You can step in and give it a try. I have, and it was pretty rewarding. Plus, this puts you in touch with parents, who can, in turn, hire you for events.
5. Aim for sponsorships and endorsements
If you get on YouTube and check out live DJ gigs, chances are all you’ll pay attention to is the killer light show and banging music. No self-respecting DJ would dare go onstage without senses-shattering visuals. But if you look a bit more closely, you may spot some banners and advertisements off to the sides of the stage. Those are the show’s (or the DJ’s) sponsors. Sponsors are the unsung heroes of live gigs. Nobody pays much attention to them, but without them, the show (or your career, for that matter) may not be possible.
No matter where you are on the career ladder, it’s best to get some sponsorship or endorsement deals. You may not be able to get that giant multimillion energy drink deal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start small. Look around your community and offer exposure at your gigs in exchange for some sweet sponsorship money.
In effect, you’re becoming a billboard for those brands. And the brands, in turn, get to associate themselves with something cool (you). But make sure the brands are aligned with you and your music, and vice-versa. That means you’ll have to turn down the diaper sponsorship, even if they offer you loads of cash.
6. Become a promoter
Another way to make money off music is to promote other DJs. When you become a promoter, it’s almost like you’re multiplying your earning capacity because you’re not just earning from your own music, you’re earning from others’ as well.
But take note, to be a promoter, you need to build trust with your Djs. So make sure keep everything legit. No shady deals. And, most importantly, pay your Djs quickly. You’re a DJ too; you know what it’s like to struggle for gigs and scrounge for cash.
These were the things I did to survive as a DJ. I’m not playing giant festivals, but I’ve managed to make a comfortable living off DJing. And that’s more than I could ever ask for.
How about you? How far up the DJ ladder are you? Got any tips to share with all other aspiring DJs?
Let’s hear your stories!