Guest post by producer, DJ and party curator option4
Often when people first start thinking about being a professional DJ it’s more of a dream than a reality. But when it actually comes to the crunch, it can be a potentially daunting decision to make the plunge. I think the biggest thing people need to weigh out before they go fully pro and try to pay their bills with this stuff is “CAN they pay their bills with this stuff?”
I’ve seen it happen time and time again where DJs start playing out and making a little bit of money, then think that quitting their job and devoting all of their time to their craft will push them to the next level. Sadly in this day and age that’s extremely rare. The DJ supply vastly outweighs the demand for DJ performances. Identifying whether it’s just a hobby or if it’s something more is a very honest evaluation that should be more encouraged in this culture. Attempting to make a living with this profession can oftentimes be more stressful than anticipated, ultimately killing the passion that started the journey in the first place. Going pro before you have an actual fan base to support it is a very slippery slope.
Of course I would fully endorse you making that leap if you believe in your abilities. So then the first thing to do is avoiding making the same mistakes that most DJs who are starting out make! I mean, I book A LOT of DJs. I always try and inspire new ones and support up-and-comers all of the time. Obviously there’s the playing appropriate music for the party, slot etc. but that’s been beat to death already. Most of the DJs that play for our parties all play great anyhow. One thing that I feel people mess up however is not understanding how important it is to be a PART of the party.
Sometimes they just show up right before their set, play, leave. I think it’s really important, especially if you’re trying to build a local following at all, to go out of your way to join the party. Be there early. Be in the crowd. Dance. Get to know people. Experience the show when you’re not playing like a normal fan would. That connection to the people at the party goes a LONG way.
I’ve seen I don’t know how many shows or DJs play over the years, but I still do my best to be involved in every show I attend, whether I’m playing or not. I think when people see that you’re there to enjoy the music and the experience as well, they connect more with you when you’re on the decks curating the experience.
Another point to make is an argument I hear a lot: that you actually need to be a producer to make it as a DJ. That’s something I don’t really agree with. I think there are plenty of DJs out there making a lot of noise without really being known for their production. It just takes a LOT longer, so you’ve got to be prepared to put the hours, days, weeks, months, even YEARS in.
Some of these cats like Jackmaster, Mike Servito, Ben UFO etc. are killing it right now. They’re touring and packing out clubs all over, but it’s not because they had a hit record per se. Some of these selectors are just branding themselves as selectors and running with it. They’ve got years… decades of selecting and digging experience and that’s really attractive to promoters.
I DO think however that if you’re in a smaller city it’s really beneficial to produce and use the internet to get your music out there. People’s attention span is very short. It’s easier for people to listen to a record more than it is for them to devote the time to listen to a mixtape. If you’re in a small town, you could be the best DJ in the world but not have the connections to get any exposure at all so the internet is KEY. I also think if you love making music, then DO make music. It will show. Don’t force yourself to be a producer if you’re just trying to build a DJ career. That’s why we have so much bad music out there!
Then there’s the sometimes awkward issue of getting paid. As a DJ starting out, you’re going to get asked to play for free, a lot. Whether you’re cool with this or not depends on the situation. If the party is a money thing charging cover then you should really be getting paid. But think who’s benefiting out of the situation. Sometimes exposure is worth playing for sometimes it’s a total waste.
Sometimes you get offered a great look in front of a big crowd and the money is really secondary. Even very popular DJs that tour the world take super small fees if the look is solid. That being said, it’s pretty obvious if a promoter is trying to take advantage and just get free talent. I’ve heard horror stories in other cities of promoters insisting you sell “X” amount of tickets to get a meager check. Bottom line is this: you should be getting paid if the party is meant for profit, and if you get booked do your best to make sure that the party does profit. How much you get paid should be proportionate to how much your fanbase is willing to pay to see you play. If it’s a backyard BBQ going-away party for a friend I don’t know if you’d have any friends left if you were to send them a $500 invoice to grace their backyard with your amazing skills.
I think at this point in my life I’ve played hundreds and hundreds of shows for free and didn’t regret it whatsoever. It helped me out a lot. However if you start gaining a following and fans are paying to see you play, then yeah definitely look to get compensated. That being said I still play for free all the time. I just like to party.
So, now you’re starting to get booked a bit and the issue becomes: how do you make yourself stand out from the THOUSANDS of other DJs out there? Couple of things straight off the bat. First up, BE HUMBLE. And out-work ANYONE and EVERYONE. Now that’s very cliche, I know. Every DJ you talk to will tell you they’re “grinding” but rarely are they doing anything relevant. Once you start DJing you’re basically selling sand in Egypt. You’re literally a dime a dozen. Recognize that and pay attention to the other DJs that are successful and figure out WHY they’re successful. Then start setting your goals to emulate what they’re doing and improve on it.
Some of these DJs you see have huge teams behind them. So ask how did they get there? No matter who is out there killing it right now they all started out at the same spot. Hustling local DJ gigs when no one knew who they were. It takes a special outlook to break things down to their small building blocks and analyze them, but if you pay attention it’s pretty easy to decipher. So get to work. If a DJ you love kills it on social media, figure out WHY and HOW. Then do it better. If a DJ you love mixes better than you then work to kill your idol and surpass them behind the decks. If a DJ you admire and look up to is attracting your fandom because of branding or fashion then start thinking how you can brand yourself in a way that will attract the fans you want.
Also, it never hurts to be kind. You’re in the party scene. Act like it. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Support your friends and lose your ego. And lastly, don’t get negative on social media EVER. No one really cares when that stuff is getting aired out and it just alienates you from people who could be potential fans. As much as it feels reassuring when a negative status gets attention, it’s just as easily forgotten. Your social media ends up becoming your brand. It’s how people identify you. So use it to inspire people, you’ll stand out like a sore thumb around all these social media meltdowns.
And while being unique and your own person is important, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking your lead from people who are doing it right, especially when it comes to work ethic. Look at DJs like Doorly, possibly one of the most underrated cats in the game. He can do it all and he does: scratch, mix, select, produce, etc. He’s a gangster producer and even better DJ dare I say it. And he also knows how to throw a dope party. He’s been a promoter for years. Full-time hustler. A one-man army. It’s rad.
Here are some other DJs I massively admire, for different reasons:
The Black Madonna: SUCH an awesome DJ. Super engaging. Her knowledge of music is just ridiculous. It shows in her work. She is very versatile as well, playing disco, acid, house and techno. She’s also really great at using her platform to increase social awareness on important issues. She’s the full package.
Jackmaster: He’s just one of my favorite people. His knowledge of music is out of this world but his ability to select tracks at the right time is something I really admire. He’ll also make you laugh till your cheeks hurt. Couldn’t love this guy more.
The Martinez Brothers: STAGE PRESENCE. Period. I don’t want to be friends with anyone that can watch these guys play and not have a smile on their face. They’re amazing DJs but every time they play you know it’s going to be a party.
Claude VonStroke: Talk about building an empire. Branding on point. A&R on point. The fact that he listens to every demo still is just… awe-inspiring. He always kills it on the production/DJ front but his acumen as a label head is amazing to watch from afar. He’s the embodiment of work ethic.
Will Clarke: This guy writes hits, period. He just kills it on the production side. But not everyone is an amazing producer. So take a look at how rad this guy is branding/social media wise. He kills it. It’s like watching a reality TV show. I really admire how much time and effort he puts into engaging his fans on socials. He responds to everyone he can. He’s not some mystery man in some high castle. He’s super personable and I think that can be rare in the game. Kudos to this dude. He’s a boss.
Finally, a note on production/DJing schools: this might be an unpopular statement, but. I don’t know any great artist I personally admire that went to any such school. Art is art. It’s in you. What you do with it is up to you. It’s cool to learn how to use software, but if you’re really into this there are so many tutorials online and you can save a lot of time and money by putting a little elbow grease into it. Not to mention if you’re teaching yourself I feel like it’s a lot easier to find your voice. I don’t think it’s worth it as it’s not like you graduate and become an amazing producer. No matter what you’re doing, your work is going to be a journey that constantly evolves. You’re NEVER going to write your best track. It’s always going to be your next one. SO might as well get writing. Like.. now. Stop reading this!
option4 is a house music warrior. With releases on Ninja Tune, Nurvous, Club Sweat and more besides, his music packs a significantly bigger punch than your average house cut, incorporating tribal rhythms, intricate melodies and fierce low-end to produce a style that is never short of mesmerizing.
Based in Denver Colorado, option4 has been honing his craft for many years, but looks set to have a landmark year in 2017. Recently named by US legend MK as one of his producers to watch for the year ahead, tracks like ‘Vibe On’ and ‘Rise Of The Cat Lord’ – released by seminal NYC imprint Nurvous and Club Sweat respectively – have been making an impression in all the right quarters. option4 is also one half of the duo 909 Til Infinity alongside fellow house music devotee MANIK. Their twisted, late-night party jams have found their way onto Nurvous and Psycho Disco! amongst others.
In one of his other incarnations, option4 is also one of the biggest underground party promoters in the States, and the founder of TheHundred: a community movement born out frustration at the lack of club nights in Denver. TheHundred has now thrown hundreds of sold-out parties, due in no small part to his passion for and commitment to the underground electronic music scene.