Should you Become a DJ?

   By Emilie L   Categories: Career Advice

Getting work as a DJ is just as hard as getting work as a remixer, perhaps even harder in some ways. There is a huge amount of competition for DJ bookings, and breaking through into that market can take a lot of effort. Many of the same problems arise (getting an agent/manager and then them being able to convince the promoter or venue to take a chance on you), but there is some light at the end of the tunnel. If you have managed to build a name for yourself as a remixer/producer, that can open doors for you as a DJ, although you shouldn’t assume that it necessarily will. Even if it does, you can’t demand large fees until you have proven yourself.

Photo from Flickr user aurora 224

Also, not everybody who is a good remixer/producer will necessarily be a good DJ. While the two disciplines are related, they are also very different. Confidence is a big issue, because someone who feels comfortable in a studio environment where he can take his time to get things right might not feel comfortable up on stage in front of a potentially very large crowd where things have to be right immediately. To some extent, this confidence comes with practice: the more gigs you do the more you will feel confident about your abilities to get things right, but to some, just the idea of getting up on stage at all will make them feel uneasy.

There is also the time issue. Being a DJ, especially if you are fairly successful and are being asked to play in different countries, can take up a lot of time. That might be time you want to spend in the studio or time you want to spend with your family. Either way, you might find that it simply isn’t possible for practical reasons. The good news is that, in this situation, you can still work with someone else who is a DJ so you can get the best of both worlds.

There is another factor here as well, and this is one I am reluctant to talk about because it is a less-than-positive aspect of the music industry these days, but I feel I should bring it up in the spirit of full disclosure. I am sure we are all more than aware of illegal file downloads. This affects producers more directly than remixers because the sales of their own records will be negatively affected, but it does even affect remixers because even the biggest labels with larger budgets have had their profits cut because of illegal downloads. As a result, less profits means lower budgets to spend on getting remixes in the first place. So where does DJing fit into all of this? Well, many record labels are now putting more of an emphasis on gigs as a good source of income for their artists, because a ticket for a gig can’t be downloaded illegally. It is possible as an electronic music producer to actually get gigs, but because of the nature of what we do, actual “live” performances are quite a big deal and can be very hard to pull off. So the nearest equivalent for many would be a DJ set. In the same way that a ticket to a gig can’t be downloaded illegally, neither can the admission to a club. And because of this, DJ gigs can, if you can get them, be a good source of income.

Of course, with the global economy being the way it is at the time of writing, even DJ fees have taken a tumble in recent years, because the club-goers don’t have as much money to spend, and hence, club attendance is down. But this “live” performance aspect is still far more secure than simply selling music.

I have seen a number of people posting on forums stating that they only really make tracks these days to raise their profile to try to get DJ work. Essentially, they don’t expect to earn anything from selling records and pretty much give them away as some kind of “loss leader,” just to get their name out there and on everybody’s lips. At that point, they try to use that profile to boost their DJ work. It’s a pretty bad state of affairs really, because historically, an artist would have gigs/live shows as a means of promoting their recorded material. But in recent times it seems that things have turned pretty much a full 180 degrees, so that now the music has almost become a promotional tool for the live performance. Hopefully things will change in the future, but for now at least, DJ work remains a very viable supplement to any production work or remixing you might do. Although many purist DJs hate the idea, laptop DJing is now here to stay, so it has, in some of the technical aspects at least, become easier than ever for a producer/remixer to become a gigging DJ.


Excerpt from The Remix Manual by Simon Langford © 2011 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.


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