When you say it aloud, I want to be a DJ; it sounds impractical, unrealistic, and naïve. It’s like saying, I want to be a movie star or I want to be an astronaut. These are romantic dreams that don’t account for the realities of life. That ‘I want’ statement is a long way from ‘I am.’ It is disconnected from the thousands-upon-thousands of working hours DJs must invest to become professionals. It is disconnected from the financial hardship, the failures, and the rejections every professional musician must endure on the way to success.
So if you are thinking of becoming a DJ, start by understanding what you’re up against. Eliminate the romance, and examine your passions. If this is what you love and can’t live without, then stop wanting and start doing. Now.
Why Would You Do That?
The downsides listed above are really just a handful of the obstacles you’ll likely face when trying to become a professional DJ. Others might include parental disapproval, noise complaints from landlords, unconventional working hours, and strain on your relationships with friends and loved ones. So there are clearly a thousand reasons, not to become a DJ. But there are also a plenty of reasons why you should.
Millions of people aren’t particularly passionate about anything. They go to work every day at jobs that don’t inspire them, laboring toward someone else’s goal simply for the sake of a paycheck. They spend the bulk of their days trying to make money, and don’t really start to live until the weekend, or until they get home in the evening and are already too exhausted to do much else.
But as a DJ, your passion is your life. It’s your livelihood, your daily labor, and the thing that fills your days and nights. Rumi once wrote, “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” This how people with true passions live. So why would you become a DJ? Because you simply can’t imagine doing anything else and still feeling fulfilled.
The Realities of Spinning for a Living
Let’s turn now to practical matters. If you are going to work as a DJ, here’s what you should prepare for:
- Working much more than 40 hrs per week (particularly in the beginning), and working very late hours.
- Traveling frequently for gigs, rarely being home on weekends, having little time to spend with most of your friends, and probably living abroad for long stretches (wherever you can find the most work).
- Unpredictable, inconsistent, and usually quite small paychecks.
- Networking: You will have to become an expert at making connections with people who can help you advance your career.
- Being an entrepreneur: There is no set path to becoming a DJ. There is no clearly defined career ladder to climb. So you’ll have to constantly learn, adapt, and forge your own way. You’ll have to be self-starter with incredible persistence and determination. You’ll have no boss, so you’ll have to be your own—and you’d better make yourself work hard!
Skills You’ll Need
You’ll need many skills to be a DJ: technical, tactile, creative, and social. And to be a DJ who makes enough money to live on, you’ll need those skills to be highly developed—which, of course, requires a tremendous amount of practice. So because the technical side of music production is quite complex today, many aspiring professionals turn to technical schools like the London Academy of Music Production or to online classes and tutorials to learn the high-tech tools of the trade.
But most importantly, you will need creativity, passion, and persistence. Successful DJs constantly experiment with new techniques, study other musicians they admire, seek out new tools, and find innovative ways to craft captivating sounds. And don’t forget that DJs are performers. So if you’re not at home in front of a crowd or you can’t find ways to capture attention and entertain audiences, being a DJ might not be for you. Music is a social phenomenon. To succeed as a DJ, you must be social.
These are the basics (and most of this stuff isn’t exactly cheap):
- Production software like Pioneer, Traktor, and Serato
- Quality headphones
- Various instruments: Touchpads, keyboards, guitars, violins, etc. (The list of possibilities is almost infinite. But if you’ve got nothing to offer but a computer and a turntable, you probably won’t be putting on much of a show.)
For the sake of showmanship, you’ll probably also want to invest in lights and a projector. Though these things aren’t essential, incorporating them will certainly enhance your professionalism.
How to Be a DJ
As previously mentioned, there is no set path for becoming a pro DJ. But if one thing is certain, you’ll need to PRACTICE every day, become better at what you do every day, and stay focused on long-term development. No one becomes a DJ overnight.
You will also need to:
- FINISH and publish tracks on a consistent basis. It’s not enough to constantly practice and never produce.
- Develop a presence on social media.
- Get business cards to hand out at shows.
- Jump on every opportunity to play live that you can find.
- Develop a fan base by posting music on sites like SoundCloud, Last.fm, and ReverbNation.
- HUSTLE: Get out there and meet people, make connections, introduce people to your work, and be persistent. You are bound to be rejected over and over and over again. So get used to it, and don’t ever let it slow you down.
So do you still want to be a DJ? Then stop wanting! Start being a DJ right now. DJs make music. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get to work.