15 tips on how to get your DJ career started
As shared by Chippy Nonstop, Kish Lal, Brooke Powers and YO! MAFIA.
Melbourne’s Face The Music music summit is approaching next week and a myriad of enlightening panels, workshops and live showcases are on offer, including Canadian DJ/writer/producer Chippy Nonstopbringing the inaugural Australian edition of her Intersessions workshop, which gives free DJ lessons to women, people of colour and the LGBTQI community.
Chippy has enlisted three Melbourne-based DJs to join her for the workshop about DJing in its various forms – Kish Lal to present tips on CDJ, Brooke Powers to present tips on vinyl and YO! MAFIA presenting tips on Serato.
Ahead of the workshop – and especially if you can’t make it down to it – we asked each of the three DJs to offer up their five best tips on how to get your DJ career started.
1. Do it for the music
The only way you'll get anywhere as a DJ is to make sure your entire practice is about the music you want to share with others. If you wanna do it to impress people or look cool, you won't get far. If you're really interested in the music you're collecting and how to make people feel it, thats what's gonna make you stand out and make an impression on the dancefloor.
2. Go toward what you're drawn to
When collecting music, go towards what turns you on. Find out what sounds your soul is drawn to and follow that. Don't worry about what you think other people want to hear, there is so much space for a diversity of sounds in the dance music world. If you're only vibing late '80s hip-house, go deep into that and make a name for yourself. Or if you wanna just slam down screwed up electro, well, a lot people are into that right now, go for it! There is an endless amount of great music to discover, follow your own rabbit holes, and truly love the music you play.
3. Try not to get hung up on mistakes
The other night I was DJing with a faulty booth monitor, and an Allen and Heath mixer, which I could scarcely work my long fingernails around. I thought I was doing terribly until just over halfway through my set DJ Kiti sidles up next to me to tell me how great my tracks were and how seamless my mixing was. I was surprised because I thought I was making some really obvious mistakes. Often when you think you've made some really obvious errors, either no one notices or no one cares. It's good to set a high standard for yourself, but a lot of DJs, especially when beginning, are really hard on themselves for no reason. Even I agonised for months after my Golden Plains set about the two mistakes I made (although listen back to the recording and I doubt anyone but me would be able to pick them). Try not to take it too seriously and enjoy yourself.
4. Count to 8
Because I grew up doing singing and dance lessons, it was really natural for me to count in 8s while cueing up my next track. But when I started to teach some people how to DJ I realised that's not an innate human skill. Most dance tracks you play will be in counts of 8, in phrases of 4 counts of 8. When bringing in your next track, most of the time you want its first beat to hit the first count of a phrase of the track that's already playing. For seamless sounding mixing, it matters what beat that new track comes in on, you can't just bring it in wherever. Speak to a friend who's a muso or a dancer if this is hard to understand, it's easy to learn and is very helpful.
DJing can be the funnest job in the world! The crowd can tell when a DJ is truly in the zone, and they love it! Let yourself have fun, check your ego, follow your heart and constantly learn how to better your technique. If you do that, you can't go wrong.
6. Be obsessed
Have an undying (and somewhat unhealthy) obsession with music. In any form. Soak in as many genres as possible; learn to develop an ear for beat structure and timings. This will make it a lot easier when it comes time to learning to blend and mix your madness into one big party jam!
7. Practice makes perfect
Practice, practice, practice. Don’t expect to be Spinderella right out the gate. I took a good five years of solid practicing before I even thought about seeking a club gig. These days a lot of DJs will jump straight onto the stage without any skills to pay the bills, so one sure way to stand out is to hone your craft as much as possible before you debut your killer set.
8. Mix it up
Make mixtapes. As many as you can. Just press record and drop a solid 30min mix with no editing – just you, a mixer and two turntables. Get some invaluable feedback from your mates and peers – always make sure you ask for constructive criticism - bloody hard these days thanks to all dem TROLLS!
9. Be reliable/professional/accountable
No one likes a DJ that is underprepared or rocks up to a gig late (or doesn’t rock up at all.) Make sure you’re at every gig at least 10 minutes early – gauge the vibe of the crowd, and also support the DJ playing before you by being ready to takeover with no dramas. Be thankful for the amazing job you’ve been given – you’ll rarely see any of the high profile DJs complain on social media about the crap gig they had or the annoying person requesting songs. They are too busy creating a business and a career to seek false validation from a bunch of people they rarely know online. Bottom line, don’t air any grievances online. Keep your shit tight and professional.
10. Don’t be a dickhead
This is the biggest tip of all and should be the number one rule of life. It’s pretty much been the reason I’ve been able to maintain a career as a DJ for over 18 years. Just be a decent legend and work hard, remain true to your style, be approachable and nice to everyone you meet and keep the good vibes rolling!!!
11. Find some inspiration
Before you get started, find some DJs you like. Whether they are international or local, it doesn’t really matter. Find their mixes and listen to them. Figure out what you like, from mixing style to transitions, it’s a great way to know what you want to do, what you don’t want to do as a DJ and more importantly see what works. I find inspiration from a lot of my favourite DJs and I do this regularly, especially when I consider changing up my style. I always listen to mixes from Wahe, Venus X and Asmara because they’re not only my favourite DJs to listen to but also who I aspire to be more like. Look up to your idols and learn from them.
12. It's okay to ask for help
It’s scary to ask people for help on how the hell to get started DJing. In my experience even finding decks to practice can be a task but there are always people around who are willing to help. Just know it's okay to ask for help. It’s okay to ask a friend who knows a DJ if they’re willing to let you borrow their decks for an hour of practice. If you dig deep into Facebook there are groups (beyond bad meme groups) like SISTER designed to help and support DJs. If you can’t find them, ask Twitter, ask Instagram, even try asking Tumblr because someone out there knows the answer and is going to help you out. It’s scary asking but after the first time it gets a little easier.
13. Be your own stan
I think if being a Kanye stan has taught me anything, it’s be your own biggest fan. If you make a mix, put it up on Soundcloud and don’t share the link, nobody is going to know it’s there. Femmes, non-binary and people of colour are often conditioned to be small and quiet, but that’s utter bullshit. Even if you don’t believe it, go big — “Check out this amazing hour long mix I made that will absolutely change your dreary, boring ass life for the better.” Share that shit. Make it your profile picture. Hand out business cards with links to your mix. It’s okay to promote yourself, because you know what? Promoting yourself gets you noticed and getting noticed gets you shows. It's simple math.
14. Networking is a good thing
I’ve always been suspicious of ‘networking’. It’s always reeked of pseudo friendships and insincerity to me, until one day it clicked — it doesn’t have to be. Let’s just call it supporting people you like and those people supporting you because they like you too, because that’s all networking really needs to or has to be. Find people on Soundcloud in your city who DJ, approach people at the club who just played an amazing set, and follow people on Twitter whose music you like. It doesn’t have to be a circle jerk of fake compliments and retweets, it can really just be finding like-minded people doing things you like who can help you out. I’ve met a lot of the DJs who have helped me learn, booked me for shows and given me advice from the internet. I’ve met even more in person just by introducing myself to them. It doesn’t always work out and sometimes nothing will come of it, but building a support group of people who are nice, have experience and want to help you out will help you in the long run. And I can be that person for you if you just hit me up.
15. Learn to say no
It’s exciting when the gigs start rolling in to say yes to everything, but learning how to say no is something I strongly recommend. When you have a support network, running low rates, bad conditions and suspicious promoters by them is always helpful and when you need to say no to something because your gut says “run”, just do it. There is no shortage of stories of women, non-binary, queer and people of colour being treated like garbage as DJs. If you happen to find yourself in a situation you don’t like, say no. Clout, money and loose connections to well-known promoters come and go but never sacrifice taking care of yourself and your well being for a DJ set.