That being said, going from being a local DJ to a touring act is no small feat! Today, we’re discussing how to get DJ gigs in every phase of your career, and why it is so important to always think big when learning to be an artist.
But first, we must start off by asking you a question…
That’s right. There’s a difference. A big one. Artists make records. DJs play records.
It doesn’t go both ways. Artists get to DJ, but DJ’s don’t get to “artist.” This is why it is so incredibly important for anybody who wants to get involved with Electronic music to learn how to produce music.
In reality, there are one million reasons for this, including the fact that artists always get the best gigs.
Just like in the animal kingdom, there is a clear hierarchy amongst DJs playing out on the scene today. On the African Savannah, the lion will eat the zebra. In the club, it’s the touring act who munches on the local DJs for breakfast. Well, not literally, unless you’re into that kind of thing. DJs do tend to be a freaky bunch, after all!
But, try this one on for size. While your local-yokle resident DJ may be the hottest thing around on the nights the club belongs to them, all it takes is one wild headliner to appear for all the eyes in the club to turn away from them and fixate on the apex predator of the electronic music world: the touring artist.
We’re mostly joking. But, there’s a good reason that a touring act will command so much more respect and attention than a local DJ. To figure out why, let’s break down the differences between the two.
You know who these people are. They have 5,000 friends on Facebook, 7,000 followers on Instagram, and a Twitter feed that’s as active as Donald Trump. They’re constantly spamming you with event invites for their Thursday night party in town. And, they love telling you about that time they met Mark Knight.
They may not have ever produced a single record, but they’ve created relationships with local nightclubs to where they’re constantly managing to get booked. Sure, they may be the same person opening for every headliner. But, they’re also the same guy slogging it out on a Wednesday to keep their bills paid.
To be fair, most big artists started off as local DJs. The problem is, DJ work without a production career to back it up can be highly transient. Without creating a legacy of music to fall back on, many DJs who never learn to produce just can’t build a sizable following. Think about it: your favorite artists are likely your favorites because you love their music. Sure, their DJ sets may be fantastic. But it’s almost always one of their records that converts you into a fan.
There is a broad spectrum of touring artists in today’s House music scene who are actively making a living as a professional DJ/producer. Everyone from Kevin Saunderson, to Seth Troxler, to Mark Knight, to newer acts such as Maxinne all fall into the box of “touring artists.” They are not confined to just one location, as a global demand exists for their DJ sets. While someone like Mark may live in the UK, he’s playing over 70 shows a year. From Chicago to Bangkok, he’s a man in demand.
The big difference between a touring act and a local DJ is that they have done the work to write music that has elevated their name far beyond that which DJ’ing alone ever could.
Many producers are stuck somewhere in the middle of being a touring act and a local DJ. You’ll often find many up and coming acts in this category. While they may only play out once a month, it’s always an occasion when they do, and they usually have a few new releases to showcase. Believe it or not, this is actually a great place to be. Every new gig becomes an opportunity to get their name out there. When clubbers go home, they very well may follow the artist on Instagram, stream their tunes on Spotify, or perhaps even Tweet at them.
The point here is to understand that there are different levels to the DJ ecosystem. And, it is your job to mingle with people in each category.
Look, there’s not a club owner in the world who wouldn’t consider putting a new act on if their regulars keep getting requesting them. Remember, nightclubs are businesses like any other. For better or for worse, the turnover rates for resident DJs tend to be quite high. Club owners are always looking for the “next big DJ” who can help to pack the place. Doing so ensures door fees are paid, drinks are sold, and the club lives to see another day.
Never underestimate the power of what even 20 local fans can do for your career. People are never silent about a new artist they’ve discovered. Before you know it, those 20 fans could turn into 40, then 60, and then maybe even 100. Better yet, if you could promise to get 50 people in the door for a new club night, you’d likely find yourself getting booked more than you know what to do with!
There is no clear-cut way towards getting your first 100 fans. But, you can be sure that being active on social media is absolutely crucial.
While social media is not a perfect way of judging one’s actual level of notoriety, it does allow you a way to “prove” that you have a local fanbase.
Managing your social media is an entire topic in and of itself that we’ve written about time and time again. Regardless, here are a few tried and true ways of increasing your online presence.
Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter remain the three most important platforms, and it’s extremely important to have profiles on each. While you don’t need to be updating Twitter daily, it pays to post fresh, new visual content on Instagram, to share videos of you in the studio on Facebook, and to have a solid idea of what exactly you want your “brand” to look like on social.
If there’s one thing we must teach to our Toolroom Academy students time and time again, it’s that personal social media is vastly different from artist social media. While your personal Instagram page may be great for posting pictures of you and your mates at the pub, your artist page benefits from less of this. That’s not to say the odd gym selfie or casual Sunday out doesn’t belong online, but it is important to remember that your artist pages are for artist-related content.
While social media is an invaluable tool for exposing yourself to new markets, the fastest way to get booked locally is simply to become friendly with a promoter who wants to put you on.
The most straightforward way to get booked locally is to make friends with local DJs and promoters. In America, they refer to this as a “homie hookup.” While that’s kind of a goofy name, it does describe what’s happening quite accurately. This should come as no surprise, and it often explains why the same 5-6 DJs will constantly play all the nightclubs in a city. They’re all friends with each other, and they all book one another. Go figure!
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, local DJs can be a seriously cliquish bunch. We know, as admittedly, we’ve been local DJs ourselves at one point or another. Here’s one thing nobody will tell you: most local DJs are terrified of losing their spots. As they usually have no big records to fall back on, they know that their spot can be taken from them at a moment’s notice should a club owner feel like it.
As such, if you want to “get in” with a group of local DJs, it is important to have something to offer to them in exchange for them so graciously letting you play at their beloved club residency. Pro-tip: Some of today’s most successful party brands started as little more than a group of friends getting together and doing their own club night. Desert Hearts is one such name. Each of their resident DJs has now become touring artists themselves. If you’re the ambitious type with a vision, it’s never a bad idea to try your hand at throwing your own event.
Networking in the music industry is all about exchanging value. Life is transactional, and the music business is no different. Asking a local promoter to “throw you a spot” out of the goodness of their heart is not nearly as powerful as having something to offer them in exchange. Let’s say, for example, you know your way around Ableton Live quite well. It never hurts to offer up your skills as a producer to give them in-person, on-site instruction on how to improve (or even start) their tracks.
By that same token, maybe you own a set of decks you don’t mind lending out for the occasional club night. Touring DJs will often demand the latest and greatest gear, and we’ve seen more than a few tech guys playing primetime sets to know that offering up your gear is a powerful bargaining chip. Who knows, maybe you’re even just that guy who always brings a nice looking crowd (not just a bunch of lads) with them to the club each time. This lightens up the mood, and makes the dance floor feel a bit less empty on slow nights.
The point is, if you want something from somebody, find a way to make yourself useful to them. This is best summed up by Robert Greene’s infamous 48 Laws of Power, a must-read for anybody attempting to get ahead in any business.
Greene’s 13th law is as follows: “When asking for help, appeal to people’s self-interest, never to their mercy or gratitude.” Do people favors. Be nice, and always look ways to help others. What goes around comes around. If you manage to make yourself useful enough, somebody will reward you for doing so. It may not happen today, and it may not happen tomorrow. But it will happen eventually. That being said, it’s important to realize that while DJ’ing locally is a great way to have fun, perfect your skills, and get your name out there, it should never, ever be your end goal.
As the self-help classic The Slight Edge states, “In life, there is no such thing as staying in the same place. There are no straight lines; everything curves. If you’re not increasing, you’re decreasing.” In other words, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.
The problem with getting too comfortable as a local DJ is that it is extremely easy to get content. There’s no denying it: playing to a packed room makes you feel like a superstar. And in many ways, you are (for the night, that is). It’s remarkably easy to rest on your laurels, and feel happy with just being a local DJ. Local DJs tend to be popular, they get paid to party every weekend, and will receive loads of attention from attractive clubgoers.
It’s a dream lifestyle…until it’s not. Let’s put it this way: the fame you get as a local DJ is not transferrable elsewhere. Maybe you’re the hottest resident DJ in New York City. Do you think anybody in Sydney, Australia knows about you?
Probably not. But, might they know about an up and coming artist with 3,000 followers on Spotify? You bet they might. We feature such artists on Toolroom Radio almost every week.
It gets even more extreme within smaller localities. You could be the most sought after selector in Liverpool, but that most certainly does not mean that anybody would come to see you play in London.
To get this type of recognition, you need to make records, and great ones at that. Chances are, you need to start thinking big.
We encourage you to integrate with your local DJ scene, but also to set your aspirations far beyond your home city. In reality, you don’t want to be the guy slogging it out every weekend and spamming everyone and their nan with an invite to your DJ night. Chances are, you’re reading this article because you’re a dreamer, and someone who likes to think big.
And that’s exactly what you need to keep doing.
So, you want to make it to the big leagues, huh? Good! Admitting to yourself that you have big dreams the first step at actually achieving them. You have no idea how many people won’t even allow themselves to think big, simply out of fear of failure.
The truth is, you can do it. But, you must be the one who gives yourself permission to think big in the first place. The first part of thinking big involves getting your hands dirty in a DAW and learning the foundations of producing Electronic music.
If you want to be actively playing out in other localities other than your home city, you must become a producer. There are no if, ands, or buts about this. The days of simply being a DJ are long gone, and they’re not coming back.
Here’s a harsh reality: it no longer matters if you can even beat match a record. Pioneer CDJ-2000’s have been shipping out with the sync button as a standard feature since 2014. As vinyl junkies who learned to beatmatch on belt drive turntables, this hurts a bit. But, it’s the reality of the world we live in.
You could be the world’s greatest DJ, and a 17-year-old producer prodigy who has DJ’d less than a few times in his life will be beating you out for club gigs every time. Additionally, making music does not mean that you’ve released a couple of records a few years ago, or that a mate occasionally throws you a remix to be released on his Soundcloud channel.
No, this means actively releasing cutting edge House, Tech House and Techno. Moreover, your music will almost always have to be released on today’s top labels, just like many of our Toolroom Academy alumni have proven is possible. This may sound intimidating, and in a way, it is. Luckily for you, there has never been a better time to learn the ins and outs of producing music. And, the best part?
We can help with that.
The only way to go from being a local DJ to being a touring act is by releasing music that spreads your brand around the world.
Toolroom Records has been in the business of releasing cutting edge House, Tech House, and Techno for the past 15 years. Recently, we’ve launched Toolroom Academy, the educational branch of Toolroom Records. We offer two courses that are designed to help budding producers master the basics of making tracks.
The Toolroom Academy Foundations Programme is a 16-hour video course that walks you through your first day in Ableton. Whether a day-one complete beginner, or further on in your journey, the Foundation Series will give you the building blocks you need to be successful. Taught by Toolroom Artist Ben Remember, the course includes access to the same samples that Ben uses to make a record, as well as monthly live Q+A sessions.
The Toolroom Academy Production Certificate Program is a 3-month online program that takes you step-by-step through the essentials of building a credible and relevant Tech House track to a professional standard. You have the choice of taking the course in Ableton or Logic, and your work will be given feedback on a weekly basis from the Toolroom A&R team, leading you towards finishing your track.
So, what are you waiting for? This could be the year you take your artist career to the next level.