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Tip Jar: 10 Ways to be a Real DJ

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What does it really take to get results at the decks? What can you do to better ingratiate yourself to potential fans and clients? Whether you’re an experienced spinner or someone who’s thinking of taking the plunge, read on as world-class spinner Mick lays it all out for you.

1. Learn to actually DJ. This one isn’t a Biblical level revelation. If you say you’re a DJ, you should actually do just that. There are thousands of YouTube tutorials, as well as affordable classes at places like Scratch Academy, that can definitely help you out. If you already are on the path to being a real DJ and understand the technical aspects, there is nothing better than old-fashion practice. And practice can mean two things: technical (which you can practice at home) and sonically (which you can practice at home, but you can also absorb by going out and listening to “how” your favorite DJs spin).

2. Make sure you love music. That’s why you got into this, right? Well, it should be. After the dancing and girls and alcohol wears off, you have to create a connection with the artform of music. This is done much better when you love what you are playing. Which leads to my next point…

3. Play music that you really enjoy. Now, every DJ in the world—from the guy doing your uncle’s lame wedding to Tiësto—occasionally has to play some songs they don’t like. However, finding a way to remix those songs, or sandwich them between songs you do like that make sense sonically—that’s how you really create your identity as a DJ. Just make sure you keep people dancing or vibing—whatever the mood calls for.

4. Treat your hobby as a real job, and it just might become one. DJing for me was a collegiate hobby that allowed me to express myself musically. Years later, this “hobby” has taken me around the world multiple times and given me a successful career beyond even my wildest dreams. I credit this to me applying the rules of a successful start-up to my DJing career. Some key things I do include: get up early—it’s true that that early bird is more productive and catches the worm. Send thank you’s: music industry people are still people, and should be treated as such. Deliver what you promise, no matter how “big” you think you are: words mean things.

5. Recognize that song selection is way more important than DJ-Battle skills. Not every basketball player is going to be LeBron James—but they have to understand the rules before they step on the court. That said, I’d much rather hear a DJ with amazing selection and up-and-coming mixing skills than a guy who can scratch with his left testicle and plays horrible music all night.

6. Be “socially” aware. In this era of everything being publicized on social media, we DJs exist in a rare but exciting space. We can let the world know what we are doing—while we are doing it—and use it to create buzz and excitement around our next gigs. We can even adjust how we tweet and Instagram a bad event to make it look awesome. It’s all in the editing. Use this to your advantage, and build a strong social media message to enhance your brand, and ultimately, your bottom line.

7. Embrace technology. I’m a guy who started by collecting vinyl, but then happily moved to the digital era. Whatever you use, whether it’s turntables, CDJ’s, or controllers—own it and embrace it. Find a way to maximize every ounce of creativity out of the medium you choose. Remember, the less work that goes into the actual art of mixing (i.e., when you choose press-play controllers over turntables), the more time you have to be more creative with the actual mix (effects, echos, live mashups). Let technology be your friend—not a crutch.

8. Vary your set lists. A few months ago, a mega-popular DJ got “busted” in a national magazine for admitting he just plays the same songs in the same order every night. This isn’t fun, nor is it cool. Find new ways to play the same songs. If they are your own personally produced songs, remix them to add something new for the people who paid money to see you perform. This just isn’t good for your audience—it’s good for you and your mind. I feel super refreshed when I go into a gig with a crate of new awesomeness. New music is like a weapon, so sharpen your sword.

9. Be respectful to everyone you meet in nightlife. From the doorman to the bartender, and all the way up the food chain to the club owner. You never know where that person will end up next, and how they can help (or hurt) your career. One person telling people you’re an arrogant diva holds way more weight than 50 people saying you’re a nice guy. However, that guy pouring you drinks could be the Director of Marketing next year, so tip him if he is good, and be nice even if he isn’t.

10. Have fun and enjoy your gigs. Smile. Interact with fans. Be confident. Enjoy finding new music. Enjoy the people you meet, and the travels you’ll have. This is an amazing, super-blessed way to make a living. My dad put in bathroom tile for 50 years. I fly on airplanes to entertain people by playing songs. Yes, we all have bad days, but you simply must put life in perspective. Making a dollar (whether it is one or one million) in the music industry is a dream job.

MICK is a versatile and universally known DJ, producer and lifestyle brand who spins regularly in Miami, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York City. MICK has worked with Grey Goose, Heineken, Instagram, Twitter, Bally, Neiman Marcus, LeBron James and Red Bull. He’s produced countless mixes of every kind such as open format mixes (mixing genres such as indie, nu disco, rock, etc.) for leading fashion websites such as Stylecaster.com, brand-specific mixes for clients such as Adidas and HBO’s hit show How To Make It In America and artistic/creative mixes (including his highly publicized Jay Z/Coldplay mash-up, “Viva La Hova”). He has curated the soundtrack for EA Sports’ best-selling game NBA LIVE 14 and also appeared in major national commercials for Adidas, Microsoft Bing and others. See http://iammick.com, @IAMMICK.