9 Tactics: Move Up the DJ Food Chain!

Considering the increasing competition among DJs, you may be finding that getting the gig––or moving up the DJ food chain––has never been more difficult. Fear not, though, because Tim Martell, who at 19 proved himself as a contender in the ultra-competitive N.Y.C. nightlife world and who now shares his love for the art with his students at Scratch DJ Academy, has timely advice for you.  

By Tim Martell

Be Different: DON’T sound like other DJs. Don’t be afraid to test waters and play some “off the wall” tracks as long as your crowd stays dancing. Being unique makes you memorable and separates yourself from the herd. Sharing your SoundCloud profile with others is a fantastic tool for this and provides incredible insight into the breadth of your style and mixing prowess.

Promote Yourself: There has always been an age-old debate in the DJ community as to whether the DJ should or should not have to bring people to a party on top of doing his or her DJ duties. After all, isn’t the DJ there to just play the music? Every DJ feels this way, but the reality of it is that the DJs who DO promote DO get gigs. How much you ring on the register is a huge part of getting booked at the best venues. It’s actually how I got my first big gig at The Tunnel in N.Y.C. in the ‘90s; I was first hired as a promoter, and it wasn’t until my boss found out that I was a DJ too that I got a chance to spin. But that never would have happened if I didn’t have my foot in the door with the club as a promoter.

Dress the Part: Like any other profession, you are expected to dress “office appropriate,” whether that means a hard hat and boots or business attire. The same goes for being a DJ. Especially now that DJs are no longer just relegated to the dark hideaway of the booth and are often the focal point of the venue, it goes without saying you should be sure to look sharp.

Think Big or Go Home: It’s hard to turn down your first offer when you have been dreaming of it, but don’t sell yourself short. Undercutting is frowned upon in the DJ community, and you are only hurting the system if you perform for less than you are worth. Many people won’t even hire you if you lowball yourself. Go into every gig negotiation with guns blazing; you will gain respect from your peers and potential clients along the way.

Know Your Music: There is probably nothing more embarrassing than a DJ playing a song because it’s popular and NOT knowing anything about the song or artist. End of story.

Be Confident: Your skills and ability should speak for themselves during a performance, but don’t forget to bring some of that confidence (with just the right amout of swagger) to your meetings. I have had gigs handed to me on a silver platter because I exuded a level of self-assurance about my capabilities as a DJ. I know it’s hard to strike the right balance, even when meeting someone for the first time, but it works!

Make Friends: If you are looking to work at a club, you should get to know all of the staff, including the doorman, the manager, the music director and the owner. And make sure THEY KNOW YOU! These folks are the gatekeepers to future gigs, so be sure to make a positive impression and develop strong, lasting relationships.

GO OUT: To my earlier point about making friends, your Batphone is not magically going to ring if nobody knows who you are. You need to show face and hang out at the places where you want to work. It’s a lot of time and effort to master and refine the skills to be a great DJ, but it’s also critical to keep up with the lifestyle. Now that the industry has become inundated with so-called “celebrity” DJs and iPod button-pushers it’s more important than ever to go out and present yourself as the genuine article.

Say Thank You: While expressing your gratitude won’t necessarily help you get a new gig, the rules around common courtesy are the same, even in a nontraditional industry like nightlife. A simple email or text goes a long way and the likelihood of getting hired back skyrockets with friendly follow-up.