DJs: How I Landed My First Festival Gig

DJ Gig at Festival

After I did my first few DJ gigs, it gave me a lot of confidence and made me feel like I was ready to handle bigger shows. After attending Austin City Limits (ACL), a big music festival in my hometown, I started thinking, I want to be up there myself and get booked as a DJ at a festival! I started doing research and after some work, I landed my first festival. This festival was much smaller than ACL, but it did give me confidence and great experience.

So, what can you do to land a DJ gig at a festival? The short answer is you need to have a professional 30 minute mix ready to submit to festivals. If you are just starting out, target smaller festivals that will give you experience and recognition before you try to go after a large festival like Coachella, Bonnaroo, or SXSW. If you can prove that you can make a great experience for fans at local festivals and bring a crowd to your stage, you have a better chance of getting a higher-profile booking later on.

With that answer in mind, I would like to break down exactly what you need to do in order to give yourself the best shot at getting booked at a festival this year.

Finding the Right Festival

The most important step in this process is making a list of target festivals. The first place to start is in your hometown. If you’re from a decently large city, chances are there’s some sort of music festival. Reach out to the festival promoter and tell them you are from the same city that the festival is in. Having this connection certainly separates you from other DJs looking to get into the festival.

If there are no festivals in your city, do not worry! Festivals are a huge worldwide trend and there are literally thousands of festivals going on around the world every year. With a quick google search, I found this music festival website with over 200 festivals!

Once you found 10-15 festivals that might be a good fit, it’s time to move onto the next step.

Submitting to a Music Festival

You made a list and now you’re ready to start submitting your stuff. Before any submissions, you NEED to have a professional mix that showcases your DJ abilities. If you do not have this, it is probably not the right time to submit to festivals. If you do have this, also be prepared to submit things like:

  • A high quality video of you performing live
  • An artist bio describing who you are, where you have performed, etc
  • Links to singles or other recordings
  • Press Kit

In this day and age, video is extremely important! It is one thing if your mixes and music sound good, but promoters want to see if you can read a crowd and act like a real DJ on stage. And no, this video submission should not be your mom filming you with her old iPhone camera, this should be done with a great camera and microphone. I cannot stress video enough!

Your artist bio should be professional and concise. Think about it from the person reviewing your application, the last thing they want to do is read a boring, page-long bio about you. They want the highlights: where you have played, what kind of music do you do, how big your social following is, etc.

An Insider’s Tip to Getting Into Festivals

One of my friends happens to work for a large festival promoter in the US. I cannot name the source, however, the person gave me some valuable insight into how DJs can get into a music festival. One of the largest factors that promoters look at is the number of streams on music streaming services and views on YouTube.

This makes sense, as promoters want to bring people to festivals who draw a large crowd. If you have music out and it is not extremely popular yet, you need to start building a strategy to get your music to listeners. That means getting in Spotify playlists or collaborating with other small artists in your area.

If you can get around 100,000 streams on several of your songs, you have a very solid chance at getting placed at music festivals. I wish I could share more than that, but hopefully that gives you some valuable insight.

How to Stand Out from Other Submissions?

Chances are, hundreds if not thousands of other DJs/music acts will be submitting their work to the same festival you are applying to. If you can separate yourself from these other people even just a little bit, this increases your probability of success by tenfold.

After submitting your application, try to find the contact information of the festival employees. Sometimes it is listed on the website, but many times you have to get more creative than that. One of the most useful free tools I use is Hunter, a digital tool that finds email addresses from people at nearly every company.

Find out what company is managing your target music festival. For example, C3 Presents manages my hometown music festival, so I would use Hunter to try to find email addresses from people who work for C3 Presents. Once you have this contact information, send a creative email with some additional music or video that did not make it to your application. You can also expand on your story and craft a narrative around why you think you should make it to the festival. It never hurts to ask!

Quality Over Quantity

It is very tempting to submit an application to every festival you can think of, but this strategy simply will not work. Think about it, if I am an Accountant and I apply to 200 job applications looking for doctors, it does not matter that I submitted 200 applications, I will not get any jobs! The same goes for festivals. If you are an EDM DJ and you submit your work to hundreds of Hip-hop festivals, you are wasting your time.

This is why it’s extremely important to pick a few festivals and spend a long time making sure your application is customized for that specific festival. Submissions are not a copy and paste activity, this is something that is going to take you awhile. As I mentioned earlier, picking just a few festivals will help you get more creative and contact people in different ways than just submitting an application.

What Happens if I Get Turned Down from Every Festival?

Let me tell you, this happens all the time! The music industry is extremely competitive, and there are thousands of DJs trying to do the exact same thing you are doing. If you are serious about becoming a DJ, you have to be ready to face rejection, it happens to all of us!

The good news is, the music industry is actually pretty small. This means that a lot of people know each other and you can use this to your advantage. If you can find someone in the industry to advocate for you, in a few years, something might line up and that’s when you can catch your big break.

How to Get a Professional Video as a DJ?

Not all of us can afford a high quality videographer to record us at gigs, and that’s perfectly fine. The way I first got my first high quality video was when I rented a nice camera from a camera rental shop and bought my friend dinner to come and video me! It cost about $100 in total, which is an amazing deal considering how much it can cost a professional videographer to come out and film.

If you cannot afford to pay anything right now, it is totally fine. There are tons of people trying to “make it” as a videographer, and you can find dozens of people on instagram who would probably video you for really cheap. Find a videographer who is just starting out and have them film you. Or you can trade with them and give them free DJ lessons in exchange for video. Be creative to make things happen.

How to Meet More People in the Music Industry as a DJ?

As I said earlier, the music industry is actually smaller than you think, which is awesome for us because that means forming relationships gives us a great opportunity.

If you are young, especially if you are in college, older people in the industry would probably be super happy to help. LinkedIn is a super helpful tool to find people in the music industry. Reach out to them and ask them to get coffee. You might face rejection a few times, but you will probably be able to land at least one meeting. Get to know this person and ask them if they can refer you to anyone else. Asking is key!

Overall, the key to getting jobs at music festivals as a DJ is to have your work ready and be creative. It never hurts to ask for anything, and always remember that EVERYONE goes through rejection, so be prepared. My first festival ended up being a local festival in my town, and since then, that booking has helped me grow my career. Good luck in your search!

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