When I attended my first music festival in 2011, I saw Skrillex perform live. I remember the rush of hearing the bass drop and the entire crowd going insane. There was so much energy that day and I wanted more. After that performance, I knew I wanted to start getting into DJing somehow.
Ever since then, I have been creating my own music and performing at parties around my college. It has been a ton of fun and gives me that same feeling I did at the Skrillex concert.
If you want to be a DJ, you probably ask yourself, is being a DJ a good career? The short answer is, yes! Being a DJ can be a great career, but it’s all about managing expectations. Making it to the top of the DJ scene (aka Tiesto, Martin Garrix, etc) is extremely difficult, but DJing on the side in addition to having a second job is very doable.
Ultimately, the definition of a good DJ career is completely up to you. Today I want to explain all the things I have learned as a DJ through my own experience and research, and hopefully this will give you a better idea in determining if a DJ career is right for you. This article should not deter you from getting started DJing, but it should give you a more realistic viewpoint of DJing!
DJ Careers – The Great Parts of Being a DJ:
- Monetary opportunity: Top DJs in the world can make hundreds of thousands of dollars in one night of performing. With that kind of upside, it’s hard not to want to be a DJ. It’s pretty cool when you get to perform in front of thousands of people screaming your name and then being well paid afterwards.
- The thrill of being a DJ: Call it whatever you want, the energy, the thrill, the happiness – there is something special about having a crowd go crazy when you play the right kind of music. There’s no better feeling then this adrenaline rush you get when you play a special show. It is truly hard to describe, but you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Chasing this feeling is how a lot of DJs first got started.
- Attention, girls, etc: There are many awesome parts about being a DJ, and you can’t complain about the love and attention you get sometimes during/after a gig. There are so many awesome opportunities that come from DJing, and you will get to meet some amazing people along the way.
- The list goes on forever: If you’re reading this article, you have probably experienced some of the positives of being a DJ, whether it be you saw a great DJ performance or you’re friends with a DJ. You probably already know all the great parts about being a DJ, but what you’re really here for is to read about some of the negatives, which brings us to our next section.
DJ Careers – The Not so Great Parts of Being a DJ:
- Playing for free: You are probably going to have to play for free quite a bit in the beginning before you start getting paid. That’s just the nature of the business. When you start DJing, you want any opportunity to play and get experience under your belt. It’s really hard to land a paid gig when you have never performed before. If you are the type of person who assigns a monetary value to everything you do, DJing might be a difficult career. My first few gigs were free and I was completely fine with it, but it’s something I want to give you a heads up on.
- Music becomes your job: At first, having music be a huge part of your career sounds great, who wouldn’t want that? But you’ll quickly realize that many times you aren’t playing music you actually like, you are playing popular music to appease a crowd of people. This can be exhausting and make you less excited to listen to music for pleasure. That passion for music that you first had can quickly go away if you are not careful. This is definitely something I noticed as I started advancing in my DJ career.
- Being a DJ won’t be your only career: When you first start out, I can almost guarantee that you will have another job besides DJing. Landing gigs and getting experience takes a lot of time, and you won’t have a steady income for quite awhile. In the meantime, you’ll need a second job to support you. This is exactly why I suggest doing DJing on the side for fun instead of trying to make it a full-time career. It’s extremely stressful when you are constantly worrying about money as a DJ.
- Being around a lot of drunk people: DJing in front of a crazy crowd of people can definitely be fun, but seeing people night after night that are extremely intoxicated is not very pleasant. If you want to be on top of your game, you can’t really be drunk while performing. Being around drunk people when you’re completely sober can be brutal. Sometimes it makes you question whether you want to be a DJ at all. This is just something to keep in mind.
- Equipment can be expensive: A solid DJ setup can cost you anywhere between $3,000-$4,000, and if things break, it will cost you even more. That might not sound like a lot to you if you’re older and have accumulated some wealth, but when you were a college student like me, $3,000-$4,000 is not easy to come up with. The good news is that if you’re on a budget, I have made a complete guide to cheap DJing equipment that will get you started without breaking the bank.
- The music industry is screwed up: The music world is interesting because many times, the most skilled/talented artists and DJs don’t necessarily rise to the top. There are a lot of factors that go into being a popular artist/DJ, and many of them are out of your control. For example, if you have absolutely zero connections to anyone in the industry, it’s super hard to break into. Also, you have agents who might be trying to screw you over. I have heard countless stories of people signing contracts with agents who take 60-80% of income from booking a show. It makes you question whether anyone is actually genuine in the industry.
- You will travel a lot: If you are lucky enough to find success in multiple places besides your own city or state, you will be traveling all the time. And this travel isn’t fun and relaxing like that last vacation you took, it’s exhausting and will have you forgetting what time zone you are in. There will be constant jet lag and sleep deprivation, but that’s just part of the lifestyle. If you really enjoy traveling, this might be a positive for you instead of a negative.
- You will hear criticism: Having thick skin is crucial as a DJ. If you didn’t play a song that someone requested, get ready for them to come up to you and let you know about it. If you make music that gets popular, people will review it and some will rate it poorly. There will be criticism throughout your career, and you have to understand that it’s part of being a DJ.
- It’s a constant grind: In the beginning, you have to wear 10 hats at once, whether that means being your own agent and landing gigs through networking and hustling or watching YouTube videos that help you hone in your skills. You will also have to go support other DJs and stay up late at bars at events trying to meet other people. Sometimes it just feels like a constant grind, and it can be overwhelming if you are not careful.
These are just some things to be wary of when you get started. Nothing great comes easy, and DJing is a perfect example of this! If it makes you feel better, I still choose to DJ despite going through these things, because the positives completely outweigh the negatives!
DJ Careers – Set Yourself Up For a Good Career:
- Live in a city with active nightlife: The demand for DJs is way higher in places where nightlife is a big deal. If you’re from a small town in Idaho, chances are your DJ career won’t take off unless you are more of an artist/producer making music and not a DJ. If you’re trying to get really serious about DJing, it might be worth it to a bigger city. Maybe cities like New York or LA aren’t your thing. No problem! Move to a fast-growing city, like Austin, Texas or Denver, Colorado. The competition will be much less there than in those massive cities anyways!
- Build your following from day 1: With social media being such an integral part of everyone’s life, you have to be active on platforms where people are. I wrote a detailed guide explaining exactly how you should run your social media, so go check it out here. I can’t stress enough how important it is.
- Make DJing your side gig: My best advice would be to start DJing on the side before you drop everything and become a full-time DJ. That way you aren’t constantly stressed about having to make ends meet and wondering if you will ever catch your first big break. If you start getting recognition and see a future in DJing, you can drop your other job. This is the safest option!
- Network with 1 person a week: Networking is everything in the music business. I made it a goal of mine to try to meet one person a week in the business, whether that be a promoter, bar owner, DJ, etc. And this meeting doesn’t have to be in person, places like LinkedIn are perfect for meeting people and talking with them over the phone or email. Networking is one of those things that feels like wasted time until someone in your network is responsible for your next big job.
- Be positive and surround yourself with positivity: In DJing, there are some things you can’t control, but you can always control your outlook on things. Is your first gig taking a little longer than you expected? Just imagine how much sweeter it will be when you finally get it. Staying positive as DJ is huge and something that you will get better with over time. Also, having a support system of friends and family to help encourage you can be very helpful. I’m always encouraged by my friends and they have helped me get to where I am today.
- Remember why you started: Everyone has a reason why they got interested in DJing. Whenever things get hard, look back to the beginning when you fell in love with music and the rush of a live performance. This always helped me when I started and it’s still something I do to this day.
Overall, I hope this post showed you some of the things to look out for when starting a DJ career. Like I said, I think DJing should not be your only career. It’s a perfect hobby to have on the side of a normal job, and you can still experience many of the same things full-time DJs do when you’re just doing it part time. If you are lucky enough to get popular, you can ultimately be a full-time DJ!
If you’re not having fun as a DJ, stop immediately. There is definitely plenty of work involved in being a DJ, but it should be a ton of fun and something that you look forward to.
One last piece of advice I have is to try to find a mentor. Find someone, whether that be through LinkedIn, email, networking events, etc, and have them help you as you are just beginning. Having someone as a resource is huge and helps you avoid many of the pitfalls that I warned you about in this article.
So, is being a DJ a good career? I guess you will have to decide for yourself 🙂