Can you work a crowd with just ‘two turntables and a microphone?’* Have you ever ‘saved anyone’s life from a broken heart?’** Has anyone ever come up to you whilst you’re playing music out of a speaker and said: “I just want to rock, because you’re making me feel alright!”*** If so, you may well have all the necessary skills to become a professional DJ.
Essentially, a DJ works in the music industry, playing at clubs, at festivals and on the radio, playing out music that may or may not be theirs, to promote dancing and having a good time. They operate across many genres, although most commonly in the Dance and Hip-Hop fields, but key to the profession is the selection of tracks that please the crowds and the ability to ‘mix’ – which is to play two tracks seamlessly into one another to provide gapless music.
This skill is very much earned through hard graft and the tricks of the trade involve a variety of skills with music. An in-depth knowledge of your genre is vital, as is being able to vary your style for different audiences. The life of a DJ is one which many envy, but there are a lot of people trying to make it and a lot of people to please, so to hit the heights you need passion, determination and a work-ethic that is second to none.
*Mantronix – Needle To The Groove
**Indeep – Last Night A DJ Saved My Life
*** Robbie Williams – Rock DJ
Salary & benefits
This is a tricky one. There’s no real gauge on how much a DJ can earn per year – most work freelance, picking up fees for individual gigs and shows that they play. On the Radio, if you’re lucky enough to secure a slot on a station, your wages would be more stable and shows are just a way of topping that up. The better known you are and the bigger your brand, the more you can charge, just like live musicians. The net worth of the world’s biggest DJs is huge – Fatboy Slim, for example, is worth over £20 million, but there’s a lot of work to do before you get to that stage!
This is very much not your standard nine-to-five, with the working hours tending to be in the evenings, in terms of Club promotions. On the radio, things can vary somewhat, but the best DJs work hard all the time. Charlie Sloth, BBC Radio 1’s Grime Resident, for example, does six radio shows a week on Radio 1 and 1Xtra, and still played over one hundred live shows last year.
A lot of DJs claim that you get out what you put in, so if you want to be successful you need to be working hard constantly to try and get your name out there.
This one is all about you – if you want to make it in this profession, you need to hone your craft until you’re confident, and then get out on the circuit and start playing as many gigs as possible, reaching an audience and building a presence. Trying to create a buzz around yourself with your skills and selection, before finding a residency in a Club is one of the most common ways a DJ comes up, but this is by no means a sure fire way to enter the upper echelons of the industry.
Many DJs these days are also producers, which means they make their own music to play, and by doing this you can find a route in more similar to that of a traditional musician.
There are, however, DJs out there who are not artists, simply selectors. The likes of Jackmaster have shown it is possible to make it in the industry by just being talented on the decks, and so you can choose which route you wish to attempt, and you can always change along the way.
Training & progression
It’s extremely important to stay up to date with new trends in music as well as continually honing your skills, as both will allow you to increase the tightness of your sets and their relevance to your audiences. The best DJs can mix the old and the new, keeping crowds engaged over long periods of time.
As in many industries, the rate at which you can improve your standing is high, but not guaranteed – you have to keep trying and often just catch a lucky break to get your name up in lights, but if you stay focused, keep improving and always be on the lookout for opportunities, you put yourself in the best possible position.