Let’s face it, becoming a successful and famous DJ is likely to be on the agenda of any aspiring DJ. Knowing how to get there is a different set of education and direction.
How DJs Become Famous?
Becoming a famous DJ requires building up the necessary skills to DJ and produce music. Building a brand and marketing materials to support and showcase your talent will be the evidence that you can share to the world. Finally, networking to get gigs and get signed as a DJ producer will help to excel your career as a famous DJ.
In this article we’ll explore the insights into how the DJs we know and love today and how they have become the titans of their music scene. This article will give you the theory and blue print for you to push ahead towards being a famous DJ, or at least become a well known working DJ in your music scene.
Let’s look at some real life successful and famous household names in music and DJing. It’s actually amazing how different the backgrounds of all the DJs have acquired yet they seem to of transformed into famous and successful DJs. If they can, then I know you can too!
Let’s get stuck in and get inspired by their stories.
Started out as hobby DJ mixing at home, enthusiastic enough to enjoy DJing. Having his skill as a DJ, found that when on holiday in Spain with friends, helped out a bar man to play the music.
Having impressed the bar man and helping him out, Tiesto started DJing in the bar on his holiday and getting “paid” with drinks from him and his friends.
Fast forward in time, Tiesto started DJing with another DJ in front of larger crowds and then that’s when Tiesto realised that’s what he wanted to do as a life time career.
Now Tiesto is DJing in front of large crowds in massive venues in front of thousands of people.
It’s so inspiring hearing about someone who had a passion and hobby. Then got an opportunity to DJ in bar, met another DJ that gave .him the opportunity which led to the penny dropping and realisation that DJing is for him as a career. Now look where Tiesto is today!
Check out the video here for more inspiration.
As a young kid Skrillex started out hitting pots and pans to make rhythms. Fast forward slightly, his father then started playing music from bands like The Doors which then changed his perception of music and really inspired him.
Having discovered music, Skrillex at the time was around 16 years old started travelling a bit, and joined a rock band.
From there having realised that music makes him happy, he seemingly fell into becoming Skrillex and larger than life. Having dated Ellie Goulding might of helped too, haha!
Starting out working in a supermarket, Adam Wiles now known as Calvin Harris, created a bunch of instrumentals and moved to London as a young age. He started his goal of trying to get a record deal by finding vocalists to record on his instrumentals which didn’t work out so much for him.
Having hit a road block, moved back to his parents house and started pursuing music as a hobby and an interest.
Around the same time as myspace started becoming bigger and more established, Calvin Harris started adding people in the music industry to his myspace, included song writers and A&R type people.
In doing so and contacting people to listen to his music, got signed to EMI Publishing, and subsequently that same person is Calvin Harris’s manager today.
It’s actually crazy how networking and showing off your music can get you signed as an artist.
Now look at Calvin Harris now, DJing in Vegas on a regular basis.
Aspects of a famous DJ
Having personally researched and looked into various DJs and the common features and aspects of their careers, there’s actually quite a clear pattern related to them all.
- Music production of high class quality music
- Working with other artists that are already famous AKA “piggybacking” off of other artist’s success
- Online presence to highlight evidence of creativeness with DJing and music, plus your branding as a DJ e.g. music videos, artwork etc
- Promotion of achievements via social media, DJ related publications such as DJ Mag and Mixmag
- Signed to a well established record label, which massively helps with promotion too
- Been working hard in their craft for years, hit some hurdles but never gave up and found another path to success
- High desire and motivation to achieve a high level a status as a DJ
- All started somewhere, were clearly bad at music production and mixing music, prevailed by focusing on continuous improvement
- DJ’d in clubs and bars of a low calibre and ended up levelling up to the next level and size of venue, club or festival. Now DJing in front a large crowds of people at highly established festivals and clubs
The above points are all traits of famous DJs that are in the process or have achieved a level of success in their field.
Blue Print to Success
Now lets explore the move detailed steps that a DJ can explore to get towards a high level of success in an area of DJing. I’ve called this the ‘Blue Print to Success’.
This set of action steps is a sort of road map to tick off and aim to fulfil in order to build the necessary momentum towards snowballing your career as a “famous” DJ, and also producer for that matter.
Define success and fame in your eyes
Defining what famous and success looks like to you is really important. Some people DJing can have the aspirations of Calvin Harris for example or being famous on a more local or country level might be your desire.
Define what it is that you’re going after in terms of the level of success that you’re after and stick to it.
Decide on direction & goals
Pick your niche, who do you want to DJ for? You might want to be an EDM superstar, a Wedding DJ, Funky House DJ or even a Radio DJ.
Related to the above point, understand the timeline in which you want to achieve your goals.
Reverse engineering your goals can work really well. I find that when I’ve got a specific goal I pick a certain amount of time to fit in where I want or need to be.
For example you could say, “in 2 years time I’m going to have at least 2 DJ gigs at national level and local level bars/clubs, with a DJ sponsorship and a following of X amount of fans on YouTube“.
Then from there, once you’ve set your goals, breakdown into smaller chunks of say 3 months mini-goals of what you need to achieve.
The sum of smaller parts amount to one larger part. So putting in the effort into smaller parts at a high quality and consistent level will allow you to get to your goals quicker than you can ever imagine.
The experience and journey will teach you a lot if you delve right in as opposed to over analysing and not doing anything.
I wish I knew a lot of these points when I was starting out.
DJing & producing?
Deciding upon whether you want to be just a DJ or a DJ producer is important because at the beginning and links in with the two previous points very nicely.
Direction at the beginning is always the golden key to helping you push ahead your efforts in the right direction. Knowing the direction you want to go in the beginning certain helps this.
Changing your mind on your direction down the line doesn’t always help, but it’s not the end of your journey, it just takes some time to re-adjust.
Being a DJ vs a DJ Producer just has a different set of goals, audiences and niches that you can go after.
Learning the necessary skills
Learning the necessary skills quickly and early on will allow you to get up to speed and to a high level of DJing and music production. Therefore giving you a great platform to crack on and show off your musical talent.
DJing skills that are essential include:
- Beat matching by ear
- Using DJ software e.g. Rekordbox, Serato, Traktor
- Harmonic mixing
- Phrase matching
Music production skills include:
- Using DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) which include; Ableton, Cubase, Logic, FL Studio
- Sound design
- Music theory
- Learn basics of piano
- Mixing & Mastering
Knowing the above areas of DJing and production are only really the starting points to getting you going. More advanced techniques will become more apparent to learn as you excel as a DJ Producer.
Even if you’re moving towards being a full time DJ for any part of the music industry, knowing the basics of DJing is essential. Music production is certainly an added bonus, especially for when you’re editing your DJ mixes to promote online.
Learning from experiences as a DJ and producer will really help you evolve your skill set too. So get stuck in and don’t hesitate.
Pick a DJ name or “artist” name
Picking a name is quite a key part to getting your career started.
Making sure that a DJ name matches your scene and genre of music does really help. Let’s say for example, you wouldn’t expect the name Skrillex to be performing at a deep funk house set or a wedding.
Some people choose their own names or a made up name similar to Calvin Harris has done.
Split your name into two parts. An artist and musician called “Jordan Rakei” has created a pseudo name using the last three characters of his name “Dan Kye” which is a really cool technique if yours provides something that makes sense.
There are other ways to create a name too, for example picking one or two words that define you as an artist in your scene.
For example, “DJ Flight” (D&B), “Low Steppa” (Deep House), “Sam Divine” (Funky Deep House) all have a purpose to the DJs personally but also match the scene that they are DJing within.
Build up a diverse collection of music
In the digital world it’s easy to collate lots of music especially due to the price and how easy it is to download and or sign up to a record pool.
Focusing on quality over quantity of your music collection is key.
Collating a diverse set of music does help especially if you’re playing multiple gigs that suit different audiences.
If you’re focusing on one specific genre it certainly does help when colating music within your scene vs being an open format DJ.
Aim to get music that is harmonically compatible and also a range of energy to help you craft a dynamic DJ set. For example, having a few deep tracks, few vocal tracks, few rave-intense tracks will help you provide a more interesting DJ mix. You need to be able to take your listeners on a journey.
Getting hold of bootlegs, VIPs, remixes etc can help improve your music collection and therefore your DJ sets.
Put together regular DJ mixes for demo purposes that give you the opportunity to show case your skills and talent as a DJ.
Create a range of mixes that are relevant within your genre and music scene.
Some DJs create unique mixes, for example 90’s dance and house music only, or you can create a ‘fresh’ mix only featuring new music and finally you could explore creating a vocal vs non-vocal mix.
Focus on quality of mixes in terms of beat matching. Plan ahead of your mixes by setting cue points and markers to help you with phrase matching and mixing smoothly.
Focus on making music tracks and keep your production levels consistent so that you learn all the time. When you stop and start you’re likely to forget things you learnt before.
Continuously creating music will give you the confidence to move forward and not static.
Getting involved in online communities, forums and social media with like minded people will provide great nuggets of information within music production.
For example learning about where best to get samples, advanced settings on VSTs and also techniques for mix downs, the list is endless.
Get feedback, continuous feedback
Get feedback from friends, better yet feedback from like minded friends that are into music production. Those people are likely to give you honest feedback that’s actually useful. They’re more likely to point out which areas of your tracks you can improve on.
Mentors are another option to pursue to help you out getting feedback. Picking a mentor that’s got fantastic experience in the music industry is going to help excel your progress and a DJ and producer.
Mentors can give you the prop up that you need. They’ve been there before you, so why not learn from their experiences and get to your goals quicker.
I think this is how Calvin Harris got to his position so quickly with being scouted on Myspace and signed up by an A&R guy there. The guy that signed Calvin Harris is now is manager and has at least been some influence throughout his career. Getting a mentor is similar to this.
Check out these websites to get some better insight into music mentorship.
Start marketing and highlight your achievements online
Marketing yourself really needs to start with some sort of branding. Start with creating a logo for your DJ name that represents you and the music scene that you’re in.
Get some inspiration from other DJs by looking on fliers and festival websites. Usually there are a tonne of DJ brand name logos on there.
Speak to any friends who know designers that can help you out with creating a logo. Show them your design ideas on paper that you may (or not) have sketched out. Get the creative juices flowing and get a design finalised. You really don’t need to spend a lot on this. There are some free tools out there that you can use if you just want a clean cut font looking brand.
Follow this up by creating some banners and artwork to put onto a website, social media, YouTube, Soundcloud, Mixcloud etc. Make your DJ brand look super professional. Artwork does really show off who you are as an artist and projects a sense of professionalism.
Networking with music industry people
Networking with industry people, especially ones in your scene is key.
How you can do this is by meeting industry people in clubs and bars playing the same music as the music you’re aspiring to DJing and creating. Always have a demo to hand which you can share with people when the right time presents itself.
Check out my further advice here on networking.
Another method is to chat to like minded DJs, producers, club managers and workers on social media, forums and industry websites.
Remember! Be genuine and authentic, ask them questions about their careers and be a great conversationalist. And watch out, if they a negative person and potentially going to take advantage of you, then leave it, steer clear of those people.
Be friendly and supportive to the right people and you’ll receive the same back. You reap what you sow.
Here are some resources for you to get started and potentially inspire you to research into similar websites for your own genre.
Get signed to a label (or create your own)
Might sound unrealistic to most aspiring DJs but it’s true, getting signed to a label can really boost your career as a DJ producer. We’ve seen it with a lot of other artists out there such as Calvin Harris as seen at the start of this article.
Getting signed up to a label can be really useful in helping you get more visibility of your DJ brand. Exposure is a great thing with being signed to a label.
Further down the line I’ve seen other artists in certain genres move away from different labels to other labels. Interestingly enough, some DJs even create their own label to make their own path and help other DJs in the scene. Creating your own label does help you to control higher proportions of the profits arriving in your pocket.
Marginal gains and compounding actions towards success
Make a promise to yourself that you will remind yourself of the goals that you have set on a regular basis, especially when you are feeling low and de-motivated.
Focus on small, high quality actions each day, whatever stage you are at in this blue print towards DJing success and your definition of “fame” in your genre and music scene.
Small actions built up over a longer period of time compound your efforts to one large goal that you’ve set for yourself.
I wish you all the luck in the world on your DJing producer journey.
Go get what you deserve!
How do DJs get noticed?
DJs get noticed by being the best they are within their field and genre of music. Networking and promotion helps support your talent and showcases to a wider audience of your skills. A fanbase is another supporting factor for success too.
Is DJ a good career?
DJing can be a very fun job due to playing music to audiences that love the music. Demanding travel schedules can be intensive and not getting paid much money at the beginning can be short term negatives. Overall, DJing is a great career choice for someone who is dedicated to put in the effort long term, for many years to come.
Is being a DJ Hard?
Being a DJ can be hard if time is not spent learning the basic and advanced skills. Once the basics are learn DJing becomes easier. Areas that are challenging include marketing, networking, DJ set building, social media and business.
What age do most DJs start?
DJs can start at any age. There are young DJs that are known to of started DJing as teenagers. There are DJs that start later in life and become successful too.