How to Become a Disc Jockey

DJs are cool, love what they do, and make lots of money doing it. Well, at least some of them do, like David Guetta, Steve Aoki or Tiesto. However, not everyone is a world-famous super-celebrity DJ, but many do make a very successful career out of it.

The first thing to remember when you consider becoming a DJ is to realize that playing at large stadiums or clubs are not the only options. You can DJ at a radio station, online, at parties and events, produce your own music, or own a company that provides DJ services. Whichever you choose, you must love and know music. Studying different genres and learning the trends is extremely important.

If you love music and know the type of DJ you want to become, the next thing to consider is the fact that DJing is actually hard work. It looks pretty simple as if you just go up to the booth and mix some tunes. Well, that’s of course part of it, but there is a lot of work that comes with it. Your main goal is to make sure that your audience, whether it’s the club crowd, drivers listening to the radio in the car, or a wedding party, enjoy every beat you play. What does this mean? That it takes a lot of preparation. You’ll need to learn the skills, learn the music, get a feel for your audience, and basically, be an expert at what you do. Besides this, to even begin landing gigs, you’ll need to market and sell yourself, which will involve a lot of networking and branding.

So does this sound like your type of thing? If so, you should check out this infographic followed by advice from experts we interviewed.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

John Michael Hydo

Tomorrow’s Event Productions – Owner

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Company:
  • Twitter:
  • John Michael Hydo
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • 24
  • Tomorrow’s Event Productions, Inc.
  • @JohnHydo

I went to a junior college and then decided that I could make more money being a DJ than by sitting at a desk. I was young and looking for a way to earn a living. One Saturday night I went to a wedding and saw the DJ and thought, “I could do that.” I approached the DJ and got his business card. I called the company that he worked for and asked for a job.

My first gig was at a biker bar in 1987 when people still spun records. Two years later, I was getting requests for gigs so often that I decided to take my career to the next level and thought of DJing as less of a hobby and more like a consistent way to make money. I bought out the company that had hired me and began my days as a DJ-preneur. I grew the business to have multiple DJ systems and started hiring other talent. When clients started asking me to do other services, like lighting, video, photography, and audio-visual – I said yes.

One of my favorite added services is to mix music videos while DJing. Crowds go crazy for it and love the added visual effect. Because of all of the added services, my company started to grow at an amazing rate. I began traveling nationwide and then internationally to perform and produce events. I have worked with top fortune 500 companies, and one of the companies was in the top 3.

When you perform for a living, it is very important that you take care of yourself. I work out before I come to work and make sure I have eaten something. You won’t be very friendly to your clients or co-workers on an empty stomach! Most days I write proposals, send contracts, check in on the venue I will be performing at next, confirm other vendors that I will be working with, create playlists and test equipment, all for events that are coming up. I also return a lot of emails and make phone calls. Laughter is a big part of the day…I play music, have fun, and laugh a lot. Nobody wants to hire a glum DJ.

My job is so incredibly satisfying to me. On the social side of our business, I get to be part of our clients’ life celebrations. My work is extremely hard, and it takes lots of hours to creatively design, prep, and execute an event. Hard work is part of the job. It feels good to watch doors open to a ballroom and to see people immediately get a smile on their face, start to do a little dance, and pull out their smartphones to video the lighting, decor, and DJ laying down the soundtrack to the event that I spent so much time on. It’s hard to believe sometimes that I get paid to do this for a living. The only dislike, if there is one, is that it is a lot of weekend work. When you have a family, it takes a lot of organization to manage calendars and to make sure that you aren’t missing out on your own events while DJing someone else’s.

Advice

Be serious about the business
Yes, it is a fun business to get into, but you have to take the business side very seriously if you want to make a living at it. Join a professional organization like the American Disc Jockey Association, get insurance, create a professional contract, buy top of the line gear, get a business bank account, get your music organized, and be a great music programmer and music mixer. These are all the building blocks that will enable you to have a competitive advantage over the DJ company up the street. People want to hire a professional, so give them a professional experience.

Learn the ropes
There are so many avenues to explore now, like never before. There are great tutorials on YouTube, DJ classes in some neighborhood schools, DJ conventions to go to, professional organizations that have local chapters like the American Disc Jockey Association. Go to clubs; listen to the radio to get song ideas; the internet is a fantastic tool; go talk to other DJ’s, and practice, practice, practice. If you want to work on your interactive MC skills, take an acting class and a dance class. High paid DJ’s/MC’s know how to interact with the crowd and some teach interactive dances to the crowds.

Have the basics down
Can you set up your equipment in 1/2 an hour? Does your equipment work 100% of the time? Do you have your music organized in compelling playlists? Can you select and mix music that moves people? Do you have a professional contract and insurance? Do you have business cards? If you said yes to all of these questions, you can start DJing events. Once you have the basics down, you can start by approaching DJ companies and letting them know that you interested in doing whatever it takes to learn the business. You can start a Facebook page and start Tweeting to let people know about your new groovy business. You can also reach out to family members and friends that might be having a party, and offer your services. You need to get in front of people and “play that funky music” to hone your new DJ “techniques”. Soon, you will have the “skillz to pay the billz”.

Oscar Gomez

Disc Jockey

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Company:
  • Twitter:
  • Oscar Gomez
  • Goodyear, AZ
  • 25
  • Self-employed Disc Jockey
  • @azmixxmasters

I started in 1985 as a hobby and I really loved music. Then I decided to start a DJ business and did it up until 1991. At this time, I took time off to start a family. I went from being a ‘regular’ DJ to competing in national DJ competitions, as well as state competitions. I held the Arizona State championship as #1 Battle DJ for 8 years.

Depending on the size of the job, I get my trailer cleaned out, loaded, check equipment, ensure lights are charged, and equipment is clean. I download music, prepare video montage, and review the schedule for the event. Then I have a last call with customer to go over last minute details to ensure everything is ready. I do spend quite a bit of time online listening to music and reviewing online video tutorials to see what else I can learn. I love working with large crowds, helping people enjoy their night, or being able to make the event special for a couple. Most people think the DJ just plays music; however, he/she is responsible for ensuring your events for the night flow smoothly. What I dislike though are the late hours.

I wish I had known how to run this as a professional business as opposed to a hobby from the beginning of my career. However, this allowed me to focus more, later on the professional side because I was a veteran DJ. There are a number of things to learn for the professional side: weddings, quincenera’s, birthdays, anniversary parties. They are all handled differently and each culture is different too.

Advice

Learn the background
If doing it professionally, get educated on the business side and all genres of music. Invest in your business; it is the only way it will go somewhere. There are many videos or tutorials available online for various softwares and products. Do your research! You can now take accredited classes that are offered for radio, club, or mobile DJing.

Use social media wisely
Network with local DJ’s, and ask to attend some of their events to gain a better understanding of the process. This will allow you to build relationships, as well as learn the business. In addition, you are in the public eye when DJing, so keep this in mind when using your Twitter, Facebook and/or Instagram accounts.

P.I. Barrington

Radio Publishing

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Type of Business:
  • Twitter:
  • P.I. Barrington
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • 6
  • Radio Publishing
  • @PIBARRINGTON

I began in college radio in the late 70’s, as part of my major in communications. I originally chose journalism and ended up as editor of my college newspaper at Mt. San Antonio College. My goal was to work in the music industry, which I eventually did. Most of what I learned about the music industry I’d learned on my own through trades though; radio is such an integral part of that; you can’t separate them in any way.

Most air talent generally have assigned 4-hour shifts on the air, and it isn’t just playing songs. You have a clock that you work by: top of the hour (say 1:00 p.m.) or bottom of the hour (1:30 p.m). Every hour you play or say the call letters of the station along with the main major cities the station broadcasts to; you play commercials at certain times during that hour, make announcements, announce songs, or you do the Emergency Broadcast System test. Off-air talent is usually assigned production work, which is creating/recording ads or public service announcements, or adding a tag to the end of a commercial (“See website for license fees and details…”). You’re assigned a number of hours in the production (recording/editing) room or computer room to do this work. It’s all very high tech now.

Radio generally is performing live and that can be a tremendous amount of fun, but it can wear you out a little. The best part is that you get to play music that you love and hear new music constantly. When you work in radio as a pro, you follow the playlist they give you – you don’t play what you want or like, you play the station’s list of songs.

I think the only part of radio that can be discouraging is that many times you have to follow the job–moving to other cities to find a new station. I think it’s a young person’s job–at least for new music stations. There are stations that are established in every city, big or small, and are generally an established format like music, news, or talk radio. If you want to stay put, you work toward getting a job at those stations.

Advice

Radio is still a job
You have to take it seriously and understand that it is work and that just because you like a certain type of music doesn’t mean you’re going to play only what you like. You will work at every different style of music station and news and talk radio. Your job is as an announcer/air talent, and then you may become part of the management: music director, news director, station manager, or program manager depending on the size and ownership of each station. Working in radio is a career if you’re serious enough about it.

Start in college
You learn how to modulate your voice, how to enunciate clearly, how to read copy aloud,  and the technical side and production side. Even taking a college course in radio broadcasting part-time will teach you and give you experience. You’ll also get a major taste of how radio management works. You can act as the above mentioned directors at college stations as well. There are professional broadcasting schools, but mostly college classes cost less, though they might take more time.

Start small if you can
Nowadays, most mid to large stations are part of entertainment broadcasting corporations, such as Clear Channel/iHeartRadio networks. They’re national, and you’ll hear the “iHeartRadio” concerts and contests all over them. There are still some independent stations, and that includes public broadcasting stations. You don’t have to, but I suggest starting small if you can just to build an experienced resume and to show your experience at a pro station in different formats (news, talk, music). Smaller stations can be gold mines of experience and learning.

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Disc Jockey?


Let’s be honest, you don’t really need to go to college to learn how to DJ. There are many self-learning tools online, such as web tutorials and articles. You can also find software, which will help you get started on mixing music. Some recommendable software programs are Virtual DJ Home, Mixxx, and Traktor Pro 2. Besides this, you can self-teach by studying different genres of music and learning about the industry.

You can also go to DJing schools. You won’t exactly get a degree there, but they will teach you about the different techniques, equipment, how to use it, and often give you some business in-site. On the other hand, they will also help you get a network going by connecting with your professors and peers. You’ve got many options here and will probably be able to find schools within your community, but a few bigger ones are the Scratch DJ Academy, Dubspot, Spin Academy, and the DJ School.

However, you might also want to get a college degree. It’s unlikely that you will find a program that offers a degree in DJing, but you can take a music-related degree, for example in Music Production. This will allow you to understand how music is created, produced, and what might be the most crucial part –how it is marketed. You will get a chance to learn about the industry, plus you can continue practicing your DJing skills while you are in college. If a degree is something you’d like to have under your belt, then this is a win-win deal, since you will also have a back-up career once you graduate.

WHAT IF I DO WANT A DEGREE IN MUSIC PRODUCTION?

You definitely have the option of attending your local community college to get a generic music education degree. However, we have included some of the top music production schools in the U.S. here.

  • Berklee College of Music
    The Berklee College of Music in Chicago is one of the top schools in the U.S. for music-related programs. Their music production and engineering department offers major and minor options, as well as summer workshops. The programs are very hands-on and have all the necessary equipment for students to practice on. Tuition for degree programs is $37,800 per year.
  • Full Sail University
    FSU offers both online and onsite options for those looking to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Music Production. Their campus, located in Winter Park, Florida, offers latest technology and a special focus on all things tech. You also have the option of getting an associate degree in recording arts. Campus tuition is an average of $14,286 per semester and online tuition is about half, at $7,125 per semester.
  • New York University – Steinhardt School of Music
    NYU offers a Music Technology program, focused on music, audio, and sound technology. The location is, of course, a great option for aspiring DJs, since you will be in a hot-spot for the music scene. The school has a state-of-the-art studio for hands-on learning. NYU offers undergraduate and master level studies, as well as accelerated programs and summer workshops. Average tuition here is $18,924 per semester.
  • John Hopkins University – The Peabody Institute
    Located in Baltimore, The Peabody Institute offers bachelor and master level studies in Music and Studio Sciences. The program is a combined degree, which corresponds to the requirements of a general music degree, and additionally covers recording arts and sciences. Current tuition is $41,190 per year.

GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR

Once you have gotten the general DJing skills down and have developed a style and genre of your own, it’s time to get your name out there. This may not be easy, since you are not alone in the industry. The first thing you’ll need to do is make a brand for yourself. This doesn’t just mean a cool name, but also a web presence, a website or a blog, a Facebook and a Twitter account, as well as things like business cards, your look, and the type of music you play.

Your brand will partially depend on you but also on the type of DJ you are. For example, if you mix at clubs your business cards and website will probably look different than if you are looking to land gigs such as weddings and birthday parties.

Once you have established who you are as a DJ, you will need to market yourself. While your online presence will help you get started with that, you will also have to network. A lot! Meet people everywhere, whether they are in the industry or not. Offer free or cheap gigs to your friends and family. Make sure people know you are a DJ, you are up for taking on new gigs, and that you play great music. You can also get in touch with local DJ organizations or other DJs and companies; they might help you land your first jobs.

You should also continue to learn about the industry, even if you have already established your own style. Check out DJs who play something different. This will help with networking but also with your own music, since you might learn something new from pretty much anyone.