How to get a DJ residency
As of this writing, I start my new residency in Denver in 2 days (Punchis @ Beta Nightclub). I’m really happy to be in this current position after years of struggling to get shitty gigs. I have a story to tell & a few lessons I’ve learned that should get you on the right path much more quickly than your current approach is taking you.
I wanted to share with you my experience over the last several months that lead me to where I currently find myself. It’s my goal that you can take something away form my experience.
Before moving to Denver, I was living in Iowa City. I had moved there to get away from the Los Angeles scene & regroup. I was originally hoping to be a big fish in a little pond, but soon found that although there is certainly a music scene out there, it would be a ton of work to try to break new ground there. There just wasn’t a proper venue that embraced the sound I was going for.
So after playing one 4 hour set to a fairly empty room with a crappy sound guy & walking away with $25, I realized that no matter how many gigs I played in this small city, all the work would probably have very little effect on my overall career. I decided it would be better to keep myself working in the studio & learning how to market myself better online. This would pay off when I arrived in Denver, which is where the real story begins.
I’ve never been a huge fan of moving. I was both excited and nervous to be coming to a big city & I wasn’t sure what this city would have in store for me. It could be great, or it could be a real drag. Luckily, within a week I had fallen in love with the city after taking a walk downtown.
The very first thing I did, is try to find out what was happening in the clubs. Thankfully I had some friends on twitter that steered me in the right direction. For me, it was Punchis @ Beta on Friday nights & Norad on Saturday. With these 2 locations I felt I had found what I had spent a very long time looking for.
Although Norad was bringing in great talent & I really enjoy the club, Punchis was much more personal, focusing on the fantastic local talent & working with a smaller budget bringing in gems that were hiding a bit under the radar. My kind of place!
The first time I went, I heard Sergei Loginov, one of Punchis’s 2 residents. His set really inspired me & I briefly introduced myself in passing. I had no pitch, no mixes to hand out, no selling myself at all. Just full support for what I was hearing. Of course in the back of my head, I was thinking “I would love to call this place home”.
When I got home, I hunted down Denver locals connected to the club. I wanted to get a feel for the scene & get into the conversation. It probably wasn’t the smartest idea to add 200 or so people I didn’t know. Not that there were any complaints from the people who would very soon become real life friends, but Facebook penalizes you for doing this and my account got restricted a couple of times. So if you plan on doing something similar, use caution.
While adding friends, I also found residents Andre & Sergei. Since I hadn’t yet met Andre, I hit up Sergei with a quick hello to let him know I was really enjoying what he was doing & that I’d be out to support him again. I didn’t think he’d remember me, so I was surprised when he said “Oh, I remember you, I thought you looked like a rock star”.. haha Cool! So we planned on meeting up at the club & having a chat.
So Sergei & I meet up at the club & seem to hit it off pretty well. Suddenly I am being introduced to the promoters & friends and everybody is very open arms. I felt incredibly welcome. Still, I had nothing to sell, no elevator pitch. None of that. I was there to support & learn what makes this place tick.
Over the next couple of weeks I started sharing a bit about myself & some of my story. I didn’t push too hard though. In fact, I was asked if I was interested in playing for them & I responded with “I’d love to play for you some time but not yet. I don’t want to insult you or what you’ve built here by not fully understanding what this club is about before I play. I want to soak up what works here & what doesn’t, so I can give you the best I have to offer”.
I was honest & I was sincere. I was also confident that my time would come if I just relaxed a bit.
I hope you paid attention to that last section. It really IS important.
Over the next couple of weeks, I got to know the residents, the promoters & the regulars more. I was also asked a 2nd time if I was ready to play, which I kindly declined with a promise that I would be ready soon & would bring a mix & some of my music.
After about 8 weeks, I felt it was the right time to share my stuff. I had built the relationships enough to where what I did artistically would actually matter to them. I was informed that this would be one of the first demos they received that they would be certain to listen to.
There is a big lesson to be learned here. Wherever it is you want to go in life, it will come through people & the relationships you build. Don’t put your own interests above the value you can offer through strong relationships.
The following week I was out of town & I didn’t hear back regarding my mix & my music. I assumed they probably liked it, but it didn’t really stand out for them.
A week later, I realized I was dead wrong.
They had gone out of town themselves and had played my music multiple time on their road trip. Everyone that heard it absolutely loved it! They gave me compliments that I’m a bit embarrassed to mention here, so I’ll just leave it at that 😉
Following that, I wasn’t only considered to be a part of their club family, but an actually part of the team. They asked me to become their 3rd Resident DJ, to which I graciously accepted.
All the time I spent learning about marketing and fine tuning my craft really paid off as well. I was able to find areas that I could improve for them & help them grow. I selflessly spent my own money testing out certain techniques (with their permission of course) until I was able to show that it was worth the investment. I now work very closely on the business side of things, although I don’t get involved with the booking & scheduling.
The way I see it. both residents at this club are top level talent, even though they often do opening slots for guest DJ’s, I want it to be known that this is headlining talent. I wanted to do my best to build their reputation, as I consider them to be some of the best in Denver (which is home to a LOT of great talent, it turns out).
How I personally benefit from this is that I am able to be associated with great talent when I finally start my residency (9-20-13).
Breaking things down
Although I like to tell stories, it’s more important to me that you get something out of it, so here are some tips I can give you if you are wanting to get more DJ gigs at better spots.
1. Build relationships first
Never introduce yourself as a DJ or producer & don’t try to force your music links on the people you first meet. They don’t know you & their guard is up. If you introduce yourself as a person with little value to give but desperate to get something from them, you are going to fail. Even if the only thing you can offer is your support for what they are doing, that is a start.
2. Don’t hit and run
I have been guilty of this myself. You come out to a gig once trying to pimp yourself to the promoter and you never return to the club. Then you become a pain in the ass by email wondering if they listened to your stuff. Sorry, if you don’t want to join their family, they certainly won’t want to join yours.
3. It’s not a competition
Your best “in” to getting gigs (assuming you are good at what you do) is to do everything you can to help the DJ’s who are currently regulars there. Once again, be their biggest supporter. Ask how you can help & offer ideas that will bring them to a higher level. In my case, this includes promotion & assistance with their music productions. These people are NOT you competition, these are your team, your allies. Don’t forget that!
4. Only after you have added value…
Do not pimp your DJ mixes or music until you have given something of value to them. If you offer no value, they have no reason to care about what you are up to. If you try to pimp yourself at this stage, you might as well slam your dick in a door repeatedly, because you just killed most of your chance of building a solid relationship that can lead to you being offered a spot.
I hate to say it, but if you want to DJ these days, you better learn to produce. If you aren’t a great producer, at least try to partner with someone who is. It’s imperative that you get some music out. People rarely want to put time and effort into a DJ who doesn’t already have a fan base & the best way for people to discover you is through the music you make.
6. Surround yourself with likeminded people
I can’t stress this enough. I’ve spent most of my career surrounding myself with people who only marginally understood what I was all about. This can be really draining when you pour your soul into your art only to get a confused reaction. This can make you feel like you are doing something wrong, when in reality they just don’t “get” you. You can never get full support form those who don’t “get” you, and your journey will be unbalanced at best.
7. Don’t settle
Contrary to popular belief, it is only marginally more difficult to get yourself into a bigger club than it is to settle for a so-so club that doesn’t meet your needs. Remember, it’s only people you are dealing with, and if they can sense both your passion and commitment to the scene, it will only be a matter of time. Playing 1 gig at the right club can do more for your career than 100 gigs at a club that isn’t right for you. If you don’t have anywhere in your area that can help you build your DJing career, you might want to consider moving. It certainly worked for me.
8. Learn Marketing
This might not be as important as the others, but then again it could be extremely helpful in getting gigs. If you can offer a way to get more asses into a club (for everyone, not just yourself), you will likely be handed the keys to the mansion.
8. Don’t get complacent
If you follow the above, you will likely find yourself getting more gigs or even residencies. This is not the time to get too comfortable. Your job is to be on the cutting edge of your art. That is what you are paid to do. Don’t slack just because you got the gig. Always bring your “A game” as if it’s the gig that you will always be remembered for.
In the next post, I’ll talk a bit about releasing tracks & what I have learned about the process.