If you’re thinking about pursuing a career as a DJ, you may be wondering where to start. For those wondering how to become a DJ, this guide was written with you in mind.
In the following sections, you’ll learn:
To become a professional DJ, you first need to decide which type of DJ you want to be.
Depending on your interests and goals, there are many different specializations to pursue. Because each DJ career path comes with a distinctive set of advantages and disadvantages, it’s important to carefully consider the type of DJ you want to become.
Some of the more popular DJ career path options include:
Radio DJs or “disk jockeys” as they used to be called are the OGs of the DJ business. This DJ specialization involves working for a radio station (digital or traditional) and planning the music that will be played over the air.
Some Radio DJs are given a show in which they are expected to interview guests, offer commentary on current events, promote ad partners, and update listeners on news and weather, in addition to planning and executing the set list.
Other Radio DJs are simply responsible for setting the playlist for the day and letting it roll.
At the end of the day, the responsibilities of a Radio DJ depend on the age, size, and objective of the station that employs them. While a large private station may expect a Radio DJ to take on the role of a public figure, a smaller public station may not even require a DJ to speak.
If you are interested in becoming a radio DJ, it may be helpful to get involved as an intern to learn the ropes.
Many universities sponsor a student-operated station with a low barrier to entry for getting involved. If you are not a college student, you may find a similar opportunity at the local public broadcasting station or a small or medium-sized private station.
Those interested in becoming a Radio Personality or Talk show host on a major private station may need to pursue a degree in communications, journalism, broadcasting, or another liberal arts major to qualify.
Oftentimes, even after earning a degree, Private Radio DJ hopefuls will still need to work their way up through the ranks, spending time as an intern, equipment operator, scheduler or weather announcer before being given a shot at real airtime.
If you’re looking for more information about becoming a Radio DJ, this Career Roadmap from study.com can point you in the right direction.
Unlike a Radio DJ or Talk Show Host, a Private Event DJ works as an independent contractor. While working for yourself can carry many advantages, the life of an Entrepreneur is not for everyone.
Booking gigs at Weddings, Corporate Events, Private Parties and other social gatherings can be a full-time job in itself and managing the finances, marketing, sales, and logistics of a business can be time-consuming and difficult.
Private event DJs are also responsible for buying and maintaining their own equipment in addition to protecting it from loss or damage.
While DJ insurance (LINK) can help replace your equipment when something goes wrong, buying, maintaining, and protecting your DJ equipment can add another layer of complexity and expense to working as a DJ.
Another important consideration for people thinking about a career as a Private Event DJ is the likelihood of limitations being placed on your creative freedom. Private DJs are often expected to take requests and honor censorship guidelines set by an event host.
Despite these considerations, working as an Event DJ can be an incredibly rewarding experience.
Unlike many of the other specializations discussed in this guide, a Private Event DJ truly works for themselves. Being your own boss means being able to choose your own hours, deciding the types of clients you want to work with, and taking time off at your leisure.
If you’ve ever been to a bar or a club, there’s a good chance you danced to or enjoyed the music of their resident DJ.
In the interest of creating an enjoyable place to be, most dance clubs and many popular bars employ an in-house DJ to handle the music. Resident DJs are typically given the freedom to play the songs they want, as long as those songs are keeping patrons happy and attracting people to the venue.
Depending on the bar or club, a resident DJ may be expected to bring some of their own equipment (i.e. turntable, laptop, etc.) to work.
That said, many places that employ a resident DJ typically have an in-house PA, mixer, cables, and lights permanently installed on site. This can lower the cost of getting into the business for a new DJ and make set-up and teardown much easier than it is for a Private event, independent, or touring DJ.
Depending on whether the venue hires you an actual employee or Independent contractor, working as a resident DJ may also get you access to benefits like health insurance and paid leave.
All benefits aside, working as an in-house DJ can also have some downsides. For starters, outside of playing a day club or vegas pool, the work schedule of a resident DJ typically involves working late hours. While this might be a perfect fit for a night owl, working from 9PM-4AM isn’t for everyone.
Another important thing to consider before deciding to become a Resident DJ is the potential pitfalls of working at a bar or club. Oftentimes a resident DJ is held responsible for attendance at the venue they play, regardless of the reality of the situation.
The last thing you want is to find yourself out of a job because the promoters or bar staff aren’t pulling their weight. Unfortunately for many resident DJs, this threat is just a cost of doing business.
In the interest of avoiding some of the pitfalls of working as a resident DJ, some DJs decide to work independently.
Essentially a hybrid cross between a Resident DJ and Private Event DJ, an Independent DJ books and plays gigs in bars and clubs as an independent contractor.
While working independently can offer some freedoms beyond what is possible as a resident DJ, these freedoms come at a cost. The most important consideration in deciding whether or not to become an Independent DJ is whether the costs outweigh the benefits for you.
Some of the advantages of becoming an Independent DJ include:
Some of the disadvantages of working as an Independent DJ Include:
As you can probably tell, the decision to become an Independent DJ should be based on a careful consideration of the advantages and disadvantages listed above.
If you’re a self-starter with an entrepreneurial mindset, you will likely enjoy working independently more than you would enjoy working in-house. That said, the added responsibility of working as an independent contractor can be a burden that takes away from your time and ability to create.
For those on the fence, it never hurts to try.
If you choose to become an independent DJ and decide it’s not for you, you can always try your hand at working in-house down the line.
A touring DJ is basically the same as an independent DJ, with one important difference. Rather than play gigs at bars and festivals, Touring DJs focus on booking shows at festivals and events.
While a touring DJ may play the occasional gig at a bar or club, their end goal is building a brand and cultivating a fan base. If you dream of being a famous DJ and Radio isn’t for you, you should consider trying to become a Touring DJ.
However, before we get into what it takes to become a Touring DJ, it’s important to understand this is the probably the most difficult career path a DJ can take.
As if the responsibilities of managing a business weren’t enough, a Touring DJ also needs to promote their music, carefully decide who to work with, build a brand, and keep their fans happy—all while consistently creating music that people love.
Still want to be a touring DJ?
The rest of this guide is for you. While most of what is covered below will be useful for any DJ, it will be especially important for you.
Headlining a major festival or show doesn’t happen overnight, but with enough determination, business savvy, luck, and hard work, anything is possible in the Music Industry.
Now that you’ve decided on the type of DJ you want to become, its time to start thinking about the best DJ equipment for your budget and needs.
Depending on the type of DJing you want to get into, your equipment needs will vary greatly. As a general rule of thumb, the lowest cost of entry into the DJ business is usually working as a resident DJ at a bar or club.
This is due to the fact that most music venues already have a PA, mixer, lights and cables on hand, typically only requiring DJs to bring a laptop and controller or “deck”.
Every DJ needs a controller to perform.
Commonly known as a “deck”, a controller is a soundboard designed to help DJs mix music using a series of knobs, jog wheels, encoders, buttons, touch strips and other physical switches in combination with a DJ software program.
While every year brings a new wave of equipment with advances in technology and features, most beginner DJs are more interested in the best DJ controller under $500. Fortunately there are a ton of great 2019 decks for under $500, and even some controllers under $100!
Looking at the 2019 DJ equipment for sale under $500, most experts agree that the best options include:
While almost any laptop with the processing power to run the DJ software you end up using will do, it’s critical that the DJ laptop you choose is both reliable and stable.
The last thing you need is your laptop crashing in the middle of a show.
To make sure your laptop is capable of reliably running all the DJ software currently available, it should meet or exceed the following specs at minimum:
With these specs in mind, some of the Best DJ laptops include:
1.) Late 2011 or Newer 13” Macbook Pro ($299-$1,999)
Macbook Pros are widely-considered the industry standard for DJ laptops.
They are known to be super reliable, capable, and durable—all important features considering the critical part a laptop will play in your DJ career.
If budget is a concern, a solid used or refurbished Macbook Pro can be found for well under $500.
2.) Lenvo IdeaPad L340 ($349)
The Lenvo IdeaPad may very well be the best laptop under $500 period.
With a 1TB SSD, 2.1GHz processor and 8GB of ram, there is no DJ software out currently that this laptop can’t run reliably.
Typically retailing for around $529 they can be found on sale for as low as $349.
3.) HP 17z ($329)
This laptop is another powerhouse example of one of the best DJ laptops available under $500.
Boasting similar specs to the Lenvo IdeaPad, it also has a 17.3 inch HD screen, setting it apart from every other option on this list.
Depending on your budget, the best DJ software might be the option that gets you in the door for the lowest price.
If money is tight, your best option for 2019 is Serato DJ Pro. Typically available for around $100, no DJ suite comes close to the functionality of Serato DJ Pro for the money.
If money is no object, look no further than Ableton Live 10. Widely-considered the industry standard by professionals worldwide, Ableton is the Rolls Royce of DJ Software.
While Serato and Traktor are both capable of creating mixes, Ableton sets itself apart with its production capabilities.
If you’re planning to play mashups and mixes as a Resident, Independent, or Event DJ, Ableton 10 is probably overkill for your needs.
That said, if your plan involves getting famous and touring the world, the ability to create original tracks with Ableton will be an important tool in your belt.
While introductory versions of Ableton 10 start around the same price as Serato and Traktor, serious DJs almost always end up moving into the full suite.
Typically retailing for $749, the DJ hookup is currently offering a Download Only Education License for $449.
A DJ’s headphones can make or break their career.
To succeed as a DJ, you need to be able to hear the music you are playing perfectly, even in the most loud and distracting environments.
A good pair of DJ headphones needs two key features: good noise canceling and quality sound.
While there are way too many options available to list in this guide, some of the best DJ headphones options available at different price levels include:
V-Moda Crossfade M100 ($249)
Crossfades aren’t just one of the best pairs of DJ headphones under $300, they are one of the best pairs of DJ headphones in the business.
Featuring super rich sound and next-level noise canceling technology, you can’t go wrong with M100s.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50 ($169)
Topping the list of the best DJ headphones under $200, few headphones hold a candle to Audio-Technica ATH-M50s.
Not only do these headphones perform on the level of options costing 2-3x as much, they also have a proprietary interchangeable cable system that makes them super easy to adapt to different types of equipment.
Sennheiser HD280 Pro ($99)
If you’re trying to find the best DJ headphones under $100, there is no better option than the Sennheiser HD280 Pros.
Essentially a budget model from one of the best headphone manufacturers in the world, the HD280 can go head to head with flagship models from other brands costing $400+
If you are planning on pursuing a career as an independent, private event, or touring DJ you’ll need a few more pieces of equipment to complete your setup.
Assuming you will be expected to bring everything you need to play to a gig, you should look into getting:
To keep costs down, it might make sense to try to find some of this equipment used.
Checking your local thrift stores and garage sales and keeping an eye out on eBay and Craigslist can help you save 100’s of dollars on your DJ setup.
As you now know, even the most budget-friendly DJ equipment setup can be very expensive!
Considering the high replacement cost and critical importance of your gear to your success, it’s wise to consider carrying DJ Insurance.
The last thing you want is an unexpected disaster or theft to cost you your dream of becoming a DJ.
Fortunately for you, Tomins is here to help. We take the time to understand the operation of each business we serve to make sure we are offering all of the coverages they need and none that they don’t.
Get your free online DJ insurance quote here today.
If you are a pure producer, only create original music, and never use music created by others in your sets, feel free to skip this section.
However, even if your work is 95% original, any time you sample the work of another artist in a mix or mashup, you are technically committing copyright infringement.
But what about the “30-Second Rule”?
For those unfamiliar, the 30-second rule or “fair use” provision allegedly allows a content creator or musician to use the copyrighted work of another musician in their work, as long as the sample used is under 30 seconds in length.
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the 30-second fair use rule is a myth.
In fact, a copyrighted sample of any length is never allowed to be used in the work of another party, without explicit permission from its owner.
Honestly, the probability of an average DJ being fined for copyright infringement is laughably low.
However, the bigger a DJ gets, the higher the probability becomes that they will be sued for sampling the work of another artist without permission.
With this in mind, a mashup DJ with dreams of selling out arenas needs to make sure they are licensed to do so.
A DJ license is important for (2) reasons:
1.) It allows a DJ to legally copy or digitize music to a computer’s hard drive
2.) It allows a DJ to legally play copyrighted music in public or use it in a mix for profit
While all DJs technically need to be licensed to play copyrighted music created by other artists, a DJ license is exponentially more important for a touring DJ.
TLDR: If you have dreams of playing EDC, you need to think seriously about getting a DJ license sooner than later.
If your plans involve becoming a famous DJ and touring the globe, you’ll want to speak with the three big music licensing bodies:
1.) Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI)
2.) Society of European Stage Authors & Composers (SESAC)
3.) American Society of Composers, Authors, & Publishers (ASCAP)
Even if you’re planning on becoming a Resident DJ or an Independent DJ focusing on local venues, the potential cost of getting caught playing music without the proper license is more than enough reason to cover your bases.
Not only can a copyright violation get you banned from SoundCloud, getting caught playing music without a license can end up costing you tens of thousands of dollars.
Unlike most businesses that sell a product or a service, DJs are in the business of selling a personal brand.
Yes, an event DJ is technically being hired to play music, but at the end of the day, anyone can make a playlist. The thing that sets DJs apart from other entrepreneurs is the importance of style.
From the way you dress to your performance style and music choice, succeeding as a DJ requires a serious attitude about branding.
While branding is especially important if you’re trying to become a famous DJ, all DJs should consider it an important part of succeeding long term.
As a public figure, a DJ needs to carefully consider the choices they make—both on and off the stage. One wrong move can alienate your fan base faster than you can say Mimosa.
Outside of the importance of keeping ego in check and staying humble, successful DJs are always aware of how their words and actions impact their brand.
To make it as a DJ, you should carefully consider the things you post on social media, events you attend when you aren’t working, clothes you wear outside of work and people you associate with.
As you grow your DJ business, you should also take a serious look at the way you are marketing yourself, both online and traditionally.
Making good music is only half the battle.
Making sure you’re a likeable person both during and outside of work is the best way to set yourself up for long-term success as a DJ.
Booking DJ gigs as a new DJ can be challenging to say the least.
Not only do you need to compete against the better-established DJs in your area, you’ll need to consistently outperform the competition to keep getting booked.
Depending on the type of DJ you want to become, the strategy for growing and maintaining your business will be different.
At minimum, there are two things that every DJ will need to make it: general liability insurance, and visibility.
While Tomins has you covered on getting the Certificate of Insurance (COI) you’ll need to book gigs for a great price (link), we haven’t quite figured out the details on our DJ promotion company!
All jokes aside, the best way to keep costs down, is by taking the initiative to promote yourself.
If you want to succeed as a DJ, you’re going to need a demo.
Once you have a solid sample that showcases your DJ talents, it’s time to hit the streets. Depending on where you live, booking gigs can be a grind. But if you stick with it, you’ll be on your way to making your DJ dreams a reality in no time.
Assuming you are trying to get your start in the Bar, Club, Event, or Festival scene, you’ll need to get your demo into the hands of as many promoters, owners, and event coordinators as possible.
The cheapest and easiest way to do this is with a digital copy that you can mass email to anyone that will take it.
However, if you are trying to work in a highly competitive market, you will need to network with key players to rise above the noise. Taking the time to attend music events, visit bars and clubs during non-peak hours and network online are just a few of the ways you can grow your contact list.
All it takes is one gig to have a chance of making it. If you build it, they will come.
If you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably well on your way to becoming a professional DJ.
Whether you’ve just booked your first gig or are finally ready to take it to the next level, the importance of Marketing is something you can’t afford to ignore. Considering the countless ways to market yourself as a DJ, we would have to write an entire new guide to even scratch the surface.
Rather than bore you with the technical details of putting together an end-to-end marketing plan, we decided to share some of our favorite marketing resources and let you decide what makes the most sense for you:
Matthew Woodward’s Marketing Blog
Matt Woodward is one of the best in the business when it comes to marketing. His blog is chockfull of helpful resources for marketers at every experience level.
Neil Patel’s Blog
Practically considered the Godfather of modern SEO, Neil Patel also offers a ton of useful marketing resources on his blog.
As an added bonus, he recently reworked a popular keyword research tool and is offering it for free!
Moz not only offers one of the best digital marketing toolsets around, they also maintain a marketing blog with a ton of useful articles.
Becoming a DJ isn’t easy, but it can end up being one of the most rewarding career paths you can pursue.
If you have a passion for music and technology, fueled by a genuine entrepreneurial spirit, becoming a professional DJ could end up being the job of your dreams!