Sign up for our Newsletter
Stay up to date on exciting projects and upcoming events from The Hermes Music family.
The only way you’ll get anywhere as a DJ is to make sure your entire practice is about the music you want to share with others. If you want to do it to impress people or look cool, you won’t get far. If you’re really interested in the music you’re collecting, and how to make people feel it, thats what’s going to make you stand out.
When collecting music, go towards what turns you on. Find out what sounds your soul is drawn to, and follow that. Don’t worry about what you think other people want to hear, there’s so much space for a diversity of sounds in the dance music world. If you’re only vibing late ’80s hip-house, go deep into that and make a name for yourself. If you want to just slam down screwed-up electro, a lot people are into that right now. There’s an endless amount of great music to discover, follow your own rabbit holes, and truly love the music you play.
The other night I was DJing with a faulty booth monitor, and an Allen and Heath mixer, which I could scarcely work my long fingernails around. I thought I was doing terribly until just over halfway through my set, when DJ Kiti sidled up to me to tell me how great my tracks were, and how seamless my mixing was. I was surprised because I thought I was making some really obvious mistakes. Often, when you think you’ve made some really obvious errors, either no one notices or no one cares. It’s good to set a high standard for yourself, but a lot of DJs, especially when beginning, are really hard on themselves for no reason.
Because I grew up doing singing and dance lessons, it was really natural for me to count in eights while cueing up my next track. But when I started to teach people how to DJ, I realised that’s not an innate human skill. Most dance tracks you play will be in counts of eight, in phrases of four counts of eight.
When bringing in your next track, most of the time you want its first beat to hit the first count of a phrase of the track that’s already playing. For seamless sounding mixing, it matters what beat that new track comes in on, you can’t just bring it in wherever. Speak to a friend who’s a muso or a dancer if this is hard to understand. It’s easy to learn and is very helpful.
DJing can be the most fun job in the world. The crowd can tell when a DJ is truly in the zone, and they love it. Let yourself have fun, check your ego, follow your heart, and constantly learn how to better your technique. If you do that, you can’t go wrong.
Have an undying (and somewhat unhealthy) obsession with music. Soak in as many genres as possible, and learn to develop an ear for beat structure and timings. This will make it a lot easier when it comes time to learning to blend and mix your madness into one big party jam.
Practice, practice, practice. Don’t expect to be Spinderella right out the gate. I took a good five years of solid practice before I even thought about seeking a club gig. These days, a lot of DJs will jump straight onto the stage, without any skills to pay the bills, so one sure way to stand out is to hone your craft as much as possible before you debut your killer set.
Make mixtapes. As many as you can. Just press record and drop a solid 30 minute mix with no editing; just you, a mixer and two turntables. Get some invaluable feedback from your mates – always make sure you ask for constructive criticism.
No one likes a DJ who’s underprepared or rocks up to a gig late (or doesn’t turn up at all). Make sure you’re at every gig at least 10 minutes early – gauge the vibe of the crowd, and also support the DJ playing before you by being ready to takeover with no dramas.
Be thankful for the amazing job you’ve been given. You’ll rarely see any of the high profile DJs complain on social media about the crap gig they had or the annoying person requesting songs. They’re too busy creating a business and career to seek false validation from a bunch of people they rarely know online. Bottom line, don’t air any grievances online. Keep your stuff tight and professional.
This is the biggest tip of all, and should be the number one rule of life. It’s pretty much the reason I’ve been able to maintain a career as a DJ for more than 18 years. Just be a decent person and work hard, remain true to your style, be approachable and nice to everyone you meet, and keep the good vibes rolling.
Before you get started, find some DJs you like. Whether they’re international or local, it doesn’t really matter. Find their mixes, and listen to them. Figure out what you like, from mixing style to transitions. It’s a great way to know what you want to do, what you don’t want to do as a DJ, and, more importantly, see what works.
I find inspiration from a lot of my favourite DJs, and I do this regularly, especially when I consider changing up my style. I always listen to mixes from Wahe, Venus X and Asmara,because they’re not only my favourite DJs to listen to, but also who I aspire to be more like. Look up to your idols and learn from them.
It’s scary to ask people for help on how to get started DJing. In my experience, even finding decks to practice can be a task, but there are always people around who’re willing to help. Just know it’s okay to ask for help. If you dig deep into Facebook, there are groups designed to help and support DJs. If you can’t find them, ask Twitter, ask Instagram, even try asking Tumblr because someone out there knows the answer, and is going to help you out. It’s scary asking, but after the first time it gets a little easier.
I think if being a Kanye stan has taught me anything, it’s be your own biggest fan. If you make a mix, put it up on Soundcloud, and don’t share the link, then nobody’s going to know it’s there.
Femmes, non-binary and people of colour are often conditioned to be small and quiet, but that’s utter bull. Even if you don’t believe it, go big. Share that shit. Make it your profile picture. Hand out business cards with links to your mix. It’s okay to promote yourself, because promoting yourself gets you noticed, and getting noticed gets you shows.
I’ve always been suspicious of networking. It’s always reeked of pseudo friendships and insincerity to me, until one day it clicked – it doesn’t have to be. Let’s just call it supporting people you like, and those people supporting you because they like you too, because that’s all networking really needs to.
Find people on Soundcloud in your city who DJ, approach people at the club who just played an amazing set, and follow people on Twitter whose music you like. I’ve met a lot of DJs who’ve helped me learn, booked me for shows, and given me advice from the internet. I’ve met even more in person just by introducing myself. It doesn’t always work out and sometimes nothing will come of it, but building a support group of people who are nice, have experience, and want to help out will benefit you in the long run.
It’s exciting, when the gigs start rolling in, to say yes to everything, but learning how to say no is something I strongly recommend. When you have a support network, running low rates, bad conditions and suspicious promoters by them is always helpful, and when you need to say no to something because your gut says ‘run’, just do it.
There’s no shortage of stories of women, non-binary, queer and people of colour being treated like garbage as DJs. If you happen to find yourself in a situation you don’t like, say no. Clout, money, and loose connections to well-known promoters come and go, but never sacrifice taking care of yourself and your wellbeing for a DJ set.