10 Laws for Every DJ

10 Rules Every Working DJ Should Follow

Back in the late 1990s, the record player was outselling the guitar. Why? Because electronic music and the art of DJing was enticing to music lovers the world over. These budding DJs started closing the gap between music fans and DJs, and as the world of electronic music continues to grow, the number of DJs looking to share their love increases. With that shared love comes the plight of the working DJ, aka the folks who are actually filling the booths of clubs in cities across the world. Someone has to keep the crowd going, whether the headliner's a huge name or a drink special.

The working DJ's life can be so real; there are numerous pitfalls that can halt the progress of DJs trying to earn some scratch and get their name up, whether it's because they love playing music, are looking for that next plateau before they reach star status, or just found a way to make their love pay their rent. There should be a handy booklet out there, teaching DJs the ins and outs of that working DJ life, and while some of these points should be commonplace, we wanted to spell out what working DJs should be looking out for during their travels. It really should be all about fun, but if advancing your craft is your aim, staying woke should be your game.

Expensive purchases do not make you a better DJ

Just ask Afrojack: just because you can buy an expensive car, doesn’t mean you’re an expert driver from the jump. Same goes for DJ gear. While knowing how to operate industry-standard gear like Pioneer CDJs and recognizing the subtle differences between Pioneer and Allen & Heath mixers are useful skills all DJs should acquire, don’t get it confused with just having the gear for status reasons. If you know the mechanics of DJing on any equipment, it will easily translate when you get the opportunity to use nicer equipment—and trust, there’s nothing more grating to the skint DJ than to see someone who owns nice equipment having no clue how to use it. Prioritize skills before equipment as a golden rule and you’ll never go wrong.

Reinvest in your craft

Bobby Shmurda has a line in “Hot N—“ that goes to the effect of “get that money back and spend it on the same thing.” He’s definitely not talking about DJing, but this rule actually applies nicely here: if you’re lacking equipment that can actually aid your DJing, your wisest option is to use your gig earnings to acquire it. This ensures not only that you’re actually honing and applying your skill to make money (you know, like a real job), but that you’re also responsibly reinvesting your profits into your success (you know, like a real business). It’s not to say every penny you get from your gigs has to go to serious purchases, but by using your hard-earned profits to galvanize your worth as a DJ, you’re only adding to your reputable status.

Learn how to be the good guy while standing your ground

The ugly truth is that the common stereotype of DJs, for most people, is that we are by and large an egotistical, somewhat bratty, fairly elitist bunch. How applicable that stereotype is should definitely be up for debate, but the really funny thing is that this is the exact same stereotype for any musician with a “rockstar” persona, and nobody you’ll be working with likes it or has any fucking time for it. Ever. Even if you’re a good enough DJ to be touring or playing out-of-town shows, nothing will earn ire from fans, promoters, and really anyone you encounter faster than being an asshole to the people you work with.

If there’s a problem at your gig that is outside of your own control, or something that is not your duty to fix, just let it go and let the appropriate venue personnel deal with it. If they can’t deal with it or try to blame it on you, learn how to walk away from it and get terse only if you’re being picked on… but whatever you do, stay the bigger person whenever possible. Sometimes you have to put your foot down and tell the people paying you what's up if you're being treated unfairly, and be ready to accept this means you may not get paid, but it's important to establish that you deserve fair treatment as a professional providing a service for a fee.

It might seem silly in the short run, but having a widely-recognized reputation of being the DJ who is friendly, professional, and consistent gives you a tremendous amount of sway in the long run, which of course translates to myriad other job and money-making opportunities for you.

A two-hour set is not carte blanche to get wasted

This is one that every working DJ who drinks has had to deal with: being shoved discounted and/or free liquor every time we work means we can end up drinking way too much sometimes. While free drinks are great, remember that like the other staff members at the venue, you are there to perform a service. When you’re shit-faced, even if you’re experienced at being shit-faced, everyone can tell, and yes, they are judging you for it. By all means have fun at your sets, and if you’re turning up, turn the hell up—but not every instance of you playing some records qualifies as a reason to get hammered, otherwise you might find that yung shortcut to alcoholism.

Learn how to say no to poor requests

You are not a jukebox, you are a DJ, which means you have been hired by someone to curate a soundscape of agreeable music for the night. Not only is playing a bad request an amateur move, it establishes you as a DJ who people know they can manipulate into being a jukebox.

If someone wants to hear a track in the style that you’re presently playing, it’s a good look to be accommodating, but by the same token, if you’ve got a packed dancefloor going in to some bass music and somebody demands to hear “Thriller” immediately (a request that is oh-so real), you deserve to have your equipment smashed for accommodating that request. Part of being a quality DJ means getting the crowd to trust your music choice, and while it’s vital you read the crowd and learn what they want to hear, bowing to every request you get is a quick road to obscurity, not to mention a great way to kill any mood you've been building.

Be as polite as you can, but be firm—say NO to bad requests and don’t even bother with negotiating, as that just takes your attention further away from your job. Accept that some people will understand, but most won’t, and they very well might feel like being an asshole about it. Keep in mind that this is their problem, not yours, especially if you’ve got the club going up on a school night. And if you’ve really gotta tell someone off, we’ve always been partial to telling jokers to “go buy an iPod.”

Shut up and protect your ears

If you’re in a noisy environment more than once a week, there is just no reason not to have ear protection. This is your job, and not taking the minimal precautions necessary to take care of the most easily-preventable risk of your occupation is simply foolish. For as little as $5-$10 you can find sonic-filtering ear plugs that do not block out all sound, preserve sound quality, and, most importantly, save your ears. Drop notions of looking uncool or people caring, keep your hearing, and quit making excuses. Protect your ears.

Tearing others down will not make you a better DJ

Here's an elementary school lesson that not many people seem to remember: dragging others down will not pull you up. In fact, those who are respected most are often times the types that help pull people up with them and are humble about their accomplishments. You aren't Kanye and until you make it, you might be better served promoting those posi-vibes around you than sending shots for attention's sake.

Protect your gear

So you've heeded our advice to spend the money you make on your craft and got the right gear. You go out and rock a party and you don't even drink that much, but your friends are all there and they're getting turnt; all of sudden someone spills a full pint of beer on your decks, laptop, or controller. That's it, the night is done, and not only that, we're pretty sure what you got paid is not even close to covering the replacement or repair of one those things. A good Mac laptop is worth a minumum of what, twogrand? Yeah.

You wanna make sure people and drinks don't linger too close to your equipment. You want to also make sure you have the right protective gear to transport your tools like flight cases for your decks or controller and some kind of case for your laptop, otherwise you might have an unfortunate surprise when you get to your gig or when you get home. Flight cases are pricey up front, but they'll save you money in the long run.

A gig-less weekend is not a defeat

Things didn't work out with a club or bar. Something got cancelled. The result? You're not DJing on a weekend. You could just stay in like a sadboi or you could go get wasted with your friends. Another thing you could do—something that would actually be productive—is go out and network. Go meet another DJ in town who you think is doing well. Go to a monthly or weekly party you always wanted play. Check out new bars and clubs that you've never been to. Make it count. It'll pay off in the long run and you'll end up with busy weekends in the future.

Walking away is OK if things aren't working out

Sometimes a gig just isn't worth keeping. You work hard getting fresh tunes and try to work hard on the promo, but it just isn't working out. Maybe the clientele, staff, or owner of an establishment are tough to deal with. Maybe you're making peanuts and you think you could do better. If you find yourself regularly wishing you didn't have to do a gig or that you were somewhere else while you were playing, then it might be time to stop punishing yourself and look elsewhere. If your heart is in the right place, you started DJing because it was fun. You can't play well if you're not enjoying yourself. A short term break and a new opportunity could be exactly what you need to get your hunger back.




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