Did you know that in 1997, turntables outsold guitars by a 2 to 1 ratio? Becoming a DJ is listed in the top 10 dream jobs among high school students now. Given that, it’s about time you perfect your skills to land that club DJing job before anyone else does. There are many different types of clubs, ranging the gamut from the local corner bar to the large-scale nightclubs. These are the two types that I will concentrate on here. Bar accounts, as I refer to them, are basic straightforward gigs. They generally do not pay a lot (usually $100-$150 a night). However, they do make a nice fill in for the usual mobile DJ’s unbooked mid-week. These require a well-rounded knowledge in music, and almost always require your own equipment.Crowds at these establishments can range from the after work social drinkers to local college kids hanging out. Many of the accounts I had done in past years started out with a lot of rock music early in the evening and moved on to some real mainstream dance music. There is not much more to say about bar accounts. If you work with the owners/managers to help promote drink specials and keep customers entertained, you can generally keep the account for life. As long as the bar is making money they will be satisfied. I recommend doing things to keep people involved, such as trivia and sports games with which you can do competitions (many bars have pool tables, dart boards, etc….). Most bars worked with me to give a certain number of free drinks. I even had one sports bar that would give you a free shot if you could beat the DJ in their downhill skiing video game. Keep people drinking and they will stay. This will make you a very valuable asset to the owners/managers of the bar.
Primarily, this article is aimed toward those who want to get into an actual nightclub. If you have the skills to get into clubs such as the Tunnel in NY, or Fluid in Philadelphia, then you probably don’t need this article. But if you want to learn how to get into your local hot spot, this may be of interest to you. I spin at two different clubs. One is your basic dance club with a capacity of 650 people, the other is an underground weekly club/rave with a capacity of 5500 (rated #1 in America by Urb magazine, I am leaving the names out for legal reasons). The latter is obviously the exception to the rule and anyone involved in that part of the club industry knows that it is a very tough market. Music selection and mixing skills are the requirement. Heck, I don’t even touch a microphone! Nonetheless, for most of us, the first club I described is where a lot of us would like to be.
There are a number of requirements in this type of club. This is not your typical Mobile DJ job, though MANY top club DJs started as mobiles (including Armand Van Helden, Roger Sanchez, Bad Boy Bill, Jackie Christie, Josh Wink, Danny Tenaglia, etc.). Mobile DJing is a great way to perfect your skills in music programming, mixing, microphone use, and reading a crowd. I have found that high school DJs tend to get into club work more than any other mobile DJ.
Investment in music is a weekly expense; for some it’s daily. Instead of playing just the hits that are already popular, one of the key things to being a club DJ is that you break new music. Breaking new music gives you an edge. If you have an ear for what is going to be hot, then you will be playing music before it’s big. You’ll get a name for yourself, because pretty soon people are saying “That’s not a new song on the radio, I heard that 3 weeks ago at the soandso club.” I highly recommend in addition to your regular music subscriptions, that you join a record pool. No, I am not saying you need to spin vinyl; as a matter of fact I am 90% CD. There are a lot of CD pools on the market now that supply the same music that you get on vinyl.
Programming is the biggest key in a club. Remember to whom you are playing, and your purpose for being at the club. “If women come, then you can be sure the men will follow!” This is a saying posted in my DJ booth. Generally you want to keep the women happy. If you keep the women there, then the men will stay. The more people stay, the more they drink, the more they drink the more money they spend, the more money they are spending…..well, you get the point!
In a mobile DJ situation, the event organizers are very happy to see all of the guests on the dance floor, in a club this may get you canned. I use the 50/50 rule: 50% on the floor and 50% at the bar. This is where programming comes in. You need to play in sets. I usually keep my sets about 25-35 minutes in length, anymore and people are just too tired and they go home. Marking your BPMs on your music, or carrying a list of BPMs is helpful. Start out with a BPM of about 95-105 BPM and slowly build up to 125-135 BPM. What this does is while half the people are at the bar, the other half start dancing. You slowly build up the energy and peak right at the end of the set. When you bring the BPM count back down, the people who were dancing need a rest and a drink, and the people at the bar are fired up to start dancing. This is called rotating the dance floor. If you keep a good rotation then the club is making money and so will you.
Mixing skills are obviously a choice benefit to keeping your sets flowing smoothly. There will be a second article at DJU about beat mixing in the near future. I recommend referring to this article as it will concentrate more on this subject.
Part of your job as the club’s DJ is to interact with the crowd, and announce drink specials and upcoming events. The clubs I have worked in vary. Some of them gave me the list of times and what the specials were. Others just came up and let me know in the middle of the night. I prefer the first option because you can plan where you are going to fit it into your set. I make my announcements after the peak of my sets so people start heading to the bar. Limit your announcements to one per set, anymore and people start losing interest (when you’re drunk you a have a very short attention span).
Reading a crowd also varies. In many clubs, patrons will come right up and ask for what they want. In general, once you know the crowd at a club, it’s almost always the same week after week. Some clubs don’t allow access to the DJ, so you have to feel it out first. Foot tapping and body grooving are good signs that people are getting into it. At the beginning of the night when you’re just getting things going, test various styles of music to see which one works the best. This will give you a good guideline in which to go by for the rest of the night.
Obviously there is much more to a club than is said here, and I will touch on that in future articles. However, the one question I get asked most frequently is, “How do I get into a club?” Very good question…It falls under the definition of a Catch 22. If you want to get into a club, the organizers want to know the other clubs for whom you’ve worked. But, if you haven’t been in any, I do have a few suggestions. Make a demo tape, or even more impressive, a CD (If you do not have the capabilities to make a CD contact me at email@example.com and I can help you). When making a demo try to concentrate on a style of music that suits you. I cover four different styles so my demo CD has four different mixes on it. Keep your mixes short. A club organizer is not going to listen to a 60-minute demo; 5-10 minutes should suffice. Hit the clubs with your embellished resume and demo CD and be sure to go out in person. Personality is very important. I mean come on…you want to be a club DJ have some fun with it!
Filed Under: Performing
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