So you want to work in a bar or nightclub.Working in a club is not for everyone. If you are a mobile wedding DJ, there are some major differences to working a club. Let’s describe the difference’s between the two. First and foremost, a club is completely different than a wedding. A wedding is a structured event with certain things happening at certain times, all the while promoting the Bride and Groom and their requests. Working a club is a late night venture. Depending on the club, you may be playing until 1am, 2am, 4am, or 6am. Working these hours can be stressful if you have family or a job during the day, an understanding significant other is key to making this work for you. You will be coming home smelling like cigarette smoke, if you live where it is still allowed. You have to adhere to club policy while balancing the fine arts of promoting the bar sales, rotating the dance floor, beat mixing, keeping it fresh, and promoting yourself. Now, let’s break down what each of these mean.
Adhering to club policy…depending on the club, you may only be allowed to play certain music or be excluded from playing certain music. For example, the DJ has total control night, a hip-hop only night, a high energy only night, a 70’s theme, an 80’s theme, a 90’s theme, a Latin night, an all Jazz night, no rock ‘n’ roll, no hip-hop, no requests played (unless on a list of allowed songs), an all request night, or even a no Sinatra clause; these are just some examples the managements music policy may include. Other policies may include MC skills (what is said, how often it is said and/or how involved on the microphone they want you to be), alcoholic beverages (you may or may not be allowed to drink, they may even give you a credit tab to buy drinks for yourself or patrons), and hours of performance (you have to start playing at a certain time and may be required to play the last song of the evening at a certain predetermined time). These are some policies a club may have in place. The best way to know what the policies are, is to ask management.
Promoting the bar sales…entails announcing drink specials, theme nights, special party’s (i.e. holiday events) essentially getting people to buy more drinks from the bar and getting them to come back to the club other nights.
Rotating the dance floor…getting a group of people going, switching up the music (while keeping a core group on the floor), and bringing new people to the dance floor, then repeating. This lets everyone dance and work up their thirst, so they will buy more at the bar.
Beat mixing…the blending of two different songs into one another, as to not interrupt the flow of the music. This is essential when playing a nightclub (keeps the energy level up). When working a typical bar this is not always necessary, but it is a great skill to learn. It takes a lot of practice, and some are better than others.
Keeping it fresh…do not play the same sets every night you are working. Change up your sets, introduce new music, keep the clientele guessing what the next great song will be! This will keep them coming back to see/hear you, without wondering how well you will do.
Promoting yourself…let the clientele know who you are! There are several ways to do this; you could simply announce who you are on the microphone or you can have some postcard sized brochures promoting you and/or the club (check with the owners/management before doing this). If you can create a following, it is good for you and the bar/nightclub. The bar sales will increase when you are there (good for the bar). You may be able to negotiate a larger fee for yourself, if bar sales increase enough when you play.
The differences between a bar and a nightclub.
Bars (taverns) will typically have you bring all of your own equipment and music. The bar setting is usually much more casual than a nightclub. You will most likely have your setup similar to that of a wedding, where the patrons can walk up to you. You should be very approachable, friendly, out-going, and willing to play anything, within management standards. You will also probably be the only DJ there.
Nightclubs will typically have equipment, a booth, and sometimes music provided. You may be isolated in the booth, meaning that there is no way for patrons to approach you directly (you may be separated by glass, or elevated above the dance floor). Nightclubs usually have more than 1 DJ, and may have 3 or more play in one night! Be sure you know how to use the equipment provided, you may be spinning vinyl, CD’s, or utilizing a Computer Performance System (CPS), or a combination of any or all of these. There may also be someone dedicated to operating their lighting system.
How to get into a bar
Hitting the streets and making phone calls is essential. Start by looking how far you are willing to travel. You will want to find all the bars in that area. Phone and/or visit each bar. Ask if they have a DJ. If not, simply ask if they are interested; they may ask you to come in and speak with the owner. If they do have a DJ, go to the bar and check the DJ out, but find as many as you can to visit in one night. While there order your favorite non-alcoholic beverage and tip the bartender. Tipping is a great way to get in good with the bartender, especially when you are ordering a drink that cost you one dollar. You want to order a non-alcoholic drink because, you don’t want to come across as a drinker, and you want to keep your head as clear as possible (you are there to observe), plus you’ll be driving soon afterward. If you think the bar is a match for you, make mental notes about the staff, crowd, music, how many people come in, how many people leave, what was going on when they left or entered, things you could offer to benefit the bar. Once out of the bar, write your mental notes on paper. Taking paper notes in a small bar, could bring about some paranoid feelings toward you. Proceed to the next bar, and repeat the above steps.
After you have gathered information on prospective bars that may be a fit, it is time to go back to the bars (when no DJ’s are present). Again order your favorite non-alcoholic beverage and tip the bartender. Ask the bartender how they like their DJ. Some will be brutally honest. Ask the bartender if they would be interested in a change. Going to the bartender is great, because they have a lot of pull with the owner/management, they may even be the owner or manager, or they may ask you to come in at a specific time to speak with the owner/manager. If they are not looking to change their entertainment choice, thank them for their time, give a business card, let them know you are available should circumstances change, finish your drink, and leave. On to the next bar. Repeat the process above.
If you find a match, you will most likely be asked to come in on one of the regular DJ’s nights and perform (they will likely give that DJ the night off). If they like you, they will tell you. The last step is to negotiate your fee, nights, and hours. This strategy works very well and is very cost effective. Expect to spend about 10 hours, over a 3 day span, and less than $30 in gas and beverages (including tips).
How to get into a Nightclub
Getting your foot in the door can be a challenge, knowing someone already working there is the easiest way to do so. If you don’t know anyone at the club, you may have to go through a Promoter or Entertainment Director. A word of caution, the Promoter or Entertainment Director may be the Headline DJ, so don’t step on any toes! Most clubs that are only open during the evening, will have the Promoter/Entertainment Director working daytime hours. If not, your best chance to meet with them is to be at the club the moment they open. Ask for a Manager or the Entertainment Director. Find out the best time, for them, to discuss entertainment options. They will probably be busy making sure everything is ready for the nights party. Be sure to get their contact information and follow up!
In most cases a demo is required. If you have a video demo, all the better (seeing you perform will alleviate any thoughts of you using someone else’s demo). Make sure your demo is on both CD and Cassette. You would be surprised how may people ask for a demo on cassette! Have your name and all contact information printed directly on the CD or Cassette. Promoters and Entertainment Directors get lots of demo’s. You don’t want them to mistake your for someone else!
If they like what the see/hear on the demo, you may be asked to come in for an interview/assessment. Ask questions about the music format they want, how many DJ’s will be working per night, the hours needed, policies to follow, the type of equipment to be utilized, and if outside music is allowed. Take notes while asking. This shows you are serious about the needs and wants of the club. They will want you to prove your skills in a live environment (actually play a few live sets). If they still like what they hear, it may be time to negotiate fees, contracts, rules, etc. Don’t expect to jump in on a prime night. The DJ’s working the busiest nights are there because they have proved themselves and did their time on the bottom. You may also be asked to operate the lighting on a prime night, until they are comfortable enough to have you working the booth.
Filed Under: Performing
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