When you are starting out as a DJ, landing a residency can be hard. But assuming you want to progress and build a DJing career, securing a residency is an important step.
This guide walks you through the essential steps for securing a DJ residency. Written with the help of established DJs, it will give you the insider tips on how to approach venue managers and promoters, and even discuss how to keep a residency once you’ve secured one.
About the author
Insure4Music is trusted by thousands of musicians to keep their livelihoods on track when misfortune strikes. DJs, in particular, rely on us to protect them from public liability claims and protect their equipment from theft, loss and damage. Our DJ insurance policyholders and newsletter subscribers speak to us regularly, so we thought we’d compile their insights and those from the wider industry into this handy guide for up-and-coming DJs.
First question – what exactly is a DJ residency?
Most of us know that a residency generally means somewhere you play regularly, but not all residencies are the same. Different venues approach them in different ways. Some venues only have a ‘resident’ DJ for a week, while others will give them a regular spot once a week. Others, especially those in resorts like Ibiza, will have a resident DJ for the whole season. When compiling a shortlist of venues and promoters to approach, it’s important to bear this in mind.
Why is securing a DJ residency so important?
Regular income is the obvious benefit of securing a residency, but for those with plans to turn DJing into a career, it counts for much more than just cash. Buster Bennett, DJ, producer and founder of the London Sound Academy (LSA), a DJ and Production school in Camden, London says:
“A DJ residency in a bar or club is one of the most crucial steps for a DJ to make. It allows you to practice in front of an audience on a regular basis learning how people react to different styles of music and at different times of the night. You’ll learn the esoteric art of warming a crowd up and how to build the energy to a peak. It’s also a place where you can invite other promoters to watch you play. Your residency is your springboard to bigger things.”
Danny Weeks is part of DJ duo 6ftShort, who have residencies at regular events across London and Kent. Here’s his take on why securing a residency is worth all the hard work.
“The biggest plus of becoming a resident DJ is that it removes a lot of pressure from your performance, meaning you can really relax. This really shows in our sets! I tend to see the same clubbers on the dancefloor, as the brands/events generally attract the same audience. It’s amazing building a relationship with the people that you are performing to,” he says.
“The pros of being a resident DJ are that you grow to have a real relationship with the promoter(s) and the other DJs involved. This always makes the events a lot more enjoyable, as it feels more social with familiar people around you showing the same support. It’s like family I guess.”
Now that the case for securing a DJ residency is clear, here are the essential steps you should take.
Step one: establish a strong identity
The path to securing a DJ residency can seem long and daunting at first. But with a bit of ingenuity, charm and talent, it’s totally doable. First, it goes without saying that you’ll need to have nailed the fundamentals of the craft so you have the confidence to command a residency. The next step after that is to establish a strong identity as a DJ.
This involves building your reputation and establishing a network of contacts and can be achieved by playing sets on popular nights or in cool venues. You can also do this by growing your reputation as a producer. Why not offer to swap sets with other DJs? Or grow your contacts list when you’re out and about and send them your music? When it comes to pitching promoters, having a strong track record and a network of contacts will strengthen your case.
Having a strong digital presence builds your identity and credibility too. DJ Buster from London Sound Academy says, “Once your skills are up to a professional level, you need to record a mixtape as an example of your set(s) and upload it to a site like Mixcloud where promoters and fans can listen. You’ll also need to have at least all of the following accounts regularly updated: SoundCloud and/or Mixcloud, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. And on top of managing your social media accounts, you should also build up a mailing list.”
You’ll also gain more traction on these platforms, and with promoters, if your brand stands out visually. A good logo and quality promo imagery will make your online and physical promo material stand out. With a host of apps and logo design sites out there, there’s no longer any excuse for looking unprofessional.
Buster adds, “You should have a high-quality logo and press image of yourself. The quality of everything reflects on the professionalism of you as a DJ so make sure you don’t cut corners! Observe at what the top 100 DJs do and how they look and use that as a starting point.”
Another way to progress as a DJ is to do one-off nights and agency work. The media might love to portray superstar DJs as having had overnight success, but that’s rarely the case. Nearly every successful DJ has done gigs in empty bars and different types of crowds. But there are plenty of DJs out there already, so how do the venues and the agencies find the right ones?
Every event and venue has different requirements, but there are some universal attributes that they’re all looking for. Matt McDonough works for the Limelight Music Agency whose clients include clubs and bars across the UK. He says, “Those with little experience, no promotional material and a lack of understanding of our needs and experience are avoided.” He also thinks the DJs that successfully secure residencies understand that it’s about marrying their own style and identity to that of the venue and the night in question.
Step two: find nights, venues and promoters, and offer to help
As an up and coming DJ, you should get to know your local scene inside out. Make a note of the venues, their various nights and the promoters that put those nights on.
When it comes to identifying DJ residency opportunities, Danny Weeks agrees with McDonough. When the time comes to pitch for a residency, you’ll need to have thought about accommodating the needs of the night in question and marrying those needs with your style.
“I believe that DJs (unless you’re Carl Cox) should also research the style of the event and what style their headliners play, as playing hip-hop at an EDM night isn’t going to work. It’s all about finding the right event for you, instead of taking the chance,” says Weeks.
“I’ve seen DJs playing main rooms that have cleared the dancefloor because they’ve played the wrong music. DJs are there to entertain and great track selection has a big part to play in that.”
Once you’ve identified your targets, you need to get to know the people that run them. Once you’ve arrived at the venue, ask the bar staff to point out the night’s key players and go over to strike up conversation with them. But don’t jump right in there and ask for a residency straight away. Instead, it’s better to show an interest in the night and offer to help in other ways.
Ex SiriusXM DJ and producer Mohamed Kamal, writing for DJ Tech Tools, supports this approach:
[Introduce yourself] confidently saying something like this: “Hi, awesome music and night. How often do you host?” After their response, follow up with – “Great, I’m a DJ too and the vibe here is different from most places” pause “Do you have a card? I’d like to talk to you more about your Thursday nights.”
You can engage in small talk, but don’t pitch, hand out business cards or ask for a gig. It’s better to talk about something casual, funny, or non-DJing related.
There are a number of reasons why this approach is favourable. OK, the occasional DJ might get lucky with an impersonal email asking for a regular slot. But the competition is tougher than it’s ever been, so it’s less likely to work these days. The cost of entry into DJing has fallen dramatically, after all. Plus, there are also far fewer venues than there used to be in the UK – one-third less in London since 2007.
New research into the art of persuasion also backs up Kamal’s recommendation. Look no further than New York Times bestseller Give and Take. This book offers new psychological research that suggests offering assistance and giving is the best way to influence new contacts.
DJ Buster also advocates this selfless approach – one that offers help before asking for work straight away. Buster and Kamal both say that when it’s time to follow up with them online, perhaps a day or two after you’ve met, you should offer to bring a crowd to their next night.
“Managers always like to hear that you’ll bring a crowd of people, so round up your mates,” says Buster.
Once you’ve done so, you will have established some trust with the promoter and can begin preparing a more direct pitch to secure your residency.
Step three: have a follow-up conversation
In advance of the next event, you’ll need to prepare a short pitch to make the most of what’s likely to be a short amount of time you get to spend with the organisers. Kamal suggests rehearsing something along the following lines:
“Would you mind if I call you to see if you had 30 minutes for a coffee or a drink? I know that you’re hosting this event and many others – my friends and I are DJs that play XYZ music and we have over 500 people on our list. The venue we’ve been playing at is not accommodating and we’re looking for a better place.”
At this point, you’ll be far more likely to receive a positive response having put in the effort to get to know the organisers in person. And if they want you to send more information about yourself over email, there are a couple of things to avoid.
Firstly, make sure you have a professional-looking email address. Using a personal one with odd formatting makes you look amateur. Secondly, don’t attach files. The email is more likely to hit spam filters if you do. Instead, link to your mixes and videos and embed your bio, images and press kit in the body of the email.
Step four: negotiate
Once you’re in a position to negotiate with the organisers over your residency slot, it’s important to know your worth. Don’t commit to things you can’t deliver, for a price you can’t accept. We spoke to Danny Weeks about this. When it comes to negotiating a regular slot, he says:
“If a DJ truly believes in themselves, they should stick to their guns [when it comes to their demands]. There are a lot of promoters out there pressuring upcoming DJs to sell tickets which can leave them out of pocket. DJing isn’t a popularity contest. I’d advise anyone to wait for the right opportunity and find the right team to work with, rather than selling yourself out to play.”
“You can try offering to do a free trial set to get your foot in the door,” adds Buster, but it’s important you don’t play for free beyond that initial trial period. Put simply, it undermines yours and your fellow DJs’ worth.
The need for insurance
As a DJ looking to get your name out there, professional DJ insurance might not be at the top of your to-do list. However, it’s an important part of your professional package. Many agencies or venues won’t touch you if you don’t have it.
“All of the artists who work with Limelight Music Agency carry public liability insurance (PLI) and this is essential for all companies nowadays. We would not use anyone who doesn’t have their own PLI,” says Limelight Music Agency’s Matt McDonough. Most venues and DJs themselves understand that the audience is out to have a good time, so anything can happen. Drinks spilled on decks and party goers tripping over your wires are just the start. They know they’d struggle to stomach the costs of those kinds of accidents themselves without insurance.
If you need insurance for your equipment and public liability, then get a DJ insurance quote online today at Insure4Music.co.uk or call us on 08000 469 859. Our Music Liability cover includes public liability and professional indemnity cover and costs as little as £20 per year. We offer a Lowest Price Guarantee, meaning we’re confident we offer the best value cover on the market, and we’ll refund the difference within 14 days if you discover otherwise.
How to keep a DJ residency slot
Once you’ve managed to secure yourself a DJ residency, how do you keep hold of it? We asked DJ Buster for his top tips:
- Make yourself indispensable; rock that crowd and fill the dancefloor! Make the venue scared to lose you!
- Don’t let in the competition; protect your turf! Don’t let another DJ steal all the limelight; be the headliner!
- Become friends with the bar staff, the security and the management of the venue; treat them like equals.
- Don’t go overboard on any free drinks! You need to look pro at all times, save it for the after-party.
- Be punctual. Never let the venue down. If you have a cold, just suck it up and go anyway! If you’re on death’s door arrange suitable cover.