Being a competent DJ who puts on a decent live show every now and again is one thing. Being a great DJ who leads the way and inspires others is an entirely different matter. There are several key attributes which separate the great DJs from the good, and the best from the rest. Here’s what makes a great DJ, featuring insights from those in the industry.
Demonstrating a love of DJing (and music in general)
This first point may seem self-explanatory, but a lot of DJs don’t fully appreciate the lucky position they’re in. There are DJs who get into the industry to ‘look cool’, do it for a few years and fall off the radar.
Don’t be this person. Show that you’re a DJ who is passionate about music and loves what they do. Music should be a form of self-expression, rather than simply a means to an end.
Take Carl Cox as an example. He’s been DJing for more than 40 years and is the king of techno music in many people’s eyes. He’s ahead of the trends, pioneers new tracks and continues to break boundaries.
Undoubtedly, one of the main reasons for his success is that DJing is not a job to him. In his own words, it’s a way of ‘celebrating life’ and he’s as passionate about it as the day he started.
In summary, be like Carl. OK, not everybody can reach Carl Cox’s level, but it certainly can’t do you any harm to follow his blueprint. If you have a passion for DJing, this will come through in your music and set you apart.
Not being afraid to adapt and diversify
Inventing and reinventing your style is vital if you want to be a successful DJ in the long run. The last thing you want is to come across as a one-dimensional DJ with limited musical scope. Rather, you want to show that you can adapt your style to reflect the ever-changing musical landscape around you.
Take Armin van Buuren as an example. He started out playing progressive house and vocal trance music, but over time his music has evolved to such a degree that he’s recently headlined top EDM festivals such as Ultra Music Festival in Miami and Tomorrowland in Belgium.
Referring back to Carl Cox – through the years, his music has encompassed a wide range of genres such as funky techno, tech-house and funk soul.
You get the picture. If you want to be a great DJ, it’s important to have enough aces up your sleeve in terms of the range of styles you play. At the same time, you shouldn’t compromise on your identity, and what makes you unique. You should play music which people can identify as ‘you’, that you love and care about.
Proactively building relationships with venues
Taking it upon yourself to approach promoters and club managers could be career-defining. These people could hold the key to an amazing opportunity, and every great DJ will attribute part of their success to building and nurturing relationships with people who gave them their big break.
However, knowing how to approach these people and what information to get across can be an exact science. You may only have a few seconds to talk to someone and promote your work, so it’s important to make every second count.
If you’re relatively new to DJ’ing and aren’t sure how best to build relationships with venues, check out these tips on how to approach them.
Matt Maurice, a London-based DJ: “If it’s a venue you’ve never worked with before, you should always touch base by email or phone before the event at the point of booking, and again closer to the date.
If required, you should also visit the venue. This will help build relationships that then lead to referrals and more business.
I’ve been lucky enough to play at some amazing venues with whom I’ve built strong relationships over the years. I would never force myself onto a venue’s preferred suppliers list and feel that the best approach is to let it be an organic relationship-building process.”
Keeping an eye out for the latest tunes and technology
There’s nothing worse than playing to an empty dancefloor because you selected the same songs as just about every other DJ.
Considering the primary instinct of a great DJ is to think outside the box and be ahead of the trends, doing the exact opposite isn’t going to wow your audience!
Clearly, the tunes you play depend on the type of live event you’re playing and who you’re performing to. If it’s a wedding or a birthday party, something like Dancing In The Moonlight may suffice. However, if it’s an event that’s more tailored to a musically-savvy audience like a club event, you definitely need to know your stuff.
Magazines like Mixmag are ideal if you want to keep on top of the latest music. As are online music stores like Beatport, where you can find a variety of mixes tailored towards DJs.
It’s not just the latest tunes you need to be up to speed with. Your sounds are only as good as the equipment you use to create them! Whether it’s a turntable, a set of headphones or new speakers, there’s lots of technology you can use to keep your sound fresh and your audience engaged.
Check out our blog on the best DJ equipment to achieve the ultimate sound.
Having an ear for a good set
When you’re playing live, put yourself in the position of the listener. If you were in the crowd and were listening to a DJ playing a particular type of track, what type of track would you want to follow it?
The best DJs will build suspense and release it, constantly keeping their audiences engaged and taking them on a journey.
You don’t want to be one of these DJs who plays tracks that don’t flow together, don’t get the crowd going, or sound unoriginal.
You may want to produce your own records especially for your sets. This ties in with the aforementioned point about having your own identity and putting your own stamp on the music you play.
Like the above tip, your setlist depends entirely on the kind of audience you’re playing to. Here are some tips on how to put together a good set if you need further direction.
Using digital marketing to your advantage
Having a strong online presence is integral to making it big as a DJ. After all, you’re likely to be competing with several other DJs in your area, so digital marketing can really help your services stand out.
The term ‘digital marketing’ encompasses a number of Internet-based marketing strategies which you can use to promote yourself. For instance, writing blogs to connect with your audience and publishing social media updates.
Daniel Nicholson, DJ and co-founder of the entertainment company JN Sounds: “In terms of social media, Facebook is still king. However, Instagram is not far behind, and Pinterest is still heavily used by people. Each platform has its own merits for DJs.
Our website is massively important to us and we make sure this is updated regularly, particularly on our blog page. Our blogs offer clients tips and advice for planning their entertainment and position us as experts in our field.
We make sure we optimise our content to give us the best chance of being discovered through Google search results. Our website has been redesigned every few years, which helps keep our brand looking modern and fresh. We use WordPress, but there are lots of cool content management systems out there.”
Being mindful of potential risks and guarding against them
Having specialist DJ insurance is essential in order to protect both yourself and your equipment against the risks that come with being a DJ.
Let’s say, for instance, you accidentally injure someone at one of your shows, if they trip over a wire, or fall into one of your speakers. You could be deemed culpable for this and be subjected to a potentially costly compensation claim.
This is why Public Liability is essential for DJs. Public Liability protects your legal liability if a claim is made against you for third party injury or property damage, and most live venues will not allow you to play live unless you can prove you have it.
Another essential piece of cover for DJs is Equipment Cover, which protects you if your equipment is lost, stolen or accidentally damaged. As you know, DJ equipment often doesn’t come cheap. Therefore, if something happened to your equipment, you want to know that you can get it repaired or replaced with minimum fuss.
That’s why, at Insure4Music, we will replace your equipment new-for-old if it was purchased new at the time and is up to three years old.
Terron Murray, a London-based mobile wedding, corporate and events DJ: “Having specialist DJ Insurance is vital for my peace of mind and I know I’m protected if anything goes wrong.
Not only does having DJ insurance help you get your equipment repaired or replaced if it malfunctions. It also looks good on you if you can show the venue your credentials.
I would advise all other DJs to take out specialist insurance. If you’re involved in an accident and you’re not covered, it looks bad on your behalf.”