Radio Presenter and DJ Maria Hanlon moved to London, from her home town of Bournemouth, in August 2021, and has since secured bookings at Café 1001, The Haggerston, Next Door Records, Spiritland, Radio Delicious, Voices Radio and Netil Radio. She shares her experience and top tips for getting booked as a DJ…
So you know how to DJ, but how do you get gigs? Well, there are many things you can do to increase your chances of being booked. I’ll talk you through each of these in the hope that you’ll be booked and busy in no time!
Where’s your favourite place to go on a night out? Who are the resident DJs there? Immerse yourself in your local music scene, go to the events you’d like to play at as a crowd member and then approach them as a DJ.
Love it or hate it, Instagram can be a brilliant business tool (see here for my previous article on creating Instagram content). Follow and engage with DJ collectives, radio stations, DJs, clubs, venues, bars, and festivals to keep your finger on the pulse with the music scene and ways you can get involved.
Every time I’ve been asked to play somewhere, my initial reaction was that I’m not ready or that I haven’t had enough experience yet. But if I didn’t say yes, how would I ever feel ready or gain that experience!? My advice would be, say yes to opportunities and see them as an exciting challenge and chance to become a more versatile DJ. You can practise before your booking at PIRATE.COM or our incredible new UD Talent House (as soon as it opens) to curate your playlist and practise your mixes. Plus, a huge benefit of saying yes to opportunities is networking, which I’ll get onto next.
I think networking is one of the best ways to get bookings. Attend music events, panel talks, gigs and launch parties and chat to people. There are always music people at these events so striking up a conversation could lead to future bookings or collaborations. Top tip – always follow up the next day with an email or message so they have your contact details and can keep in touch.
Another thing I have learnt about networking is, don’t be afraid to reach out to people you admire. I’ve emailed a few of my favourite DJs and broadcasters and asked if they’d be up for a quick coffee or phone call. You’ll be surprised how willing people are to help and give advice, as everyone started somewhere.
A final tip for networking – join group chats. They’re the perfect place to ask questions and share DJ opportunities. I’m a member of many different WhatsApp group chats for presenters and DJs and have been offered bookings through them, found out about gigs, been invited to events and made friends.
Practise, practise, practise! Practise as often as you can so that when an opportunity comes your way, you’re good to go. Create different sets for different genres or times of day and practise mixing them so you have a few backup sets in case you get asked to play last minute.
Build your brand, what vibe do you want to be known for bringing to a booking? For example, when you go and see DJ EZ play, you know what sort of energy he’s going to bring. Be unique and stand out, create your brand with the aim to be the go-to DJ for that genre/vibe/energy.
One of my first bookings was a B2B (back-to-back) on Halloween. Knowing that I had someone to DJ with made me feel a lot less nervous and we’d practised beforehand so knew what to expect from each other. Also, when you do a B2B or are part of a DJ duo, there are two of you to split the work of finding gigs, negotiating fees, buying music and all the admin that goes with it, which is always a plus. Reach out to people and see if there’s anyone you think you’d work well with as a B2B booking, or even just to practise mixing together.
It’s a really good idea to record your mixes and upload them to SoundCloud or Mixcloud, so you can easily send them out to people when trying to get booked. Your mixes are your chance to impress promoters, so it’s a good idea to have a few mixes to choose from. That way you can pick the most suitable one for that potential booking. You don’t want to send a heavy techno mix to a promoter looking for chill bar background beats after all!
Remember – when sending a mix, share a link to an uploaded mix (ideally to SoundCloud, Mixcloud or Google Drive) not the actual wav or MP3 file as this is likely to be a huge file and people might not want to download it.
When you’re starting out, unless you have a manager or agent, it’s up to you to find the work and promote yourself. Make a list of bars in your local area or city that you’d like to play at and email them with a mix and a little bit about yourself. You could also get business cards made to give out or ask to leave a few at music venues or record shops where the right sort of people might see them. The more you put yourself out there, the more likely you’ll find bookings.
So, what about the money side of things? How much do DJs get paid and should you ever DJ for free? One of my first gigs was unpaid as I was the warm up DJ for a really exciting new event and my set was only 30 mins long so I was happy to do it for free. Throughout the night I made great contacts, gained experience and sussed out the venue and vibe so all in all, I got a lot from it, despite the lack of fee. I think it can be beneficial doing a few of your first gigs for free but after that you should be paid for your skills.
DJ fees are often charged by the hour, I would say £50 is a good hourly rate when you’re starting out, although this can vary between bookings and depend on the size of the venue, the capacity, the length of your set and so on. Another thing to note is that your hourly rate doesn’t just cover the hour, the fee includes your experience, prep time, music, your own equipment (headphones, USB, backup drives) and sometimes travel to and from the venue which is worth remembering.
Approach An Agent
If you’re getting lots of bookings and feel like you need help managing them, then it might be time to get an agent. Agents have experience negotiating fees and plenty of contacts in the industry so they can help elevate your career and take care of the behind the scenes work so you can focus on DJing.
Many DJ collectives, radio stations and event organisers run DJ competitions or ‘Open Decks’, see an example from Keep Hush here. It’s a great way to get your name out there, play at different venues and potentially be asked back to play again. I recently entered Hunnisuckle’s competition and won, the prize was to play the warm up set at their event at Radio Delicious who also host weekly open decks.
One booking will lead to another and each time you play you will learn so much, whether that’s experience with different kit, crowds, promoters, venues…the list goes on! So put yourself out there, give my top tips a go and hopefully, your 2022 DJ diary will be filling up in no time!
Words: Maria Hanlon
Image: Jordan K Joseph
Listen to Maria Meets on the 2nd and 4th Friday of the month 3-5pm on voicesradio.co.uk