Why You’re Not Getting Discovered or Noticed as a DJ

Have you stopped and thought recently about how rapidly technology has changed our lives?  I’m not just talking about how we all carry phones now that let us play Candy Crush on the toilet.  It goes beyond gadgets.  There are more ways than ever to forge your own path that enables you to live the type of lifestyle you want.  For the artist, there are more means than ever available to get your art or product out into the hands of other people, all around the world, with simply a click of the mouse.

But for those of us who want to perform, to be noticed… why is it still so hard?

If you think about it, it’s a silly question.  You could also ask, “With all of these kitchen tools available to me, why aren’t people beating my door down to eat my home-baked cookies?  I’ve practiced for 10 years in my home and I’m damn good!”

“Pick Me, Pick Me!”

It would certainly be easier to be noticed as a baker if only one out of 50 homes had an oven.  Just like it would be easier to be noticed for your photography if you had one of the cameras in the world.  Or, just like it would be easier for good DJs to be noticed if there were higher barriers to entry… such as the cost of records, turntables, and the skill to mix them manually.

There would also be a lot of bakers, photographers, and DJs around the world with great talent and potential that would never have even realized their own worth because of these entry barriers.

The truth of the matter is that this is the kind of world we live in, these days.  All the information we could ever want is right at our fingertips.  We can learn how to do just about anything if we want it enough… much of the time, for nearly nothing.  And we have the entire world on the other end of our computer screen.  The entire earth is our potential audience.  Know what the entry barrier for most things is, these days?  Our own selves.

And this thought depresses you?  Aye yi yi!

So many people seem to have it stuck in their heads that they just need to be discovered.  It’s a nice thought: to be anointed by someone in a position of power, catapulted forward into the inner circle where your hard work will finally be realized by your hungry public.  After all, what else have you been building up all these skills for?  You’ve paid your dues, now it’s time for one of the veterans of the scene to pull you up on stage and hand the decks over… passing along the torch of stardom to you, the deserving practician.

Here’s the thing, though.  It’s difficult to just “get picked”.  Really difficult.  Nearly impossible.  Not only that, but those doing the “picking” don’t have the same level of power that they used to.  Because, guess what?  You have access to all of the great tools and information that they do.  Nobody is Oprah.  Or, everyone is… I’m not sure which.

Undiscovered, or Lazy?

It is entirely your choice if you wish to devote your efforts towards getting picked or discovered.  But, it’s a bit of a dangerous thought to assume that you have no choice in the matter.

We’re rapidly approaching 2014, and it amazes me how much of a disconnect there is.  They realize that DIY rules these days… after all, it’s how they were able to discover their passion and talents in the first place.  Yet, when it comes to actually being successful, they think that the technology allows them to be lazy… to sit back and wait for the masses to come and adore them at their feet.

Today’s technology and tools enable the hustle… they don’t replace it!  You’ve gotta get your hands dirty, folks.

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This isn’t bad news.  Today, it’s easier than it has ever been to build your own future and to realize a successful project/album/career that doesn’t depend on being discovered or picked by someone in a position of power!

All it means is that you are still in the driver’s seat.  Sitting around, waiting to get discovered in a sea of noise is nearly impossible.  Do the math… sure, there’s more resources available to you and a higher potential audience.  But, there are also a great deal more media outlets, tracks to listen to, and well-crafted DJ demos to sort through.  You can’t stand out these days by being a competent, or even “good”, DJ.  When everyone is an expert, nobody is!

If you’ve built an app that won’t be profitable unless you’re featured on the front page of iTunes, the problem isn’t with the front page of iTunes, the problem is with the design of your app. Ideas built to spread are more likely to spread.

If your plan requires getting picked and you’re not getting picked, you need a new plan. I’m betting it will turn out far better in the end, but yes, indeed, I understand that it’s harder than being anointed. Your talent deserves the shift in strategy that will let you do your best work.

The problem isn’t that it’s impossible to pick yourself. The problem is that it’s frightening to pick yourself. It’s far easier to put your future into someone else’s hands than it is to slog your way forward, owning the results as you go.

Seth Godin

Stop Being Afraid of “No”

Just like being on a job hunt, opportunities are not going to inherently seek you out.  And, likewise, it usually feels like there are a lot more job hunters than there are jobs.  Be prepared to hear the word “no” a lot, and know that this will happen going in.

Once you realize what the math looks like, you also start to realize that emailing one or two promoters isn’t really going to send your DJ career into the stars.  There’s a whole world of decent DJs out there, willing to play at 9 O’Clock for free/beer.

Also, that doesn’t mean that you go spam yourself silly until someone takes notice.  That’s just noise, and that is not going to help you.  What you need to do is realize the ways that you can provide value to the promoter/customer/club owner that you’re talking to, as well as to your audience.  What is it that you do that stands you apart, and in what ways are you willing to put in the “hustle hours” to make sure the relationship is mutually beneficial?  The honest truth is that any successful DJ these days is a promoter themselves.  They know that they have to be.

You need to make yourself visible to your audience and to your clientele.  Give the promoter/customer a reason that you should be allowed to command their dancefloor and put their reputation on the line.

Seek these people and venues out, and contact them directly.  Start a friendly relationship with them.  Network like a gentleman.  Support other things that they do.  But don’t be afraid of the word “no”.  Or, think of it this way: the answer is always “no” if you don’t ask.

Motivated, Not Jaded

For most experienced DJs, the problem is not that they are not good enough or that they play terrible music.  It’s that they aren’t willing to get out of their comfort zone.  They are stagnant, grumpy, competent DJs.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nothing is guaranteed.  If you shift your focus on becoming valuable to others, you’re already much more well-equipped to advance yourself along your journey (and you’ll enjoy it a lot more, too).  The bitter and downtrodden DJ is almost never having a good time, and it’s easy for these people to shift the blame onto other people… like those who never gave him/her a chance.

The honest truth is that you need to have a bit of a thick skin, be humble, and plod along.  You can’t just prove yourself once in order to get noticed.  You have to be proving yourself so much that it’s impossible to be missed.  Have faith, be nice, support others, and never stop.

“You can’t just prove yourself once in order to get noticed.  You have to be proving yourself so much that it’s impossible to be missed.”

Outside the Box

One of the best things you can do to set yourself apart is to throw away everything you know about the scene you’re trying to break into.

If you’re fortunate enough to live in a larger city, close to a large and successful venue that plays the type of music you’re interested in, you may think that you’re in an advantage.  But, guess what?  There are hundreds of other people standing in line, waiting for their turn to be noticed.

Know what I did to establish myself locally?  I approached failing bars, quirky shops, new lounges with no music program, hair salons, or anywhere that I thought I could be of value.  I played art shows, bachelor auctions, street fairs, and restaurants.  I did everything with purpose, and focused on making myself useful to them.  I did this for years, until I realized that people eventually started coming to me.  Now I don’t have to look as hard.  But, that doesn’t mean the hustle is over!  I’m only now starting to see the fruits of my labor.

This year, specifically, I’ve really been trying to come up with ways to do something just a little bit different.  This blog, for example, has already opened up tons of doors for me.  It’s put me in contact with people that never had a reason to notice me before, and it’s leading to good things both for my DJing and for my development as a person.  I’m working on a lot of cool new ways to promote (instead of spam, or beg for attention), and as I try them, I will keep posting them here.

Treat It Like a Business (Whether It Is or Not)

Not everyone is willing or able to quit the day job to focus on DJing and producing full time, and that’s fine.  At the time of writing this, that includes me.

However, there is a lot of reason to treat it like it is.  Whether you like it or not, you’re constantly branding yourself.  People see you on Facebook and Twitter.  They know how you act, who you associate with, and what your thoughts are on certain things.  Or, at least, they have built up their own perception about you… true or not.  It’s important to be your own PR campaign manager.

Ask anyone who has started their own business after quitting their day job, and you’ll realize that their situation is probably similar.  Times are tough early on.  But they have learned and grown with those struggles, and so will you.  They have learned what works and what doesn’t, because they had to.

Whether or not your intent is to take this full time (and you’d better be very well connected and motivated before making that decision), putting an air of professionalism towards your craft is something worth doing if you’re truly passionate about it.  It will get you much farther, and will help you to stay connected with the right kinds of people.

Building a successful business is about providing value to your customers, and that’s exactly why I push that so much on the blog and the podcast.  It’s a concept which carries over into DJing, whether it’s your business, hobby, passion, or interest.

Final Tips

  • Build up your Internet presence to the best of your ability.  Soundcloud is pretty crucial for producers and musicians these days, and Mixcloud is great for hosting demo mixes.  Treat your Facebook fan page like a business would.  Spruce up your bio.  And an actual homepage is always a great idea.  We’ll be talking more about that in the future…
  • Don’t get caught up with gear.  It’s largely irrelevant.  Focus on your output and your value, not what you’re playing on.  Use what you’re comfortable with, and what makes sense.
  • Support, support, support.  Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate.
  • Be patient and humble.  Put in the work, and don’t expect overnight success… that’s the exception, not the rule.
  • Remember that this is your passion (that’s why you’re at PassionateDJ.com, right?)  Sometimes, you’re going to have events that bomb, or nights that don’t go well, or months where little happens.  Your passion will get you through the hard times.  Learn from these failures.
  • Be clever.  When you run into hurdles, don’t complain or get discouraged… try to think of a way to use them to your advantage.  (Items one and two here are some good examples.)
  • Enjoy the ride.

And, of course, keep coming back for new posts and podcast episodes.  This is the way that I’m trying to provide value to you!

I would love to hear more about your journey, and the struggles you’ve dealt with as it relates to being noticed or getting gigs.  Post about it in the comments below, or send me your thoughts to david (at) passionatedj (dot) com.  I love hearing from you!