How to Become a DJ
Breaking into the music business isn’t for the weak at heart. It takes plenty of time, dedication, and patience along with a big heaping dose of passion to make things happen.
However, becoming a disc jockey is a great way to share your love of music with others while still making a great side income or building a career. In many cases, learning to use the equipment associated with being a DJ doesn’t require a fancy degree or tons of student loans to accomplish. All you need is an interest in entertaining people and a little bit of business knowledge. Plus, a bit of marketing sense, of course.
Whether you actually want to work in a radio station or just play music at local parties, the opportunity to become a DJ is easier today than ever before. This guide offers tips and suggestions to give you the confidence you need to make your dream come true.
The First Step in Becoming a Disc Jockey: Deciding What Type to Be
Just like any other hobby or job, there are certain things you need to do to hone your craft. The first step to becoming a DJ is to decide what type you want to be. There are several different types of DJs and knowing the difference between them is important. The most common are:
- Club DJ: When party goers visit a particular club, they expect a certain type of music and/or level of entertainment value. These types of disc jockeys generally work evenings and weekends to help keep the party going and the drinks flowing. This takes a solid ability to read a crowd and know when to play upbeat music or when to go a little slow.
- Performance DJ: These disc jockeys are part music selector and part musical artist. They know how to be live performers and might be engaged in processes like “scratching” or “mixing” as part of their set. They often have pretty large followings and audiences will attend a party just to see them in action.
- Party or Mobile DJ: These are the disc jockeys that most associate with weddings and birthday parties. They usually bring their own audio equipment and are paid to help liven up these types of events. They usually select what music is played and might even take requests from guests.
- Radio DJ: This is the one that is a common job at radio stations all over the country. To be a radio host or disc jockey, you have to apply for a job at a local station. The downside is that you might not get to pick the genre of music you play and you’ll likely need a bit of a broadcasting or marketing background to get hired.
- Podcaster or Internet DJ: This is a fairly new addition to the different types of disc jockeys. Since most corporate radio employees have lost the ability to choose what music to play, many with a love for the profession have opted to start their own podcasts or start an internet streaming station. However, this can be incredibly hard to monetize, so most just do this as a hobby or for fun.
Not sure you can decide on which one you want to be? Many people opt to do multiple varieties. For example, they might work a few shifts at a local radio station, own a party music company, and then have a YouTube channel or podcast on the side. As a creative endeavor, the possibilities for you to showcase your craft are nearly endless!
Knowing Your Overall Goals in Becoming a DJ
After you’ve determined what type of disc jockey you want to be, it is important to determine what your overall goals are. Do you want to just share your love of music with others part-time or are you hoping to monetize the process as a business? Is there a set income level you need to accomplish in order to quit your day job or feel successful? Write these goals down with a list of the steps you need to take to get there.
If fame and fortune is all that you’re after, there’s a good chance you might need to evaluate your overall decision. Most professional performance DJs don’t ever make it big unless they have an advanced understanding of marketing, building a social media following, and merchandising. Even then the percentage of those who make a massive income is generally low.
Instead, most people focus on the entrepreneurial aspect of being a DJ instead of just making a boatload of cash. Sometimes goals are a bit more emotional than tangible or financial. Is there a particular artist you want to meet or work with? Is your goal to provide free music services for charity events? Do you just want to work gigs a certain number of weekends a month to help bring joy to people versus trying to make a side income?
Making these decisions ahead of time can help you achieve your biggest desires in less time and help keep the process of becoming a DJ streamlined to your overall vision.
Understand the Equipment and Software Needed to Be a DJ
Next, you need to understand the various pieces of equipment and software needed to be a disc jockey. Just like any other occupation or hobby, there are certain things you need to own and understand how to use to take part. Pricing runs the gamut from entry-level affordable to over-the-top technical.
While some beginning and practicing disc jockeys start out with a quality laptop and software, most begin with a bit of audiovisual equipment. The most common items for beginners to use include:
- Input Devices: If you’re taking things so-called old school, you’ll want input devices. If you plan on mixing music, you’ll need two of them—either a turntable for vinyl records or CD decks. There are a wide range of choices on the market, so it really depends on your particular style whether you utilize these or not.
- Mixer: A mixer allows you to make smooth transitions between different recordings and play specially pre-set sounds. Essentially, this is an ideal toolkit if you’re planning on using input devices.
- Headphones: Music gigs can get pretty loud. That is why most DJs opt to use high-quality headphones while they are spinning music. This helps you hear the beat and determine the right timing to switch music rhythmically—without having to listen over the sound of a club crowd or party audience.
- Sound System/Speakers: This probably sounds like a no-brainer, but you need high-end speakers so that everyone in the room can hear what you’re playing! These can run a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars depending on your budget, taste, and needs. However, most venues have their own speakers, so this is definitely an optional part of your DJ setup.
- Controller: If you’re planning on doing everything digitally, then you’ll likely only need a high-quality controller and a laptop. This equipment piece mimics the job that turntables and mixers do, while allowing the DJ to manipulate the mixing software accordingly. Essentially, this gives you the ability to turn knobs and switches physically while mixing music without having to click with a mouse—which is a much better option for live shows or gigs.
If you’re planning on mixing music digitally, you’ll need software to get the job done. The most commonly used applications for beginning DJs are Serato DJ Pro, but others like Rekordbox DJ by Pioneer DJ and Traktor Pro by Native Instruments are also popular. All three easily support most controllers and mixers. And, just like any other technological industry, there are always new versions, updates, and innovative programs coming out that make the process of being a beginner DJ easier than ever before.
Want to become a radio disc jockey? Most stations have their own equipment and software, so you won’t likely have to invest in any yourself. However, they do usually require that you have a basic working knowledge of the radio process, advertising, using a mixer, talking into a microphone, etc. It is important to have conversations with those already in the industry about what it takes to get hired at a major station. In fact, go ahead and send a Facebook message or an email to your favorite local DJ. In most cases, they’ll be happy to answer any questions you have about the process and even tell you how they got into the business themselves.
Learn Basic Terminology and Processes Used by Most DJs
If you want to become a DJ, it is important to learn basic terminology and processes associated with the craft. Think elements like mixing, beats, bass, and how to run the various pieces of equipment mentioned in a previous section. While there are far too many different ones to include in this list, you have two options for how you can learn these things.
First, you can choose to go to a specialized training course or school. This can either be in-person at a local studio or online. Both are acceptable options that have their merits, but if you live in a small town or need flexible scheduling, an online course has a slight advantage.
If you’re really a go-getter and actually want to take the college route in learning how to be a disc jockey, there are a number of options. Many musically-centered programs at most universities and community colleges offer music production classes. Past that, you can also study broadcasting, radio promotion, advertising, marketing, and other similar courses. Some schools even offer entire degrees based around radio broadcasting—which essentially translates to being a professional radio disc jockey!
Your second choice is to become self-taught. There are plenty of online guides out there to help you learn various terms and methods associated with becoming a DJ. You can also lookup YouTube videos, which have become an amazing resource in recent years for those interested in this art.
Besides just basic DJ skills, you’ll also want to spend time getting to know your chosen software and digital equipment. There are plenty of forums online to help guide you and multiple Facebook Groups for peer recommendations. And most software programs like Traktor Pro have official sites online to help guide you in your learning.
Start Basic Business Formation and Booking Gigs as a DJ
While you might love the idea of becoming a disc jockey, it is important to remember that it is a business. If you plan on making money, you need to form a basic business and handle tasks like opening a commercial bank account and filing as an entity with the state you live in. You’ll also want to get an accountant to help with tax matters. The exact process by which this happens largely depends on where you plan on working, so it is important to research this process thoroughly.
Then you’ll want to start booking gigs. Check with local bars, clubs, and restaurants about opportunities to show off your talent. Get to know promoters in your area and find out what their needs are. You can also put together a small sampling of mixed music and send it into a local party rental company.
Even still, you can stop by venues and introduce yourself by dropping off a business card or talk to local wedding and party planners. Networking is a great way to build personal relationships that turn into paying gigs should they ever throw a party that needs a DJ.
Remember that you’re selling them a brand or a persona—someone who is there to entertain a crowd and make sure everyone is having a great time—not a guy or gal who just really likes music and wants to try to make a business of it. Be professional, polite, and courteous throughout the whole process. After all, you never know when a small interaction could turn into landing your dream gig!
If you’re looking to become a radio host, you’ll want to see what various media companies in your area have available. In most cases, one large syndicated company owns a large chunk of the radio stations in a given market including those in multiple genres. See if they have any job openings on their website and apply with your resume. If you do not have any formal training, you’ll want to include any musical hobbies you’ve enjoyed over the years or other related reasons why they should hire you. Many are willing to train the right person to become a disc jockey if you have a curiosity for the industry, are teachable, and have a basic knowledge of what the job requires.
Build a Following with Social Media
After you’ve done a few gigs, you need to start building your social media and online presence.
If you’re looking to really grow your disc jockey business into something that’s a full-time venture, make sure to study digital marketing to some extent. Learning how to get your information out in front of the right people is crucial to your success and there’s no better opportunity for new DJs than the internet.
This wasn’t always the way. Decades ago, it was acceptable to simply put up fliers and hope for the best. Today, the industry requires you to be both entertaining and understand the business behind growing your career as a disc jockey.
You’ll want to open up profiles on a few of the most popular social media platforms. Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are also good ideas. YouTube—one of the fastest growing and continually used sites—is also a wise choice.
Take frequent videos of your gigs or include clips of music you’ve mixed. Post them to social media to help grow your following and increase the number of people interested in your work. You can even take things a step further by offering branded merchandise for sale on your pages or offer sneak peeks of upcoming sounds to loyal followers.
You should also set up a website that showcases your skills. If you’re planning on being a party disc jockey, create a page that includes the option to contact you for a quote or see immediate pricing. This is your online real estate to sell yourself as a professional, so make sure it looks great and includes as much information or multimedia content as possible. Study up on how to get your site to appear for keywords like “disc jockey” and “local DJ” on Google. Or, if you aren’t marketing savvy, find a partner who can help make these things happen.
Again, it is important to remember that as a professional DJ, you’re a brand and not an individual. Think of yourself as an artist that need promotion and marketing to really sell what you have to offer. If you keep this mindset from the very beginning of learning to be a DJ, you can easily turn a part-time hobby into a lifelong career.
What Else You Need to Know About Becoming a DJ
It’s important to remember that becoming a DJ isn’t for everyone. The process takes a lot of practice, learning, and an open mind. While there are no set requirements for becoming a disc jockey, you really do have to have a love of music and a good ear for how to put various tracks together into something that people want to listen to.
The other great part about becoming a DJ is that you can follow your heart when it comes to genre. Many great famous DJs have found success by mixing various types of music together to create something new—think Marshmello’s collaboration with Kane Brown or the wildly successful crossover between country and rap called Old Town Road.
However, the most important thing to remember is that it still requires an openness to learn, a basic business sense, and the ability to market yourself appropriately. Keep these things in mind and set goals for yourself, and in short order you’ll start to build a DJ business that you can really be proud of.
How much money can you make as a disc jockey? This is a difficult question to answer. Like most industries, the amount of time and effort you put into being a disc jockey has a huge impact on the amount of income you’ll earn. However, there are some basics to consider. Those who are self-employed tend to make higher than this figure as they set their income by the number of hours worked and the amount of effort they put into their business. Those who work for a company or at a radio station tend to earn less money but have a steadier income.
Do you need a college degree to become a DJ? In a basic sense, you do not need a college degree to become a disc jockey. Most professional ones do not have more than a basic high school degree. However, it might be helpful to attend college classes on music theory, psychology, marketing, or business. These classes can help form other skills necessary to become a successful DJ with a thriving business.
Does it cost a lot of money to become a DJ? The process of becoming a DJ is largely about skill and not necessarily about equipment. If you want to become a DJ and have a lot of passion about the craft, you can easily learn skills by just looking online. However, to go professional you’ll need some upgraded software and equipment that can easily cost a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
Is it possible to learn everything there is to know about being a DJ? Like most occupations and hobbies, there is no limit to what you can learn about the topic. As music and technology consistently change, so do the dynamics of being a disc jockey. Always keep studying your craft and stay up-to-date with trends in the industry. Not only will this make you more competitive in the field, it gives you the chance to stand out and gain a very loyal following that never gets bored with your performances.
Am I always guaranteed an income as a DJ? Sadly, most disc jockeys do not have a guaranteed income. If you are self-employed or only working on a gig basis, there is less of a chance of having a steady income. Those who are employed in the radio industry or work as a DJ for a party company often have a better chance of having a reliable income. If you’re planning on making this line of work your only career, it is best to find a combination of various jobs related to being a DJ until you’ve marketed to brand to the point of having somewhat steady success.
What if I just want to be a DJ as a hobby? The great thing about being a DJ is that there is no requirement to make it a full-time job. If you just love the artistry, enjoy music, and want to make people happy during some of their most impressionable moments, then you can succeed as a disc jockey. Many party businesses hire DJs on an event-by-event basis, and some radio stations offer weekend or part-time shifts. You can even volunteer to DJ at charity events, school programs, and more.
How do I become a famous DJ? This is kind of a loaded question. Fame—in any industry—is hard to achieve alone without some sort of practice or talent. However, there are ways you can help spur your success and improve your notoriety. Learn skills in marketing, promotions, and online advertising to help ensure you land more gigs and have a devoted audience who always wants to come out and see you.