How To Book Your First Gig: DJ Edition

Brok Neilsen, Managing Director of Together Agency, gives us insights on how to book your first gig as an artist

How to book your first gig…? First of all, what is it to get a booking?

For the sake of this blog, we won’t class playing music at your friend from high school’s 19th birthday to a bunch of drunk teens as a booking.

Instead, I’m going to walk you through the steps on how to book your first gig at a licensed venue/festival.

It’s Time to Prepare

This first point is so critical in your journey to get a booking, so I’m going to break it down into a bunch of smaller points so we can go into a bit more detail.

1. Mental

Up until this moment you’ve probably been thinking … ‘I’m never going to get booked. What am I doing wrong? Why hasn’t anyone contacted me to play at their venue?’

How you control your mindset in this time can be a massive help to how quickly you work through this and get booked. Spend some time setting some clear goals. Start with something small like “I will send off 10 emails to prospective venues this week”. Then work up to your big goal of “I will lock in a residency at X venue”.

Writing things out like this helps get the thoughts out of your head and on paper. It actually helps you make them feel more real.

2. Digital

This is where you send people online when you’re trying to show them what you’re all about. Whether it’s your Instagram account, website or Soundcloud profile, if someone went there right now would it be out of date with a bunch of out-of-context posts, information and media?

A talent buyer for a venue/event is generally looking for 3 things online when they look you up. Video content, audio content and imagery of you performing. If these 3 things aren’t easy to locate, out of date or just really messy, it can be an automatic turn-off.

But wait … you most likely haven’t performed anywhere yet, so how would you have any videos or images playing somewhere? Easy fix; when you’re recording that example mixtape, film a couple of short videos and grab a couple of pictures. It really is that simple.

The buyer needs to see and hear the product they’re buying. As is the case with literally anything you purchase in life. Make this process as easy as possible for them and you will reap the benefits.

3. Physical 

Practise, Practise, Practise. Love multiple genres? Go and record a mix of each one. Then go and record a mix with all of them in one. Love how this one particular DJ uses an effect? Study it online and practice it until you can do it blindfolded. The more you practice the greater your confidence grows and then leaks into everything else I’ve mentioned above. The greats never stop trying to improve their skill set. If you want to be a part of that then you will need to put in the hours.

3 DJ's playing a gig
source: Instagram @houseof.felix

Branding

Besides making sure your skills are up to scratch to be booked, branding is a close second on your road to getting prepared. When getting booked for a gig you become a contractor hired by the business for the purpose of entertainment. This is something people forget so early. Most of the time you start DJing at a young age so you feel like going for a gig is the same as applying for a normal job. I’ve had people send me a resume before (no joke). This is totally different. You are a business entity, a brand that is looking to be hired by another company.

To better understand the following points, you should take some time to go online and scroll through a few of your favourite artist profiles/websites. Get a feel for what the people (businesses/brands) you look up to are doing. Sometimes, the quickest way to move forward, instead of innovating, is to emulate. So if you’re stuck, find something you like and emulate it.

DOWNLOAD BROK’S CHECKLIST ON PERSONAL BRANDING

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    Step Out Of Your Bubble

    Want to meet prospective talent buyers? You aren’t going to find them at your place. Go out and be active in your local scene. Try to head out at least once a week. This doesn’t mean go out and get turbo every weekend. This is about curating your night out. Finding those small clubs with the local DJs.

    Recognise someone from online? Go and say Hi.

    It’s understandable you might be nervous in these types of situations, but hey … who isn’t? The biggest thing about going to shows is you never know who you can run into at the venue. Whether it’s the door person, Venue Manager or the Talent Buyer – they are all connected. Making an impression with one can always have a trickle-down effect.

    Your main goal is to just connect and meet with as many people associated with each venue as possible. That way when someone is thinking about who can fill a spot next week on rotation, you’re the first and only name that comes up.

    I have seen this exact tactic leap-frog someone’s whole career.

    Brok Neilsen and friends at a gig
    source: Instagram @themollierose

    Give, Give, Give

    Give more upfront than what you want in return. It’s a super simple strategy but artists forget about it every single day.

    When you are building your network you need to think about what you can do for them. Another DJ pushing a mixtape? Why don’t you repost it? Leave a valuable comment on it (not just a flame emoji). Send them a text telling them about your favourite part or maybe it’s garbage and you can help them with some advice.

    Remember networking is about being honest. Of course, don’t just be mean for the sake of it, but offer real constructive criticism where necessary.

    Venue post a cool event that you wish you were a part of? Hit them up and ask if they want some help selling tickets. This one in particular is pretty common for a DJ. Promoting for an event at your local venue gives you direct access to the booker and the ability to build a relationship with them one to one.

    In the end, you don’t want to be surrounding yourself with fake people. You want your network to help you grow in more ways than one. When you put others in front of yourself, whether intended or unintended, things just happen. Be it in life or business.

    Not only will it make you feel good, but it’ll provide you the leverage that you can utilise if the opportunity comes knocking.

    Get Your Hands Dirty

    This method can be particularly difficult for a lot of people. It’s actually a lot easier to get someone to shovel dirt into 100 plastic bags than to go on Instagram and send 100 individuals a DM enquiring about a gig.

    It’s because as humans we don’t have a fear of hard work, we have a fear of rejection. One of these jobs sounds way easier than the other but mentally it is 100 times more difficult. It’s not for everyone but we have seen first-hand the success that can come from it.

    Now this isn’t just copying and pasting the same message to 100 accounts, no one wants to receive spam emails the same as they don’t want spam DMs. You have to take the time to individually curate a message to suit each business/client.

    Here’s an example of a DM/email I’ve sent before, I’ve changed some info to suit you if you were looking to book your first gig.

    meme on typewriter to highlight the importance of outreaching when trying to book a gig
    "Dear ***,
    
    Hope you’re doing well.
    
    I’m {Your Name} from {Your Artist Name}, a DJ from the Gold Coast. I have been DJing for approx. 1 year now. I am comfortable playing multiple genres including pop, RnB and house music. I have created a few mixes that I feel fit into the music styling for your venue below. The first one in particular, I made as an example opening set I might play.
    
     Opening Mix – ***
     High Energy Mix – ***
     Left of Centre Mix – ***
    
    If you get a chance to listen to the mixes above you will hear that I have a very adaptable sound. I’d love the opportunity to come and meet in person to discuss the potential for a gig at your venue. If necessary, I am open to the possibility of my initial gig being on a trial basis. 
    
    Thanks
     – {Your Name}
    
    {A Link to your best social account}" 
    

    I’ve called it ‘getting your hands dirty’ because it’s a never-ending process. When you have free time head to Instagram, search the area you want to play in and find relevant venues/clients to DM.

    Keep going until your fingers are sore.

    Circle Back

    What no one tells you is the hardest thing to do after the steps above and building a bit of a network is how to keep it.

    Now this takes a lot less work than the 2 points above. But it’s still an essential part. Because you do not want to be reaching out to that contact in your network 2 years down the track about something that could make or break that next gig.

    Keeping your network warm is the most essential part of keeping it useful. This can be as simple as an email sharing a new mix or song of yours, a casual text or dropping into the venue or an artist’s gig. Don’t let them forget about you. Stay in touch, so eventually, when you do have to ask for a favour, it isn’t weird.

    All the points above will help you book your first gig but this one will help you to keep them coming in.

    This is a pretty in-depth guide on how to book your first gig as an artist. It is not an exact science but if you work through this one by one you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll see results. This is simply because only a tiny percentage of people ever put that much effort into their careers as artists. A lot of the time it’s all about the music or skill level doing the talking. This can also work, but only in very very limited cases.

    The key is to make yourself a list of what you need and knock them over one by one. Get prepared as best you can and then follow through with relentless persistence. And remember, relationships are key, once you book the first gig is when you put the hammer down to turn that into more shows.

    [If you’re in need of some fresh artist shots, One76 Photo Studio has the space to pull off any creative idea you might have. Or if you’re out of ideas, contact us to book a creative consult where we can brainstorm and come up with the perfect concept for your brand].

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