You are NOT a DJ. (Actually? You are. We all are.)

how to be a professional dj

In this age of iPod’s, Groove Shark, & iTunes, anyone with the memory of a goldfish can play list a 20-track set for the gym, drive to work, dinner party, or any random moment in which your life needs sound tracking.

how to be a professional djBut don’t you see? That’s just the problem. Your preferences are yours, and yours alone, and the rest of us could really give a rat’s ass about that obscure b-side slow jam that was playing when you were first kissed. Music is personal, intimate, and subjective according to your response to it. To really be a successful programmer, it’s people you need to understand, and more specifically, the audience that will be grooving, dancing or posing to your ironic hipster beats.

As a lifelong audiophile, I’ve set out the many ways to discover how understanding audiences has led me to an extremely lucrative career in the professional music industry.  

For me, it all started with the mix-tape. The Maxell XLII-S 90 music cassette was the blank canvas for a thirty-five track aural opus-de-force! Genre jumping, spoken word, sound effects, rare unpublished lost soul and funk tracks carefully stitched together like a handmade quilt. Now, the modern equivalent is the 80 minute twenty cent digital CD-R which when used with some free mixing software turns me into Brian bleeping Eno!

Now while it may appear exciting to expose your buddies to interesting soundscapes of fish’s farting, mixed with Thomas Dolby, this really is a dead end in terms of earning real money. So go corporate! Stir in equal parts Top 40, Classic funk and Cheesy Eighties into the free iTunes application and you can charge anybody willing, two hundred euros to soundtrack their wedding, corporate soiree, or school prom. This is no joke. People think that it’s about "The Mix" when in fact it’s actually about "The Tracks? that go into your carefully presented set.

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I can charge up to a thousand euros a night having built a steady and reputable reputation for not thinking I need to teach some auditorium full of strangers what they need to hear to be cool. Give them what they want, what they expect, and you’ll be gigging like Glen Quagmire in no time. The same applies for chi-chi Cafe Del Mar, Buddha Bar fare. If you shuffle a play list of the last five volumes of Hotel Costes or Claude Challe Presents you can waltz into your local Four Seasons in a cheap Zara suit, with a Mac Book and charge 200 euros a set to watch rich idiots hanging out drinking Appletini’s.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for groundbreaking, mind-altering sets of nuanced, innovative, never before felt DJ sets, but that just it. They don’t really happen. DJ’s profit from leeching off the success of other’s art, other’s musical expressions. DJ Bullshit is just feeding you the pseudo sentimental bleeps of that seasons hot new, yet increasingly annoying sound patches. He’s really selling you hype dressed up as required listener populism. Unless it’s accepted by the teaming masses, it won’t really fly on a commercial dance floor, and that’s again what we’re after, what they, the audience wants, not what you think they want.

Beat matching is the art of synching the drumbeats to a following track prior to the actual fade in of that track. While this takes just ten minutes learn, it can actually be faked with software called Traktor to stunningly, near perfect results. As a twenty-year veteran of play-listing commercial house music, it’s about playing what’s popular THAT exact week your performing. Sentimentality is also a key component here.

Playing tracks that reach into your soul and bring multi-colored liquid light onto your dance floor and add dimension and energy to a touristy blank venue. A three-hour commercial house set in most European capital cities pays about two hundred euros. Audio consultants play list music libraries for restaurants, hotel lobbies, and bars. This is a time consuming, yet high paying job that requires one to two week cycles of music that you periodically refresh with newer releases.

An extensive knowledge of an array of genres will help you sell your musical concept to a potential client. An extra portion of ambiguous market research concerning sales testing, with proven empirical data will allow you to charge them even more. Just check lobbies or chill out zones at The Standard, The W or any high end boutique hotel for an example of how to do this correctly. Licensing and usage issues are the law these days, so do your research concerning BMG/ASCAP regulations for those clients you advise and the local laws that apply to them.

Finally, and most interestingly, is the independent Radio DJ. While these gigs are most rare to come by, they are the Holy Grail for the aficionado music enthusiast. While they often don’t pay more than ten to fifteen euros an hour, you and your ego can finally spread your wings, breaking never before musical territory and turning other like minded individuals onto your specific other wordily vibe.

This dodo bird of occupations actually flips the normal rules around, turning the programmer into the Jedi master of unattainable musical nuggets. No play lists, means pure musical freedom. Radio is generally a short-term activity, so genre jumping is encouraged, and nothing is really taboo these days if it’s audio only. Real money can be made if you’re serious about sociology and audience needs, especially as they’re generally unaware when it’s done really well.

The science of play listing is not about expensive mixing consoles, and two thousand euro CD players; it IS about choosing tracks thoughtfully, with the end user being the finder of your golden musical egg.