The secret to a great party is a formidable soundtrack, which means that a skilled DJ is essential for any successful bash. With the duty of keeping the party going with a killer playlist, DJs have one of the coolest jobs ever. But pursuing this career means so much more than just making mixtapes and keeping up appearances on your Spotify profile.
DJing requires practice, dedication, and an ear for tunes that keep a crowd excited. The path to booking gigs may seem unclear, but luckily five NYLON-approved DJs have let us in on how they became event regulars. Follow their tips for spinning and making your way in the music biz, and you might just land your dream job.
I had actually dreamt of being a DJ since I was really young. My cousin was a radio DJ in Atlanta and I thought it was such an ideal job to play the music that you love. I started learning a few tips from friends in Milwaukee, but I really learned everything from Jérémie Khlat when I lived in Paris. I watched him five nights a week for a few months, and then he started teaching me little by little. I made my own playlists on CDs to spin with when I’d play along with him, and eventually one night at Le Montana, Jérémie disappeared from the DJ booth without a word and left me playing solo for the first time ever for what felt like hours but I’m sure was maybe 30 minutes. After that, I started spinning more alongside him and then when I returned to New York, I secured my first gig at the Boom Boom Room at the top of the Standard Hotel, which then turned into a Friday night residency.
How would you describe your DJ style?
I generally love playing disco, old dance hits, funk, rock, and new remixes.
How do you primarily land gigs? Now it’s almost all through my agency since I really only spin for events, but a lot of the initial connections were through friends and people I met either while DJing, shooting, or through other mutual friends. I’m lucky that my photography overlaps so often with DJing, it’s fun to play DJ gigs for brands I’ve photographed for, and vice versa.
What advice would you give to an aspiring DJ? Just like any other skill, it truly takes a lot of time and practice, and I think it’s best to find an experienced DJ who is willing to show you the ropes—there are so many little tips and tricks that you definitely can’t learn on your own. It also really helps to have prior knowledge of music theory, and extremely important to know the music that you’re playing.
What's your favorite thing about DJing? Honestly, it’s amazing to watch people get excited and have a great time thanks to the music I played.
I was originally in corporate marketing, surprisingly, but I always had a passion for different genres of music. My friends started bringing me out to New York clubs; the parties were cool but I grew a focus for the DJs. My friends pushed me to go for it and start a career—and I did. I connected with DJ Kiss thereafter and started moving my career in the right direction. Things picked up from that point organically!
How would you describe your DJ style?
I DJ an open-style format. My specialties are old school, disco, and funk music!
How do you primarily land gigs?
I initially booked gigs through word of mouth. Word spreads fast here in New York. From there I built relationships with the clubs, promoters, and corporate accounts. Whenever they need me they call or email. I meet more and more people every time I DJ. Management also brings in gigs and helps me chose which ones are right for my brand!
What advice would you give an aspiring DJ?
I'd tell an aspiring DJ to stay grounded and stay humble. No matter what opportunities come your way and how easy it may seem to get distracted—stay focused on your long-term goals and work hard. People will doubt you, people will support you, people will do anything to see you either fail or succeed but the most important thing is to continue to grow—both personally and in your career!
What's your favorite thing about DJing?
There's no better feeling than to have vinyl spinning under my fingertips, music in my headphones and smiling faces on the dance floor. Thats what made me fall absolutely in love with DJing. I'm obsessed with DJing!
How did you get started DJing? I have a storied past of dancing, singing in bands and choirs, and musical theatre. Sometime in 2008, I was very unfulfilled at my 9-5 office job and was looking for a new musical creative outlet. I grew up around a lot of DJs, and I thought it was time to give that a try as a hobby. So that was it, I just bought some hand-me-down equipment, and became obsessed with the craft. Over time it evolved from a hobby to a moonlighting gig, and now I get to do it for a living!
How would you describe your DJ style? I mainly play future bass, rap, hip hop, R&B, a little techno, a little house, a little indie. My favorite genre of music is 90’s R&B. How do you primarily land gigs? Through word of mouth and through mixtapes. I've had different careers over time and a slew of odd ball jobs that i've met lots of people through. Pretty often I'll get an email that starts with, "Hey we interned together at that reality TV show five years ago. You were super nice to me and now I'm the head of marketing at xyz company, wanna DJ for us?" What advice would you give an aspiring DJ? There are a few things that I have always followed that apply to any type of career path.
Trust your taste, don't just do what everyone else is doing. Follow your interests, let your personality shine through.
Share what you're working on, you never know whose ears will land on your music.
Keep studying and trying to be the best at your craft. Looking cute behind the decks is a small fraction of the job. Knowing your technique and knowing your equipment and proper DJ etiquette will get you a lot of respect in the game.
Always give your best effort, whether 1 person is watching you DJ or 50,000 people are watching.
Be polite to everyone, show up on time, say please and thank you. The little things go a long way. Treat everyone with equal and utmost importance, treat every gig like it is the most important gig of your life.
What's your favorite thing about DJing? My job is to help people relax and enjoy time with their friends. I love that I get to facilitate good vibes for a living.
How did you get started DJing? I've always had a passion for music. When I was 15, I started taking classes at Scratch Academy, really liked it and decided I wanted to take more classes. I then went to dubspot (another DJ school) for a few months, and simply said, "Mommy I want to be a DJ." How would you describe your DJ style? Groovy? I like anything that I can dance to. As a DJ you control the crowd, so hopefully if I'm moving, the crowd is moving as well. I love old school R&B and hip hop as well as dance music. My taste is a bit eclectic. How do you primarily land gigs? I land gigs by word of mouth, by people coming across my mixes on Soundcloud, Tumblr, or IG. And of course my mother and family are always helping me to get gigs if they can. What advice would you give an aspiring DJ? Practice practice practice, and try to find your own sound, or that one thing that will make you stand out. Also, don't get swallowed into the digital DJ world, turntables are still cool. What's your favorite thing about DJing? My favorite thing about DJing is when I look out into the crowd and see people really jamming out. It's awesome, that always puts a huge smile on my face. Another favorite thing is that with DJing, I can always bring back those good old school hits and mix them with whatever is current, and just have a fun time with it.