5 Things I Learned As a ‘Commercial’ DJ

picture of people dancing in a club-orientated bar

If you’re planning on travelling overseas to find DJ work anytime soon, you might want to pay attention!

The quick back-story…

Back in the mid-to-late 2000s, I had some regular slots at a few club-orientated bars in the Canary Islands.

Whilst they weren’t massive superclubs or anything like that, they definitely weren’t shoeboxes, either. Places that would typically hold 150 – 200 people.

Things would get very cheesy at times – which, considering I was always more of an underground-focussed DJ – I never saw coming.

Back then, I used to think of myself as a ‘’commercial DJ’’, simply because the music I had to play was mostly commercial.

My loose definition of a ‘commercial DJ’

I use the word ‘commercial’ in a very general sense to describe mainstream music…

Whether that’s the current Number 1 in the charts or a 20-year-old classic. It’s music that people have generally heard before: pop music, commercial dance (obviously), R&B, classic rock, 80s, 90s, and so on.

cheesy DJ photo

By this definition, a commercial DJ could encompass mobile DJs, wedding DJs, and depending on the bar or club in question, any kind of ”tourist market DJ” — which is basically what I was. You know the ones: the kind you’d typically find on the main strips in places like Ibiza, Majorca, and Tenerife.

In my specific example, I was almost like a hybrid between a club DJ and a mobile DJ…

That is to say: although I was playing on the venue’s club gear (CDJs) in a club-like environment, depending on the crowd, I’d regularly morph into a mobile DJ – regularly using the microphone whilst treating it more like a private party. I suppose the official umbrella term for it these days would be ‘open-format’ DJ’ing.

So then….. here are the 5 things I learned as a commercial DJ.

down pointing fingers (gif)

1. It’s Back To Basics (playing FOR the crowd)

When DJ’ing in any kind of commercially-orientated environment, playing what your audience wants to hear isn’t just important, it can be EVERYTHING!

Whilst smooth transitions are definitely a factor (obviously it’s not a good look if all your mixes sound like car crashes), it’s not something you want to get too bogged down with.

It’s not like an underground club where the audience has paid to get in and is committed to staying for the rest of the night, knowing roughly what to expect.

Because you have punters coming & going all the time, as the DJ, it’s largely YOUR responsibility to make sure they have 2, 3, or 4 drinks, rather than just 1 and then leaving!

Especially when it’s still early doors and the place is mostly empty, you might have to be a bit more flexible in taking requests. Almost like a jukebox on occasions.

In this environment, you shouldn’t be afraid to jump in and out of genres to see how people react!

The crowd are going to expect a good dose of what they know, and they want to feel warm & fuzzy like they ‘know their shit’, and it’s your job to give them what they want.

2. You’ll Need An Awesome Music Collection

Whilst it might seem like an obvious one, I have to mention it…

Especially for this kind of DJing, the need to nurture an extensive and varied music collection is an absolute non-negotiable. At least if you want to stand out from the mediocre DJs that don’t!

If you haven’t built a collection with love from the ground up, you could come unstuck navigating through it in a pressurized live environment …particularly if you’re getting smashed with song requests.

And besides, it’s going to make you a much better DJ if you can find the perfect tune for that perfect moment …and quickly!!

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3. It’s Definitely Not About You

Have you ever found yourself DJ’ing at a house party and someone tries telling you what to play?? You know the ones: the micro-manager types that clearly know fuck all about music!

They pester you… telling you to play what THEY want to hear (implying that it’s what everybody else will want to hear), ironically making things worse as they consume all of your thinking time between transitions.

I’ve had similar experiences as a commercial DJ. Your audience can be extremely impatient, and they’re not scared to tell you what they want and exactly when they want it.

In this environment, as much as I hate to say it, you WILL have to eat the occasional shit sandwich – so be prepared to bite your lip and be a professional when needs must. And remember it’s not all about you!

On the bright side, it’s a special treat when you do have the chance to slip into a more desirable genre. Especially if you’ve had to play some serious cheese for the last couple of hours.

4. You May Be Held Accountable

As I mentioned earlier… as a commercial DJ (in my example), you’re directly responsible for keeping the punters in the venue for as long as possible.

I remember during a quiet spell in this one place when the Spanish owner was in the bar. Every track that I played was getting scrutinized because the place was empty!

The bar manager would come over to me because the Spanish owner was in his ear constantly and say things like: ‘’play more cheese’’, or ‘’more R&B’’ – all because the owner didn’t approve of my warmup house selection.

Seriously though, the place was fucking empty. This was right when the GFC hit in 2008!

So what am I getting at? Well, if you’re one of the resident DJs and the bar is only averagely busy compared to the competition, it’s potentially YOUR head on the chopping block – so remember to take nothing for granted!

5. It will make you a MUCH better DJ

Apart from having a great time and meeting loads of new people, as a commercial DJ, you’ll learn the fundamentals of what DJing is all about in a very short space of time.

You’ll become super aware of your primary purpose every time you get behind the decks: to play great music that makes people want to dance!! As tempting as it sometimes is to drift into a musical comfort zone (for me, that basically meant less ”commercial stuff” and more house music), you really have to ditch that ego at times …which becomes a skill in itself.

If you’re playing for most of the night, as I was, you’ll experience how to nurture the dancefloor from completely empty to ‘’jumpin’’ … which is one of the best feelings in the world.

👉 Read this next: A comprehensive guide on How To Become A DJ.

What's a commercial DJ?

A “commercial” DJ is generally someone who plays well-known music that most people are familiar with, such as pop, commercial dance, R&B, classic rock, and hits from the 80s and 90s. While the term often brings to mind DJs at commercial clubs, it’s worth noting that a commercial DJ could also encompass open-format or special event DJs.

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    Ever since I could get into 'proper' nightclubs, I've loved everything about the underground dance scene. The short story is, having always been an avid music collector, I used to DJ at a handful of bars & clubs around Europe through the 2000s - playing out mostly lounge, funky house, and open-format/commercial stuff. I’m also a radio show host and Founder here at The DJ Revolution.

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