How I got my first ‘real’ DJ gig

photo of people dancing looking at the DJ

So I thought I’d share this quick story of how I got my first ‘real’ gig.

In addition to providing inspiration for beginners, I’m sure that many working DJs, whether past or present, will resonate with my story.

If you are a beginner, I’m hopeful that something will ‘’click’’ inside your head as to how you can apply a similar methodology to your current situation.


Setting the scene

When I first played out back in 2001 it was in a bar in central Manchester, England, where I also promoted my own night called ‘’Strictly Vinyl’’.

I’d only ever done private parties up until this point; I’d never actually been paid to play in a ‘public’/’neutral’ venue!

I was 19 at the time, and I used to look through the local newspaper on a Wednesday or Thursday each week to see what small bars were advertising to get punters in for that upcoming weekend. I was specifically looking for bars that were playing similar music genres to what I was mixing at the time ….basically warm-up house & funky stuff.

Some of these smaller bars might be struggling to get punters in, I thought to myself. And if that was the case, then they’d naturally be more willing to ‘’try things out’’ to get people through the door.

photo of Dale mixing on turntables

Yep, that’s me on my first set of turntables, taken at a very similar time as this story.

The phone call

To cut a long story short, after identifying the best potential targets (again, only looking for smaller places off the beaten track), I called up one of the bars with a pre-planned spiel about what kind of night I would put on and what music I would play if they had any gaps in the coming weeks.

It was a really simple phone call, nothing complicated at all. Once I knew I was talking to the decision maker (the bar owner in this case), I simply explained that I’m a local DJ and did they have any weekend spots they were looking to fill?

At this point it’s really important to shut up and let them answer. Certainly don’t start pitching yourself!!

When I got a ‘‘possibly, yes’’, I followed up by saying that I mostly play funky house, whilst suggesting that I’d call the night ‘’Strictly Vinyl – Funky House Sessions’’ (I called it that because I knew they only used turntables), and that ”I should be able to get some people down”.

Once again: no waffling or oversellthat’s key to this strategy!

I didn’t even need to over exaggerate my experience or anything like that. I simply went in with the attitude that this was a mutually beneficial business arrangement, that this is what I do, and if they have any gaps in the calendar I’d be more than happy to jump in.

Once they showed some interest in my suggestion, I simply asked ‘‘what’s the best time to drop in over the weekend for a better chat’’ (…or words to that effect).

And that’s really about it.

The very next week after I made that phone call, I was reading the advert for MY NIGHT (which included my full name, of course) in that same local newspaper. Pretty awesome, right!

In conclusion

It was that confidence (not cockiness) in my own ability that got me that gig. It was my casual assumption (not arrogance) that ‘’this is what I do’’. In short, I was acting as if!

I didn’t make much money from that night, but it was all the confidence I needed for the next phase of my journey as a DJ, and I basically replicated the idea – ‘‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’’ – into other situations later on.

Even if they say no, you’ve now spoken to that person, making it easier to start up another conversation next time. You can go in for a drink the following week and say ‘hi Steve, it’s Dale, we spoke on the phone last week, how’s it going….’’.

At the end of the day, some of these quieter places are trying to achieve an objective just like you are. In their mind, they’re trying to get more people through the door, and obviously make more money (or even just some money, as is sometimes the case).

The key is to think about it as if you’re working with them to achieve their objective rather than making it sound like they’re doing you a favour.

Anyway, the moral of the story is this: You simply must get yourself out there and take CONSISTENT actions that put yourself out of your comfort zone. If you can do this opportunities WILL eventually present themselves.

This is a photo of me playing a mate’s birthday party 21 years later!

photo of Dale on CDJs

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    Ever since I could get into 'proper' nightclubs, I've loved everything about the underground dance scene. Having always been an avid music collector, the short story is, 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 the Founder & Chief Editor here at The DJ Revolution.

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