📅 Last updated: 22nd Jan 2024 | 🕒 Est. reading time: 20 mins
If you’re looking for the ultimate resource on how to become a DJ, then look no further. Whilst I’ll cover some basic stuff early on for complete beginners, rest assured we’ll quickly get into intermediate and even pro-level tips and topics!
To keep this post to a sensible length, I’ll be linking out to various resources as we go for a deeper dive, so you might want to bookmark the link before we start to revisit it as needed.
How do I become a DJ?
Before we jump in, here’s a quick snapshot of our 10 action steps on how to become a DJ:
- Buy a DJ controller and get started
- Make your music collection a top priority
- Set a specific goal and create an action plan
- Pick 1 or 2 social media platforms and get started
- Focus on playing out (initial ‘training’ gigs)
- Get started on Mixcloud & SoundCloud
- Take a relevant DJ course
- Consider choosing a DJ name
- Create a DJ/artist bio
- Create a hit list of local venues & start hustling
Why listen to me?
Whilst I’m definitely not some globe-trotting superstar DJ, after ‘cutting my teeth’ as a rookie in my home town of Manchester, UK, I went on to play in Portugal & Spain before I was 26. My DJ mixes have been streamed and downloaded over 1 million times and featured on numerous radio stations around the globe. Over the years, I’ve played out in bars, clubs and private functions – using turntables, CDJs and DJ controllers.
Who is this post for?
Most of the steps in this post would be considered generic under the banner of ‘’learning how to become a DJ’’. Any DJ! So even if you don’t have a specific direction in mind yet, you’ll still get a TON of value from it. That’s a promise!
Once you have the relevant knowledge and skills, and by following the 10 steps, you can potentially play at any pub, bar, lounge, club-orientated bar, nightclub, or private party. In other words – anywhere!
STEP #1. Buy a DJ controller and get started
Now unless you’ve got your heart set on something specific, or you’ve got loads of money to burn, you’ll surely be getting a DJ controller or an all-in-one DJ system (also referred to as ‘standalone DJ controllers’).
To make life super-easy, I’ve linked to a ton of buyer’s guides below. Before jumping in, be sure to read the post about the best DJ software. You’ll then be in a better place to make the right decision on a DJ controller.
The best thing to do is choose a realistic price bracket and then focus on exactly who those controllers are best suited to. The posts all link to one another at the bottom, so you can easily jump between them if you decide to browse more than one post/price bracket.
Also bear in mind, regardless of which option you choose, you’ll also need a decent laptop and DJ headphones as absolute necessities to get started. (We talk about budget and how much to spend in this post).
Recommended resources 👇👇👇
#1: The 7 Best DJ software programs (this post breaks down the main players in DJ software: including Serato DJ Pro, Rekordbox, Virtual DJ, Traktor, and djay Pro)
#2: Best DJ Controllers 2024 (follow this link to access four different posts on one handy page. Between them, they cover all the different price points and contain everything you need to know!)
STEP #2. Make your music collection a top priority
If you don’t currently have your own music collection (meaning digital music files like MP3, etc.,) then building one should be a top priority.
Regardless of what DJ type you’d ultimately prefer to be, without an awesome music collection that you’ve spent countless hours building from the ground up, you’ll never really be an expert. In which case, you’re just pretending to be a DJ!
‘’Collecting’’ music will be an ongoing process of listening, cataloguing tracks in your collection, and general ongoing maintenance (tidying and organising it, etc.). We’re talking about a significant ongoing time commitment here, so you’d better love it!
If kept organised, your collection will be worth its weight in gold as time passes. And as you gradually develop a more intimate relationship with it, it ultimately makes your job as a DJ much easier and more enjoyable.
Important note: Just so you know, whilst streaming services like TIDAL and Beatport Streaming may have their place for certain DJ gigs, these platforms have NOT replaced the need to build and curate an awesome digital music collection.
STEP #3. Set a specific goal and create an action plan
Properly setting goals is scientifically proven to SIGNIFICANTLY improve your chances of success. So yes, it’s bloody important!
Depending on exactly where you’re at, this process is going to be very subjective. For you, it might be to play out for the first time before a specific date. Or maybe to get your first ‘paid’ gig? Fill in the blank for whatever you want!
When you’re ready to lean in and get serious, you’ll want to check out this post: Goal-setting for DJs: 7 actionable tips and really spend some time on it.
STEP #4. Pick 1 or 2 social media platforms and get started
Now I realise this is probably an obvious one, although you might want to start by getting a dedicated artist Facebook page (this isn’t the same as your personal account).
In conjunction with this, if you’re a frequent user of Twitter, Instagram, or even TikTok, consider starting a dedicated profile on one of these as well. What’s most important here is to not stretch yourself too thin. It’s better to be consistent and genuinely have time for your fans on one or two platforms rather than trying to be ‘’everywhere’’.
Preferably post something at least twice a week, or just as frequently as you can sustain providing it’s relevant and adds value for your audience/followers.
It doesn’t have to be all your own content either: you can also share relevant news stories, videos, or even your favourite mix from another DJ for that week to fill up your content calendar. Just remember, when you’re ‘’curating’’ other people’s content (sharing it), be sure to add your personal commentary to it (why are you sharing it, and why should your audience care).
Another important thing to understand: Having just 1000 true fans is way more valuable than having 100,000 casual followers, so focus on providing value to ‘’the individual’’, and respond to EVERYONE who engages with your page.
It’s also important to be yourself on social media, so be patient, and rest assured that the right people will resonate with your authenticity over time.
STEP #5. Focus on playing out (initial ‘training’ gigs)
Once you know your way around your equipment and you’ve built up some confidence behind the decks, it’s CRUCIAL you make it your mission to play out as soon as possible.
Start by making yourself the ‘’go to’’ person amongst your friends; the person who provides the music at social gatherings such as barbecues and house parties, etc. – and just wherever and whenever you can … even if it’s only as the ‘’chief Spotify selector’’ for the night.
Why is this so important? Well, understand that watching how different crowds of people react to your music is what makes you a DJ. Also, this is likely where & when you’ll fall in love with the craft itself, and with sharing music with others.
Key points based on the above:
#1 The principle of ‘Acting As if’
So you might be wondering what the hell does ‘’acting as if’’ mean? Another way to describe it could be ‘’leveraging the power of self-promotion and word of mouth’’, although it’s not quite as punchy.
In short: If you don’t tell people you’re a DJ, then they won’t know!
For me, it started by simply spreading the word that I’ve ‘’got decks’’, and that I’m ‘’a bit of a DJ’’ behind closed doors. I’d invite friends and work colleagues around for drinks on the weekend and put on a bit of a mix.
It was through this ‘acting as if’ mindset that I got to play at several smaller parties early on – which ultimately gave me the confidence to call myself a DJ – which eventually led to me getting actual paid gigs.
#2: Don’t be too picky
Apart from building up your confidence and bolstering your credentials, saying ‘’YES’’ to random or even obscure gigs will get you where you want to be much quicker than if you’d turned them down.
Playing that party you first thought would be “too cheesy’’ for you, or “not your kind of thing’’ will teach you an enormous amount about the importance of putting your audience first. It will help you gain a better understanding that it’s not all about you.
If you can embrace all of the points I’ve made in this section AS A MINDSET, you’ll be out of the bedroom in no time!
Relevant resource: How I became a DJ: the power of ‘Acting as if’ (this is a short blog post elaborating on point #1)
STEP #6. Get started on Mixcloud and SoundCloud
Yes, I’m aware of Twitch and the whole topic of live streaming, etc., although this post is meant to cover the fundamental building blocks to becoming a working DJ – and that means getting familiar with the two main streaming hubs for DJs and music producers: Mixcloud and SoundCloud.
For the most part, Mixcloud is designed specifically for DJ mixes and radio DJs/shows, whereas SoundCloud is meant for uploading ‘original sounds’, ie your own tracks.
Regardless of any aspirations you might have for music production (in the case of SoundCloud), I’d definitely suggest signing up for both platforms.
Whilst you can also upload some DJ mixes/radio shows to SoundCloud, just proceed with caution here. If a mix does get taken down for copyright infringement you should at least get a few strike warnings about it first (full disclosure: as I write this, I haven’t uploaded a DJ mix to SoundCloud in a couple of years, so just bear in mind things are always changing!).
Making mixtapes and listening back:
As soon as your ‘’training wheels’’ are off (ie you can throw together a half-decent mix), you’ll ideally want to start uploading something regularly to Mixcloud. Even if the project is just for fun at this stage, you can still create a mix show alias and start a more serious account later.
Whilst most pro DJs with their own show typically produce one per week, it’s perfectly acceptable to do a fortnightly or even a monthly show when you’re starting out.
Tip #1: When listening back to your practice mixes, make sure you wait at least 24 hours after you’ve mixed it (or at the very least don’t listen to it straight away). You won’t believe how different your mixes sound a few days later, listening with ‘fresh ears’ as the listener rather than the person who mixed it.
Tip #2: Consider alternating what I’d call a ‘mess around session’ (practice session) with ‘mixtape recording sessions’. For example, depending on where you’re at, you might have 2 – 3 practice sessions for every recording session. During the practice sessions, you can learn to scratch, practice transitions, figure out software, or whatever else you need to do.
Tip #3: Use your DJ software to record and export your mixes.
Recommended resources 👇👇👇
#1: Music Radio Creative is my preferred source for DJ drops, radio jingles, etc. Highly recommended.
#2: You’ve likely already heard of Audacity. It’s a free, open-source audio editing software you can use to edit your recordings.
#3: DJ.Studio is a new auto-mixing software that came out in 2023. It’s surely the best solution on the market if you want (or need) to save time by making ‘studio mixes’ rather than jumping on the decks every time.
STEP #7. Take a relevant DJ Course
When I first started out back in 2000, online learning platforms and online DJ schools simply weren’t a thing. Knowing what I know now, and given the competitive nature of the market, taking an online DJ course is definitely something I would take advantage of today.
Simply put: the right online course (and/or tutor) can offer a clear direction, potentially saving months or even years of messing around and watching random videos on YouTube.
Now there are obviously lots of online courses out there that ‘’teach’’ you how to become a DJ. Some good, some not so good. Some focus on different skill sets and others on what type of DJ you want to be.
Here at The DJ Revolution, we typically recommend Club Ready DJ School. Whilst their courses focus on getting students ‘’Club Ready’’, it’s just a great all-rounder for any aspiring DJ! It’s also more affordable than other complete courses from the leading competitors.
If the timing isn’t right just now, I’d still recommend signing up for Andrew’s FREE Mini Course. That way he can keep in touch and let you know of any special offers, etc.
STEP #8. Consider choosing a DJ name (or at least research the topic)
One of the biggest mistakes I made was not taking the time to properly choose a DJ name. That, and not paying any attention to my personal brand.
Whilst I didn’t really care at the time (I was just happy to be playing out and getting paid for it), I can now see the missed branding opportunity that was staring me right in the face!
This section is potentially something you can come back to, although it’s definitely worth researching sooner rather than later. The posts I’ve linked to below have you covered!
Recommended resources 👇👇👇
#1: How to choose a DJ name (this is a comprehensive guide. It breaks down the crucial next steps after you’ve settled on a DJ name, which is perhaps the most important part)
#2: How to brand yourself as a DJ (heads up: this is another comprehensive guide. When you’re ready to learn more about personal branding, I think you’ll find it useful)
STEP #9. Create a DJ/artist bio
If you don’t already have a DJ/artist bio, you’ll definitely need to create something, and you can always expand and improve on it later. This is a quick win you can lock down in a few hours!
Without some kind of bio, you’re not going to be taken seriously. It’s also a great opportunity to quickly communicate your story with the world whilst giving an insight into what fans are potential employers can expect from you as a DJ.
Whilst it really depends on what context you plan on using it (more details below), here are some rough guidelines to follow. A professional DJ bio could include:
- A catchy headline that adds clarity to what follows
- Something about your background
- Something about your musical inspirations and/or mentors
- A description of your musical niche/style
- Any of your relevant achievements
- What you’re currently working on and/or what your plans are for the future
- A call to action at the end: a link to your website or preferred social media page, or even just an email address for bookings/enquiries
Depending on what you need it for, it’s good to have two versions:
- Short version (approx 75-100 words)
- Full version (approx 100-300 words)
When writing your bio, focus on being direct and authentic. Try not to overthink it. Once again, my comprehensive guide on personal branding can help with this.
STEP #10. Create a hit list of local venues and start hustling
So then — it’s time to get ‘’REAL’’ gigs!!
From the perspective of becoming a ‘’club’’ or ‘’venue’’ DJ, it’s a pretty simple equation: if you don’t have a big social media following and you don’t know anyone in the industry, you’ll need to focus on building relationships and adding value on your local scene. And that means leaving the house!
Now sure, if you already have a massive social media following (thus the capability to entice promoters to book you based on you regularly getting tons of people through the door), then good for you! Truth is, for most early-stage DJs that’s just not realistic, and you can only get all your mates to show up once, as they say!
Step 1 (a rough guide):
Firstly, you’ll want to research any interesting venues/nights in your local town and/or city and make a nice long list of leads. Next, go through and research each one, checking their websites, and social media, Googling them to see what else pops up. If there’s a promoter, also check out their social feeds for more insight, making notes as you go.
You should be looking for smaller venues where you’re more likely to get a conversation with the manager or promoter. Places you can more likely ‘’help out’’ and add value to.
Assuming you don’t already know anyone at the venue in question (and it’s basically a ‘’cold’’ lead), you’ll want to strategically visit them for a drink or two (not ten) to scope them out. If it feels right, you could even get friendly with the bar staff and subtly ask some probing questions. Just don’t be tempted to start pitching yourself.
Whilst it really depends on the venue/location, etc., consider introducing yourself to the manager or promoter. Show interest in their night and ask questions about it, telling them you’ll be back with your mates the following week.
Sure, you can let them know you’re a local DJ, but then QUICKLY move on to talking about them. Remember, you’ll need to get your foot in the door before ASKING for anything.
Figure out exactly WHO you’re going to ask for and WHAT you’re going to say. Loosely script and practice it if you think it will help. Providing you maintain that ‘’adding value’’ mindset throughout, it shouldn’t feel like a pitch – so be confident in your convictions.
Oh yeah… and NEVER pay to play. You’re not a charity!
Recommended resources 👇👇👇
#1: Whilst I’m not suggesting you hand them out like flyers, a well-timed business card exchange can really help with how you’re perceived by potential employers. You can order physical business cards online via MOO.com.
Note: Your business card could also direct people to your Mixcloud or SoundCloud, so no need for handing out mixes on USB sticks (… and that doesn’t work anyway)!
My inspiration for writing this post
I’ve put together these 10 steps based on how I would approach it if I were learning how to become a DJ as a beginner today; including everything I would want to bring to my attention (that being the younger version of myself).
Whilst a vast amount of things have changed in the 23 years since I started back in 2000, I now have the perspective of time, and I can see more clearly the things that were important.
There were also SO MANY THINGS I could have done better… so I wanted to load up a single resource with my best tips based on this!
Covering every conceivable sub-topic under the banner of how to become a DJ is always going to be challenging, and there’ll surely be TONS of things I didn’t cover.
As a DJ, it took me SO many years to gain momentum, and by the time I did, life was already starting to dictate what happens next. My hope is that this post maps out some tangible action steps. Steps you can go ‘’all-in’’ with sooner rather than later.
If you are genuinely serious about becoming a successful DJ, the only other advice I could give you is to treat the project like a business — and to work your arse off !!
How long does it take to become a DJ?
This will vary depending on individual dedication and learning pace. Learning the basic DJ skills and gaining confidence can take a few months, although establishing an actual DJ career usually takes several years.
What qualifications do you need to be a DJ?
You don’t need any special qualifications to be a DJ, regardless of DJ type. However, in addition to having a passion for what you do, and for the music of course, it’s certainly advantageous to have some basic people skills, charisma and business acumen.
What are the essential DJ skills to learn?
New DJs should first learn how to beatmatch and blend tracks together. Familiarity with DJ software and an understanding of music structure is also crucial. Developing a unique style and staying updated on music trends can come later.
What is the difference between a mobile DJ and a club DJ?
Club DJs play in commercial venues such as bars, club-orientated bars, nightclubs, and festivals – whilst mostly using the industry-standard gear already set up in the venue, better known as Pioneer CDJs. Mobile DJs, however, play at private events like weddings, corporate functions and birthday parties, whilst using all their own equipment.
Do DJs make good money?
DJs have the potential to make good money, but it varies widely. Top-tier DJs in the music industry can earn substantial incomes from performances, endorsements, and music sales. However, many DJs start with modest earnings and success depends on talent, networking, and market demand.
How much do DJs get paid?
Assuming you don’t have a large online fan base, whilst it depends on which part of the world you live in and also the type & size of the venue, a resident club DJ would typically make somewhere between $30,000 and $100,000 US dollars a year (note: 50k a year is about $25 per hour based on a 40-hour week).
However, if you were a DJ for hire specialising in private parties or a wedding DJ, you could potentially make a lot more, typically between $300 and $2,000 per party.
How do DJs get their first gig?
DJs often secure their first gig by networking on their local scene, promoting their skills on social media, approaching club or event organizers directly, and even participating in DJ contests.
Are there any online courses for aspiring DJs?
Especially for aspiring club DJs, and beginners, we like to recommend Club Ready DJ School. Their courses focus on getting students ”Club Ready” – and they’re also more affordable than the market-leading DJ courses.
Can I teach myself to be a DJ?
Yes, you can absolutely teach yourself to be a DJ. Dedication, passion and a willingness to learn are key to developing your skills independently. Online tutorials, practice, and experimentation with mixing software and equipment will get you there quicker.
Which DJ software is best for beginners?
For beginners, user-friendly DJ software like Serato DJ Lite, Virtual DJ, or Rekordbox is recommended. These platforms offer intuitive interfaces, essential features, and compatibility with entry-level DJ controllers.
Calling beginner DJs! Take your DJ skills to the next level with this FREE DJ mini-course. It’s from our friends at Club Ready DJ School. When you sign up you’ll immediately get access to 16 high-quality HD video lessons!
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