A DJ plays songs at a nightclub, bar, rave, or party using vinyl records, CDs, or MP3s. The traditional DJ setup includes a mixer, two turntables, a sound system and headphones, although many now use CDJs or digital mixing software.
Nightclub DJ, Deejay, Disc Jockey
$49 an hour1
How To Become a DJ
What Does a DJ Do?
A DJ provides the soundtrack to the party and is usually the main event, similar to going to see a band. DJs must constantly work to refine their craft and to produce new music under their own names if they want to stay competitive. They must have a deep love and knowledge of their chosen genre in order to keep the crowd on the dance floor.
Beginner DJs sometimes work for free or for drink tickets, so the highest form of advancement in this career is to become one of the few globetrotting superstar DJs who take home millions every year.
How long does it take to become a DJ?
It can take several months to learn the basics of a DJ setup and how to perform. Honing your skills to the point where you’re ready to play out can take several more months to a year.
Once you’ve started getting gigs, it’ll most likely take you several years to build a reputation, boost your mixing abilities, and start creating music that people want to hear. If you’re lucky, this will get you to the point where you can start earning a significant income as a DJ.
Education & Training
At this time, there are no degree programs in DJing. Although DJ schools and classes do exist, a large portion of DJs are self-taught. To lay a solid foundation for success as a DJ, practice is integral. Get familiar with multiple types of technology and mixing software, so that if there’s ever a technological malfunction at the club, you can still play.
What Skills Do You Need?
DJs must have experience with more than one operating system (i.e. CDJs vs turntables), as technology can often backfire, and it’s always good to be prepared. Production experience is essential for those who want to create their own tracks and play them out when they perform.
Networking and social media skills are vital for any DJ to build up a fan base. It’s important to get to know Promoters, Talent Buyers, and other DJs. You also have to interact with your fans, whether it’s through conversations and interactions on social media, or through just straight up putting on a good live performance that communicates your passion for the music.
To take their career to the next level, a DJ must also know how to produce their own tracks and write their own songs. DJs who write their own songs provide a unique experience for concertgoers and can also capitalize on licensing income.
“First and foremost you must love music. Without the love you’re nothing more than a jukebox,” our DJ source, Josh Chambers says. For a DJ, money can’t be the main goal.
“I always tell people if you’re in this for the money then you’re in the wrong place. When you’re starting out there is always someone who will be willing to take your gig and play for free so you have to know that you’re not going to make much, if anything at all until you build up your fan base.”
To build that fan base, as well as their professional contacts, DJs must also be comfortable networking and meeting people. In the same way, fun-loving and outgoing types make the best DJs because their excitement translates to the audience, who will also respond in a similar way. Versatility, adaptability, and a hunger for knowledge and improvement are key.
What kind of lifestyle does a DJ have?
Many DJs work weekend nights, with the most popular nights being Thursday through Saturday. Shifts are usually a few hours long.
Beginner DJs usually hold down day jobs and start off by playing slower nights whereas superstar DJs play to massive crowds.
Depending on the events, DJs will work with Promoters, Bookers, Nightclub Managers, Talent Buyers, other DJs and bands, and the DJ’s own Personal Manager.
Most DJs initially get jobs through networking before building a fan base, and therefore a reputation. Competition is fierce. Many people get started in this career by offering to play sets for free so that the bar/club gets to know them, their work ethic, and how audiences react.
How Much Does a DJ make?
How much money does a DJ make?
According to Payscale.com1, the median wage for a DJ is approximately $49 an hour. The salary range for DJs runs from approximately $21,100 to $221,000+. Of course, superstar DJs like The Chainsmokers can make up to $46 million annually, according to Forbes2.
DJs earn money from performing, and those who produce their own tracks earn royalty money. Income from DJing can vary greatly, based on if you live in a major metropolitan area, how often you perform and how popular your chosen musical genre is.
Certain types of music draw bigger crowds and therefore have a greater demand, and the opposite also holds true. Income also varies based on whether you’re just starting out, or if you’re a world famous DJ headlining festivals and raves across the globe. On average, a reasonably successful DJ can expect to make a few hundred dollars per show.
Unions, Groups & Associations
Most DJs are not part of a formal organization, but networking is important. DJs who also produce their own tracks belong to a music royalty/publishing/licensing organization such as BMI.
Online, it’s important to follow your favorite DJ’s Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, and Beatport pages to keep up to date with their latest news and to network both with the artist and his fans. “You can follow your favorite artists and a lot of us will respond to you when you want to say hi or ask a question,” Chambers says.
- Get to know the people who book clubs and become friends with them.
- Offer to play a show for free to get your foot in the door.
- Pass out demo CDs or put your mixes online so you can build a fan base.
- Download high-quality MP3 or wav tracks from DJ specific sites like Beatport, instead of stealing them or getting them from iTunes. Your audience doesn’t want songs with bad sound quality.
- Check out mixes by your favorite DJs, then try to replicate what they do, either at home or in your studio.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Practice, practice, practice.”
What exactly does a DJ do?
“My name is Lost Frequencies and I’m a DJ/Producer – I make what I like to call “indie dance” music and as a DJ and performer, I’m lucky enough to travel the world with my music and bring joy to fans when I tour.” –Lost Frequencies
Can you DJ without a laptop?
“Absolutely, I do not use a laptop at my DJ shows. Everything is from Pioneer CDJs.” — DJ TyDi
What makes a DJ famous?
Most DJs get famous by creating hit songs and performing regularly. When they play out, they create a mix of songs that keep people on the dancefloor. Top DJs tour relentlessly, playing an all-nighter in Berlin one night and a beach party in Thailand two days later.
Becoming a superstar DJ is basically the same as becoming a Rock Star. To get there, you make music people love, attract a loyal fanbase who comes to see you spin live, word of mouth spreads, and as your audience grows, you’re more likely to get a label deal or get signed by a Manager who can help you get more money from live gigs.
Along with all of this comes name recognition. People go see these big name DJs because they know what they’re going to get and they want to hear their favorite songs. That’s why they’re willing to pay $30+ to see a well-known DJ and more likely to stay home when it’s a DJ they’ve never heard of before.
How long does it take to become a DJ?
“It depends on the individual; lots of DJs, myself included, taught ourselves at home using tools on the internet, watching tutorials and experimenting and learning from failures.
“I feel like coming up through the scene now there are so many artists across different genres, it’s difficult to break through in an industry that is so saturated and a huge part of our culture now, so I don’t think it’s possible to put a time limit on something like that. Everyone is different and that is what makes every journey unique.” –Lost Frequencies
Is it hard to become a DJ?
“Yes! I think it’s easy to assume it’s all parties and fun – yes, it’s an amazing job and I feel so lucky to be able to do this as my career – but it is also super grueling both physically and mentally. We’re constantly traveling between time zones, giving all our energy into performing the best shows we can and missing friends and family. I think it’s important to recognize the tough parts of any job, as well as the positives. –Lost Frequencies
How much money does a DJ make?
“It varies very much – an established DJ headlining a major festival event will undoubtedly make more money than a smaller club resident, for example, but most DJs make their income via touring over music. On the other hand, a smaller DJ might be able to do more shows as they don’t always have to travel that far.” –Lost Frequencies
How can I start DJing at home?
“I would recommend sourcing the industry-standard equipment: Pioneer CDJ 2000’s and a Pioneer DJM mixer. From here you can load your songs onto a USB and practice beat mixing songs, as well as getting to know the different techniques of mixing songs live.” — DJ TyDi
Where do DJs get their songs?
“Everywhere, websites like www.beatport.com are a good place to start. You can also reach out to DJs and join promo lists; expanding your network will help in getting the newest music fast.” — DJ TyDi
How do I start being a DJ?
Here’s a real basic step-by-step of how to start being a DJ:
- Decide what genre(s) of music you’ll play
- Listen/watch your favorite DJs in action
- Determine if you want to play records or use DJ software
- Train yourself on DJ software and/or turntables
- Practice, practice, practice!
- Create demo mixes
- Contact bars and clubs to get on their radar
- Promote your DJ gigs online
Is there any free DJ software?
There sure is! You may want to upgrade some of these as you progress in your career but the following are great, free offerings for DJs.
Our picks for the best free DJ software:
- Serato DJ Intro
- Serato DJ Lite
- CrossDJ Free
- DJ ProDecks
How do DJs get paid?
DJs primarily get paid from live performances and touring. Selling physical or digital albums is also a way DJs get paid, whether they’re selling mixes they’ve created or a collection of tracks they’ve produced themselves. DJs also make money from merchandise sales (T-shirts, slipmats, etc.) and from licensing music for use in film/TV/commercials.
What skills do you need to be a DJ?
“You need to make sure your skills are water-tight and as strong as they can be to be able to bring fans the best possible experience, both through tracks being produced, and mixing and bringing positive vibes to shows. You’re one person, typically, and the only person on stage when DJing to fans so all eyes are on you to execute a set as best as you possibly can.” –Lost Frequencies
A DJ needs the following skills:
- Music production
- Knows how to spin on vinyl, CD-Js, or
- Understands how to use a MIDI controller
- Can work with Traktor, Serato, etc.
- The ability to remix/create mashups
- Deep knowledge of music
- People skills
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Not learning how to mix on more than one device. Technology can backfire on you easily. That’s why I always show up with my laptop, CDs and a USB stick to make sure I can play no matter what happens.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“What does it take to go from a local DJ to one that is known around the country/world? The answer is you have to produce music. If you’re not writing music that is getting released, you will never make it to the next level.”
- 1Multiple. "Average Disc Jockey (DJ) Hourly Pay". PayScale. published: Nov 11, 2019. retrieved on: July 1, 2020
- 2Mercuri, Monica. "The World’s Highest-Paid DJs 2019: The Chainsmokers Topple Calvin Harris With $46 Million". Forbes. published: 29 July 2019. retrieved on: 1 July 2020
DJ Josh Chambers, a Southern California-based breaks DJ was named one of the city’s five best DJs by CBS Los Angeles. He has performed regularly in New York, Florida, California, and his home state of North Carolina, opening for luminaries like DJ Icey, Frankie Bones, DJ Dan, Baby Anne, and Carl Cox.
Chambers has held residencies at LA’s The Orion and Qtopia, and can often be seen behind the decks at King King, Dim Mak Studios, and the Avalon. In 2010 he decided to expand his artistic skills into the world of production, and started releasing acclaimed singles like “Ghetto Punk,” the majority of which have landed in Beatport’s Top 100 Breaks charts.