How to Be a DJ

By Eric Hammer

So you want to learn how to be a DJ? Well good for you. DJs are always in demand for things like parties and bar and bat mitzvah celebrations. Even weddings are a possibility--given the high cost of hiring a professional band, many couples choose to hire a DJ instead of a band. But how do you get started? What does it take to become a professional DJ and could you ever make it into the big time in this business?

The first thing you need in order to be a good DJ is of course an ear for music. You need to be able to pick different songs out of your (very, very large) collection based on particular tastes and know how to mix them so that your audience enjoys themselves and stays interested without careering wildly from one style to another (so unless you’re working a wedding where the bride or groom are into heavy metal, moving directly from the wedding march to Metallica is probably not the best of transition ideas).

You’ll also need to develop a nice selection of songs. Plus, you may want to look into replay licenses for songs. If you work in small venues such as birthday parties and small weddings and the like, you may be able to get away without doing so, however you will be technically violating copyright. Most songs you purchase from a place like iTunes for example are supposed to be used for private listening and not for professional playback. If you take your business seriously, you’ll need to look into getting professional playback licenses similar to those used by radio stations for the songs you work with.

How Much Can You Make?

As with many things, the amount you can make as a DJ is really up to you. Typically, DJs at small parties can take in around $500-$1,000 for working an evening (this includes providing all the equipment, such as speakers, microphone and of course, your song disks). At major events, you could easily see numbers in the tens of thousands of dollars for hosting the event, though again, your costs go up as well since you’ll need to rent equipment (even if you own speakers and a microphone, at this level, we’re talking professional level equipment which costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and gets trucked in with specialized amps, so you’ll be paying for rental and delivery as well).

Ways to Make More | Related Opportunities | Tips

Most of the time, you should expect to get what you were paid for and nothing more when working as a DJ. However, it is possible that you could pick up extra cash in a variety of ways. You may for example pick up extra cash as tips when someone makes a special request. More realistically, you can pick up extra money by taking your business to a different level – don’t just offer your own DJ services. If you own equipment and don’t have a gig for a particular night for example, you can rent your equipment to someone who is just starting out in learning how to be a DJ. You can also become a kind of agent for others in the business so that when you are booked, you refer people to colleagues. You then either get a commission on the money they earn from your referrals or you get reciprocal referrals so that when they are booked, they throw business your way.

Consider your interests in music. There are some DJs for example who specialize in particular types of music genres rather than being a general interest DJ who simply provides what most people want to hear. Also, learn a bit about technology. These days, many DJs show up with a laptop which does all the mixing and playing of songs inside the computer. No need for turntables, CDs or anything else. Speaking of turntables and CDs though, learn about encoding levels so you know how to get the highest quality from your laptop songs. There is after all a reason why some DJs still prefer to spin vinyl – it simply sounds better.

Other related opportunities include hosting karaoke events and business conferences where you provide light entertainment rather than the loud, "thumpa thumpa" DJ experience.

Qualifications / Requirements

Typically, you don’t need any kind of formal licensing in order to become a DJ. You will however need some basic equipment – at least a laptop with DJ mixing software and a decent set of powered speakers (the kind that can be heard at a loud party, not the little ones you put on a desktop). You’ll also need a microphone for when you need to give introductions or interrupt to mention a special request.

First Steps

Start by talking to professional DJs. Ask if you can intern with them to learn the business. While some will turn you away, others will welcome the help, especially if you are willing to work for free in order to get started and learn the business.

Resources - A good article. - Some information on learning to DJ.

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Every Way to Make Money | How to Be a DJ