What Is It like to Be a DJ? Like REALLY… The Good & Bad

What Is It like to Be a DJ? Like REALLY... The Good & Bad
This is a question that gets asked often because DJing is so out of the realms of a normal job. People like to think of it as just pushing buttons but that’s just not the case. So let’s dive in and find out exactly what is it like to be a DJ.

DJing is a career of polar opposites. What is perceived as a purely fun career, requires a lot of hard work behind the scenes. Time spent on stage pales in comparison to that spent promoting to establish/maintain their brand. Even so, DJ scores higher in job satisfaction than most other careers. 

Wondering what the actual good and bad are? Let’s go over each, I’ll even throw in some of my own experiences…

DJing is Probably the Most Fun Job Ever

Whether you are touring the world or playing local celebration events, DJing is one of the most fun jobs possible. I mean, after all, you’re spending your time finding, listening and playing music. Then, of course, your job is to play that music, make people happy and have a good time.

What could be more fun…than making people have fun?

Put with that with meeting new people, traveling a lot and seeing many places you’ve basically got a recipe for most people’s ideal job.

If you’re a touring DJ then you’ll probably be making your own music which you’ll sell and play worldwide. Surely that is the most rewarding part of any DJ set, playing your own music.

But that’s not where the money is to be made, that comes through the gigs themselves…

What Is it Like to Be a DJ? It is a Grind…

The Practicing

To be able to play DJ gigs in the first place you’ll need to put in considerable practice at home. Generally by yourself to, at least, get up to a standard, where you can perform gigs and keep people dancing.

Although doing gigs does improve the speed that you learn, you still need to put in hours at home. This can be fun of course. You just need to make sure that you are always getting fresh new tunes to keep things exciting.

Also doing things like recording and critiquing yourself help you track progress so you never get discouraged.

The expectation that DJing is easy really comes from those who’ve never actually tried it.

While the basics are fairly simple to wrap your head around, the complexities of making a set flow nicely are a skill that comes only with practice.

It Can Be Hard to Stand Out

Aside from practicing you’re going to want to get your name out there and start establishing yourself as a DJ.

With DJing becoming ever easier, there are more and more people out there doing the same thing. This can make it difficult to become known, although definitely not impossible.

Standing out is just a case of staying consistent with social media content. Which you can do by documenting your journey from beginner DJ to professional. This, in turn, helps keep the journey interesting for yourself, given you can look back at your progress over time.

The other thing you need to be consistent with is contacting people and networking. This can both be done online as well as going out to club nights and making friends in the scene.

A lot of people don’t realize that, if they are serious about becoming a working DJ, then they are also going to have to learn some basic marketing skills.

That said, it will only be a grind if you make it one.

What Is it Like to Be a DJ? It Is Super Social

A lot of people get caught up with the fact that DJing requires you to network. This feels a bit formal when describing to people, so instead, I like to describe it as “making friends”.

What is it like to be a DJ? It is like being part of a huge community, particularly when you get into genres.

DJing is one big community
DJing is one big community

DJing is already quite niche but by the time you get down into specific genres, then genres within specific cities and you’re not talking huge amounts of people.

Therefore it’s fairly easy to become known within your niche. You just need to get out there and be sociable.

Find out what are the events in your area but are putting on the exact music that you enjoy. Then you can essentially make a point of visiting these regularly and making friends.

You can then make a point of going to these events often and getting to know the organizers and regular DJs. Before too long you’ll be asked to be playing at those events… providing you have the skills of course.

The same goes for when you are online. You can find fairly small but established communities where you can interact, make yourself known and share your mixes and tunes for ideas for feedback and comment.

You’ll also be able to find people who can help you in all aspects of your career. Like if you wanted to run your own event for example. You can find people to collaborate with and share the workload.

This is where establishing yourself as a DJ can feel like a grind but that’s only if you make it so. Instead, if you make it a fun and exciting opportunity to meet new people then it will feel a lot easier.

It Can Be Expensive

When starting you definitely don’t need to spend huge amounts of money on equipment. In fact, there are a lot of ways to get going for free and learn the basics and theories of DJing.

Pro DJ Equipment can be expensive
Pro DJ Equipment can be expensive

As you get more skilled and getting more gigs, however, then it is worth purchasing yourself some professional-level equipment. This is so you are familiar with the setups you will be using when playing various clubs and festivals.

The other thing you should do as a professional DJ is purchasing high-quality new music regularly.

What is it like to be a DJ determined to stay on the cutting edge? Well, it can get expensive, depending on the amount you buy of course.

It does, however, set you apart from those DJs who are not on the cutting edge or play low-quality music files. Simply put, when using high-quality files, your sets will have more punch. Music is like everything else, you get what you pay for…

Now the thing is, by the time you are having to purchase music and professional equipment then you will be deep enough into your journey to either:

  • Know that it is a true passion of yours and you want to follow DJing, or
  • You are actually playing gigs and getting paid for them so therefore the music and equipment will start paying for itself

Love DJ gear?

So do we, check out our favorites…

What is it like to be a DJ? Completely Misunderstood…

We touched on this above but there is a lot of misunderstanding about DJing. People, in particular musicians, tend to think that DJing is easy.

What is it like to be a DJ? Get used to being misunderstood
DJing is often misunderstood

That it is a case of just pushing a button and then dancing around for an hour. This is true… if the DJ doesn’t mind cheating and lying to everyone in the audience.

Instead, as discussed, it takes hours and at least a few gigs to wrap your head around creating successful sets. Therefore you should be prepared to be at least a little misunderstood by your non-DJing friends and family.

They may not, for example, understand why it takes so many hours of practice. Or, they may not understand why you have to spend money on music they think you can download for free.

This is where you could educate people, although whether you choose to is entirely up to you of course.

So, what is it like to be a DJ in a relationship? Just be aware that it has caused more than a few issues in relationships. Girl/boyfriends often do not understand the dedication that it takes to become a pro DJ.

The Girls & Boys

There are plenty of DJs who will admit to getting into DJing as a way to attract the opposite sex. So is this really true? Does it work? The answer is, yeah, kind of…

Plenty of DJs admit to getting into DJing to attract the opposite sex
DJs get a lot of attention, not all of it welcome…

While you may attract the odd member during the early days, it is only when you are an established DJ that they pour in. And even then you still need to try.

I knew a champion DJ, for example, who would make a point of wearing extremely brightly colored t-shirts. This meant after he had finished his sets, he would position himself in a prominent spot and stand out like a sore thumb. Essentially he was peacocking to make sure that any girl would know that he had just walked out of the booth.

Is this good motivation for becoming a DJ? Probably not, no. Because you’re not doing it for the passion then you will find the hard work too much and probably give up before you ever get there.

As for the superstar DJ’s then yes, of course, there’s a non-stop barrage.

But then you get a whole load of other problems. In that, you basically get people trying to tie you down and bleed you for all the money you are worth. Musician Plan B has talked openly about this in interviews. He describes how girls would be trying to sleep with him for the sole aim of trying to get pregnant. That way they are then tied to him and his money for the rest of their lives.

So, all I’m saying is, you may want to seriously consider your intentions for wanting to become a DJ.

Non-stop Travel

In these days of reduced sales and pirated music then artist’s money mostly comes from touring and doing shows. This means, to make a decent income, then a DJ will need to be on the road. Especially in the early days, virtually all the time.

What's it like to be a DJ? Non stop travel
DJing involves a lot of travel, even for local/mobile DJs

For many, this is the dream and it can be a great time. There is an air of professionalism required of course. You will still need to be sober enough and have plenty of energy to do every set to its fullest. So it is a good idea not to party endlessly at every single event. Otherwise that, combined with the relentless travel and jet lag will soon mean you burnout.

It does seem to be fairly understood in the DJ community that touring like this does have a lifespan. Eventually when DJs have been on tour for months on end then it can start to feel like a job.

Let’s take a hypothetical situation of a gig in a foreign country…

Say you are doing a two-hour show, then you might spend in the region of 6-10 hours just getting there and back.

Travelling for DJ gigs can be exhausting
Traveling for DJ gigs often means whistlestop visits

This will include 1-2 hours each way in the airport before boarding, plus the fight itself, plus any transfers to the gig and/or hotel if that’s been provided.

The other thing to remember with touring travel is that it costs money to keep you on the road. The longer that you are in any one place, then the more it will cost the promoter or booker that took you there.

Therefore, it is very common for DJs to fly in and out of a city or country within hours or, at most, a day. No one wants to put you up for more than one night when you are only playing one show.

So the idea of being paid to travel and see the world is not quite as relaxing as it sounds. That’s not to say you won’t have an amazing time of course.

And the bigger the name you make for yourself then the slower you can do your tours. You can add an extra day or two to each city, but this would be out of your own pocket.

The other thing you can do, once established, is take whole months off. This is what many DJ/producers do.

They will go on tour for long periods but then have anywhere from 3-6 six months at home. This means they can produce or master new music that they have produced on the road.

Then, when you get to superstar status then you can take entire years off gigging as Skrillex (see the software & equipment he uses here) did in 2017.

You will End up Being a Businessman as Well

All types of DJ (whether touring, resident or mobile DJ) to some extent end up becoming business people as well. This is because you have to create a brand as a DJ, and a brand has to be managed.

If you are to make a success of DJing and earn a decent living then you’ll have to learn, essentially, how to run a business.

This will require you to fulfill a few different roles from marketing to accountant, particularly in the early days. So you shouldn’t be completely against that idea, otherwise, you’ll find sticking points when progressing your career.

As mentioned above, one thing you will definitely end up needing is some form of marketing for yourself. This means you need to be comfortable with the idea of selling (i.e yourself, skills or service) in one form or another.

Which brings me to my next point…

You Need to Be a Lifelong Learner

What is it like to be a DJ? Well, to be successful, you will always have to be learning new things.

Being a DJ requires you to be a life long learner
Being a DJ requires you to be a life long learner

Whether it is, as mentioned above, running the business aspects of your brand or learning about new music. This is why it is best to embrace learning, or ideally the love of learning, early on. Recognize that you will be doing it throughout your entire career.

For example, if you are to stay on the cutting edge, then you’ll need to be researching and discovering new music and artists constantly.

Also, if you are producing, or even just DJing, then technology is changing and evolving super fast. Meaning you’re going to need to keep up with the cutting edge of technology to stay relevant. This is not as daunting as it sounds, the skills you acquire do compound so learning new tech is often intuitive.

This is why it pays to be an autodidact and many established DJs are. An autodidact is someone that can teach themselves anything they want. This means they don’t need to go look to someone else or go to classes to learn something. They will seek out information and start teaching and practicing by themselves.

Although DJ or Production lessons are a great idea to hit the ground running when starting. Self-education is by far the quickest and most efficient way to stay on top of trends in the ever-evolving music landscape.

Conclusion: What Is it Like to Be a DJ?

If I was to sum up “What is it like to be a DJ?” in a very short sentence it would this… It is a lifestyle.

From all the points listed above, you may feel that I’m being negative and trying to put you off being a DJ. I want to assure that this is absolutely not the case. I instead wanted to warn you of the realities of getting there.

DJing itself is one of the most fun and rewarding careers you can have.

There Is a Level of Sacrifice…to Being With

Djing takes effort, but the payoffs are huge
DJing takes effort, but the payoffs are huge

But it does require a level of sacrifice in your life, at least in the short term and depending on how you look at it. DJing professionally is not a hobby i.e it is not something that you can just do for a few hours each week. And so it becomes your entire lifestyle.

Because you’ll normally be DJing all weekend, and perhaps touring as well, then your social life as you know currently will be virtually non-existent. DJing itself will become your social life.

Then, when you are not behind the decks (see our recommended decks here), it’s not as if you have all of that time to yourself.

While it’s true that you can listen to music with headphones on the move, if you are producing your own music then that requires you to be in front of a computer.

Thankfully with laptops that means you can produce while on the road, wherever you are in the world.

Although, again, producing is not a particularly social thing unless you are collaborating. Which is actually something I advise as a way to make DJing more fun. I played DJ gigs both solo and as part of a duo, and have to say I found the duo gigs were often a lot more fun. Just because there is someone else’s energy to bounce off more than anything.

In any case…

DJing is a career that has to be driven by passion and a love for the music. Thankfully once you get going, and you get a taste of just how fun things are, then this passion becomes easier and easier to feed.

Once you embrace that DJing will be your new lifestyle, then you will be on a career path and journey quite unlike any other that you can choose in life.

If you have any questions about anything I’ve talked about in this post or would like some specific advice about your situation then drop them in the comments below and I will reply to every single one.

FAQs: What Is It like to Be a DJ?

Is DJ a good career?

Absolutely yes. It can be difficult to start, but once you are established the payoffs are massive. Whether Club or Mobile, in surveys DJs register as having very high job satisfaction. Pay can also above the hourly average.

Does being a DJ pay well?

Yes, it really can. Once they have established a good reputation Mobile DJs are often able to charge $1,000-3,000 per event. Resident DJs (who play a club weekly or monthly) are often able to bill $50-100+ per hour. Touring DJs have uncapped earning potential.

Is DJing hard to learn?

The basics and theories are not hard at all. You will be able to learn these within a few hours to a few days. To have pro-level skills will take a few months to a year, depending on how much dedicated practice you put in. Getting out and performing DJ gigs as soon as possible is great way to speed up your learning.

What next?

  • Ever wondered what DJs really do onstage? Well, wonder no more.
  • Can an introvert be a DJ? Find out for yourself here.

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