How to DJ at a Club: Beginner Mistakes to Avoid at all Costs

How to DJ at a Club: Beginner Mistakes to Avoid at all Costs

If you’re new to the DJ scene and want to make a good first impression, then my guide on how to DJ at a club will be invaluable. If you’ve never played in a club before, then your first gig can be a complex, challenging experience.

Unfortunately, there are several common mistakes that beginners tend to make that can prevent them from landing more gigs in the future. Fortunately for you, this guide will help you take on the club scene like a pro.

How to DJ at a club is all about preparation and research. Each club caters to a different crowd of people. Knowing your crowd, and the type of music they dig will help you create a killer set that the crowd will respond to and love. Another important factor is the setup of the DJ booth. Many DJ booths are cramped, which means you have to choose carefully in terms of the type of gear you should bring. Preparing for your crowd and for the DJ booth setup will set you up for a successful night that will keep the clubgoers on the dance floor and the club promoters and owners asking you back for another set.

While it’s true that experience is often the best teacher, when you’re starting off in the club scene, a major mistake can end up costing you your job or it can even end your budding career as a DJ. When first starting out, the newbie DJ is sure to run into a variety of hurdles. Read on to learn what these hurdles are and exactly what you can do to avoid them.

Using the Right Gear

Using low-quality gear is a common mistake the beginner will make. Of course, it’s reasonable for a new DJ at a club to begin on a tight budget so they may not be able to afford a DJ controller that costs several hundred dollars. However, based on the budget you do have, you should seriously consider how your choice of equipment will impact your set and the type of sound you’re going for.

Controllers like the Numark Mixtrack Platinum DJ Controller is considered club quality and it’s available at a reasonable price. So, as you can see, if you do your homework and look for a model that has all the right features, a great rating, and a reputation for versatility and power, it’s totally possible to have all the right club quality equipment you need for your first DJing gig.

Not Knowing Your Crowd

Many inexperienced DJs believe that it’s crucial that they have plenty of the latest music in their library or in their vinyl collection. While it’s true that breaking in new records and having an arsenal of the freshest music is a must, you have to pay attention to the type of crowd you’re playing for and be able to anticipate their reactions on the dance floor.

In reality, most people at clubs don’t stay current with music the way a DJ will. Instead, most clubgoers will prefer to stick with past hits as opposed to listening to new tracks or experimental styles of music.  But in some cases, underground music scenes can be the exception to the rule. However, even within unique clubs and scenes, you can’t deny the power that time-tested classic music can deliver out on the dance floor.

So, what’s the best option here? Make sure you always keep a stockpile of classic tracks on hand.

Using the Right Gear

Social Media

Most big time DJs will use social media as a way to promote their reps and connect with their audience. They will also use this type of platform to discuss their next appearance. However, you’ll want to make sure if you use social media to promote your skills that you avoid over-hyping yourself. Try not to act like you’re headlining a major concert event if you’re only dropping a set at a birthday party. Stay humble.

You are a brand. This means you need to craft your brand carefully and by using your skills to do so, not just hype.

Equipment Setup

Aside from having high-quality gear, it’s also important to keep in mind that not every venue you play at will have the space to accommodate larger controllers and outboard gear. At a major club, staff will not want to allow a new DJ to rearrange things in the booth or shuffle around the club’s gear in order to accommodate their own.

If you’re not sure what type of gear to bring, scope out the place you plan on playing at and get a feel for their setup, the type of gear their DJ normally uses, and the types of tracks that please the crowd.

A beginner should be ready to work around the standard gear and equipment in any club. Having to switch out hardware before a set can be stressful, frustrating, and time-consuming. Additionally, if you’re too demanding and make special requests in order to accommodate your setup, this can be very unattractive to resident DJs, club owners, and promoters, which can seriously hinder your ability to network within the industry.

So, before your next gig, check out the club’s setup, and learn about and become familiar with the gear in your niche.

Don’t Get Taken Advantage Of

As a newbie, you’ll find that club owners will try to take advantage of you from time to time, offering great time slots for sets if you agree to play for free. You may think this is a great way to get your name out there, but in reality, it’s just showing other promoters that you’re willing to play for little to no cash.

There are other club owners who will try to get you to play for free by promising to hire you on if they like what they hear, however, while they often stick to that promise, they usually end up paying their DJ a very low fee. Avoid working for these guys at all costs. Know your worth.

When you volunteer to DJ at a club for free, or you try to undercut other DJs in order to get a gig, you’re basically doing a major disservice to other DJs in the industry. However, this also doesn’t mean that you should start demanding a huge paycheck at the start of your career.

The Beginner-Friendly Club Scene

The Beginner-Friendly Club Scene

There are usually different levels of clubs that will attract DJs at varying skill levels and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with playing at these lesser known venues in order to earn some experience. When it comes to your skill level, it’s important that you’re realistic.

Speak with other DJs in the scene and learn more about the market and what you should expect in terms of rates. Never take a gig that requires you to pay to play your set. This also includes venues that require you to sell a certain number of tickets in order to get paid.

Building that Resume for Bigger Gigs

In the end, every gig, every party you play, adds value to your resume and more experience under your belt. At the root of every successful DJ is a long list of small venues and parties, all of which have contributed to the type of DJ they are today.

As you learn more about mixing techniques, transitions, and how to get the best sound in the club, you add more to your worth and your rep. Regular work will also lead to bigger and better things in the future.

Additionally, it’s also important to assess your talent and determine what type of unique skills you can bring to the table. becoming a pro DJ is not easy. There’s plenty of competition to deal with, and your lack of experience can make landing a paying gig a real challenge.

Focus on refining your skills and create your own unique mixes that will instantly catch the attention of club owners and promoters. Email your mixes to important people in the scene, start your own social media pages that can allow people to sample your music, and focus on making a name for yourself by earning more experience and taking on new challenges.

Related Questions

What Type of DJ Equipment Should I Bring to a New Gig?

Often, the DJ’s gear is dependent on the type of music they play and their DJing style in general. There are many options for the modern and old school DJ. The old school DJ will need a couple of turntables and a mixer, with some portable speakers, and plenty of music.

The digital DJ will need a controller and a laptop. With a digital setup, you won’t need to worry about hauling your music from gig to gig, since your music and effects will be easily accessible on in your music library. Ultimately, the model you choose should match your skill level.

How Do I Start as a DJ?

The first step is determining if you want to be a digital or old school DJ. As we mentioned earlier, this choice involves going with turntables and a more extensive setup. If you want to go digital, then you’ll need a laptop and a DJ controller. Once you have your gear, you’ll want to practice making some mixes, working on cueing and transitions, and learning more about current and past hits that are often played in the clubs, as well as genres including EDM and hip hop.

You’ll also need to build up your music collection at this time, whether it’s in digital format or vinyl.

Once you have some sets put together, start off small by DJing parties and other small events. When you feel ready, you can begin emailing club promoters or owners inquiring about DJ gigs. Be sure you attach a copy of some of your mixes. It’s best to send more than one in order to showcase your diverse DJing skills. To learn more, check out my Guide to Becoming a DJ.

How Much Do Club DJs Make?

On average, a club DJ makes approximately $26,000-$35,000. The lowest ten percent of club DJs will make just $16,000. The top ten percent of pro DJs will make over $70,000 a year. Ultimately, the type of income you can expect from this profession will depend on the type of events you play, how often you work, your skill level, and of course, your experience.

In the first couple of years in the scene, you can expect to make the lower end of the pay scale, while those with more than five years of experience working in the club industry will make around $30,000. Aside from the other factors we have mentioned, where you live can also impact how much you make.

If you live in a rural area, where DJs aren’t as in demand, you can still make a decent salary, if you put in the hours. But often, higher paying DJ gigs can be found in metropolitan areas such as Las Vegas or New York. Just keep in mind, in big cities, the competition for this type of position can be very fierce.

Final Thoughts

How to DJ at a club like a pro is a matter of knowing your crowd and going in prepared. A little research can go a long way in terms of knowing the type of crowds that normally hang out at specific venues since it can help you to put together sets that will keep people on the dance floor.

Learning about the setup and the type of gear you need to bring can also go a long way and will help you to feel comfortable, prepared, and ready to go when it’s gig time.

Blake Gibbs

I have been a professional DJ for almost 10 years. In that time I've played a lot of gigs and gone through a whole bunch of equipment. My new goal is to spread my knowledge of DJ products with the world through this website!