Glen Parry is an expert mobile DJ and editor-in-chief at Audio Mastered. I reached out to him for crucial pointers on how to make life easier when you’re a spin doctor on the go. Here’s what he had to say.
Besides simply renting DJ equipment, what’s the bare-bones minimum a paid DJ will need?
It’s actually not a lot of gear. I recommend new DJs to purchase following pieces of equipment:
- Laptop/DJ Software
The other gear you can rent. As your brand grows you can use the money earned at your gigs to slowly start accumulating the other gear. This includes the speakers, stands, cables, lights, FXs, etc.
Most people will already have access to a laptop, so the biggest start up expense is going to be the controller and headphones. It’s possible to get the gear you need for $200 (assuming you already have a laptop) — totally possible for a high school student.
Have you seen DJs perform with less?
Technically, yes. You’ll sometimes see DJs playing without a laptop. It’s quite possible for DJs to mix only with CDJs. However, I wouldn’t recommend beginner DJs going this route. For one thing, CDJs are far more expensive. They’re also most technically involved and require some chops to use.
Start with a controller/laptop setup and upgrade when you’re ready.
What useless gear do you often see brought onstage by DJs?
The most common piece of useless gear I see has to do with headphones. I’ll often see new DJs mixing with an old pair of headphones they bought for listening to music. While you can get away with it, you’re far better off investing in a pair of DJ headphones. The main characteristics you want to look for are:
- Noise isolation
- Pivoting ear cups
- Replaceable parts
Everyday headphones aren’t going to have the level of sound isolation you need to hear your tracks over the noise. You’ll struggle to hear where to set your cue points or to sync your incoming track. DJing can be stressful when you’re just starting – don’t make it harder with cheap headphones.
Additionally, DJ headphones get beaten up very quickly. If you have a set of headphones with replaceable parts (such as cables, or the headband) it’s going to prevent you from buying an entirely new set when the cable snaps.
Necessities aside, what’s your favorite add-on for making a DJ’s life easier?
I personally like the laptop stand. While it’s not absolutely necessary, it gets the laptop up and out of the way. You can position your laptop where you can easily see the screen and you’re not running the risk of bumping it or pulling any connections out during the gig.
Also, having the right gear bags will go a long way in terms of keeping you organized. There are times when you’ll be setting your gear up while another DJ is still performing. This involves crawling on the floor behind the DJ booth trying to get your gear ready to go.
If your gear is organized in cases and bags you’ll have a much easier time setting up under pressure. Not to mention the additional protection cases and bags provide.
Besides a light show, what bonus gear do audiences react to best?
I’d also pick up a smoke machine. While almost cliché, the smoke machine adds another dynamic to your set. They’re easy to use and relatively cheap.
Mobile DJs struggle with what factors most?
The struggles evolve over time. For those just starting out the hardest part is building your brand. It’s getting the first couple of gigs – If you don’t have any contacts in the industry or friends who already DJ, nailing your first gig is a struggle.
The solution is to develop basic marketing skills. Create an artist page on Facebook where you can point any interested customers. Have a few sets recorded from your practice sessions at home as well as a few quality pictures.
Once you have an artist page you can start placing adds where you think people will be looking. A few easy places: Craigslist and community bulletin boards. It’s also a good idea to let your friends know via social media that you’re available. You’ll be surprised at how many of your gigs will be booked through word of mouth.
Getting the gear organized can also be a struggle for new DJs. There are logistical challenges you’ll need to work through when you’re renting the gear. What size/type of speaker will you need? Do you want a subwoofer? Will they interface with your gear? Where are the power outlets at the venue? Do they have a table for you to set your gear on?
Furthermore, setting your price can also be a struggle at the start. I highly recommend pricing everything out beforehand so you know what you’re getting into. This is also a great time to make sure your gear is compatible with what is available to rent. The staff where you’ll be renting from will be invaluable here. Let them know that you are just starting out so they can make sure you have everything you’ll need.
What’s the commonest mistake you see DJs making in 2017?
Not playing to the crowd. Every crowd is going to be unique. Just because you killed it with a song on your last set doesn’t mean you’ll get the same reaction for the next one. Being able to play for the crowd is one of the hidden skills DJs need to develop.
Unfortunately, I see way too many DJs only playing tracks they like while the energy in the crowd dive bombs.
Pay attention to how to crowd reacts for each song and use that to inform your track selection.
The people in the crowd are usually your next customers. Impress them and you’ll always have an endless supply of gigs.
Do you see any changes in contemporary DJ-ing around the corner?
There is a growing trend of musical talent being blended into a DJ set. [See our August article, “Live instruments in EDM and why they make sense“].
This usually involves a physical instrument, or using STEMs in Ableton Live. It’s starting to become more and more of an expectation that you are a Producer as well as a DJ. While this isn’t as crucial for mobile DJs, if you have dreams of taking DJing to the next level having some musical talent is going to go a long way.
In terms of mobile DJs – the barrier to entry is getting lower and lower. Modern DJ equipment is very intuitive and user-friendly. It’s now easier than ever to get up and running. I expect as the equipment is further improved, the creative opportunities for skilled DJs will only increase.
How does a DJ stay fresh and relevant without playing the EDM top-40?
This is where your hard work outside of the set is going to pay off. Your limits to staying fresh are determined by your commitment to digging and searching for unique music. As I mentioned before, each crowd is going to be slightly different. It’s your job to push the boundaries and serve up interesting tracks that aren’t common but are still palatable for that particular crowd.
The best way is to be constantly absorbing as much music from as many genres as you can. It’s only by listening to different genres that you can have those creative moments of “this track will fit perfectly in that set!”
Listen to podcast shows from DJs, listen to other DJ sets on YouTube, immerse yourself as much as possible in new music sources.
You’re probably getting into DJing because you have great taste in music. Use your love of music to put together creative sets that will be fresh and relevant.
Today, there’s a big push against the just-press-play mentality of the aughts. What can a DJ do onstage to entertain audiences?
Finding the balance between DJing and crowd interaction can be difficult. Additionally, Each DJ is also going to have their own personal preferences. I’ve been to shows where the DJ was interacting with the crowd for every track, while other DJs only speak once or twice.
I recommend not being shy of the mic. Use it to amp up the crowd before a big drop, or to let them know that something is coming. Let them know you’re there and paying attention.
I also recommend not always hiding behind your decks. Feel free to move around behind, or even in front, of the DJ booth. Show the crowd that you’re enjoying the music and let them feed off your energy. It’s your job to set the tone so if you feel the need to jump up on the booth, do it.
Do you think DJs have a hard time getting paid what they’re worth? What would you suggest as a fundamental guideline for what mobile DJs should charge?
I find that most people are willing to pay to have a great DJ. A DJ is usually the centerpiece of the party so people are fine with paying what they’re worth.
Don’t spend too much time worrying about what you’re charging for your first few gigs. Make sure you’ve priced out all the rental equipment you’ll need and then tag on between $100-200 when you’re first starting out. You may even consider lowering your fee for the first few shows and consider it an investment in your brand.
If you’re not getting any gigs, lower your fee.
Once you’re experienced you can crank up your fee. This usually happens when the gigs start rolling in and you have your marketing machined tuned and running. How much you can raise your fee is going to depend on the market in your area. If you’re in a larger market and you’ve built yourself a good brand, you can make a decent chunk of change for each gig.
Talk about some impressive moves or innovations you’ve seen from pros onstage or off. Anything stand out?
Anytime a DJ is able to play a musical instrument during their set I’m impressed. The crowd also always reacts positively.
It doesn’t really matter what the instrument is. I’ve seen Griz jump up on the booth and blast out the melodies on his sax and Odesza playing percussion on their drum pads. Each time the crowd goes nuts.
What annoys you most as a mobile DJ?
Showing up to a venue only to find out they are no-where close to being prepared for you. Talk through your requirements in detail with your client and make no assumptions.
- If you don’t have your own table make sure they have one set up for you.
- Make sure you’ll have somewhere to plug in your gear.
- Make sure they have a space where you can fit everything.
- Do they want a light show, smoke show?
It will only take one nightmare gig for you to appreciate asking all the questions before you arrive.
What excites you most in the modern scene?
I’m excited about the overall popularity of electronic music. There’s never been a better time to become a DJ. The sheer volume of different music makes the entire scene a playground for creativity. The number of genres keeps evolving and producers are always pushing boundaries. DJs have been headlining at huge festivals and the electronic music festivals are growing bigger each year. Everything about being a DJ is on the up-and-up.
What advice can you offer DJs thinking they might not cut it as mobile pros?
It’s not as hard as you may think. While it may seem daunting when you first start, each aspect of becoming a mobile DJ is within reach. Start out small – buy the basic gear and start practicing at home.
Next, try DJing at a few of your friend’s parties. Rent a cheap PA system and set up in a room. You won’t need huge speakers in smaller rooms so it will be much more affordable.
Once you start feeling more confident start putting your name out there. Start slowly building a branch piece by piece. You may take a look at established DJs and think that it’s an impossible mountain to climb, but if you take it one step at a time you’ll eventually get there.
Just take it one step at a time.
Another word of advice: practice!
You must be practicing at home during your downtime. The more you practice, the more shows you will get in the long run. Your technical skills will increase and offer you more flexibility during your sets. Again, this is a time thing. Put in the time and you will be rewarded down the road.
What question do you wish amateur DJs asked you more?
I think a lot of amateur DJs could be benefiting from learning a little more marketing. Better marketing practices will lead to bigger clients. This is where you can start charging a higher fee.
Sometimes a simple website and a little social media marketing can go a long way. By increasing your engagement on social media (releasing recordings of your sets, releasing pictures, etc.) you can pull in much more clients and appear much more professional.
Glen Parry appears courtesy of AudioMastered.com.
That’s it for this week’s MondoBlog DIY post. Don’t miss last week’s interview on home-studio recording with Of Limbo from Long Beach, CA, and stay tuned for much more in 2017 and beyond.