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The Secret DJ: "You'll die of a heart attack if you stress about your place in the game"

Our mystery spinner flags up some rookie errors best avoided

  • Words: The Secret DJ | Illustrations: Samuel O'Donnell
  • 25 August 2017

I get asked sometimes about how to get involved in, or excel at, the business of DJing. And it is a business, ultimately. I’m often at a loss, because I’ve been doing it so long that I can barely remember, and things were very different when I started.

Luck and timing are such big parts of it, but you can make your own luck by putting yourself in the middle of things. Chance encounters happen all the time, but you won’t be ready to take advantage of them if you aren’t physically close to the biz. So don’t think you can pull it off from your bedroom in the sticks. If you’re serious about it, and you have to be, you need to move somewhere with a genuine DJing infrastructure.

Don’t rely on anyone, because you’ll get ripped off. It’s just a matter of time. The water is full of happy little otters, and the sharks think they are hilarious. There are people in the biz who have literally never paid anyone, and the reason they’re still not paying anyone is there are always fresh otters throwing themselves into the pool every five minutes. The otter bones, skulls and burping sharks don’t seem to put the newbie otters off at all. Because each otter thinks they are particularly clever and special. Even the dead ones. Especially the dead ones.

Get it in writing: everything. Don’t do business on social media unless it is to steer the words on to your email. The rip-off merchants don’t expect otters to keep records, pay tax and retain correspondence. They think you’re too busy opening clams with pebbles and rubbing your tummies with your wee hands. If you aren’t sure who is a shark and who is an otter just show them a contract, and if they go (great) white as a sheet and start stammering you can bet they won’t sign it – and you have a shark on your hands. For holy chuff’s sake don’t leave everything to agents and managers, they can be sharks too. One of the worst things you can do is merrily go off on the road and leave the biz in the hands of someone else.

Likewise in the booth. Learn the tech. And no, I don’t mean sync and laptops. If you can’t set up the whole soundsystem yourself, know what a crossover or a limiter does, and own a soldering iron… well, lets just say you’ve got a lot to learn. Sure, there are other people who do that stuff. But if you’re going to use something at work, it helps if you know how it all functions. Carry spares, carry tools. Be a pro.

Monitors and settings are prime rookie mistake territory. How many times have I arrived to a set of monitors even louder than the main system and every dial at stupid o’clock? Reds flashing, sound guys grinding their teeth and the DJ and their mates having their own private booth party. When your monitoring is too loud, your headphones are maxed out, your mixing suffers and you put a sonic wall between you and the people you should be at one with. Of all the schoolboy errors this is the most common.

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