How to Make Money as a DJ: The Ultimate Guide

Disc Jockeys, often abbreviated to DJs, are one of the most revered jobs in the music industry. They are associated with all things fun – from weddings and birthday parties to festivals and hip nightclubs around the world to producing new music for up and coming artists.

To make money as a DJ and turn your passion into your career, you’ll need to understand the different types of DJs, invest in the tools of your trade, gain exposure through social media and word of mouth, choose the right gigs for you and do what you love.

The rest of this guide outlines the different types of DJs out there and how you can turn your passion project into a lucrative career.

Types of DJs

There are five main categories of DJs today: Club DJs, Mobile DJs, Radio DJs, Turntablists, and Music Producers. Each category of DJing can be a lucrative career if you have the proper tools and the drive to be successful.

Club DJs

A club DJ, often shortened to the abbreviation CDJ, is someone who plays music primarily at night clubs or venues such as bars, festivals or raves. The main function of a club DJ is to draw a crowd to whatever event they are hired for and to maintain a certain vibe throughout the event.

Electronic Dance Music (EDM) has the most popular connotation with club DJs. However, a club DJ can play any type of music – from rock to hip hop and rhythm & blues (R&B). Alternatively, not all EDM DJs are club DJs.

This genre of DJing is thrilling and filled with excitement, and is likely what draws many people into considering DJing professionally. You have more creative freedom as this type of DJ than you would as a mobile or radio DJ, as you can create your own custom mixes. With that being said, playing pre-recorded songs from other artists is extremely common in club DJing as well.

According to Zip Recruiter, an online job searching and salary estimating tool, the average salary for a Club DJ in the United States is $49,607 annually. That’s a pretty decent salary for doing something you’re passionate about.

Of course, this is dependent upon how many jobs you are booking and how much you can charge for each event. If you’re just starting out, you can expect to make less per event than those that have already broken into the industry.

But, how does one go from DJing as a hobby to making it their career?

Here are a few tips you can use to help jumpstart your career as a Club DJ:

  • Create a few different types of mixes that represent your personal style. Post these mixes to different social media platforms in an effort to get your sound out there. The more access people have to your music, the more likely they are to listen to it! This is also a great way to practice, so when it comes time to perform in front of people, you’ll have a great idea of what to expect.
  • Create hard copies (via USB stick or CD) of your mixes and carry them around with you. You never know when opportunity will strike and you meet a new connection. Having hard copies of your work with you at all times will allow you to distribute them if you meet someone who may be interested in what you are working on.
  • Try to make connections with promoters face to face. Create a list of bars and clubs that you feel would be a good fit for you to play. Pay a visit to these venues, and try to meet the promoters and club owners before the busier hours begin. Putting forth the effort to make hard copies of your work and take time out of your day to pursue these potential business ventures will help you to stand out and show your dedication.
  • Collaborate with other DJs. Try connecting with local DJs that have already broken into the club scene. Offer to assist with setup/breakdown or ask if you can play one of your mixes as the opening act at no cost to them. Building relationships with those DJs that have already done what you are trying to do will offer an immense amount of helpful knowledge to help you do the same with your career.
  • Use social media as a grassroots promotional tool. Go live on your Facebook or Instagram accounts to help showcase your talents to your social media followers. This can be a great tool for getting your name out there, especially if you align your followers with like-minded people who have the same hobbies or work in the music industry.

Mobile DJs

Mobile DJs are DJs that travel to their events with portable sound, lighting, and video systems. Mobile DJs tend to occupy the wedding, birthday party, and special event space but can acquire gigs at places like nightclubs or bars as well.

Typically, mobile DJs have less freedom in their music selections than club DJs and tend to play pre-recorded music from a catalog of genres. Most mobile DJs aren’t playing music or mixes they have created themselves. However, depending on the needs of your client, you could have the opportunity to do so if you wish.

This fact can be construed as both a positive or a negative aspect of mobile DJing, as some DJs may not have any interest in creating their own mixes, but rather enjoy playing music for others and keeping a crowd of people lively at a special event.

Some of the benefits of mobile DJing include a wide variety of events available to work at – since mobile DJs can bring the music to the venue. It’s likely easier to get into than club DJing, as music is a common theme at most celebratory functions, making the demand greater.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), mobile DJs make an average salary of $32,000 per year. However, the top-earning mobile DJs earn an average of $83,000 annually. Much like club DJs, this too is largely dependent upon how many jobs you are booking, and how much you charge for each appearance.

Follow these steps below to kickstart your career as a mobile DJ:

  • Plan your business. Determine how much you can afford to invest up front on things like equipment and music software. Understand what your target clients will be – whether that is weddings, corporate functions, birthday parties, bar appearances, or a mixture of all of these!
  • Determine what equipment you’ll need up front. You’ll want to invest in the following:
  • A laptop with plenty of storage space, like the Microsoft Surface Pro 5.
  • Industry-standard software such as PCDJ DEX 3, Virtual DJ Broadcaster or MAGIX Digital DJ 2
  • A Public Address System (PA), which includes speakers, amplifiers and a microphone  
  • A lighting system which can include a light bar, strobe lights, etc. – This is something certain venues may have in place already, so be sure to check to see if this is required
  • A vehicle large enough to bring your equipment to and from events
  • Determine your ongoing expenses. You’ll need to continuously purchase new music to stay current with today’s trends. You’ll also need to set up a budget for travel time and fuel costs, as you travel from event to event. Equipment maintenance and software license renewals should also be factored in.
  • Understand your target market. Do you prefer to work solely in the wedding industry, or are you willing to branch out to birthday parties, corporate functions, bars/restaurants, and more? Being open to a variety of different event types will allow you more options when booking gigs, which will lead to increased revenue.
  • Make connections in the industry. Try to collaborate with certain venues or wedding planning companies, so that your services can potentially be offered as a package. DJ recommendations are generally word of mouth, so having venues or other trusted companies in the industry back up your work will go a long way to booking jobs.

Radio DJ

A radio DJ, also sometimes referred to as a radio personality, is a person who has an on-air position in radio broadcasting. Radio personalities that play sections of music during their program are considered radio DJs.

Radio DJs are responsible for bringing interesting content outside of just music into their programming. They need to have a good understanding of current events, not only on the local and world stages but in celebrity news and gossip as well.

These types of DJs differ from club and mobile DJs, as they typically have a standing position at a broadcast station, and do not need to continuously book gigs to make a living. Radio DJs can broadcast live or by using voice-tracking techniques, which allow them to pre-record their segments ahead of time.

Radio DJs can work at almost any hour of the day, as long as there is a program to broadcast. It is not uncommon for newer radio DJs to work an early morning or late night shift when starting out in an effort to gain exposure.

The average salary of a radio DJ in the United States is $58.370 per year. That salary, in conjunction with the job security of a regular spot on the radio, makes the position of a radio DJ a pretty appealing option for those looking to become a DJ and make some real money doing so.

To become a radio DJ, you’ll want to follow these steps:

  • Get a Bachelor’s degree in broadcasting, journalism, or communications. Typically, a bachelor’s degree is preferred for employers looking to hire radio DJs.
  • Get on the job experience. Sometimes on the job experience through internships will suffice instead of a bachelor’s degree.
  • Build your social media skills. Since being a radio DJ requires you to speak to what is going on in current events, you’ll want to have an understanding of what people are interested in and talking about.

As you can see, becoming a radio DJ requires some time and effort in order to have a successful career doing so. However, the position of a radio DJ is more stable than that of a club or mobile DJ.

Turntablists

A turntablist is someone who manipulates sounds to create new music, sound effects, mixes, and other original audio media, typically using two or more turntables and a crossfader equipped DJ mixer. Turntablists create their sounds with the DJ mixer by moving the record with their hands to cue up the exact sound they’re looking for.

Similar to a club DJ, turntablists have the creative freedom to develop new music mixes and sounds that can be played for an audience, particularly at a club or rave-type venue. However, the term turntablist was popularized in 1995 by DJs Luis “DJ Disk” Quintanilla and Chris Oroc (DJ Babu) in an effort to actually separate the two types of DJ styles.

These two trailblazing DJs wanted to differentiate the typical practice of playing pre-produced music, generally conducted by club DJs, with the actual creation of new sounds done with the use of a turntable.

Also similar to club DJs, turntablists can play in any setting that requires music. Their typical venues include clubs and festivals but can play at weddings or parties as well. However, there is an opportunity to work behind the scenes creating new music rather than playing it for others in a public setting, if you should so desire.

The average salary of a turntablist is similar to that of a club DJ, coming in at around $49,000 annually. Of course, this depends on the number of gigs landed per year, the amount charged for performances as well as new music productions.

To become a successful turntablist, you’ll want to follow these steps:

  • Invest in the right equipment. Because turntablists require at least two turntables and a DJ mixer, you’ll want to invest in some sturdy equipment to get you on the right path.
  • Decide on a direction for your business. Determine if you’d prefer to focus on the music-making aspects of a career as a turntablist, or if you’d prefer to focus on performances. This will help you to center your efforts in a particular direction, rather than to spread yourself too thin.
  • Network, network, network. Being an individual in the music and performance space is all about who you know and what connections you have. Make friendships and business connections to help advance your career as a turntablist.

Music Producer

A music producer oversees and manages the sound recording and production of another band or performer’s music, which may range from one song to an entire album. Music producers play a number of roles in the creation of music, from gathering music selections to accompany a set of lyrics, to coaching musicians on how to improve their songs.

The role of a music producer differs from that of a traditional club or mobile DJ, as they have more stable positions that don’t require booking gigs to make money. However, it can be argued that DJs and turntablists are music producers in their own right because they are ultimately responsible for the outcome of their mixes.

According to Zip Recruiter, the average salary of a music producer is $70,326 annually, while the top 1% make over $300,000 a year. This can vary slightly, as producers are typically paid on a per-song basis. Newer music producers can bring in between $0 – $3,500 per song, while well-known producers can score between $10,000 and $15,000 per song.

Looking to break into the field of music production? Here are some tips to jumpstart you on your path to success:

  • Learn an Instrument. If you understand how to listen to music as a composer, you’ll have more to add to the conversation when working with artists as they create new songs. You don’t have to be perfect, having a base knowledge and growing from there is enough to get you started. Try out the piano, bass, or guitar, and work your way up from there.
  • Get familiar with the tools of the trade. To be a producer, you’ll need to use a Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW to record and produce new music. Some great, industry-standard options are Pro Tools, Ableton Live or Logic Pro X if you have a Mac iOS.
  • Have a broad understanding of a variety of music genres. Listening to a range of different music genres, from rap and hip hop to rock, pop and folk, will allow you insight into what beats work well together, as well as what is popular. Listen to the background sounds and singers in an attempt to understand why the producer may have made the decision to include that in the production.
  • Create, create create! Practice your DAW skills and get to work creating your own mixes and songs. It’s a great way to learn the software, as well as learning how to enhance certain songs through production. Another added bonus – you’ll build a portfolio of your productions that you can use to sell yourself during interviews!

How to Be Successful as a DJ

Now that you understand the different types of DJs, it is time to understand how to take what you’ve learned and use that information to build a successful career. In order to become successful as any type of DJ and to make a real income doing it, you need to understand the steps necessary to make that happen.

In order to make money as a DJ, you will need to determine what kind of DJ you’d like to be, invest in the proper equipment and music software, and ultimately gain exposure in your chosen field.

Determine What Kind of DJ You Want to Be

When deciding what type of DJ you’d like to be, go with your gut. When you picture yourself as a DJ, are you playing in front of large crowds, or are you working behind the scenes creating music you love? In a study conducted by the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, it was concluded that doing something you have a passion for can benefit your health and overall satisfaction with your life.

If you’re unsure, try looking at the facts behind each type of DJ.

Do you mind primarily working nights, weekends, and holidays, if it means interacting with crowds of people and doing something you love? Are you willing to invest in the right equipment to help further your career? Do you have a passion for creating your own unique mixes, or have a love for keeping up with today’s current trends in music? If so, a club DJ or mobile DJ may be a great fit for you.

Do you want a more stable position with set hours, and are you willing to get a degree in order to make your dream come true? Do you have a passion for broadcasting not only music but also popular news and current events? Then a radio DJ is a great option for you.

Do you have a unique knack for creating new sounds and beats, but don’t necessarily want to perform in front of crowds? Do you have the drive to consistently create and produce new music? Then a turntablist may be the direction you want to go in.

Do you have a passion for creating music behind the scenes, but aren’t as interested in performing in front of crowds? Do you like working as a team to develop songs and music compositions? Do you have a keen ear for what’s trending in the music industry? Then a career as a music producer is likely your best fit.

Invest in the Proper DJ Equipment and Software

Obviously, each type of DJ requires a different set of equipment in order to be successful. Investing in the proper equipment will help you better your career and will also allow you to practice and hone your craft when you aren’t playing gigs.

For most DJ types, you’ll need a quality laptop, a set of turntables, and Digital Audio Workstation software. If you’re planning to get into the mobile DJ industry, add a PA system and a light system to that list of required equipment.

Gain Exposure in Your Chosen Industry

Gaining exposure in the industry is going to be paramount to booking jobs and becoming a household name in the industry. This is the most important thing you can do to help boost your career as a DJ. In order to do this, you’ll want to consider the following:

  • Go to venues you want to play at. Make connections with bar and restaurant owners and offer to play for free if they’ll allow you to play a couple of sets.
  • Make connections in the industry you want to work in. If that means weddings, try to connect with popular wedding venues, photographers, or wedding planning companies in an effort to try and package your services with theirs. If that means the radio industry, connect with different stations and try to gain experience through internships.
  • Create music you love! If you genuinely love what you’re producing, it’ll be easier and more exciting to share with others. The more you can talk about and share your music, the more exposure you’ll gain. Social media is a powerful tool for sharing your passions and getting your name out there.
  • If you’re unsure which path to choose, try multiple. If you know you have a passion for music and sharing that with others, but aren’t sure which path to choose, try interning for different DJs or radio stations to help narrow down what will make you the most content.
  • Build a brand. There are thousands upon thousands of DJs out there, all working towards the same goal you have – to share your love of music with the world and make money doing it. In order to set yourself apart, you need to find something that makes you unique. Whether that’s your sound or something you wear, choose something that will help portray your personal style.

Summary

To review, there are a variety of ways to become a DJ and make a viable income doing so.

The first step is to determine what type of atmosphere you’d enjoy working in. Club DJs and mobile DJs spend their time playing for crowds and keeping the atmosphere lively and fun. Radio DJs do their work behind the scenes, and also do some local news and current events reporting. Turntablists have the creative freedom to develop new and cutting edge sounds and mixes. Music Producers work as a team to develop songs in conjunction with other artists.

The next step is to invest in the best equipment for your role. Laptops, turntables, and DAW software are a must for any of the different DJ variations.

Finally, gaining exposure will help you book gigs or land a job, allowing you to earn some real income doing something you’re passionate about.

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