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Alternative Venues For Your DJ Set

Photo by Vilmos Vagyoczki // CC0 1.0
You can spin records in more places than the club

If you’re an aspiring DJ then you’re probably aware of the cold, hard truth. It’s tough to get gigs when you first get going. Without a name for yourself, it’s you who’s going to have to do the talking and approach venue owners. It’s you who has to show your passion and attract an audience.

Sometimes the club scene doesn’t make it any easier. More and more venues seem to only be interested in locking in top commercial talent or DJs who play a very particular set of tunes to a mainstream audience. The party is always pumping in the underground, but what about when you want to transition from the house party scene to the world of paid work?

There’s more to it than DJing at clubs, private parties and weddings. There are plenty of alternative venues where up-and-coming DJs can find an audience, gain practice and promote their material. DJ Premier honed his skills as the campus DJ at the university that he attended, Prairie View, and has now worked with the most legendary artists of all time.

Out of the Club and into the…

It is possible to get where you want to go, but the route is not always simple and direct. Often you have to find gigs in the most unlikely of places. Here are ideas for alternative venues for your DJ set.

Art Galleries – Art galleries are excellent spaces for upcoming DJs to showcase their talent to a like-minded audience. Pick a gallery with art that somehow matches up well with your genre. In any case, art exhibitions and special events usually call for background music rather than an in-your-face live show. Later on they may turn into parties, in which case you can turn it up a notch. Even large museums may have nightlife events. Never say never.

Retail Stores – This is a surprisingly common DJ gig. Retail stores regularly hire DJs for their events and product promotions. I’m not talking about rockin’ Walmart (though, why rule it out?). Niche stores with street cred are a good place to consider, such as clothing and sneaker brands, record stores and comic book stores. Talk to the managers and store owners about upcoming events.

Photo by Albert Yau // CC BY 2.0
Retails stores may hire DJs for promotional events

Hotels and Casinos – Casinos and hotels are excellent places to find paid DJ work and test out your set in front of a fairly large (but not always engaged) audience. Both usually have live music on the weekends for guests and patrons. If you’re booked for a live show, then you can bring the culture of your genre with you in terms of dress and attitude, but if you are playing on an ordinary night, you will have to adhere to the etiquette of the establishment, especially in casinos. This often means a smart casual dress code for entry.

Fundraisers – Charity events and fundraisers are also an excellent place for competent and upcoming DJs to showcase their talent. Again, audiences can be quite large, but this time you should expect that you will be performing for free. As such, you should agree with the cause. The positive media attention and opportunity for networking and promotion is a bonus. The same goes for city functions and community events, although, depending on the type of event, you may find paid work.

Sports Pitches – Major league teams and sports promoters usually have their own DJ they work with to get them through lulls and gaps in the sports shows. Smaller non-league teams may not yet have a DJ, and if you offer they may jump at the chance. Speak to the arena owners or team bosses to see if there are any opportunities. Get creative! It’s not just football stadiums that need DJs. You could go for anything from marathons to rock climbing competitions.

Busking – Sometimes there’s just no better venue than the street. Artists like DubFX have made their name by busking and building an online audience. This is also a way that you can bring that pure live element—and make a connection with your audience—without restraints from the venue or type of music. It takes a special performance to pull a crowd when busking, so make use of show-stopping techniques such as scratching or live rapping.

Promotion and Practice

As mentioned, DJ sets at these alternative venues may not always be paid. They do provide great opportunities to get practice playing in front of a live audience, test out tunes and refine your set.

They are also ideal for self-promotion. You should be networking, handing out cards, securing gigs and building an audience. See if you can sell albums and merchandise after the shows. Most importantly, turn attendees at these events into dedicated fans!

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