How to become a DJ
A DJ (or disc jockey) is someone who plays recorded music on the radio or at a club or party.
So you’re looking for a career on the 1s and 2s? Being a DJ is a passion lead project that can take you places and introduce you to a range of people as you play at clubs and parties and record mixes for Soundcloud. But getting set up and standing out from the many DJs out there is difficult. Not only do you need a specific style and sound in the work that you do, but you need a business oriented head to promote yourself.
Here we look at some steps you can take to becoming a DJ, managing your profile and getting some revenue.
How to start DJing
If we’re starting right at square one, then here’s a few things to establish first.
- What’s your music? - It’s important to know from the start what kind of music you’re into and how you'd bring that to an audience. Find your niche, if you love bashment, or reggaeton, or house, build your music collection in that area and continually look for new gems people might not know to play alongside the occasional classic. It won’t be a case of finding 100 tracks and then that’s it. You’ve got to be constantly listening to the genre as new things come out.
- What kind of DJ are you? - The more commercially minded might opt for weddings and parties, playing recognisable classics, or the more alternative might be looking for underground tracks to fill a club. Again, before you set out make sure you have this nailed down because it will define how you do business and where you end up playing.
- Get the right equipment - Don’t go crazy with the spending straightaway, it’s good to get the basics right first. You might want to start out with a small laptop controller so you can get to grips with the logic of decks first, before looking at club standard CDJs and mixers. You could go straight to vinyl turntables which require training your ear as there’s no visual aid. Although bear in mind you’ll need to spend a lot more money on records than downloaded MP3s.
- Learn the basic skills:
- Beatmatching - this means getting two tracks playing at the same beat, in order to switch from one to the next.
- Looping - playing segments of songs in a loop.
- EQing - cutting or boosting frequencies.
- Phrasing - mixing between tracks at the right times.
- Gain control - using the different volumes: bass, mid and hi.
- Record your mixes and listen back to them - Things might sound great in the moment but you can always see better opportunities or moments for different songs when listening back. Practice makes perfect right?
How to make money from DJing
This is arguably the hardest bit (unless you include getting famous as a separate step). You might have perfected your bedroom DJ skills by this point, but getting to play in front of people and getting paid for it takes a bit of business nous. Here’s a few steps to promote your profile and get you that all important paid gig:
- Upload your best mixes to Soundcloud, Mixcloud or YouTube - these will act as your calling card to clubs and promoters.
- Make a social media profile and post regularly - try to post a range of content, not just mixes. It could be songs you like or venues you’ve played at once you’re up and running. This is a never ending beast that you’ll have to keep feeding.
- Throw your own parties - why not throw the party you always dreamed of: where you DJ. You could look at renting a venue and then promoting the party and bringing friends. This can become a whole business or side hustle in itself where you’ll need to manage finances, marketing and sales.
- Network hard with events organisers and promoters - You could doorstep clubs, bars, and events. If you can get a residency at a bar this can get you regular experience and exposure.
- Hand out calling cards that state what kind of music you play - If you produce your own music then this can be a valuable calling card, send it to bigger artists for them to play out, even if they don’t you never know one may get back to you.
How much can you make as a DJ?
Understanding your rate is also important. These can vary pretty wildly as the control is usually with the person booking you. Mixmag spoke to a range of DJs to get a sense of how much they really earn. They claim that:
- The average fledgling DJ earns about £100 a gig, playing in a bar each weekend.
- Up and coming national talent earns anywhere between £250-£2,500 per gig.
- Global touring DJs should be paid an average of £3,500 per gig but this can go up to 5 figures if you’re a really big name.
There are also expenses to consider. These go up with the gigs until the mid-level when promoters start paying your travel and accommodation. If you end up taking on an agent they’ll take around 20% of your earnings, but they should outweigh this cost if they’re getting you good gigs.
How does tax work with DJing?
If you think that you’re going to make more than £1,000 in a year from DJing, then it’s worth registering with HMRC for self-employed income. Anything under that figure, you don’t have to declare.
If you declare self-employed income then you’ll need to complete a self assessment tax return each year. What you pay to HMRC is your tax bill minus the expenses of running your business. You can read more on how to complete your self-assessment tax return in this Earnr article.
The usual cut off date to complete your self-assessment is the 31st of January if you’re doing it online, and 31st of October if you’re completing the form by post.
The tax bands for a DJs are the same as any other occupation:
- Tax allowance: 0% of earnings (You earned between £0 - £12,570)
- Basic rate: 20% of earnings (You earned between £12,571 - £50,270)
- Higher rate: 40% of earnings (You earned between £50,271- £150,000)
- Additional rate: 45% of earnings over £150,000
Remember: if you’re DJing as a side hustle, then this income will be combined with your total income from your central job, which can push you up a tax band. You can read more about tax bands, how they work, and what a personal allowance is in our blog post here.
What can DJs expense?
It’s an expensive game to get into with music, software, and hardware all being needed to actually become a DJ. You can however deduct these costs from your taxable profit as long as they’re eligible expenses.
So if you earn £50,000 and you claim £9,000 in expenses, you’d only be taxed on £41,000 for the year.
Note that if you use the £1,000 tax free trading allowance you won’t be able to claim expenses.
Things you might expense as a DJ could be:
- Mixing software
- Decks, mixer, controller
- Food and drinks at the venue
- Marketing materials
How can Earnr help?
Let’s face it, it would be pretty rare if you were a DJ with an accounting background, although there probably are one or two out there. For those less accustomed to managing your business finances, Earnr is here.
Earnr allows you to track your ingoings and outgoings over the course of the year, and automate your tax return. You mark each payment and each expense as you go so that by the time you get to doing your tax return, we’ll have everything we need to do the process for you.