This is the first interview I’ve done with a family member! Andrew is my cousin who happens to be a full time professional dj willing to share his experiences transitioning from being an instrumentalist to making a living as a sole trader in the dj industry. If you’ve considered working for yourself or looking for tips to enter the dj community, this interview is for you. I hope you enjoy listening to Andrew’s insights.
Given your history as a performing guitarist, can you share if this has informed your workflow as a dj in any way worth sharing?
I guess it just comes down to being professional and what that means to you. As a guitarist if you’ve got a gig on you want to make sure obviously you’re rocking up nice and early giving yourself enough time to prepare and set up and check in with the relevant people and just start to get a workflow going in that kind of sense. I guess it has kind’ve helped to inform my workflow by learning to become professional as a musician in general and just learning the industry as time progressed from essentially playing one instrument going onto another.
What are the biggest differences from being a working instrumentalist to working as a dj?
For me I’m looking at it from the perspective of the corporate world. In that case there’s not so many differences. Again it’s about presenting yourself in a business like manner whether that’s engaging with the client before the event, following up with them regularly. A lot of these simple kind’ve of business ideals go hand in hand regardless of the instrument you’re playing. Especially in the corporate world. Getting sales experience. customer service experience. Knowing how to deliver your product to the customer really. I think they’re all pretty important key aspects to being successful in whatever you do. Especially in our industry as musicians because they’re often seen as a, maybe a not so important aspect of what the clients trying to achieve, but ultimately you delivering as a musician is imperative. It’s going to make or break the event. Showing value with what you’re delivering and presenting yourself in a business like way they’re both things that I’ve taken from learning to be a guitarist to being a dj.
What advice would you give to an instrumentalist wanting to get involved in the dj community but has no idea where to start?
I’d probably say get involved online a lot more. Obviously there’s pages of communities for working musicians and going about finding gigs in different networks that way, but personally i’ve found with the dj community people area lot more active and a lot more pro active, for the most part a lot more open to helping out each other and also newbies getting involved. I’m involved in both networks still and I appreciate both for what they do for their respective communities. Like I said, with dj’ing the networks just seem to spanned a lot bigger and a lot wider. For example, in Brisbane where I’m located there’s networks to get involved with Brisbane’s musicians. musicians from the sunshine coast, musicians from the gold coast and kind’ve of other surrounding areas which is great but as part of the dj community you’re really able to be a part of an international community simple because of the way our instrument is delivered. It’s through technology, you’re able to do things differently and share your experiences as a musician differently.
Essentially any time you practice or anything you do can be recorded direct to your computer and instantly uploaded to the internet. The barriers in that regard are much less to being a traditional instrumentalist and also that allows you to develop these great networks across the globe and really get huge amounts of wealth and knowledge from people you’d otherwise never really would’ve been in contact with. I know you can say like ‘yeah you can get in touch with instrumentalist any where in the world’ but just the ease of joining these networks and being involved and part of the community, especially through facebook it’s been really great and I see a lot of people get a lot out of it.
It’s definitely blown my mind in the short time I’ve been involved to see just the wealth of knowledge that’s been imparted on me without even me doing too much work to go and find it, it’s really been great. So my advice would be to join as many facebook groups as possible. Once you find one or two them, the networks just seems to open from there and you manage to find a whole heap.
Do you have any methods for “practicing” your dj skills in the same way you would approach practicing the guitar?
I guess as a professional someone looking into doing either of these as a profession, you’re going to make those routines to practice regularly and practice often. Just staying focused and concentrating, maintaining concentration through learning. I’d definitely say that’s transferred over and also the sense of needing to source new information from new places.
When you’re learning you kind of do that anyway, looking for example on the guitar finding different styles of guitar to play and learning them was one aspect and the same kind’ve allies to dj’ing and wanting to learn how to mix different songs and different genres and cross mixing, different techniques and stuff like that. I think any instrumentalist will say (regardless dj or traditional)l will say learning your craft on your instrument is harder than other instruments. I hear that a lot from being from the music community, Like ‘Well i think learning to play the piano is harder then learning to play saxophone.’ or ‘I think learning to play bass is harder to play than drums.’ There’s always that going on, but learning to play any instrument well is always going to bring its own challenges and it’s always going to be a journey and a life’s work if you want to do it well. They’re just the kind of skills that I guess go all around to any instrument
What would you encourage a musician to do if they were just starting out in the dj community and weren’t getting any work?
It’s just about applying yourself. I truly believe that there is that much work going in the dj community that if you don’t kind’ve know how to get even a small piece of it, then maybe sales and setting yourself up as an individual sole trader probably aren’t for you. Ultimately you’re going on a journey through business and basically what we do as professionals whether you’re a musician, dj, as a sole trader whether your realise it or not it’s all about sales and customer service. The sales come from customer service. Brushing up on these two skills would be ver important. Learning how to deal with people in general.
Whether they’re other musicians or clients. Learning how to work well together. Just essentially learning how to become a more people person that people want to work with, that they’ll eventually come and source you to do their job which makes your life easier and you’ll make more money.
Can you please share your current set up for your dj work, roughly how much it cost/how long it took to pay off from related work?
As a business I’ve been set up for a year. I want full time with the business about 5 months ago. What was I doing before that? Lots! I’ve had lots of jobs but immediately before I decided to go full-time with the business I was working in sports retail. Loved it, really liked getting in and loved sport and getting involved with everything to do with it. I knew that selling shoes selling sports shoes as much fun as it was, as much as I liked it, my earning potential was really quite capped and I knew with the skills I had as a salesman and from training in customer service and also in events, I could really achieve a lot more going about it myself.
I guess it just took seven months to click that I could back myself and just go into business for myself and apply the skills that I had to be making money in something that I really wanted to do. I love helping people, I love being involved in their events. Especially weddings. I know that I’m experienced it all aspects regardless of that fact that I’ve been dj’ing for only about two years. I think the amount of time it took to pay off really wasn’t long once I decided to go at it. It was really the drive to make me learn how which avenues I needed to follow in order to purse leads to make the sales. Obviously advertising is a big part of that. I really wanted to position myself int he market in a certain way that it looked like I was offering a premium product and I think I really have conveyed that image from the feedback I’ve gotten back from a lot of people, clients and other businesses a like.
Just from the amount of lead that are rolling in that I’m not even paying to generate any more so it really shouldn’t taken too long whether you’re looking to dj or even as a musician. Doing the small little things right in business will get your there so much faster, not just sitting back and kind of trying to rely on your talent. Your talent is one part of it but your talent and flair to start as business and to present yourself in a certain way is a whole another story. Getting involved and being proactive in learning what it takes to present yourself in that way. Even in regards to life in general is just going to give your all the confidence as well to move forward and to really be successful.
What skills would you say are non-negotiable when it comes to succeeding in the dj community?
Definitely sales and customer service. They just really drive the point home. Dj’ing is the service you offer but unless you can convey you and what you do to someone else, it’s almost null and void. Other skills could be maybe relating more specifically to dj’ing is learning, well it’s a bit tough for me because I’ve studied music for about 25 years now and done a couple of diplomas and quite a bit of tertiary education at university as well. I think I take it for granted a little bit how much knowledge I do have about music and about audio and about just so much stuff in between that sometimes I forget that new dj’s don’t kind of understand things that I feel are kind of basic like, song structures, keys within songs, the progression of songs in general and how they kind’ve build intensities, gain energy, loosing energy. When you’re mixing and dj’ing all these things still apply. Knowing when to mix songs, whether songs will mix based on their key. Building energy though transitions from particular key parts in song. That’s a really good key to learn one you probably will learn quite quickly especially as a young dj considering we consume so much music these days and the majority of the music we hear, I’m talking about commercial music more specially, it sticks to a basic formula. It’s all written a certain way to be consumed.
So you’ll find similarities in songs in regards to forms and that kind of thing. Form and timing really. I would brush up on learning the aspects and parts of the song to really help you and your dj skills make more sense faster.
How do you prepared each gig in order to feel fully prepared relative to what the event requires?
I guess that’s just a lot of meeting and corrospeennce between event manages and the bride and groom if it’s the wedding. Other venders that may be involved on the day just to see how they’re going about their business and how I can slot in to best enhance what they’re doing and what I’m trying to achieve as well. How do I prepare for that? Well, I guess ironing my suit, making sure my car’s packed with everything. Bit of a mental checklist overall I’d say. Prior to that making sure I’ve followed up with all the relevant parties to know that I’ve go all the information I need. How do I know what information I need? That just comes from experience and yeah just getting amongst it.
Fear can often paralyse us from taking informed risks. Do you mind sharing if you had any fears when making the transition from instrumentalist to dj and how you managed them?
From studying musician technology at The Conservatorium of Music I learnt heaps studying that course. All about audio and things in general. Setting up a pa was one of the most important things I took from that relating to dj’ing. So I guess once I got over this fear of potentially breaking things that are very expensive, because stuff in technology is (let a lone traditional instruments) that are at a high end. Just getting confident at setting a pa up wiped away all of my fears. Coming from a jazz guitar background and playing jazz music and learning that improvisation doesn’t necessarily have wrong notes depending on how you go about embellishing any tones that you may or may not have intended to make. It really just opened up my confidence and allowed me to perform as a dj regardless of how good or how bad my skills were just because I knew the secret that if I made a mistake doing something, just get on with it, just cover it as best as I could and move on and the crowd they’ll move on from it as quickly as you did and it will just be a lost moment in time that no one remembers anyway. Other than switching off your whole system and killing your whole power, nothing silly like that. Talking about mistakes in your performance.
I really had the confidence to just have a crack at it which was brought on by studying jazz for that period of time. I feel as a person I’m very confident even though others may not see my dj skill being as good as their’s, it’s not really about that. Especially in the scene that I’m in. It’s just about delivering what the customer wants, what the client wants. It’s not about how much gear you have or how expensive your gear is or anything like that really. I don’t really feel like I had any fears, I felt quite well prepared going into it considering the expensive studies I had done in these areas. I guess I was kind’ve lucky in that regard. I guess another fear may also be self doubt which everyone deals with but also personal doubt whether I’d given the guitar a good enough crack at learning it and making it on that instrument before changing over to dj’ing. Ultimately it just felt right to do it so I made the conscious decision even though I still play and teach guitar, I made the conscious decision to really chase and pursue dj’ing. Not just as an instrument but as a business.
Can you share your opinion with regards to the line “Dj’s are not musicians”?
Yeah definitely. If you jump on youtube you’ll see countless trained musicians, classically trained musicians that are at the pinnacle of performance on their instrument changing over to dj’ing and backing this up 100% saying ‘I’d never though dj’s were musicians, all they’re doing is pressing play’. I hear that so much having studied music technology. Music of uni laughing at the technology department because they think we just hit a magic button that says ‘make no.1 hit song’ and they press it and a song just pops out. It blows my mind, but anyway. Dj’s are musicians definitely 100%. Look for example at the traditional old school scratch, hip hop dj. The stuff that they do, the way they scratch is rhythmically on point with any of the top drummers you’ll find anywhere in the world. The way that they move the record and get that sound from the needle and present that in countless formats. It really is extremely creative and the whole process is like playing another instrument.
Look at the theremin. Is the theremin an instrument? It’s considered an instrument. They’re just moving their hands through air. That’s it. That’s an instrument. Dj’s are doing it with a tangible object and they make it sound ridiculous. It’s amazing what they do. Not only are they doing things rhythmically, they’re sampling at the same time. They’re taking parts of songs, rhythms, parts of music, parts of vocals and presenting them in extremely musical ways. They’re definitely musicians, besides scratch musicians, your club dj’s, definitely. They’re doing a lot with there music as well. Laying different parts of songs, layering two, three, four songs, sampling songs on the fly. It’s all a composition. It all comes back to they way they hear the music and they way they want to present it. The interpretation in the big cases, next level. The way they do things. On a more basic level, yeah dj still musicians. Why? Because they’re learning to beat match which is counting. They’re learning to present songs in certain keys to make them flow, they’re learning about the energies of the songs and how to pick up that or build in their sets. So on a basic level or on an extremely advanced level, they’re always elements of dj’ing that ally to being a musician. I can’t stress that enough, dj’s are musicians.
It just depends on what level you’re at, at any given point. For example, as a guitarist. you see a new guitarist you teach, A, E and D chords. Are they a guitarist? Well yeah they can pick up a guitar and play guitar, they can bust out a whole loth of songs with those three chords. So just because a dj can only beat match or mix songs in a very basic way, they’re still a dj which is a musician.
Has becoming a Dj changed the way you see the music community?
Yeah definitely. I think a lot of musicians just lay on their talent too much. They thing they talent’s just going to get them there and as amazing as they are or as amazing they may be, it’s just it takes so much more than that. Not even timing, about building networks and all the rest of it that again comes back into the whole business sides of things, regardless of how much they may say ‘I’m just in it for the music, I’m in it for that art’. It’s like, yeah that’s great 100%, that should be the basis for why you doing music, but how are you going to present it to people? How are people going to find out about you? You need to eat and pay your rent at the end of the day so, unless you want to work another job, these are the kind of things that need to be focused on as well. I guess in a way being a dj changed the way I see the music community, it just really opened my eyes to the corporate world and how working musicians actually go about making money. It’s all well and good to think one day you’re going to be no.1. You can be with hard work 100%, but if you want to eat and pay your rent, getting involved in the right scenes and the right networks to be getting regular work, especially in the corporate scene, they’re the ways you’re going to do it as a professional musicians.
Whether you’re an instrumentalist, dj, that’s the life of a professional musician. In my eyes it’s definitely the corporate world. Bars and clubs are hit and miss. There’s a lot of decite and leading on musicians. You know, taking advantage of them. It’s happened to pretty much everyone they know. They said they were going to get paid, they didn’t get paid, it was paid late. Just really screwed around so presenting yourself in the right way in the corporate scene and learning basic business skills, there’s no reason why you can’t make a great living. There really isn’t. So I guess becoming a dj really, and getting involved in the dj community really opened my eyes to how the corporate scene works and how to position yourself in order to be successful and to make money.
Are there any recourses you recommend in regards to learning the art of dj’ing? (books, videos etc)
Definitely, youtube is just ridiculous. They’re some amazing guys doing amazing tutorials on youtube. if you can’t learn to dj off youtube, honestly just don’t dj. There really is all the information possible on youtube. In regards to books and videos there is one that I’ve just literally come across the other day, a recommendation by a fellow dj who’s doing very well in our community as a dj/mc. This is a guy who as a sole trader, one person in a one man business making $2500 an event sometimes more which is awesome. He’s put me onto Mark Feral, a seminar called ‘Get what you’re worth’ and in this seminar which was recorded quite a few years ago now, he really outlines a lot of the things I’ve been talking about and also self worth. How to see yourself in the way that you need other people to see you and also related all back to the dj world and different stories and experiences. Getting the most out of the service that you offer, that’s definitely been an excellent seminar and anyone in the scene who really knows what they’re doing will probably recommend that for you as well. There’s another book that I’m yet to get that was also suggested to me, it’s called ‘running a successful dj business’ by John Beck and Derreck Pengelly. Yet to read it but I have got it on audio and it looks like it will be extremely relevant to the business and the industry in general.
Other resources, definitely networking if you can call it a recourse. I certainly would. I call on my network often and have a great network of people around me. A best friend who has been in the industry since he was 15. I’ve learnt heaps from him. From being around him. Also getting involved in different night clubs and getting to meet everyone involved and networking in that way, talking to dj’s, being friends with them. Eventually it’s just paid off for me. I’ve already got that network established for me to get into the industry wiht quite a bit of ease. I guess that was also what I did subconsciously was get involved with the types of people in music and in the scenes that I really did like so yeah, it all came with age and experience. Regards to any other resources that’s about it. youtube’s great, I can’t go on about youtube enough.
Any other insights you wish to share?
I think I’ve about covered it all. Just about learning how to present yourself in a professional way. Learning how to present yourself as a business and not an individual. To separate emotions from how you would go about it as an individual as apposed to if I was dealing with the business how would the business go about dealing with particular issues, so that’s a big one which will come with experience. Just with time as well if you’re really committed. Start now is another insight, just start now, learn what you got to do. It’s all a journey, once you start one thing you’ll realise how much more there is to it, for example I want to build a website, ok what do I need to do? Alright, I’m building a website, now I need to put packages together so I have something to advertise to clients. Ok what are my packages going to be? Working out all the different packages. Oh I am going to need some content to tell them about me, there you go! Write a huge blog about your story, what you did, you know, taking photos, making promo videos, making videos, all the time putting them instagram. All these things stem from the initial idea of what do I want to do? I want to set up a dj business.
The possibilities on where to go and where to take the business are endless so it really is fun. It’s a great journey and way to learn what I want to get out of the industry and give back to clients and to the industry, to make it better and not just that, to provide premiums service which is what I’m all about and really benefit to the lives of people hiring me. Just start, start now that’s a big key to it. I made the decision to quite my job, yeah it was scary. I did come to that decision solidly even before the business was where it needed to be at. But once I quit my job, it forced me to get involved and really understand what it took to be successful so that past five months, it’s been great. It’s only the beginning but definitely it’s been great making all this money on my own accord, being my own boss, just living my own life, not being on anybody else’s time. I highly recommend it.
Thanks Isaac for asking me to do this blog for you. It’s really been great mate, thanks. Miss you a lot. Hope to catch up with you soon and I hope other people benefit from what I’ve said and if there is any questions or if you want any more information I’m a very open person, happy to speak to you about anything and hopefully i can help you. Thanks very much.
For more information on Andrew’s dj business head to: