Put No Donk on It: Making It as a Student DJ

Making it as a student DJ

Feature by John Thorp | 09 Sep 2013

DJs have never been as hot as they are right now. Well, apart from about 15 years ago, and then probably around 15 years before that, but basically, DJs are undeniably really cool and some are incredibly popular and mind bogglingly lucrative. Unfortunately, if you're beginning your time at University, you are very unlikely to be one of those DJs. But worry not.

The DJ Calvin Harris, a former manager at Marks & Spencer's in rural Scotland, now commands around $300,000 a gig when in Las Vegas, even though he's really mainly a producer. Meanwhile, the American selector Steve Aoki will play for slightly less than that, but is now best known for throwing cakes at the crowd, as if he's the star of some absurd EDM version of The Great British Bake Off broadcast on the internet: teenage girls, hard partying jocks and, most recently, even a wheelchair-bound raver all line up to feature on YouTube getting a literal taste of Aoki's baked goods and bass-heavy style. If you're bold enough to DJ as your University time begins, or humbled enough to be asked, it's true to say that throwing cake at people will win you few friends. Only Aoki himself has the talent and charisma to perform such a delicate balancing act.

Undoubtedly, such extravagance as starting out DJing is often met with extremely sharp angled nose-turning, the sort that has been around since records began. Or at least when they began being mixed into each other. “DJs are just playing other people's music and getting the credit,” or so will declare one of two bassists in a seven-piece post-metal group called The Dark Conundrum, who you will encounter while buying a Subway on the way back from a foam party in a club called Scandal.

But actually, playing records to people to make them dance is fucking great, and many of relatively recent history’s most important and vibrant cultural transitions have revolved around such a basic principle. Though don’t actually say that, of course. You’ll sound mad.

Here are a few top tips to allow your student DJ career to flourish…

  • If you’re planning to DJ off your computer, some basic DJ software, such as VirtualDJ, is now completely free, and surprisingly effective. Worth a go before you spend the majority of your loan on two Pioneer CDJ 3000s, the latest DJM mixer and a series of professional press shots of you staring forlornly into the middle distance.
  • Have a good time, give a good time. There are plenty of great clubs in Manchester and Liverpool to turn up to and hear weird, more out-there club music – but you have been placed with what Stewart Lee would term a ‘mixed ability’ crowd. Don’t feel obliged to play what you don’t want to hear, but realise that the relentless techno like what you heard in Berlin isn’t engineered to accompany a round of Apple Sourz. If in doubt, play Prince.
  • Chat to people at any party. You will meet music lovers swiftly, and they will hopefully have plenty of recommendations to blow your mind.
  • If the gig goes well, stay humble. Do not claim that you are Burial. Or the third brother in Disclosure, “the one who actually does all the production work.”
  • Ignore old pricks like me.
Find your way around Manchester and Liverpool's club scene at