The local nightlife scene can be a mess of wannabe DJs trying to make a name for themselves. There is some great local, innovative talent out there, but it's hard for most aspiring DJs to stand out among the masses.
Unless you have a friend who knows someone, most DJs are mystified by the process between producing in your bedroom, to opening for A-listers at local shows, and playing the big nightclubs and events.
I'm not a DJ -- I just talk to them, so I consulted some of the Valley's well-known DJs to find out where the best spots for DJs to start are, and I asked them to share some words of wisdom for DJs looking to make it in music. Here's what they said.
Underground Warehouse "Events"
We're all adults here, let's not act like anything besides raves and cat-eating happens in warehouses in Phoenix. But some of my best stories and nights out have been in extremely questionable places. Warehouses make for a great party. Apparently, they are also great places for DJs to start spinning.
Steven Chung, a.k.a DJ Tranzit, has had DJ gigs in Egypt and the British Embassy in Kuwait, we also recognized him as the "Best House DJ" twice. Currently you can hear his electro and progressive house (with a "splash of trap") style all around town, from nightclubs to house events. (Clarification: Tranzit doesn't play house parties too often. Better off not asking.)
"Underground warehouse events are a great place to get your feet wet, granted you have to have the skills to make it on the bill, but occasional opening slots do open up for new guys all the time," he says.
Amber "Mija" Giles also agrees.
"I actually had my first real gig at a rave (District 8) about three years ago," she says.
If you go to Bar Smith Friday nights, you've heard Giles' self-described house and future garage style. She also plays around other spots in downtown Phoenix, not to mention playing alongside Skrillex at Bonnaroo for a morning wake-up call (I was there. That shit was loud.)
Every DJ I spoke with started out playing house parties. They are comfortable, no-pressure environments where you're usually surround by people that know you and, more importantly, tolerate you. People aren't there to judge how well you beat-match, and if they are, they're a douchebag, so whatever. If you mess-up, who cares, everyone is probably too drunk to notice anyways.
Find A Specialized DJ Night -- And Get In With The Promoters
There's that saying "it's all about who you know," and it's true. You can be a talented DJ, but if you don't know anyone in the local industry, you're probably not going to get any gigs anywhere.
Many bars and clubs around town have specialized DJ nights, they just require some research and Facebook stalking to find.
Mathew Scott, a.k.a DJ Soloman, currently plays at Maya Day and Nightclub, the W Scottsdale and Fit Republic and has rotating residencies in Scottsdale, Tucson and Seattle. He's also opened for megastars like Calvin Harris and Tiesto, and has won awards.
He says to seek out "underground and open-minded promoters. There are a couple of different promoters who do 'open tables' on their DJ nights." He cites Hades Bass Wednesday at Electric Ballroom as an example of a good place to start.
Tranzit recommends focusing more on getting recognized and respected by industry people.
"If you think your ready and you have the skills to put up, then the best way is to support the venues and nights that you want to try and get on," he says. "Support the night, go back often or every night and show your face. Get to know the promoters and the people who are involved. Meet the DJs, and learn what the night is about and how they are programming the room. Eventually you might get a shot to play an opening slot. Most importantly pay your dues. Give respect to those who have been there before you, 'cause they are the ones who will open the doors for you."
While you might not win every time, see competitions as opportunities to network, learn and practice your craft when you're starting out. DJ Solomon says that competitions are "great ways to showcase your skills as an unknown."
Places You Vibe With
This is important, and can easily be overlooked. While a lot of local DJs may set their sights on big nightclubs and events, it's important to understand what your style is, what you vibe with, and what type of venues and gigs mesh with that.
Mija says, "I wouldn't say there's a 'best' place to start out -- just play music in spots that you vibe with. This usually ends up being places that you frequent, or where your friends hang out. Definitely start at a place that you already know the expectation. There's nothing worse than walking into a bar/club, thinking you know what's-up, and then having to change your entire set on the fly to accommodate the bar/club owner."
Playing First Friday is somewhat easy, because there's no hierarchy of industry people you need to deal with. Mija says "Get the right permit and post up on the streets during the monthly art fest. You will meet so many people that you wouldn't meet on a regular basis. I used to throw shows and have definitely scouted new/unknown DJs this way. It's a Great place to network."
Starting small is more realistic for the upcoming DJ. Richard Yado, a.k.a. DJ Madd Rich who plays on Power 98.3, Ground Zero on Power 98.3, R.E.D.Y. Set Radio On Wild 94.1 (Tampa, Fla.), Hot 104.9 (Waco, Texas); and also performs locally at Red Revolver Lounge, Cameo, Jaguars Gold Club and "anywhere Sincerely, Collins is performing" attests to this.
"Happy hours or dive bars around town would work," says Madd Rich.
DJ Solomon also agrees with this "the best way to start out is to find empty or slower venues. Start your own night, your own promotion, and build a your own fan base. Do your own thing!"
Words of Wisdom Some final words of wisdom for DJs starting out:
Don't Try To Start Out At Nightclubs
"If you're just starting out, I wouldn't recommend trying to shoot for any venue or club type of spots yet. First impressions and opening sets can and will determine all future gigs and bookings. So you don't want to blow it if you're not ready. Plus, it goes a little further than that. If you're not experienced in the industry, and don't know how things work exactly, that could also make it harder." -- Tranzit.
"My biggest pieces of advice would be to never stop practicing and to be patient. Things don't happen overnight but practice will get you where you want to be." -- DJ Madd Rich
If You Want Something, Don't Be Afraid To Ask For It
"If you want something badly, then ASK for it. You have to make your own opportunities in this industry because If you don't, someone else will-- and believe me, it will happen fast. Phoenix is not lacking in talent. Take yourself seriously and you will get where you need to be." -- Mija
Stay At Home, And Master Your Craft
"Stay home, practice, gain skills, don't be in a hurry,and make it a passion." -- DJ Solomon
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