What makes a Successful DJ

Successful DJ
photo credit: seeveeaar

The world has gone crazy! I know it has because I see it whenever I look at the rectangular object in the corner (not that I own one).

That little box of illusions is tempting you with fame and fortune, all the while trying to sell you an image of someone you don’t even know you want to be.

Society has made us believe that those who appear on that screen are the only successful ones.  We are shown the red carpet, the shiny lights, the money, the fame, the girls (and guys) and it’s all presented as something you must have!

Whilst I’m not gonna shake a stick at a million dollars, or even $100,000, hell, even $100 would be nice; I do want to add some perspective to all of this and more so in regards to the perceived success of a DJ.

What is a DJ to You?

It seems to me that as the world of DJ’s has exploded, the focus has shifted from DJ’s being:

  • people that make parties happen by playing their own musical tastes to their friends.


  • people driven by money, fame and success, fuelled by corporate sponsors trying to make a buck.

Society now seems to ‘idolize’ DJ’s to the point of celebrity. The reason for this, is not because DJ’s are famous, but because the media has noticed a way to cash in on them. As Las Vegas was becoming stale, unable to attract visitors, corporate interests and marketers realised they could attract people to Vegas using big name DJ’s and an EDM culture.

As soon as big corporations start to interfere with something, turning the end goal into profit, then the true soul and essence is taken away from it. Just look at the strategically placed cans or bottles of ‘whatever’ during certain industry interviews.

Now, I don’t want to slam the idea of celebrity, or fame, because lets’ face it, being able to pursue a career in music is something we all want to attract into our lives. What I do want to consider, however, is the path we take to get there.

Aligning with your Values

One key element in success, is to align with your own values. By being someone that you are not, you will attract the wrong type of people, or situations, into your life. You will then be forced to continue being someone you are not and your personal trajectory will be skewed with your life ending up more challenging than it should be.

Being true to your own values can be a challenge when subjected to peer pressures of those around you, including the mass corporate powered media.

True strength can be seen in those who stand up for what they believe in without putting others down.

Walking this line is extremely difficult, as it means being strong enough to have your own values, yet gentle enough to not offend anyone with them.

Value of Success

compete with yourself
photo credit: Arya Ziai

Success is subjective and we all have very different ideas of what success is. Success is not necessarily denoted by the amount of money you earn, it may not be down to the number of people you DJ for, and it definitely is not down to the number of friends you have on facebook.

Success is often self defined and the goal posts are constantly changing.

Once you achieve one success, you reset another goal in order to aim for more success. It’s a never ending process.

Your own definition of success might be learning how to mix two records together. Achieving this goal is being successful. There is no need to judge your own success based on your perceived success of others. Never compare yourself to “superstar DJ’s” or worship false idols that have been placed there by corporate interests.

Measure your own successes against Yesterday’s You!

If you are better today, than you were yesterday, then you are successful.

Move towards your fears, embrace that which scares you, stay true to yourself and embody your own true values. This will cause you to fulfil all your desires, and make sure you have fun along the way.

You are successful, you are achieving your goals and with the right intentions; you will grow into the person you are destined to be.

Enjoy your journey as a successful DJ.


7 thoughts on “What makes a Successful DJ

  1. The timing for this article is perfect, especially as the hype machine and EDM bubble continues to grow. I love the internet but it can be very easy to get sucked into other’s success and lose sight of your vision and values. It’s important to define your own success because if you don’t someone else will. To avoid chasing someone else’s success you have to define what you do/don’t want. For example you may have an opportunity to play a gig that pays well but if it doesn’t align with your values and doesn’t resonate with you then don’t take it. Don’t get me wrong not all gigs are going to be perfect or 100% in line with your values but it’s important to “check in” with yourself regularly and ask “Is this really what I want?”

  2. I like what this article has to say. You don’t have to be popular to be good. Keep striving, setting goals and hitting them… Persistence pays off.

  3. Much like what Phil Worrell said.
    I’m a newcomer. I’ve been DJing for roughtly two months, but with very little time to practice.
    The fact is that I don’t feel the need to practice the technical stuff (I know how to beatmatch, how to mix, how to use my gear). I just feel an urge to always listen to my tracks and know them inside out (and to get to know new tracks aswell).

    The first music festival that I went to, I heard Sven Väth, Loco Dice, Tale Of Us, Funk D’Void, Gui Boratto, amongst others. This shaped my new taste for music (I only listened to commercial EDM before, like Guetta, SHM, Hardwell, etc).
    Then, I watched live (and was amazed by) Aninha, Boris Brejcha and Stimming.
    The most recent was Mano Le Tough.

    What happenned to me while watching those guys is that I came across names like Robert Babicz, Paul Ritch, Richie Hawtin, Âme, Dixon…
    I was so hypnotized by music in general that I realized that the greatest realization in my life would be doing the same as these guys do, spreading nice music to everyone around the world.

    Together with the fact that I new a little about musical theory (I played the guitar for some time before liking techno), I realized that it was just a matter of time before I started DJing because I just couldn’t just listen to track after track anymore. I wanted to play with them like these guys do in stage, I wanted to make people feel something different when listening to music.

    So, just like Phil Worrell said below, if you grab my iPhone, my playlists are based on the music I DJ with. I don’t DJ with music I don’t like. I don’t want to DJ to become world-famous and rich, I want to DJ to make people feel what I felt when I was in the crowd. If I ever become successful, it will come naturally. But if it never goes past a hobby, if my greatest crowd ever is my 10 friends… I don’t care, as long as they enjoy it as much as I enjoy playing.

    As I said, I’ve been DJing just a little in roughly two months. I know a lot about the theory but I need to travel a long road to consider myself a DJ. I don’t even advertise myself, I don’t want to ASK for gigs. I want it to come naturally, I feel that I will get it if I deserve and if I work hard to it.

    I see myself in the future weaving between 4 decks and a gigantic pad to make live performances. If I have a crowd of only 20 people, well they’re lucky because I’ll do my best and they’ll be incredibly satisfied.
    This is what I feel as a DJ. Even if I have only 1 unknown person on the dancefloor, I’ll make this person have the time of his life, because this is what I would want from an artist that DJs with his heart.

    1. “If you don’t ask, you won’t get.” Surprisingly, most people see people who don’t ask as not interested, or “above it.” Keep practicing, but don’t neglect (reasonable) self-promotion. Show us that you want it, and then show us why you’re worth it. Please, trust me on this.

      1. Absolutely! I agree with you! When I get more confident about my skills I’ll promote myself (like posting my mixtapes on my twitter/facebook, for example).
        What I meant was: I’m not gonna run around telling everyone I’m a DJ and asking for a job, you know? I don’t feel like it. I prefer to slowly build a network of DJ friends (already doing that) and finding subtle ways for them to notice me. The rest is just networking, “I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy”…

  4. Hi Alan, nice article. You just wrote most of the article that has been in my head for a while now :). Anyway my 2 cents as that is all I have.

    The term DJ to my mind is so generic now to the point of it being meaningless, but as you say make it what you yourself want it to be, good plan.
    I got out in the mid nineties in the UK because even there and then every other person you met claimed to be a DJ. Which basically means nothing, as there are no qualifications, skills that are mandatory to call yourself a DJ.

    I’m just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with me and be so bored with this ‘EDM’ craze.Then and only then will the corporates get out once they have sucked it dry for every cent they can get. Remember the Disco sucks phenomenon (try saying that with a mouth ful of wine gums) , well EDM die (please). It will at some stage or at least evolve into something else. Once everyone has drifted away from the bandwagon maybe we can get some clarity and musical direction as for now it is all just noise. The music business doing what it does act as a business and make money through sales of anything it can.

    There are people in it just for the money, fame and celebrity that is for sure. They will leave when they either find something else more lucrative or life moves them on.
    All the money and fame are fleeting. What I call life’s roller coaster.

    Ask most of the big name DJ’s whether they really like the music they play show in show out? Check their MP3’s player for evidence 🙂 It is a musical trap too as the more musically successful you get the less flexibility you have to be creative.

    I always think there is an obsession with success or failure too. Especially in North America from what I have seen having worked there a few times. Advertising and business just hammer home that you must always be successful. Erhh hello why? if we were always successful we would never learn anything and that is dangerous and we then stagnate and die. I would rather fail at something and work out why than be successful first time. As when failure comes and it will you will be worse off emotionally. Just an observation.

    These big names DJ are also just human beings who are just the same as anyone else with all the same dare I say it failings and frailties as ourselves.

    Set and keep to your values above everything, recognize other values, be prepared to say no when things go against your values.
    Be yourself and no one else, record your mixes, discover your potential, keep working on your skills. Having fun is and enjoying the music is what it is all about. It is for me anyway.

    The key to a happy life in my mind is balance – yes things will swing one direction or another. The key is to recognize when things are going to far and pul it back into balance. You can apply this to pretty much anything in life. Money, food, job, relationships and of course music. Where would we be without the highs and lows in music.

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