What It Takes to be a Successful DJ

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BY ANN BROWN

Being a DJ sounds like a glamorous life, but in reality, it takes a lot of work and initiative to become successful in this field. On average, DJs earn $30,000 with a range of $500-$1,000-plus per night, according to Careers In Music.

There are various types of DJs, including club DJs, corporate event DJs, wedding DJs, turntablists, lounge DJs, radio deejays, battle DJs or a combination of all of these.

DJ AmRo (Amani Roberts) is one of the most popular club DJs on the scene right now. Born and bred in Washington, DC, his career has exploded on the West Coast, where he’s lived in California since 2007.

“In 1995, I went to a club in downtown Washington, DC, called Quigley’s. The DJ playing at the club was DJ Biz Markie. His show that night was amazing and it was at that time that I decided that I wanted to be a DJ,” explains Roberts. “Initially, I put off my desire to pursue a DJ career and followed the traditional path of corporate America. I moved to many large cities throughout the United States while working my way up the corporate ladder. In 2008, I finally decided to pursue my dream of being a DJ. Since that time, I have performed all over the world and have grown my DJ career larger than I ever imagined. I went to a serious DJ school for a year-long program and put in a lot of work there. I am fortunate to have met amazing people and had the chance to work and partner with some very talented individuals.”

While Roberts attended DJ school, many DJs are self-taught. There is actually a lot of technology that goes with the job.

There are several ways DJs can branch out. Roberts, for example, started an online radio show called Mirth Nadir in 2008. They can also produce. “Nowadays, a DJ should be able to produce edits of songs and other music production duties. Creating edits will make your sets unique and memorable; that is the goal of a DJ,” says Roberts. “Continuing the music production education is a great option as well. I enjoy making remixes and I am continuing to learn how to create and produce good original music. I do feel that music theory is also very, very important. Knowing how to play the piano with all of the chords and inversions is immensely beneficial. I take piano lessons every week.”

There are also global opportunities for DJs as well. Roberts partnered with the international brand Clif Bar on numerous marathons and bicycle races across the West Coast. Explains Roberts, ““Music is universal and there are opportunities to DJ all over the world. It is all about making the right connections and building strong relationships. It won’t happen overnight, but it is definitely possible.”

It is important for DJs to have great networking skills, as many of their jobs come from making great contacts. They need to interact with club and event promoters, talent bookers/buyers, and of course, other DJs. Roberts has started the Amani Experience, through which he books other DJs as well.

As Roberts notes, “The person should have a love for music and a desire to learn and work hard. Those are the simple requirements. If we dig a little deeper, the person has to be open to feedback and have the time and desire to continue to practice their craft. The final qualification would be perseverance. There will be some tough days, but if this person is able to persevere, good things will happen.”

One has to be very persistent to break through. “A successful DJ has to be resilient and hard-working. It takes a long time to really make it in the DJ world and we have to continue to “grind” on a daily basis. Personally, I haven’t made it yet. I have to continue to practice and work, work, work!! A successful DJ has to be a tastemaker and able to discern whether or not their audience will enjoy a specific song or not,” notes Roberts. “Music curation skills and having a strong library of music will make a DJ very successful. Finally, being able to build strong relationships with clients and other DJs is quite important. That will make or break your DJ career (in my opinion).”

If DJing is your passion, there are ways to make it work as a career. Roberts has and he’s happy for it. “I love being able to tell a story through music. I love being able to lift a person’s mood by playing a certain song or set of songs,” he shares. “One of the best feelings I get is if you are playing a song, you cut the volume, and the whole crowd continues to sing along as if the song is still playing. That is a great feeling! Another awesome feeling is seeing a positive reaction from the crowd when you play a remix or edit that you have made. That is super cool and humbling.”