There’s multiple ways to destroy your brand while playing shows. That said, there are also countless ways to strengthen your image with live performance. The key is much less on how you play (as long as you’re not awful, you’re usually good), but on what shows you do choose to play. Creating the correct criteria for taking up gigs is an important skill for artists and managers alike. So stop taking bad bookings, and start playing smart.
Playing for Exposure
“Exposure doesn’t pay the rent.” I have known so many promoters who offer local DJs to play for exposure It isn’t necessarily a bad tactic, but it doesn’t make sense in certain scenarios.
When playing for exposure, it’s important to make sure you are actually getting exposure. If you are playing at 7PM to 10 ten people, that’s not a lot of exposure. If you are playing directly before a headliner with 800 people in the venue, that’s a decent amount of exposure. Having your name or logo listed on the promotional materials alongside the headliner is also decent exposure.
When playing for exposure, it’s important to realize that most often you are playing for exposure for the local region that you are playing. If you are playing for a music festival that draws in regional or national audiences, then that is slightly different.
It is 100% up to you on how you use the exposure that is presented to you. If you play for 20 people, but shake each of their hands, get them to follow you on social media, and have deep conversations with them, that’s a win. If you play for 2000 people, then PTFO to go backstage and kiss up to the headliner, then your opportunity to gain fan exposure may have been wasted.
When going in to play for exposure, think of ways to capitalize on it. Get good video and picture content for your social media. Meet new people. Have stickers or business cards or something with your different links on it to hand out to people. In my old producer/DJ days, I had a custom stamp made with my logo on it, and proceeded to find hot girls to stamp my name all over. If you aren’t getting paid to play, then come up with a way to make it out on top.
Playing for the Hell of It
Ever just wanted to get together with a bunch of homies, grab some speakers, and throw it down? This is what we like to do with our events (Next one: June 3rd, Boise. Get your tickets here). Playing for fun with friends is great, and provides a different atmosphere for the artists and attendees. Don’t be afraid to setup a generator in the woods or crash a warehouse somewhere. Enjoy the underground vibes as well as the mainstage hype.
Playing (Or Not Playing) for Branding Purposes
If you want to be a hometown hero before going international, then play in your hometown. If you want to be a hometown hero because you are international, don’t play in your hometown until you play something major. My classic example of Slushii rings true for this with his first-ever debut performance happening at HARD Summer.
But what if you already have performed locally? Is your chance of having a first-time festival appearance ruined? Not necessarily. You can always start a new brand once you have the chops, or severely limit the amount of local performances you make to focus on the production that will take you to the top.
Also, if you want to be “bigger” than someone don’t open for them. Don’t accept daytime slots at festivals because you want a quick check. If this is truly your path, then reserve your talents for when they are fully developed and appreciated.
Playing for Networking
That said, opening for national and international acts has its upsides. If you are a homie enough of a person, you can create a huge network from the people you open up for. It’s not incredibly hard to befriend headliners if you approach it in the right way.
Playing for Pay
Lastly, ah, playing for pay. Getting paid to DJ is great! But sometimes it’s a trap. Residencies, in particular, are enticing. Imagine getting to play every week and get paid for it! The problem is, residencies aren’t great for building your brand.
Imagine your favorite food. Maybe it’s a steak from a high-end restaurant, or a veggie platter, or a succulent dessert. Now picture eating that food every day for the rest of your life. How soon would you tire of it? When would it drop from being your favorite food to just being okay?
The point is, even great DJs can weaken their brand and draw by playing regularly. When a resident DJ gets a big booking, his draw is weakened. “Oh, I can just see him play next week at a different bar,” or “I saw him last week,” become excuses for fans not to go out and support. There’s a difference between playing every weekend all over the world versus playing every weekend in your hometown, in the same bar, with the same people.
That said, residencies provide a huge amount of learning opportunities and a steady paycheck for practicing your skills. If you are offered a residency, consider creating a separate identity or brand for yourself to not tire out your name. Play a different genre or wear a mask or do something to separate your bar gigs from your music career.