DJ Sterling

Changing the game

Build Your Club Night and DJ Career w Guest DJs – Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at why you might want to book guest DJs to help you establish a solid underground club night in your town or city. In this part, we’ll look at how to go about it.

As we said last time, unless you have considerable resources (lucky you…), paying for a good guest DJ every week will break your bank. The way around this is to only book guest DJs every 3 or 4 events, making the other nights appealing using other promoting techniques.

This means your DJing skills and ability to hold a crowd remain paramount for your night’s success, which is important as the whole reason for all of this is in order to let you improve as a DJ, not to hand the responsibility over to your guests to make your night a success.

For the same reason, you need to be sure you still start and close your club night yourself (or yourselves). You add consistency by warming up the crowd and by playing afterwards, the latter set allowing you to spin the tunes the crowd were maybe expecting that the guest didn’t play. Giving your guest a peak-time slot in the middle of the night is the right way to do it.


So now we know when and where you’re going to use your guests, we need to work out who to book. Using the guidelines below, come up with at least 30 DJs: This will be your shortlist for the next few months’-worth of events.

  1. Make a list of all the DJs who would complement your night’s musical style
  2. Look through your music collection and list the DJs/producers who have made the tunes you and your crowd are loving at the moment
  3. List guest DJs who’ve played other clubs locally in the past couple of years who you liked. (Don’t assume they’ll always play at those clubs – things change)

Concentrate especially on up-and-coming DJs – often they’ll be much bigger by the time they play your venue than when you booked them.


Avoid residents of other local clubs – it makes no sense to have people in the same position as you taking your deck time. Also, avoid producers who don’t really DJ (producers will often take your money and cobble out a DJ set – who wouldn’t? – but check they can do it well first!

Be wary of booking DJs who nobody has ever heard of but whose mix CDs you like. You can do as well as that, and again they’re taking your valuable deck time off of you, even if they say they’ll do it for next to nothing. Be business-like – book the DJs who will clearly benefit your night. Being tactical is not selling out.


DJs will play from a few hundred dollars up to many thousands. Let’s look at how to get them at the lower end of this scale.

Before we get going, a word about your business arrangements. Firstly, you ideally need to be keeping a percentage of the door take, if not all of it. (The venue will always keep the bar take.) You may be asked to pay a hire fee too (to cover doormen, for instance) but even so, this basic set-up allows you to profit from your carefully chosen guest DJs.

Secondly, treat guest DJs as “loss leaders”. As you’re not booking them every week, they are the ones exposing your great little club night to a wider audience – an audience who you are counting on to come back on other weeks when the guests aren’t there.

Finally, have partners. They can share the risk and the expense. Promoting is hard, sometimes thankless work. Have people to share the good and bad times with. You’ll be stronger that way.


Established DJs have agents. The agents are there to take bookings for the DJs; hold their diaries; liaise with promoters to collate itineraries; issue and chase invoices; and assist the DJ in his or her career development. Agents are, in short, your contact with the artists you want to book.

To find someone’s agent, check their web page online, ask other promoters, do some Googling… agents are pretty visible online. Be aware that DJs often have different agents in different territories. Agents in countries where DJs don’t often play may be little more than “diary holders”. Many DJs are represented by a handful of different agents, even in the same territories.

So, how to get the DJs you want at the right price – the big question! The following techniques worked time and again for me, and applied with diligence they’ll help you to book names you want at prices you can afford.


Photo: U-g-g-B-o-y

1. Try approaching the DJ directly
You can be bold (email them, even call if you can find their number). More than likely, you can begin to get on their radar through Facebook or Twitter (the vanity of checking your mentions means this is likely even with pretty big names). Try emailing them through their website.Many DJs are happy to take bookings away from their agents. You don’t know until you ask, so ask.

2. If you can’t do that, find their “principal” agent
The “principal” agent (ie the one with the DJ’s ear rather than just someone listing them on a long list of acts) will be more able to negotiate on price. If the DJ is from somewhere else, don’t be scared to pick the phone up and ring their agent in their home state or country – it’s what secondary agents would do on your behalf anyway, so what’s to lose? Once you make contact and confirm you can negotiate, you’re ready to…

3. Negotiate hard
You’re probably dreading this but really, it’s the fun bit! First, know what you can afford. Start your bidding at half of that figure. Don’t ever feel stupid doing this. Get used to people telling you “no”. Always be polite, always be professional, and always remember the agents and the DJs need you as much as you need them.

Your opening line is always the same: We’re a small venue, but a well-respected and loved one, and we’ve chosen your guy because of his music. At this stage it’s very much your job to hit them with all the arguments as to why you only want to pay the amount you have suggested. Those arguments can include:

  • “We’re a great “music”-led club night, not like the commercial gigs DJ Z hates.”
  • “DJ X or Y has played our venue and loved it (make sure DJ X or DJ Y are a contemporaries of DJ Z) – surely he/she doesn’t want to miss out?”
  • “He/she is not a big DJ here yet, we’re offering them the chance to play to an influential crowd in a new place and conquer it!”
  • “We can get him radio/TV/press/web exposure.” (make sure you can)

Remember that the agent needs to get a booking for their act. If the DJ isn’t booked at all for that night, your offer is by default the best that’s on the table, and the agent knows that.


  • Keep an eye on DJs’ websites for cancellations – you can snap up gigs at cut-down prices this way, and one rule of live music promotion that has carried across to DJing is that you “only need three weeks to promote a gig”.
  • Offer the DJ an early or a late DJ set (by throwing an all-nighter at your venue) – this can work if they already have another set in the next town or city on the same night; in effect, you “share” the fee with the other promoter. (I’ve actually done this formally, and it also works well if you’re flying a DJ in from abroad.)
  • If you have big-name DJs who happen to live locally to you, offer them gigs on holiday nights that aren’t Friday or Saturday, which are likely to be nights when the DJ may not want to travel far but wouldn’t mind a gig (eg Christmas Eve, Easter).

You’ll always pay the agency upfront – they typically charge 10-15% on top of the agreed fee (another reason to nail that fee down!). You may pay half or even all of the DJ’s fee upfront. Sometimes you can pay the DJ on the night; this is more likely when you know the DJ or have a relationship with the agent.

Dublin airport


Make sure you check arrangements with the agent a week or so before the booking. Ensure you have any equipment the DJ needs sorted out.

You’ll be expected to pay for their drinks in the club and often a meal beforehand. If they’re not local, you’ll probably pay for a hotel room. If they flew in or had a driver, you’ll be paying for the transport too. You’ll certainly have to collect them from the airport and get them there safely again the next day.

If you’re expecting your guest DJ to want to party with you beforehand, bear in mind that they’ll probably have had a gig last night too, and may well just want to go to their room for a shower and a couple of hours’ rest before the gig. Don’t be offended if they do; but likewise, if they’ve never seen your town, they may well want a tour. Play it by ear.

When they’re DJing, keep the crowd (and yourselves) away from them and let them do their job, and if they want to party with you afterwards, great! However, normally they’ll have a busy schedule and will want to get a quick drink then back to the hotel. Sort this out for them. And if you’re paying them on the night, do it promptly.

Never forget that the DJs are the good guys
Finally, in all your one-on-one relationships with your guest DJs, always remember that they are the ones with the musical talent, and so out of everyone involved in your night, they are the people who are most likely to recognise the worth in what you are doing.

They’re the ones you really want to impress – so treat them as you’d like to be treated. You’ll reap the rewards in time.

I wish you the very best of luck in fast-tracking your DJ career through booking guest DJs.

Co-founder and resident at Manchester (England) club night ‘Tangled’ through most of the 1990s and early 2000s, Phil Morse is also a music journalist and currently edits the Digital DJ Tips blog. He has DJed across Europe, and nowadays lives in southern Spain where he plays Balearic beach sundowners on the weekends.

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