How To Get Your First Gig (Underage DJs)

If you are under-age, getting gigs can be hard. I remember how hard it was to get my first gig, it seemed like many other people my age were getting them so easily, but it was just that I didn't see the work they put in. It's a considerable effort but if you commit time and energy you can pull off a fantastic event. What you need to remember is that if you cannot draw a crowd in, your event won't work so before you even waste a minute of time, make sure you are realistic about things. I will walk through the problems and solutions that I faced and wish you well on this endeavour.

Know That You Are Good Enough

DO NOT go for a gig if you know you cant play. You'll make a fool of yourself and lose interest in music. If you're really bad, you may put other people off music too. All joking aside, a gig is the first step of being a professional in many peoples eyes and the amount of work that goes into even a small gig requires a high level of maturity.

Save yourself from getting boo'ed off stage 10 minutes into your set by waiting until you are good enough. Be able to adapt to the crowd at any point, even if it is two months before, know what they want and cater to the most recent information.

Working With Others

This is the hardest part, you know what you are doing, certainly much better than your friends/family who you have helping you out. But the people in the industry/venue that you'll inevitably have to correspond with can treat you like you have no clue and make it very difficult to do anything.

The first thing you need to do is convince people that you can do it, they still may not want to work with you but they can maybe direct you to someone who can.

This first gig will not be you headlining for the whole night, you will need to engage with other DJs and musicians. This not only gives reciprocal support between you, but it also widens the amount of people who will be interested and adds connections to you.

My first gig had local musicians from my school and neighbouring schools and wouldn't have worked without them. 

The downside is, the very people trying to help may be useless. You will have people bailing on you last minute, you will have people not doing their bit in promotion so you need to accept that you may have to do more than your fair share of work.

Now, With the Above in Mind:

This is the trickiest part. Before my first gig, I read online that you just had to go round places and ask. I must have gone to every establishment from bars to clubs to cafes. There is little point in doing this if you are under-age as your crowd that you can draw won't be allowed into the venue, nor will you. 

Most places want to see experience first so you are not really going to have much luck unless you have a friend or family member willing to book or recommend you. Trust me, if you haven't tried it, it is demoralising and hard. This leaves you with one option.

You're kidding yourself if you think a cafe will book 
you, especially if you play anything too dancey.

You are going to have to make your own night. Yes. This is a big undertaking but I know first-hand it works. It is no doubt a tough experience but the pay-off was great. You are to become your own event organiser and promoter.

Be Your Own Promoter

So this is the part where your passion needs to come into play. You realise nowhere will book you but you still want to play music live. You know you can pull in a few friends but you will certainly need other bands/DJs to support you. This is where you start chat going round.

Get people interested, spy out and find bands willing to perform, if they are used to gigging even better since they'll want to be put on gigs but may not yet be able to get them frequently.

If you feel like you have enough people interested in performing, you should start looking for venues. I looked at a club/music venue in my city and was able to book the place for under-age people for a gig finishing at 10. This cost me money, you are unlikely to find a place that doesn't, as they can't sell alcohol to make up for the staff costs.

You ticket sales on the night should be priced accordingly to account for the price of the venue. I was lucky enough to have my parents help me out but it's not completely extortionate. Expect a few hundred pounds which should be easy to make back on the night with good planning and promotion.

Make sure to book a place according to size, better
to pack out a tiny place than to have a big place 
look empty.

You need to manage and know the lineup by now. Have confirmation from the bands that they can do it and give them tickets to start selling. You may let them keep the first £X of the ticket sales or you may say you can pay them after the gig but make sure they have incentive to sell the tickets. Likewise you'd better start selling and promoting the tickets and event yourself. 

You should keep a tab on every expenditure and cost you encounter, if you aren't good at maths, get a friend or family member to do it. Let them be your accountant. This will be valuable for determining ticket prices and number of free tickets to give out.

There is no reason to order tickets online, just buy some thicker paper/card and print them out (spend a few hours designing them to look nice before you print and make sure all the relevant information is on the tickets. Same goes for flyers if you decide to use them.

Get yourself a Facebook event up and share it. Entice people to share it by offering free tickets to people who like and share it. Give plenty of time for the hype to go out but not long enough that everyone gets bored and forgets about the event. A month is too long, a week is way too short. 

There's nothing worse than a bad flyer, keep it simple
like the one above. Don't blow your money one ones 
either, there are better ways of promotion.

Hopefully the bands/DJs are from, or have members from other schools use this to your advantage. You can double your reach by including a second collection of people. Make sure everyone involved is promoting and excited and allow them to see your levels of organisation. Reassure them that the event will rock and they will promote it as such.

Never base your money on how many people say they will attend the Facebook event. That is a sure-fire way to lose money. People say they'll go and then if plans change won't bother updating. Likewise, they may be interested but decide on the night they can't be bothered. Use the numbers as the roughest of guides.

There are always local musician and gig pages on Facebook, make sure you connect with them and try and boost your reach beyond your friend group. Give people a reason to go.

Know When to Take a Step Back

Let's say you have booked another DJ, one that you know will bring more people and is better than you (it should not be hard to admit). You will want the headline slot of course, but for the sake of the event, it may be wise to provide it to the person who will rock the place out most. If you are an EDM DJ and all your support acts are bands, by all means headline it - the crowd will have plenty of time to warm up for dancing.

It is important to plan around the energy of the night, if you play deep house, there is little point headlining after a drum and bass DJ, likewise if you have an acoustic band and a rock band, consider ordering it so the energy constantly rises.

Understand the Requirements of Each Act

Another essential point. If you don't know what a DI box is for their guitarist, you need to look it up. You will be the main correspondence between them and the sound man at the night. When I did my first gig, the bands needed a drum kit and back-line. I confirmed by e-mail with the staff of the venue that there was a backline. As it turns out, there wasn't and I had to bring my drum kit, and they had to bring their amps (we found this out during sound-check so it really ate into our time before it started).

If you don't know what the bands need, you can't deal effectively with issues such as above. You need to keep a face of calm even when things go to shit because things will go to shit. The way you deal with it is what makes the event successful.

On the Night

Chill the fuck out. Make sure you are hyping it all day and have people to man the door selling tickets (if you hired the venue this is someone you'll have to provide). Get someone who you are happy to pay/owes you a favour. Let the night run it's course, stick to the setlist but be flexible if an oncoming band is having issues. Finally when it's your turn, rock the house!

Congratulation's, you've now performed your first event, promoted your first event AND, organised your first event. This will not only benefit your DJ experience but will be valuable to include on CVs and in job interviews elsewhere. You had an issue but you went out of your way, displayed professionalism and overcame it.

Don't worry even if you end up losing some money from the event. You will make it back and then some over the next few years as your experience increases. Consider it a professional investment!