Harold Heath on how to successfully start your own club night (and actually enjoy it)
All that preparation - the hours spent practising on the decks, shopping for tunes, deciding your position on the phones-in-clubs issue - it's all good clean fun, but unless it leads to you actually getting some DJ gigs, it’s pointless. And the fact is, actually securing a decent gig is by far the hardest thing for a young DJ to achieve. There’s only a finite number of venues and club nights out there, and the competition is fierce - but if there's one sure-fire way to get a gig, it’s to put on your own night.
There are alternatives, of course. You could simply wait for a promoter to knock at your door one day and offer you a residency at the Printworks, having walked past your house and heard your mixing through an open window. Other fledgling DJs employ the more proactive strategy of telling everyone they meet they’re a DJ, in the hope that this might result in paying gigs. Both are interesting approaches, but time and experience have proved that starting your own night, with you as one of the residents, is probably a good place to begin.
Don't do it alone
In theory, you could do all the planning, organising, promotion and DJing yourself, but it's probably best to find some like-minded mates. They say it takes a village to raise a child: it takes a village to put on a night, too, because as we shall see, it takes a number of different elements to successfully pull it off.
More prosaically, if you do it with a few other people, then they can invite all their mates as well, who’ll bring a couple of other people with them, and before you know it, you’re building a little community where before there was nothing but pub-talk and empty air.
The reality is that promoting a new club night can be hard slog, but it’s worth it. This is literally what our thing is all about: you, your mates, the back room of a boozer, the very best tunes, a decent soundsystem, a strobe and you’re away. So many great nights started with a few friends getting together and playing tunes. It’s how dance music culture has continually developed over the last 30 years and is the very heartbeat of our scene.
If you do it well, you might find yourself celebrating 25 years in the business a quarter of a century down the line [best time to do it–ED]. Because all those famous, well established parties and club nights didn’t start out instantly successful. Most of them were like you once: a bunch of friends who, month to month, year to year, decided to give it another go and put on another party.
So what do you need for a good party? Well, you’re definitely going to need some vibes - good ones, too. In fact, while there are a few vibes around - bad vibes, heavy vibes, etc - you really don’t want to consider any other vibes apart from good ones.
The next thing you’ll need is some people to come and dance to your music - your punters. The punters are the single most important part of the whole enterprise, as they’ll be the ones largely creating those elusive vibes. You can get some of them to come to your party by such tried-and-tested means as...
Networking is an awful term for talking to people, inviting them to your party, and getting them to tell other people who might want to come.
Not so long ago, promoters used to go on Facebook and invite all their friends, from all over the country and from other continental land masses, to their Friday night party just on the off-chance. These days, people are a little savvier online, and this practice has largely died out, but Facebook can still be a useful resource.
Initially, a Facebook group or page is probably more useful than paid-for advertising, as advertising is more intrusive, whereas a group or page allows people to interact of their own free will. Remember: when you’re starting a night, it’s all about building a community, not selling a brand.
People still print flyers and posters to put up in record shops, cafes and bars, but you have to make sure you only stick your posters in places that you’re allowed to stick your posters. Don’t adopt a maverick, subversive urban artist approach and mega fly-post the front of the Town Hall, because (unless you’ve grossly misunderstood the essentials of marketing) your posters will lead the police straight back to you.
Advanced marketing techniques
Mass balloon-release events, promotional USB sticks made to look like promotional pens, promotional pens that are actually USB sticks, T-shirts, stress balls, mugs, commemorative plates - basically, ignore anything like that. You won’t be able to afford it and anyway it’s all complete pony.
Once you’ve taken care of promotion, there are many other things that you’ll need in order to put on your first event. For example:
Someone to run the door
We don’t mean security - that's usually provided by the venue. We mean a trusted someone to take the sheets (if you’re charging) and to welcome everyone to your jam.
It’s an under-rated job in a club night, but put the right person in that role and it will help set the mood from the moment your punters arrive, as well as providing actual real information for them about the music being played - a service that security, for all their good qualities, sometimes don’t excel at (“It’s dance music tonight mate”).
The venue might have gear you can use, but if not then you’re going to need to borrow or hire a system for the evening. You might be surprised at just how many club nights begin with an hour or so spent trying to work out why one of the monitors isn’t working, or just where that ground hum is coming from, so you’re going to need someone on your crew who’s got a bit of tech-savvy.
If this isn’t you, you can still make a very important contribution by bringing a roll of gaffer tape. Buy a roll of gaffer tape and if you don’t need it, I’ll cover the cost of it. I’m confident I won't have to pay for thousands of rolls for iDJ readers, because you’ll definitely use it. In fact, if you don’t use gaffer tape in some way, shape or form at your first night, then you’re almost certainly doing something wrong.
Always have back-ups for emergencies - spare headphones, headphone adaptors, spare needles, something to play if the laptop crashes, a reserve MP3 player in case Dave spills his pint of Stella on the CDJs. Again. Seriously Dave, it was kind of funny the first time but FFS.
You’ll need some kind of music policy (our tip: pick something really good), and you’ll need someone to play tunes. Wait, this is where you come in!
Got some tunes? Been practising at home? Feeling slightly nervous, because it's all just suddenly become a bit real? Good - if you’re not nervous at the prospect of putting your first night on, then you’ve not fully understood the situation.
Last tune of the night
What’s it going to be? You don’t have to decide until it happens, but it’s always worth giving it a little thought pre-gig so that you have a few potential options lined up to create a killer last-tune moment (good) vibe.
A keen sense of reality
It may sound crazy, but it’s just possible that your first few nights might not make you a millionaire straight away. So it’s best to be prepared, at least at the beginning, to measure success in other ways than how much money you make at the end of the night.
So, there's some ideas to get you started. And for anyone out there who is taking the plunge: I’m genuinely envious. I wish I was a young, fresh-faced DJ starting a new night with my mates again - there really is nothing like it, and you're highly likely to have some of the best nights of your life, for real. So enjoy!
Words: Harold Heath