The Business of Dance Music Part II: Promotions 101, or How to (Not) Be Seen

Promotions are an often-overlooked aspect of the business by many young artists, and even a few veterans.  Anyone can go hand out CDs, but it’s those extra steps that a person takes that can set them apart from the competition.  In this issue, we will discuss a few common things that drive promoters (and sometimes even myself) up the wall, the art of the promo kit, and how to hit the streets.


So you’ve cut a killer demo and decided that it’s time to take the next step and join the ranks of the professional DJ.  You’ve finished the long, painstaking slow soul searching process that comes along with making such a life decision.  After all, DJing can be a career, and should be treated as such.  I know I would never think of walking into the law firm I work for and deciding that I’m only going to do part of my work that day.  While having fun is important, it is also important to recognize that this is a business decision and should be treated quite seriously.

Assuming that these steps have been taken, it’s time to get that first booking.  Promotions are an often-overlooked aspect of the business by many young artists, and even a few veterans.  Anyone can go hand out CDs, but it’s those extra steps that a person takes that can set them apart from the competition.  In this issue, we will discuss a few common things that drive promoters (and sometimes even myself) up the wall, the art of the promo kit, and how to hit the streets.

I understand that typically, it is more effective to give a list of things to do as opposed to things not to do.  However, here are some common things that people do which should be avoided.

  1. House sets should not be referred to as soulful, nor Trance sets referred to as uplifting.  If I had a dollar for every soulful House DJ or uplifting Trance DJ, I would not have a day job.  Be creative.  Branch out.  Use a Thesaurus.  Do anything but use those words.
  2. When taking promotional pictures, please take into account the background of the picture.
  3. Chances are you have not created some mind blowing new genre.  Do not make yourself appear as if you were doing Prog Trance years before Jam & Spoon made “The Age Of Love (Watch Out For Stella Mix.)”
  4. Don’t use the terms Soulful House or Uplifting Trance.
  5. Here’s a big complaint; when making promotional CDs to give out, make sure the CD is tracked.  It is incredibly annoying to be 5 minutes into listening to a mix, and decide to skip to the next track, only to go back to the start.
  6. Make sure you write a contact number or email address on each piece of promotional material sent out.  Nothing is worse than having to reassemble the jigsaw puzzle of pieces when there is no reference material.
  7. Have I mentioned not using the words soulful or uplifting when describing House or Trance?
  8. Don’t bug promoters the second you find out about a big show coming to your town.  They’ve probably already arranged the talent by this point.  If they say, “Let me think about it,” assume the answer is a no.  The old saying goes “It never hurts to ask.”  Maybe it never hurts to ask, but it does get annoying if someone constantly asks.  No means no (except in those few circumstances where no means maybe.)
  9. If you have been a bedroom DJ for 15 years, you are on the same playing ground as a kid that got into dance music by listening to the Mortal Kombat soundtrack two years ago.  Keep your ego in check, and remember, the music business is very political.  Learn to play politics.
  10. By no circumstances should you ever describe House and Trance as Soulful or Uplifting.

Taking into account everything previously mentioned, it’s time to make a promo kit!  Please remember that the purpose of a promo kit is not to get bookings, but rather reinforce relationships.  A promo kit is much more valuable sent to someone you have already forged a relationship with previously.  Sending out promo kits as if it were a cold call is simply a waste of money. 

A good promo kit should contain six things; a CD, a bio, a resume, a business card, flyers from previous events played, and a photo.  The CD should be FLAWLESS.  Small mistakes are okay in live performance, but totally unacceptable when recording.  On the bio and resume, make sure to run spell check and grammar check.  Nothing is worse than trying to decipher someone’s errors, and it also gives the appearance of sloppiness.  Also, for that touch of extra attention, print things out on either bond paper or card stock.  Regular copy paper is easily destroyed, and can turn yellow with age.  By using bond paper (also called resume paper in some circles), the yellowing potential is removed.  Even better, you could find a reputable printer to make professional materials for your kit.  Personally, I use Pro-Image LLC out of Birmingham, AL.  Try to find someone in your area to help.  Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression.  Make it count!

Promo kits are good, but mean nothing if you never get out.  The NUMBER ONE source of bookings is through people you already have connections with.  Promo kits are cold calls, whereas knowing promoters and other DJs are like references.  Networking is effective!  Plus, as a DJ, you need to be one step ahead of current musical trends to really make money.  This not only means keeping current with music, but keeping current with electronic culture.  Hitting the streets and meeting people is a very slow process, but a rather effective method.  Most people lack the patience for this part of the process.  I promise, hang in there and develop an effective street strategy, and you’ll reap the rewards tenfold. 

Promotions can be tricky.  However, with a well thought out marketing plan and dedication to making a project work, you too can achieve your goals.  Be aware of common errors and avoid them.  Nobody likes to beat a dead horse.  Make a promo kit.  Include all the things needed to make a good first impression.  Be neat and professional with the contents of your kit.  Last, but not least, get out of the house and meet electronic people.  Become friends with DJs, producers, and promoters.  Make yourself known. 

Oh yeah, and just don’t use the words soulful or uplifting to describe house and trance.


Kevin Neely, aka Oneel, is a DJ/Producer/Remixer from Birmingham Alabama.  He has been playing for over nine years, and has performed with some of the biggest names in dance music, such as Judge Jules, Ferry Corsten, Irene, Faust & Shortee, and Matt K.

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