So You Want To Be An Internet DJ/Musician: 10 Tips For The Coronavirus Era

What plays well in a club or theater doesn’t always translate to an online setting, and as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic forces artists to adapt to working online, a different strategy is required. Here we look at ten pieces of advice for making it on the internet.

Guest post by Bas Grasmayer of Music x Tech x Future

Hi, welcome to the internet.

While you were on stage, millions of people were online playing video games or stuck in small towns without a scene for the music they love. Communities and online-only subcultures have emerged, and with that a template for how things work.

Here is some practical advice to get you started as you figure out How To Make Money Online™ over the next weeks:

  1. Don’t replicate what you do offline. It does not work. You can’t do it. DJing for a sweaty club is different from playing music for people spread out over the world in their rooms. The goal is not to replicate the activity, but to recreate the emotions people feel when they go out.
  2. Don’t just stream your stuff: interact. Last weekend hundreds, if not thousands, of musicians / DJs went online to stream a set to their fans. Over the next weekends, that number will rise. What are you doing to make your stream interesting when Netflix and YouTube are in the next tab, when there is a PlayStation in the same room, when Instagram is burning in people’s pockets screaming for their attention? If you’re doing something that you could do offline also, you’re doing it wrong. Interact with your audience.
  3. You know all those people you’re in touch with that help you get gigs? Bookers, promoters, other bands and DJs, people in cities around the country or the world? You need to build an online version of that, pronto. After one or two livestreamed sets, your existing fans will get bored – you need to keep reaching new audiences. The internet is composed of loosely connected communities: PARTICIPATE. Watch other people’s streams, interact, comment on Soundcloud tracks, Instagram stories, share other people’s work.
  4. When you connect to online subcultures, figure out how they work, what their rules and norms are. They have their own memes, sentiments, in-crowd jokes, personalities, and styles. Be aware and respectful. Hang back if you have to.
  5. Repeat after Wacka Flock Flame on It G Ma: “It’s about us, never ’bout I”. Start supporting other people. Elevate them. People are into you because of your creative work: curate for your fans and help them understand what inspires that work. Always be giving more than you’re taking.
  6. I understand people struggle with the new context in which they’re now having to place their art. See it like this: there are millions of people who spend many hours each week in these virtual contexts, be they Minecraft, Fortnite, a Facebook group, a Discord community, or a Twitch stream. You are bringing your art to people into a dimension where a significant portion of their life already takes place. That’s meaningful. Identify contexts and communities that excite you personally and find a way to express yourself in them.
  7. We are in this for the long haul. If you are thinking “well, I’ll just ride this out and wait for things to get back to normal”, I have some bad news. It’s going to take months to get over the first peak of the coronavirus and its fallout. For things to come close to ‘normal’, it may take a year. But this is also a 9/11 moment: this is happening right now and it’s just the beginning, but the world will not be the same afterwards (there are a lot of reasons for it, but the simplest one is that many venues will be out of business and we’re entering a recession). Do not hold out, start investing your time into resilience, because whatever there was before this is not guaranteed to ever come back.
  8. Start finding ways to generate Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR). Streaming is part of that, but I have not met many (any? lol ) artists who can actually make a living from their streaming income. Start considering what you can create for your community of fans on a regular basis. Whether that’s doing playlists through currents.fm (like bod [包家巷]’s diary), connecting your community on Discord through Patreon memberships, exclusive livestreams with lessons on whatever you’re good at, start looking into these things now. Asking people for donations may work short term, but you will want to come up with a new strategy soon: start planning for monthly recurring revenue.
  9. Many places in the world are still to hit and cross their virus peaks – in the weeks and months after that, life will get some semblance of normalcy to it again. You can start selling your time in those days. Sell vouchers for performances, try to get bookings without a fixed date and ask for a 50% deposit. Not everyone will be up for it (especially venues that will struggle to pay rent next month), but it may work for some. Just remember: if you sell future time, you get the money now, but you’ll still have to commit your time then. Make sure you’ll be able to make enough money in those months. We all want to think about when we can go outside again: help people paint pictures of that dream by selling them something in that future.
  10. Shameless self-promotion: I’ve been writing about these topics for years, so if you want to do some further reading, here are two pieces that come to mind: 1) what music can learn from gaming for a look into the business and social dynamics, and 2) hidden in plain sight: a global underground dance music scene with millions of fans.

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