A complete guide to using TikTok as a DJ

Four experts, including one DJ with nearly 10 million followers, advise on everything from getting started, to growing a fanbase, finding your niche, and understanding the platform's mysterious algorithm.

As the world’s most talked about platform of recent times, the popularity of TikTok, which has over one billion active users, shows no sign of slowing. Its unfiltered approach to video sharing is seen as a refreshing change to the perfectionism of Instagram and YouTube. In 2021, entertainment videos were the most popular category on TikTok, perhaps boosted by the growing number of music careers, tracks and dance trends that are created on the app. However, while many artists are experiencing enormous success, many DJs have been hesitant to jump on board. 

Of course, the platform won’t be to everyone’s tastes, its rapid-fire user experience seemingly more tailored to a younger audience. But for the curious, there are plenty of reasons to get started, not least the apparent ease with which video creators find an audience and, in plenty of cases, have a post go viral. The algorithm will share your content with likeminded audiences, who could swiftly become avid followers. And while its enormous user base might feel intimidating, now is actually an ideal time to join TikTok: the platform is currently pushing electronic music to as many users as possible.

However, it’s worth saying that the platform can sometimes be tough to get right. Many hugely popular DJs, who boast hundreds of thousands of followers on other platforms, haven’t been able to translate that success to TikTok, which plays by its own set of rules. 

We’ve therefore gathered advice from those who have already cracked TikTok, with the aim of helping you to cut through the noise and smoothly navigate the platform. You’ll hear from Jovynn, who launched her career on TikTok and boasts nearly 10 million followers, and h.o.l., AKA Hollie, who has built an 80,000-strong community through her drum & bass videos. 

Adding further expertise is Myradh Cormican, head of digital & partnerships at Frame Artists, who have TikTok creators on their roster like Chase & Status, Eats Everything, Arielle Free, Ewan McVicar and Patrick Topping. Scott Dillon, meanwhile, is the founder of FourFour Digital, which provides digital marketing strategy for Fred again.. and Rain Radio. Scott was previously the senior digital marketing manager at Ninja Tune, where he helped shape social media for the likes of Bicep, Jayda G, TSHA and DJ Seinfeld.

So whether you’re a full TikTok devotee, a social media sceptic or somewhere in between, this piece should hopefully provide you with a comprehensive range of tried-and-tested advice.

Getting started

Before diving in headfirst, get to know TikTok as a user. “Don’t attempt to launch a TikTok profile without putting time in to understand the platform,” said Myradh. “The first thing I would suggest any artist do before even thinking of setting up a channel is to spend time on it. This is so key because TikTok has its own language and style, which can be tricky to fully understand at first. If you take time to understand the platform it will pay off tenfold.”

“Becoming native to the platform is so important, probably the most important thing,” said Scott Dillon, “which is a stumbling block I think a lot of artists find because they don’t necessarily want to, which is why I have the job that I have. Obviously if you’re a new artist starting out and wanting to grow, you’re not going to pay someone to handle it for you. I would therefore say the first step for an artist is to… see the way people use and interact with it, learn the type of metrics—what you measure for success—and just start being active, being visible on the platform.”

Once you’re more familiar with the platform, brainstorming a loose strategy is often useful. Ideally, your audience will quickly understand what you’re about. The simplest way to achieve this is by identifying your niche, working out what subjects make you tick, which you have enough knowledge about to share. “Try to come up with three to four topics which you want to cover,” said Myradh. 

Combining two divergent topics is an interesting way to stand out, an approach used by Jovynn. “It’s great to experiment with different types of niche in relation to your skillset,” she said. “What I sometimes do is mix comedy with music. By doing that, I’m reaching out to two different audiences. This way you’ll have a bigger chance to reach your content out to the world.”

In terms of equipment, you’ll probably have what you need to get going straight away. “Professional videography isn’t necessary for your content to ‘make it,’” said Jovynn. “I realised that the TikTok platform appreciates more organic content—so no need to stress over spending on professional equipment.” 

“The majority of phone cameras are equipped with high megapixel cameras nowadays, so using your phone to record content is all you need,” said Hollie. “I use a phone tripod from Amazon, so the camera can be situated face-on but some people are lucky enough to be able to just rest their phone on something, so check your filming area for this option. You can also explore using phone camera lenses like wide angle and fisheye. They can be purchased from any online marketplace and are really affordable.”

Using something unique, such as a specific lens, can make your content more identifiable. “Your setup should be unique to you and recognisable to your viewers,” said Hollie. “You can do this by adding your DJ logo, rave flyers, labels and events merch, records, artwork, decorations etc. It’s all about expressing you, your personality and interests to the viewers. Having a setup with lots to look at and discuss is a great way to get your audience engaging in the comment section. For example, I used to have a Minecraft cow figure in the back of my videos and received lots of comments from other gamers noticing it. It’s all about being yourself to build the right community of likeminded people.”

However, overthinking these finer details can risk procrastination. So establish a niche and appropriate setup but don’t be afraid to dive in. “Start posting videos,” said Scott, “don’t overthink it: it’s just a flash-in-the-pan kind of moment and I think people get lost in the ideas of overthinking the content and making everything perfect. It’s oftentimes when you overthink things the most they react the least, and when you just are really reactive and in the moment, trying things out, that it takes.” 

If you’re struggling for initial ideas, perhaps take inspiration from your other social media channels. “I usually suggest repurposing content you have already from other platforms which has worked well there and adapting it to fit what you’ve learnt about TikTok and your strategy that you’ve come up with,” said Myradh. “This can be the easier way to dip your toe in and test out ideas without putting a huge amount of time into creating original content until you know what works for you.”

Being on camera helps but it’s not necessary

TikTok’s visual centrality means you’ll have to get intimate with the camera. It adds that personable touch, allowing your followers to see past the static imagery typically used on other platforms. And while for most people putting yourself in the spotlight is easier said than done, the confidence to do so should naturally build over time.

“Like most things, it gets easier the more you do it,” said Hollie. “I actually used to be really shy and awkward with it, and even still have bad days where I don’t feel up to it. I feel like a lot of it comes from fearing judgement from others, but it’s one of those things where you need to realise that no one will be thinking about your video any longer than the time they spend watching it, so vibe to your music in any way you want to.”

A basic rule of thumb when on camera is to present yourself as you wish to be perceived. “Try putting yourself in the audience’s shoes when you’re watching back on your content,” said Jovynn, “and if it doesn’t spark interest to you then that’ll require some changes to be made.”

Try to ensure you’re staying true to yourself. You can only maintain a persona for so long, and it’ll be unpleasant if your audience latches onto any illegitimacy. “Understand that it’s about finding a way to communicate a point in a way which is visually interesting and fits with your personality,” Myradh said. “There is nothing more off-putting than something which feels forced or unnatural.”

You don’t always need to be speaking to your camera though, or doing your thing in close proximity to the lens. “You can still be front-facing without being selfie-camera-front-facing, talking to video,” said Scott. “I can guarantee that those same DJs and producers who feel self-conscious of turning the camera round and filming themselves have no qualms about posting a video that someone’s shot of them DJing, because that feels natural to them—that’s them doing what they’re doing, they wouldn’t feel self-conscious doing a livestream, they’d do it in a heartbeat and that wouldn’t be weird for them.”

“There are lots of ways to get creative around this on TikTok,” said Myradh. “Breaking up footage with a variety of different viewpoints can be just as effective, if not more. Some good ideas for camera-shy people include filming from your POV, using the voiceover function to add your personality without the whole video needing to be you looking into the camera, or using text to narrate what’s going on on screen.”

Find your voice and cut through the noise

With over 1 billion active users, you’d be forgiven for thinking that TikTok is oversaturated, with no space to cut through the countless pieces of content. But while the user base is expanding daily, every creator is different: it’s simply a case of finding your own unique selling point. “Work with someone else to help you identify what your own unique qualities are which appeal to others,” Myradh suggested. “It can be really hard to do this on your own, so crowd source this and get other opinions.”

As cliché as it sounds, it’s essential to remain your true self throughout. “Do what you love most as that’s when you’ll present the best of your work,” said Jovynn. Due to TikTok’s unfiltered nature, showing those aspects of life that you enjoy in a more casual manner works well. You’re able to showcase your personable side, building a relationship with your audience, who feel valued at being offered an insight into your life. 

“I think to find your voice on the platform is trial and error,” said Scott, “and I try and look at a lot of TikTok content as very similar to what you’d post on your Instagram Story. A lot of those people who say they’re camera shy, and wouldn’t want to turn the camera onto themselves and do front-facing for TikTok, wouldn’t bat an eyelid of selfie filming themselves in the booth hugging a fellow DJ at a festival, or backstage filming something stupid they’re doing with another artist. Those things, they wouldn’t think twice about doing on their Instagram Stories, but it feels like that goes on TikTok and it starts to be overthought.” 

It also helps that TikTok is currently pushing electronic music. Eliza Rose and Interplanetary Criminal’s “B.O.T.A (Baddest Of Them All)” and LF System’s “Afraid To Feel” both gained traction on the app and went on to become #1 singles in the UK chart. 

“TikTok have put a real emphasis on trying to recruit and onboard more electronic artists, because they’ve had major success with other genres like pop and rap, and that side of the industry,” said Scott. “They saw a lot of electronic music and DJ content on the platform but not many creators. They’ve really tried to improve that this year and made some good steps in doing so. But there’s a lot of people who are still not on the platform, or who are on it but don’t engage with it.”

Originality is always welcomed, but Myradh and Hollie both stressed the importance of jumping on trends. Being reactive and aware of what’s doing well on the app day-to-day is key. “When a certain type of video is trending, think about how you can add your own unique twist on it which is relevant to your brand,” said Myradh “Trends are a great starting point for creativity, they give you a template to add your personality to.” 

“The good thing about TikTok is that it’s such a saturated space so when someone comes along that can bring something different to the table they’re in for success,” said Hollie “I first started TikTok when bedroom DJs started gaining bigger audiences and Lil Peep, an artist I love, was trending. Using my decks, I’d create my own Lil Peep d&b mixes and by the third video, went viral. Look for things that are working well on TikTok and then add your own take on it by incorporating your unique sound.”

Try to understand the algorithm

“No one knows how to beat the algorithm!” laughed Scott. “People in the TikTok building can’t even really tell you. It’s an incredibly intelligent piece of software that no one really truly understands.” But there are some basic principles, especially when considering the mysterious For You page. 

“The For You page, the most used feed on the platform, makes recommendations to users purely based on how they react to content,” said Myradh. “It works on the basis that if you react positively to a certain piece of content, it will show you similar content based on what content other users who liked that video also enjoyed.” 

The same principle can be applied to the content that you share. “Once you have posted, TikTok will push out your video to a group of people,” said Hollie. “If the viewers interact well with the video it will be pushed out to another group of people. If engagement stays up, it will be pushed out to another group and another group and another and before you know it, you’ve got a viral video. If at any point the group of viewers don’t show interest in the video, it stops getting pushed out and your video will only get seen by the people following you.”

The key to reach your desired audience, it seems, is through hashtags and using keywords in your captions. “If you hashtag ‘electronic music’ your videos are more likely to get served to people that have interests in electronic music,” said Scott. “You should really use hashtags to your advantage—and it feels a bit weird. Hashtags were a big thing years ago, and still are a bit on Twitter, but not really used on Instagram at all. TikTok, internally, promotes certain trends and hashtags. Every month, they will send around a list into an industry and say, ‘These are our focuses.’ Obviously it’s been summer festivals, so festivals have been one. They’ve been doing electronic music every month because it’s been their focus, so every single month they put that to the top of their trending hashtags list.” 

Word choice in your captions is impactful too, Scott said. “If you search ‘electronic music,’ as you scroll down it says ‘others searched for’ and you’ve got other keywords and phrases. The more you keep scrolling down there’s more and more key phrases, so if you are posting electronic music videos then you’d have a look at that and it gives you some other key phrases and hashtags that you could utilise.”

“Make sure your content is of good quality so others can get a good look at the activities performed throughout the video,” said Myradh 

“Audio quality is just as important when you’re in music, so make sure you’re always giving them the best,” Jovynn said. There are simple tools to help you do this, such as Pioneer DJ’s DJM-REC app, which allows you to record directly from your mixer to your phone in high-quality audio. Of course, amazing DJ performances never go amiss either. “This is super easy content for DJs to gather and it’s really effective,” said Myradh. 

Content typically succeeds when audiences watch it fully from start to finish. “A big part of the algorithm is viewer attention,” Scott said. “So with your videos, you want people to watch them from start to finish. There are ways to game that part of the algorithm. What people will do is have a long piece of text over a very short video, so for the time it takes to read that piece of text, the video has played three times. In terms of viewer attention and repeated views, which the algorithm rates highly, you’ve watched that video three times and watched it start to finish three times as a viewer, so the algorithm is likely to boost that.”

“Try coming up with an idea for a video series,” Hollie said. “An example of one I used when starting off my account was ‘Double Duals’. Myself and another creator I found through TikTok would take it in turns to decide a track, record a double drop blend with the chosen song and tag each other in the caption. Other creators started to notice and asked to take part, so we were able to benefit from each other’s audiences as well as our own.”

Using TikTok’s in-app functions also helps. “Editing in-app is generally advised because it’s recognised by the algorithm versus a video edited externally,” Scott said. “That’s not to say that you have to edit every single video in the app, but it’s generally best practice to edit in the app because it helps the algorithm. Anything else that is an in-app function—so replying to comments, using filters—is generally a way to tell the algorithm that you’re using it and using the functions and engaging with the platform properly.”

And don’t lose hope if your videos don’t pick up views immediately. “My favourite thing about the TikTok algorithm is that it’s not all based on how the content performs in the first hour, day or even week,” Myradh said. “You can have content which suddenly catches on weeks or months later. So if your content is good, it could go viral at any point, even if it didn’t when you first posted it.”

Hollie experienced this for herself: “I’ve had cases where videos blow up a day or two after posting. It means that the algorithm has found the right audience for your video, so never delete anything you feel has failed.”

Follow like-minded creators and get inspired

Each of the four people we spoke to noted their own personal favourite accounts to follow, mentioning them as sources of inspiration for their own content, appreciating their skill, or respecting their aspirational position in the industry. You can mirror this by following creators in your niche. Naturally, this will feed the algorithm and instruct it to show you similar content in the future, allowing for a continuous cycle of new content that you can absorb, admire or even use to network with the creators. “It’s never hard to find new people to check out with the platform’s “Suggested To Follow” tab so get lost in the rabbit hole and get inspired!” said Hollie.

The importance of following those creating similar content to you cannot be underestimated. However, following those outside your bubble is of equal importance. “Follow creatives outside of your niche, in different artistic disciplines,” said Myradh. “They will make you think in different ways and help you to come up with more original ideas than just following your peers. Creatives from other niches will approach content creation in different ways and expose you to different trends, feeding originality rather than following the crowd in your particular niche.”

Within the niche of DJ content, get to know the different approaches that are already popular. 

Perhaps the most obvious is gig footage, with plenty of DJs on Myradh’s roster, namely Patrick Topping and Ewan McVicar, finding particular success with this. An alternative for those unable to capture gig footage is a classic behind-the-scenes vid. Whether this is sharing a clip from your production setup with a voiceover, or something to tease an upcoming project—this was recently used by Chase and Status to announce a remix of a Sam Fender tune—there is plenty of scope to intrigue your audience this way. 

Another popular style of video within the DJ community is recording a mashup or a mix. Jovynn’s mashups are particularly impressive, with her most popular video gaining over 100 million views and almost 16 million likes. Even a spot of miming along to a track you’re particularly feeling can work wonders: Hollie sprinkles this type of content amongst videos of her mixing, cementing herself as a tastemaker and showing a more personal side to her audience. 

Engage with others

Like on most social media platforms, engaging with peers is essential to success on TikTok. Replying to comments on your content is the easiest way to do this. “It’s the simplest but most effective piece of advice I could give to anyone!” said Myradh. Not only does replying mean people return to your video to read your response, consequently increasing your view count, it also furthers a sense of community amongst your following.

“It’s always nice to reserve at least five minutes of your day solely to respond to your audience and answer whatever questions they’ve got in mind,” said Jovynn. “Always engage and interact with other DJs on the app in the way in which you’d want them to help and support your page,” said Hollie. “I know that a lot of TikTok DJs create their own groupchats so they can have a space to guide each other with the app and send links of new posts to help each other boost their videos on the For You page through engagement. Sometimes, you will even find DJs that live local to you, so it can be great to get in the studio with them, attend an event or do livestreams together.”

Consider replying to your comments with video and the algorithm will, in theory, reward you for it, thanks to the use of an in-app function. “That is a big, key one,” said Scott. “Finding a way to ask a question, or to elicit a response, it’s about being active on the platform and reactive. So if someone has commented on something that you could reply to with another video, doing those sorts of things, the algorithm will boost it.”

Some comments might not be the kindest. But if they’re, for example, sarcastic, a witty response could work to your advantage. “There’s a big chance that the majority of people that see your content don’t follow you, so there’s a bit more negativity at times.” said Scott. “They might be a troll who simply trolls electronic music stuff, and they’re going to see your content, unlike Instagram where you might not get that as much. Oftentimes when you engage with it and joke with it, I think it ends up working in your favour. When someone’s like, ‘Is this even real DJing?’ or, ‘Is this what music has come to?’, a little quirky response or fun thing in reply can work in your favour. You’ll get others defending you, ultimately leading to more engagement and activity.” 

Create a content schedule

While not strictly necessary, planning posts helps to keep things consistent, communicating to the platform that you’re an active user. However, you don’t need to post multiple videos every day—two to three a week is a great starting point. It’s what Myradh ensures her artists stick to, while Scott thinks this is the golden number in the eyes of the platform. “TikTok say three posts a week is the minimum where, say, if they were going to partner with you or do something with you as an artist, if it were anything less than three a week then you’re not active enough on the platform.”

Of course, if you’re posting more regularly than this, you’ve more chance of getting that coveted viral post, something Jovynn said is one of the draws of the platform. “If you’re posting about two-to-three videos every day for a month, there’d surely be one of yours that will go viral,” she explained. “TikTok is a platform where every individual has a chance for their content to be seen by the world, and that’s what most creators love about it.”

No matter your desired output, creating your posts in bulk is a great way to arrange your content. “You can save drafts in the app so I bulk videos out, so at any time I’m sitting on a handful which can be rolled out at anytime,” said Scott. “It’s then just about making it work around your schedule, around releases, around whatever else you’ve got going on.” 

Putting aside a day to create TikToks is a possible approach, something Jovynn especially relies on if she’s got an upcoming busy schedule in her day-to-day life. “How I’d usually do it is to set a day out of my week to create and film all content that I’ll be posting throughout the week,” she said. It’s important to remember that schedules are never one-size-fits and should be shaped by your upcoming activities. Being reactive to current trends and events on TikTok is necessary, so don’t feel as if your schedule has to be concrete.

Prioritise your mental wellbeing

Social media can feel overwhelming, especially when using it to help carve out a career against a backdrop of widespread burnout, status anxiety and social stress

“Steer clear of TikTok until you are feeling mentally well,” Hollie said. “Putting yourself on a worldwide stage can come with a lot of negative people and comments, whether you’re doing everything the right way or not.”

If you’ve been on the platform for some time and/or feel it taking a mental toll, it might be worth stepping back and considering your aims. “It’s about finding the formula which feels most natural to you as an artist,” said Myradh. “Stress and anxiety come when you are trying too hard to fit a mould which isn’t you. Set realistic goals about what you can achieve. And perspective is key, not comparing yourself to others—you are on your own path!”

Negative comments are unfortunately part of the experience, but Myradh felt that the best method is to disengage with them, if possible. “Re-read the positive comments—ignore the negative ones. People tend to fixate on the one negative comment and brush over hundreds of positive ones. Don’t be afraid to block the haters—you don’t need someone who is consistently sucking your energy. If they have nothing nice to say you don’t need them as a fan, you don’t need to convince people to like you. Find the people who do.”

Some days, it might simply all feel a bit much. In which case, stepping back is OK. The world isn’t going to end if you don’t post to schedule, or take some time out. “At the end of the day, it’s not life or death, it’s just social media,” Myradh said. “If it’s damaging your mental health it shouldn’t be a priority.”

This sentiment was echoed by everyone we spoke to. “If you find after you start your TikTok journey you feel your mental health starting to decline, take a break,” Hollie said. “Never feel like you have to work at something constantly to get where you want to be. You must take a step back to reflect on what could be affecting your situation and think of solutions to fix and heal instead of continuing and allowing the extra weight to mount up until you break.”

“It’s not always a good thing to let your mind run 24/7; the best ideas will come to you when you’re at peace with yourself,” said Jovynn. “Having me-time is just as important, so make sure to practise self-care to avoid burnout. Remember that you’re only human, not a robot. Every living thing needs to be taken care of.”

Words: Niamh Ingram