I’m going to take a different angle on the art of DJing. If you want to learn to DJ or are looking for a how to DJ properly, this is going to be just as important to you as mixing skills.
Of the many blogs and writings about DJ culture & all the tricks and techniques shared, there is one topic that has not been given much, if any, attention. I think it’s something that most aspiring DJ’s don’t even consider. Etiquette.
I’m sure this is true worldwide, but I can say especially true in the USA. Americans have a very difficult time playing a supporting role in an overall event, or to a headlining DJ or artist. There are several things that a DJ should understand and consider before planning a set and performing.
I’m going to assume you are not yet a popular headlining DJ. If you’ve gotten to that stage, you’ve probably already practiced good etiquette & it has paid off for you. Congrats. For the rest of you, let’s go over some proper DJ manners….
1. Do not play popular tracks that the headliner might be playing later:
Just don’t do it. I don’t care how much playing this track might be a big ego boost for you. You are a warm up DJ for a reason. You are there to set the vibe of the night to come. Opening sets are great in that you are challenged to build a great mix with songs that are not so obvious. This really helps you to develop your own style instead of just relying on whatever is popular. Everyone is going to be banging those obvious tracks, so enjoy doing something unique. In the long run, your audience will appreciate you for this.
2. Do not play all of your epic upbeat tracks:
Unless you are headlining, or playing a peak time set, it is your responsibility to ease people into the night. If I were playing an opening progressive house set, I’d make sure my fastest BPM was the slowest tempo of the next DJ. If I planned to go any faster (and I recommended only 1 or 2 bpm at most), I would do that in the middle of my set so I could slow it down again by the end of my set.
3. Do not crank the soundsystem, especially if the place hasn’t filled up:
As much as you would like to think it is, sorry pal, this nite isn’t about you. Cranking the sound system early on is a rookie mistake, especially if the place is still filling up. The last thing you want is to have blaring music in an empty room. Even if the place is filled up, make sure you still leave some volume room for the headlining DJ. Besides, if you are a bad DJ, volume isn’t going to make you any better.
4. Do not stop or slow down the track of the DJ before you:
Have you ever had this happen? The DJ after you is ready to go on, so you set him up with a good track to mix into as well as a good final track for your set. 1 minute into the track the next DJ slices right into his first track, not only breaking the flow, but also showing complete disrespect for other DJ’s. Even worse is when they decide to slow your record down and fade it out before it even gets started. This is poor conduct, and if you do this, you’re an ass. Let it play out, or mix into it. The DJ before you played this track to be heard, Not for you to ruin.
5. Set all DJ equipment settings back for the next DJ:
Ever had the DJ before you mess with all the EQ’s, monitor levels and cue? I have. It took me 2 full songs just to get things to a playable condition. This is just not cool & people are going to know that the next DJ sounds like crap because you screwed him over. If you need to resort to this type of behavior, you have no business in this field. For the love of God, return all mixer and equipment settings to positions that make it easy for the next DJ to sound good without much trouble. Turn the monitors down to a reasonable level as well.
6. Know how to EQ for the place you are playing:
Very often I go out and hear local DJ’s & I can’t tell you how many have no idea what is coming out of their speakers! Either the bass is so muddy there is no definition, or the mids and highs are making my ears bleed. Don’t be that person. As a general rule, I back off the mids and highs to 9 or 10 o clock. It’s better to start off a bit warm and slowly get brighter than to start off assaulting ears from the get go. If you are behind the speaker in the DJ booth and everything sounds clear to you, there is a good chance things are too bright. The more places you play, the more you’ll get a knack for what sounds right.
7. Play for room size and crowd:
Consider the size of the venue, the crowd, the time you are playing & the style of the DJ’s before and ahead of you when choosing your set list. Do not practice a “one set fits all” mix & THEN pursue a gig. There is a reason why some tracks are considered “big room” tracks. They don’t work in smaller rooms. Your “Tiesto” set is not going to work at your local bar. Grittier music with less reverb tends to work better for smaller rooms, while lush reverbs and big melodies tend to do much better in big rooms.
8. Understand how sound works:
Understand the flow of sound well enough to avoid redlining & overdriving the soundsystem. Rookies tend to crank the DJ mixer to max, then turn up the amp. Wrong move. Work backwards. Whatever is immediately hooked up to the speakers (most likely the amp) will be turned up to a healthy level. Next, the master on your mixer. then adjust the trim and faders, and for Laptop DJ’s, set your computer volume. Each time you work your way back, make sure everything is in the green. If you see it hit the red, back it off before going to the next piece of equipment. If you follow this general rule, you will be plenty loud and have clean sound.
9. Do not make song requests to other DJ’s when you aren’t playing:
This is just not cool. Even if you don’t like what the guy is playing, telling him what he should be playing is not ok. On the other hand, it does make sense to let a DJ know when they are clipping the system or that maybe hard house at 9:30pm at a minimal party isn’t going to work. That is much different than saying “here, play this, everyone will like it”. The only time this is ok, is if they lost their record bag or they are struggling so hard that they ask for your help. Otherwise, leave him alone and let him/her do his/her thing.
10. Plan to show up early and stay for the party:
Do not show up to a gig 30 minutes before your set & leave 30 minutes after unless you have another gig the same nite. Doing this shows that you are all about you and don’t support the scene you are in. People notice this type of behavior. If you show interest in others, it is much more likely that they will show interest in you. Hang out, have a drink, mingle and dance. That’s really what these events are about.
11. Point out equipment flaws to the next DJ
Ask the DJ before you if there are any issues with the soundsystem or equipment and share that information with the next DJ. Sabotaging a DJ to make yourself look better is so juvenile. If you aren’t able to rely on your own skills to build your reputation, quit now. Do your best to make the party great for everyone involved, not just you.
12. Do not, I repeat Do not play a peak time headliner set if you aren’t the headliner.. Period!
This should go without saying, but if your aren’t the headliner, you should be playing your role. Not everyone is a lead character. Learn to play the best supporting role you can. If you only like peak time music, either find a way to get yourself headlining slots, or better yet, educate yourself by listening to more music. Great DJ’s listen to and appreciate a LOT of music. Showing up with your 10 biggest tunes isn’t going to cut it. Big tunes don’t make a great set. Proper placement of mellow tracks, chuggers, surprises & the occasional big tune is going to make you sound much more professional. All those tracks you are chasing down from other DJ’s are the smaller tracks your overlooked that sound huge when played at the right time.
13. High quality files only:
Do not play low quality mp3’s if you are playing through a proper soundsystem. You’ll just sound like crap in comparison to the DJ’s who have high quality files. If you are playing mp3’s, make sure they are preferably 320. If the sound system is amazing, realize that you’ll likely be able to tell the difference between a wav or aif file, & an mp3. Your low quality files are probably fine for your friends backyard party, but Quality is especially important in the clubs. Collect accordingly.
14. Know your songs:
Do not play tracks you just purchased. If you haven’t had the chance to give the track a proper listen & know the basic structure of the song, you better hold off on that one. A mix will always sound better when you are familiar with the songs you are playing. You will have a much better flow, and the crowd will notice.
15. Update your catalog often:
You don’t want to rely on all of your old songs. Depending on the style of music you are playing, people may want to hear something familiar, but also be shown what is new. They are paying for you to show them something fresh everytime. Even if you are playing your own productions, you are going to have to add new songs to your set & find a different way to present it.
16. When your set is done, let the next DJ play:
Do not overstay your welcome. If you were given a 1 hour set, play for your hour and let the next guy play. Make sure to play a proper song to set them up as well. Booth hogs are amateurs & a sure sign you won’t be asked back. Don’t do it.
17. The Golden rule:
Don’t tweet about how shitty the DJ before or after you is. Even if he DOES suck, show some class. You can tell your buddies privately if you have to, but don’t broadcast how much better you are. If you truly are better, it will be evident without words.
18. Read your audience!
If what you are doing isn’t working, make a transition to another vibe. There is no point in alienating your audience by strictly doing “your thing”. Then again, if you are an opener, don’t think there is something wrong because you don’t have a packed dancefloor. People need a few drinks to loosen up. You are there to set the mood, not blow the roof off the place. Act according to where the night is heading.
If I have missed any, feel free to comment below. Lets teach the rookies how it’s done.
Next learn how to make your best DJ mix
Happy music making!
ps – Here is a mix of mine if you’re wondering what type of stuff I play. it’s a bit older but what the hell:
With that said, if you are benefiting from these posts, you will absolutely love my 2 bestselling books:
The Mental Game of Music Production
The Process for Electronic Music Producers
You can also Check out the: Ableton Courses & Instruments
If you are looking for personal guidance with your music production or Ableton, you can set up a free chat with me to go over exactly what your best next steps are to create the best music of your life. If it seems like a good fit, we can move forward from there. https://musicsoftwaretraining.com/private-coaching
Happy music making!