I have decided to write this step by step article for any beginner DJ who has never played in a nightclub before, or any DJs in general who have never had the pleasure of showcasing their skills and performing in front of an audience. If I were to speak one on one to a first timer, this is what I would suggest to them, as I have learned from many years of trial and error as a Melbourne DJ. I will highlight key stages, along with what I believe will help you not only while you’re playing your set, but also before and after notes.
Preparing for the Gig
I personally believe that the most important step in learning how to DJ in a nightclub is understand that you need to do the homework. Without doing your proper research and taking note of the other DJs and your audience, when the time comes to play in front of people in the club, you will choke, and it can be a horrible experience. So, here is how you can go in with more confidence as a DJ.
Study your DJs
Watch how your favorite DJs play and model them. This basically means studying what they do. Trust me, it is one of the best ways to learn before playing in a nightclub. I suggest going to the nightclub or the clubs at which you will be potentially playing in order to study the DJ that has a similar style to you or will be playing at a time slot similar to you. To make it easy, think in stages of beginning, middle and end.
Ideally, it is best to do this at least two to three weeks out from your gig, and there are a couple of reasons for that.
Know your nightclub and audience
Learning how the crowd interacts with the DJ’s music is crucial to beginning to realize and understand how to read a crowd. This takes a lot of the guess work out of what music should or shouldn’t play. The tricky thing is that the crowd every week at nightclubs can be different, and when you consider this, you become more aware of, and gain a better understanding of how that crowd can vary. Some nights can be heaving, while other nights, people just might not be feeling it.
Your music is everything when it comes performing well, and knowing what tracks to play at the right time can come from observing the crowd and watching the DJ select his tunes based on the energy in the room. Energy is everything, and being in the room gives you a taste of things to come. This way, you can realize how a nightclub’s progression works from start to finish, and from one DJ to the next, as well as how the momentum of energy is controlled.
This may sound simple, but many DJs—experienced or inexperienced—can still stuff it up.
The Rehearsal Stage
Confidence is everything when it comes to rocking a crowd and playing a great set. Much of this can be done before hand. The confidence means really feeling and believing that everything will turn out well. This is why researching, preparing and practicing is everything before the gig. Selecting the music you believe will work in your set (suited to your time-slot and the nightclub audience) becomes easier from research.
When learning how to DJ in a nightclub, it is important to practice your set a couple of times and to visualize just how it can work by putting yourself in the punter’s shoes, as well as your own. I am not saying to program an entire set, but taking the best music that has the most potential to work is a must. In addition, include perhaps double the amount music you need for your time-slot. If it is a one hour set, take around two or more hours of music, slip in some crowd-pleasers, and even include some tracks you think will not work. Trust me, music can work in funny ways.
Arriving at the Nightclub
Time to showcase your talents for the first time. Are you nervous? I think you will be. I remember my first DJ gig, and I was so nervous that I pressed the cue button and stopped the music halfway through my set. It was embarrassing to say the least. In this section, we will focus on how you can perform on game day and impress not only the crowd, but promoters as well.
Get in Early and Get Ready to Play
There are a few great reasons to do so. The first one is that you can make a great impression by networking and getting to know people before your gig. If you are the first in the door, just show that you are punctual and reliable. Promoters cannot stand a DJ that arrives five minutes before their set, and they prefer to see someone who wants to expand their friendships through networking.
The second reason is that you want to get a feel for the place by walking around, getting used to the sound system’s volumes, the people, the vibe and the equipment, while watching other DJs play before you. Making sure you know how to adapt and set up, so that you can be ready to rock and roll.
Jumping on the Decks to Perform
As you walk up on stage, here comes the time to perform and show that you can not only keep a crowd happy and dancing, but also play to your time-slot. If there is one thing from this article and one thing only that I want you to walk away with and learn as a DJ, it is to know how to play to your time-slot. It’s the difference between getting booked again or never getting a DJ gig again.
So here is how we can use quality control.
Starting out or Progressing from the other DJ
If you are starting out as a warm up or opening DJ, it is up to you to set up a successful night. These are indeed the most important DJ sets of the night, as they can really make or break it. It is really about creating momentum and getting people from the bar to the dance floor, and this can be challenging. You want the music to be ramping upward and progressing in energy from one DJ to the next. The more energy that is applied, the more momentum that will come, and people will be more inclined to get on the dance floor.
The combination of the right groove, tempo and rhythm determines the mood, and will dictate whether the crowd will dance or not. It’s not about playing popular music. Rather, it is about playing more catchy music with a groove. Also, keep your volume a little lower if you are the opening DJ so that you can increase it for the next DJ’s set. Alternatively, you can increase it from the previous DJ along with the tempo of your music, as well as apply more music, which will build from his or her set.
Midway through your DJ Set
Remember to always engage with your audience by looking up smiling and moving your body to feel better and increase your confidence in order to make better choices when it comes to song selection. The crowd is your best friend when it comes to song selection, and regardless of whether it is good or bad, the crowd will let you know how they feel. You will take note only when you’re engaged and having a great time.
People can always sense low confidence and uncertainty from a DJ. I have been in many of these scenarios, and I have no doubt that you will too. It is really about finding thatsweet spot when it comes to selecting the right music for both you and your crowd. I always go by the fifty-fifty rule—half for me and half for them. You should be settled in by now, and during the last half of your set play your best music. The middle of your set to the very end is really the time when you should be in the zone.
Coming to the End of your Set
When it comes to the closing stages, this is where many DJs can stuff things up, by not respecting the other DJ. What I mean by this is playing too hard for him or her before they jump on. The transition phase should indeed go smoothly, and this moment is the time to finish your set and make sure the energy matches the others. This is so that a DJ can play to their appropriate time-slot, just like you should have done, and therefore, do so for the next time-slot.
This insures that both the night runs smoothly, and that the other person does not get pissed off, along with the promoter. Remember, you want more gigs! Respect is something that I believe is personally lacking a bit nowadays in the music industry, so if you can be a person that can show it, you can go a long way.
Full of Confidence and Ready to Network
When your set goes well and you rock a crowd, that is when your confidence is sky high. These are your best times to network and thank the fans that have enjoyed your performance. I might add that you absolutely want to do this, because a promoter’s pet hate is for a DJ to leave early right after a gig. Never do this. This is your best time to build a loyal fan base and a following by introducing yourself and thanking the audience.