How to educate a difficult crowd as a DJ

In this blog, I wanted to write about an experience I had two weeks ago playing a six-hour set and what I learned about controlling and educating a very commercial, predictable crowd, with music that was very uncommercial at times. I felt I made a big breakthrough, so I wanted to share my experience and how you can benefit from it, when you are playing to a commercial crowd at your next DJ gig in the clubs.

People Dancing in Nightclub 2 450 Height x 300 Width

Breaking conventional rules in Nightclubs

Can you get a partial RnB crowd to dance to House, Deep, and Future House Music?

The answer is yes.

That is exactly what happened at The Deck nightclub in Melbourne. Getting a six-hour set for any DJ is a rare opportunity, especially from start to finish. As I normally play house music from 12 to 3am, not 9 to 3am, RnB has always been played from 9 to 12am, before I would jump on to play banging house music to finish the night.

So, I experimented in a big way. I wanted to see if I could create change from a punters perspective and make them love every minute of music they would normally be uncomfortable listening to and keep them in the club without leaving.
Normally, every week, I would get anywhere between 5 and 15 or 20 requests for a particular Rnb track or commercial Aria Top 50. It would drive me crazy when playing house music, and the club is advertised as a commercial house night every Saturday, but the punters want what they want.

Before this night, I would normally give in when it was appropriate and find a happy medium where both individual and the requisite would be happy. It was very frustrating for me as a DJ. I wanted people to listen to new music, not the same old music you have heard everyday of the week ten times over. It drove me crazy, and I lost my passion for playing live DJ sets in clubs, so when I was asked to play from start to finish, I thought here was my chance to make a successful night even better or absolutely destroy it and potentially never get asked to play again in this nightclub.

So, I took a risk and turned 3 hours of RnB into Deep Future House.

Here is what I did…

I Started playing music that was lower in energy, to build the night and control the dance floor

Like any warm up DJ set from the start of the night, music should always be more complimentary and welcoming, not up front and in your face. Playing music from the tempo ranging from 118 to 123bpm for the first two and a half hours of the night was essential to build people up to more of a peak afterward. This was the most important part of the night and the most difficult, A) because I played very different music, and B) they had to like and dance to it or they would have walked out.

Concentrating on new vibes and combining familiarity was the aim, plus a somewhat enticing catchy groove. It involved a lot of experimenting with bootlegs, where old classic vocal tracks would merge with new remakes of deep house and vocal house tracks. I would play new non-vocal tracks for a while, and when I felt the vibe was going down or people were not moving as much as I would like, I would play the familiar Deep House remakes that would make them suddenly rush to the dance floor. I made sure I had a great selection of what I would like to call life saver tracks, but they were altered in every way besides the vocal itself.

Progression and energy are everything; forget about the big hits. Being a DJ is about education and taking the crowd on a journey. Anyone can play a top 50 Aria track and know the crowd will go nuts to it, but few DJ’s can play the complete opposite of that and make a crowd go equally as crazy. That comes down to risk, taking control of energy, knowing your music, and believing it will work. 

Don’t give into demands and be a patient DJ

The funniest, yet strangest, part of the whole six hours of my set is that I only got two requests, and they were for house tracks, no RnB. The requests were asked early on, but I said (I might play them later), keeping them in anticipation for what was coming. Whenever you play a set, especially in a more commercial nightclub, you will get many requests; do your best not to give into demands. It’s better to keep them curious and waiting than to say no.

Keeping a consistent and interesting long DJ set involves patience and not giving into demands or people not dancing. There will be times when people will not dance like you would like them to, but if they are there in the centre of the nightclub, they are listening and learning. What I have also learned is that most people, especially nightclubbers, don’t like change. They want the same stuff over and over. If you can disguise it in a different way and give it to them, you can gain the same attention. It does not always require a drastic change, sometimes only a slight change in music selection.

Vocal Tracks were what worked with the majority of new music and older music remakes. If you can give a crowd vocals with the right energy, groove, and tempo, you can replace any overplayed commercial track, whether RnB or Aria Chart hit.
I normally space these out. For example, I would play two to three in a row then play three non-vocal tracks, experimenting just how much I could get away with. I would even play a couple of trance tracks when I got the people into a peak state or the peak time of the night.

Give them what they want at only the right time

Playing for 3 hours the music that few people have heard of before, combined with the familiarity of older music to keep them on the dance floor, was the hardest part of the night, as mentioned. It was a risk that worked well, because it was controlled, and it was all priming for peak time, the time of the night when everybody gets drunk and you can give them what they want after keeping them waiting for so long. I learned the punters are so much more appreciative of the music they have wanted for a while, rather than just giving into the demands or playing what you know will do the job.

They got into the music far more than previous weeks because of the absence of what is normally played. Timing is everything for DJing, and what can work some weeks will not work as good other weeks. You just have to work out why. My conclusion is it is all about quality control of the flow of music. There is a time and place for all of it. The hard part is to know when, and that all comes down to risk, experimentation, and experience.

The takeaway for you

  • Play every gig as your last.
  • Try not to conform to the norm; if you do, what separates you from other DJ’s? You will become a replaceable predictable DJ.
  • Be known for bringing a unique sound and style to a club, learn to disrupt what is current, and turn it into something that belongs to you.
  • Take risks; it’s what makes a DJ.
  • Learn from Failure.
  • Don’t give up.
  • Learn patience and don't give into demands easily.
  • Energy and progression is everything, EVERYTHING.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog, and I would love your thoughts on this.




Posted on May 23, 2017 and filed under DJ skills.