Many DJ’s can overlook the importance of a warm up set. Whether you are the first DJ at the beginning of the night or warming up for a pro international, here are some important key points to remember when warming up for a DJ, or playing an opening set.
The warm up DJ’s responsibility
Always remember, as warm up DJ’s, we are responsible for setting the vibe and mood for the night. Setting the correct pace and creating the atmosphere is essential for any warm up set. Remember that we are not the main act; we are playing to people just getting comfortable and used to the club and surrounding environment.
They will rarely if ever arrive at the club then head straight to the dance floor early on. So, it’s great for a DJ to play more welcoming music that can be both familiar and slowly paced that people will groove to while drinking and talking at the bar.
It is a warm DJ’s job not to take the limelight away from the next DJ after him. Playing a level or two below him or her is essential, and if you overstep that line, it can most likely be our last DJ gig. We will most likely destroy the flow of the night, and piss off the promoter and DJ.
So, it’s always good to set the tone and play for the next DJ. There will always be the temptation there once we get a little momentum, and people move onto the dance floor, but that’s where we need to develop patience for the next DJ to respect us for not overstepping the boundaries.
The flow of the music
It should always progress energetically and ramp upward. It pays to keep good musical flow with both variety and familiarity and a more groove-driven style. Making the punter comfortable first, then getting them later on in our set from standing at the bar to moving and grooving at the bar, or better yet on the dance floor.
Create anticipation and tease the crowd. It is not a great idea to play the hands in the air or the jumping up and down style of music. One thing to remember is that the crowd is not going anywhere; they are there more so for the main act. So the key is to get them from the bar to the dance floor, for the next DJ toward the end of our set.
Remember, warm up sets are not easy
It takes a good warm up DJ to set the tone for the start of the night. It takes a highly experienced warm up DJ to create hype for an international DJ or the main act. The different reasons for this are:
- More experience in general and under pressure in front of larger audiences.
- Better at controlling crowd movement, teasing them and creating anticipation due to knowing what works better musically for the night. Also understanding how harmonic mixing works (see mixed in key).
- More disciplined and know not to overstep the mark by dropping main time slot music, respectful of the main act.
- Being more consistent with the musical flow of their set.
- Having more confidence on stage, which is also due to more experience.
A beginner DJ gets given an opening set
This is always a great starting point for any beginner DJ, learning from the ground up playing to an empty dance floor and starting with little pressure. Learning from trial, error and gaining experiences from what works and what does not work, and developing confidence step by step. As time goes on, the more experience is gained the more confidence is gained and the better the performance will be. This will definitely increase the likelihood of playing right before the main act.
The difference between an amateur and a pro DJ
An amateur will go too hard early on, and the pace and tone and musical flow will not be consistent. This can disrupt the start of the next DJ’s performance, thus having to tone it down at the start rather than build from the get go.
A pro will know their music, look comfortable, set the vibe, control the dance floor, build the energy right and sets the mood for the DJ after him or her. Playing a level or two down from that DJ so they can build up for the next DJ’s set or drop the main room music if it is the right time.
A quick personal story
Over almost 9 years of DJing now, I have had my fair share of warm up sets. As a matter of fact, I have always really been a warm up DJ for the most part, so I know first hand the importance of it. I have been through most types of warm up DJ sets. DJ sets where I sucked, DJ sets where I played to no one, DJ sets where I did not want to play, and DJ sets where I played in front of thousands of people warming up for many international DJ acts.
Here is what I can tell you. You may feel you might not be good enough, maybe nervous, doubtful and fearful of performance. Everyone gets the nerves before the big DJ gigs. However, the way you have to approach it is to play every gig as your last, do the best possible preparation as you can and have fun by making sure the crowd is happy, not just you. As soon as you take the focus off yourself as the DJ, you take the pressure, nerves, and doubts off your shoulders.
The crowd can help guide your decision process, and you get more into the zone. Thus, you are then living more in the moment and having fun, and from then on, everything falls into place and DJ sets become memorable and exciting.
Once that happens, you become known for your performances and people, promoters and other DJ’s will want you coming back for more.
Whether amateur or pro, never underestimate the importance of the warm up set, as it can be a very rewarding job transforming an empty dance floor to a full one. Next time you head out, observe a warm up DJ and how he goes about it; it can be a great learning experience.