Being a DJ can be tons of fun, but it’s also a process that you can always get better at. Whether it's choosing the right tunes or blending them together at exactly the right time, DJing allows many different approaches suited to how you like to work. Understanding your role as a party starter guiding the vibes - rather than solely someone playing music - also goes a long way in establishing your technique.
In this article, we’ll list some of the best ways you can get yourself ready for your set, from track selection to calming those nerves on the big day. This can apply to beginners just starting out on the decks and more experienced DJs looking for extra advice. There is no one way to play a DJ set, but the list below can help you along the way.
Find new music in a way that suits you
Everyone’s way of discovering new music to play is different, and it's never been easier to find what you like. You never know what gems you can find by listening to other DJ mixes, podcasts and radio shows across multiple music streaming services. Meanwhile, taking a trip to your local record shop can guide you to some gems.
If that isn’t enough, sites such as Bandcamp and Discogs are packed with a vast pool of tracks to dive into. You can also keep an eye out for what your favorite record labels are releasing to find more inspiration. Then, rinse and repeat all of the above.
Organize your music clearly
Once you’ve found what you want to play, it is important to sort them on your computer or DJ set program (Serato, Rekordbox etc.) in the best way possible so that you can make the most of them. You may want to organize your music by BPM, which allows you to have a collection of tracks for any occasion.
Or, you can sort tracks by month, genre or even the mood you get from a track. This can compartmentalize music for you so that, if you have a Techno set coming up or even a wedding to play at, you’re not scrambling for a playlist on the day and you’re well prepared.
The track is more important than the blend
Now that you have your music library collected and organized, it's easy to get bogged down in the actual mixing part of a set. But it's not very beneficial knowing how to blend if a track isn’t right. Prioritizing what you believe will move the crowd is a great foundation for any mix and, with practice, the rest will follow. If it's a smash hit or a deep cut, the right track can really get the party started.
Play to the crowd
The big day has arrived and your set is about to begin. You may have a plan of what to play already, but keeping an eye on what the crowd likes can inform how your night pans out.
Pay attention to your audience in real time and check the energy levels before you hit the stage; it might work to follow the vibe before getting into your set properly. If they’ve been loving some Hip-Hop over the last half-hour, you can feed that before moving onto what you want to play. It might help keep the crowd engaged.
Keep the volume at a good level
Make sure you keep an eye on your volume levels throughout your session. You could be playing the best set of your life but if it's too loud or not loud enough, it won’t connect with the crowd. There’s nothing worse than distorted audio getting in the way of a happy crowd.
If the track you play next is slightly lower or higher pitched, turn it up or down to accommodate this shift. If you need to, leave your decks and find your nearest speaker to get an idea. Playing a long track will make sure you're not rushing back before a track finishes!
Mix it up when you feel confident
Though you’ve meticulously planned your performance, you may feel an itch to completely disregard that and switch things up. Don’t think of DJing as a completely linear process where you play the same 20 tracks all the time.
Experimentation will improve your skills as you mix together tracks that may never have fit with each other. Encourage yourself to find a new angle when you’re mixing, but don’t feel you have to as soon as you play your first track. Work to your own schedule.
You’re going to make mistakes, every DJ does and has. The blend might not be as smooth as you hoped and you may not always play a track that goes down well with the crowd. But that’s what makes DJing so great; you can learn from these experiences to come back stronger for the next set.
If something goes wrong when you’re spinning, take it in your stride. Your mistakes don’t define you; how you move the room and how you make your next set your own will always count.
Check out more musical deep dives on Campus, including this tutorial on how to record your DJ mix.