A beginner’s guide to DJ’ing.
Organizing music and prepping for your first gig.
I’ve seen a lot of articles about tips and tricks for the mechanics of DJ’ing, but very little about what goes into prepping for a set and what you need to make sure to keep a great flow for the night. My first set at a major club, I was sort of shell shocked. I had done some minor things, and bar gigs, but I was not prepared with nearly enough music, or for the other DJ to play half of the things I was planning on playing. I was a prize fighter who just got hit, and had no idea how to recover. This is to try to make sure that doesn’t happen to you!
First off, however much music you think you need, make sure to have triple the amount. You’re doing an hour set? Have 3 hours’ worth of music. I mostly work counter culture events, so the songs I play tend to run a bit longer, at about 4-5 minutes a song, but an average pop music song, runs 3-4 minutes. When you use these songs for DJ’ing you must automatically plan on cutting a minute off the song, about 30 seconds for an intro, and 30 seconds for an outro. With pop music that can leave you with 2 minutes of a song, so looking at a normal playlist, you see your 20 songs is good for over an hour when you put it into an iTunes playlist, when you start DJ’ing, you only have a half hour of music.
A great reason to have triple the amount of music needed as well, sometimes you have a plan in your head for how the nights going to go, and you think everyone will love every song you play. The reality is, no one will like every song you play, ever, it just won’t happen, and that’s OK. However, sometimes no one will dig what you’re playing, nothing is hitting with the crowd, and you can barely get someone to nod their head with the beat let alone dance. That’s OK, these things happen to everyone, but being prepared and stepping outside of your comfort zone and playing some tracks that are a bit different then what you were planning on can sometimes save a night.
Once you have enough music it’s time to start organizing. I keep everything organized by genre and era’s, you’ll need to find something that works for you. I have a folder for indie, nu disco, house, goth, 80’s, edm, techno, even one for movie soundtracks, and then folders for chill rooms and opening sets within most categories. This way i’m not fumbling through and wondering where my tracks are and I can focus on the set.
When playing, I always organize my sets first and foremost by BPM, and then by the key the song is in. Most DJ software has this built in nowadays, or, you can run the track through a great program called Mixed In Key that will get that information for you. BPM and Song key are instrumental, especially when you’re starting off. Your skill level will grow over time, you’ll start to learn tricks, and play with effects, and get more confident, but if the songs are good, and the tracks flow together, you can entertain a crowd and keep a great flow to the night, even if your skill level isn’t there yet.
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