HOW TO BE A DJ – DEFINING THE ROLE
How To Be A DJ – A lot of our students ask us “what is the job of a DJ?” Well, it’s certainly not an easy question to answer as every DJ will have a different view on what makes a successful DJ based their own experience. For example a wedding DJ will tell you something different to an underground club DJ. In saying that thought there are certainly some fundamentals that you need to know in order get on the right track. Whether you are a club DJ or a wedding DJ our illustration will show where a DJ fits in the general scheme of things.
First and foremost let’s get one thing straight; number one for EVERY DJ is music selection! At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter what equipment you use but it does matter what you play.
Let’s take a look at where a DJ sits in the bigger picture and review some of the key areas you need to consider when playing to a crowd. It’s worth noting that all these areas work together and all need to be considered into the equation.
Note: illustration is mainly a guide for DJs starting out and is a general view of points to consider.
Let’s break this down into the core areas noting that all of these work together. Your job is to understand each key area and use this to decide what tunes to select:
AT THE CENTRE: DJ & MUSIC LIBRARY
Pretty obvious place to start but an essential one! As a DJ you sit in the centre with your music collection which, should be a selection of music that you love and enjoy playing. If you are a wedding or bar DJ then I’m sure there are a few tracks in there that you might not necessarily feel as passionate about, but serve as a necessary selection of crowd pleasers. Your collection and how it’s organised (check our Digital DJ Management Guide for top tips), is an essential foundation to becoming a successful DJ. It’s worth noting that more often than not, established DJs are booked to play for the style they are known for.
As a DJ you need to assess and balance the following areas to decide what music you will play whilst maintaining musical integrity from your own personal library – you need to love the music you play.
Remember, without the crowd you’re just a person in a room with a collection of music. No matter where you are playing you need to be in tune with the crowd. Bottom line here is you are being paid to create a vibe, entertain the crowd and in most cases get them dancing and you should do so to the best of your technical ability and tune selection.
THE EVENT / GENRE
This can be anything from being a warm up DJ at Fabric, a headliner set at a festival or an all night DJ for a wedding or a commercial club/bar. The event part of this focuses on the situation you are put into, if you are booked to play at a House night then promoter (and crowd) will expect you to be paying House music. If you are booked by a couple for their wedding then you will be mostly guided by them as what to play. Playing a warm up at a Soulful House night, don’t go drawing for your Drum & Bass selection.
Do your homework, if the event you are playing is on every week then get down there the week before and check out the music policy and see what’s working well. If you are playing your first gig then check out our Preparing for Your First Gig article for some bonus tips.
There are many types of venues round the world from huge festival set ups, small underground clubs, school discos, lounge bars, the list goes on. This is important to consider when drawing for tracks.
If you are booked for an intimate venue of say 150-200 people and the night specifically focuses on one style of music and has been running for a while, then there’s a good chance that the crowd are going to be knowledgable about that genre and you can dig a little deeper. If you are playing a festival, DJ sets tend to lean more towards more well know tunes, maybe a few old ones that have always gone down well. A local bar in general will want more accessible/commercial music as the crowds tend to be more mixed.
Timing is key and will influence what energy you pack into your set. If you are playing a peak time set then the crowd should already be warmed up and ‘having it’ on the dance floor and you’ll want to maintain that energy. The warm up set is an art form in itself, you don’t want to be banging out the latest top 20 from Beatport. Generally your job here is to ease the crowd into the night and balance music that fits the style of the evening whilst not going all out to have people bouncing off the walls (there are exceptions!). You also need to be respectful of who is playing after you, playing the headliners biggest track during your warm up set won’t go down well.
HOW TO BE A DJ: SUMMARY
There are so many options and variations of these that it would be impossible to summarise them all, hopefully this guide will give you a little more insight into what the role of a DJ is. As a DJ you’ll probably still be going out to bars, clubs or festivals and when you do use this time to see what other DJs are doing musically, are they getting it right? If so, why?
Nothing can beat experience so always be learning, observing and pushing yourself forward, and make sure you draw wisely from your music collection. We regularly write articles for DJs in our tutorials section so be sure to check it out.
And lastly, don’t be a dick. Respecting others and building relationships will go a long way.
Got any top tips for How To Be A DJ and those starting out? Please share them in the comments below…