DJ Experience - BPM Supreme Contributor - June 16, 2022
Tips for DJing your First Set

Congrats, you got your first DJ gig! Starting out in the DJ world is an exhilarating experience but can also feel overwhelming. However, with some preparation, you can thrive in your first DJ set. Here are five tips to get you started on the right track.

Handling nerves

When dealing with nerves and/or stage fright, one of the best actionable pieces of advice is to take the focus off yourself and concentrate solely on the music. This helps you get out of your own head and makes DJing a lot easier.

It’s indeed a simple technique, but it also requires lots of practice. You will find that the more exposure you have to being on stage, the more natural it will flow. Just remember that stage fright is normal for DJs at all levels, but it becomes more manageable with more reps.

Most people probably aren’t paying much attention to the DJ anyways, or even flawless transitions, for that matter. These facts will resonate as you spend more time on stage, resulting in the freedom to enjoy spinning.

Have a (general) plan

As a general rule of thumb, plan what you want to play at the beginning, middle, and end of the set. It doesn’t have to be strictly followed, as song selection will largely depend on the audience and how they respond, but having this structure gives you more control over the direction of the set. This allows you to allocate enough time to play the tracks you definitely want to include.

For example, suppose you are playing at a nightclub. Usually people are just trickling in throughout the first hour. To fill the dancefloor, it would be safe to start with songs most people are familiar with, at a mid-tempo range. As the night progresses, the crowd is getting more into the music, making it a good time to gradually increase the tempo. About halfway through the night, and once the building is rocking, feel free to continue with energetic uptempo music.

The final section of the set can depend on where the energy is going. If the crowd is still rocking with your energetic songs, keep playing them. However, sometimes this is a good time to change the pace to more chilled or melodic songs. This is especially true if you feel the crowd is getting fatigued. Changing the pace at any time allows your audience to breathe, perhaps buy more drinks, and bring others to the dancefloor.

Understand your audience

As mentioned in the previous section, the direction of your set will be largely determined by “feeling out” the crowd. If possible, you should try to figure out the expected demographics of the audience ahead of time. This will give you a better idea of what kind of music you will be playing throughout the night. Talk to the venue owner or booking contact in advance to discuss the style and vibe that the event calls for.

However, don’t forget that part of the fun of DJing is being able to modify your music on the fly. Pay attention to the body language and overall mood you see around the room. This is generally easy to scope out when you’re on stage.

Make it a goal to select music that both you AND the audience like. This ensures an authentic experience. But this also means you have to stay up to date with your library.

Develop your library

When first starting out, it’s a good idea to stay open-minded to different music. You will find out right away that the response you’ll get will significantly depend on the audience. Having a large, diverse stash of music at the beginning will allow you to test how to best express your musical taste for an audience. As you gain experience, you will have a better understanding of what people like, and then you can narrow your lane to a style unique to you.

To stay prepared, make sure your music library is extensive and has songs across a variety of genres and tempos so that you can work with any situation. Throwbacks are a safe bet in most environments, so stock up on songs from the 2000s and earlier.

It can help to develop a niche, meaning a specific sound that you enjoy playing and that eventually your audience might recognize you for. An example would be a DJ known for playing old-school hip hop or lots of quick-hitting mashups.

Listen to other DJs (and yourself)

One of the best ways to understand DJ set structuring is by simply listening to other DJ sets. While listening to other DJs, you will pick up on techniques and patterns to apply yourself. Exposing yourself to professional DJ sets can give you tools to replicate when structuring your own set.

Once you feel comfortable with fundamental DJ skills, try recording a 30-60 minute set of your own. Don’t worry too much about performing perfectly. When you listen back to it, the blunders will be cemented in your mind, and you can sharpen up in the area the next time around. I find that I learn the quickest when I re-listen to my mistakes again and again.

Also, explore different outlets like Mixcloud to find new and different DJ sets. DJs from all over the world curate their mixes on this platform, and perhaps the best part is that the company handles the copyright process, so there’s little risk of the mixes being taken down. 

If you’ve made it this far, I’m already confident that you’re on the right track towards crushing your first set! It’s important to remember that DJs of all levels are continuously learning, so don’t worry too much about figuring it all out at once. The surest path to leveling up as a DJ involves repeated exposure, a commitment to learning, and certainly a love for music. After all, we do this because of the joy we get from music, so aim to share this joy with the audience!

About the Writer
Carlo Vidallon, a.k.a. CHARLEMAGNE, is a DJ based in the Seattle area. A relative newcomer with two years in the industry, he has steadily worked his way up in local venues. He seeks to help other upcoming performers level up through his online publications.
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