What makes a great DJ? We addressed this question with our staff last year and the article became one of our most popular posts of 2011. We’ve decided to follow up with the Dubspot team in an effort to further this discussion for our readers and students. As DJ technology continues to evolve we continue to learn new ways to perform, and we’re happy to share those tips with you.
This is my new favorite way to organize music before a gig:
1. Make a Playlist Folder for the gig, and make a single Playlist in the folder called ALL. For Serato users (I’m a Traktor man), just make one gig crate and then the equivalent subcrates.
2. Make a single playlist of all the songs you might want to play. Scour your other playlists and past sets to make a single, all-powerful gig playlist. Make sure you have enough tracks, but also that everything is really something you want to play. For a 1 hour set, I typically have 100-150 songs in the list.
3. Make Playlists (Subcrates) in your gig Folder of all the different types of songs in the ALL Playlist. That is, what are all the different types of tracks that you’d like in your set? Create playlists based on feeling, energy, genre, etc.
4. Sort the songs from your ALL Playlist, and only your ALL Playlist, into your new Folder Playlists. Feel free to place a single song in more than one Playlist. I love this method because it focuses not only the songs you want to play, but also gives you easy access to finding the right song for the right moment. Maybe I’m just a big moron, but in the past I’d have gig Playlists and then huge genre Playlists. The result was inefficiency in finding the right song to match the idea in my head. In short, you are doing normal music organization on a micro level with only the tracks you know you want to play. - DJ Shiftee
Don’t divide playlists by genre but by mood (aggressive, melancholy, soulful, etc.) and energy (slow, medium, fast.) If you practice enough and have good taste it will all come together naturally. Don’t worry about the “success” of anyone else, ever. Enjoy every gig and every moment you’re there…you’re a DJ! How much more fun can it get? Hard work pays off, it just takes a long time, so have fun all along the way. – Rx
Study the crowd like never before. At every gig you play, there are usually 1-3 people in the crowd or on the dancefloor that you need to pay attention to. These are the key individuals who set the tone of the night. They are usually the ones that set it off for everyone else. Everyone else is paying attention to them, but they would never admit it. These key people usually set the comfort zone and allow others to express themselves in ways that they would never do otherwise. They are also the first ones to dance, set the pace, and the tone of the night. If you study these key individuals during your set, and push their buttons, it will have a positive effect on you, others, and the whole night. It works everytime. – Mike Huckaby
Learn to pace yourself. Magic happens when it’s not forced. Try playing 3 of your favorite records in a row before you “go in” on the bangers. You will know when you’ve locked into a groove. It’s a feeling you’re after. Everything around you will blur, and it’s just you and the tunes. At that point, let the music tell you where to go, what to play next, how long to play it, how fast or slow it should be, how loud it should be, which FX to use, and how it should be EQ’d. – JP Solis
Turn your volume down. Most sound systems have a compressor on the front of house anyway, so cranking it louder and into the red on the mixer isn’t going to do anything but make everything sound worse. Louder does not necessarily equal better. Keep your volume at a reasonable level and give the front of house sound guy some headroom and he’ll make sure you sound good. Give him a distorted signal and there’s nothing he can do except turn you down. – Adam Freeland via Professor Steve Nalepa from the studio in Brighton, UK.
I use iTunes extensively to edit tags and find ways to classify the music through creating different additional categories and make sure my genre/sub genre listings are all uniform and together. In iTunes also I worked out a more detailed system of playlists starting with larger general ones, then working with that list to create more specific sub-folders, for instance a folder called Latin America, then subfolders based on countries: Puerto Rico, Cuba, NYC, DR, Colombia, etc. In addition, I’ll organize that list by genres and artists. This helps me create mixes that have more common narratives, and when I want to find something I have it at my fingertips along with other songs that share some common characteristic or criteria. This process of filing and categorization has helped me also become better at keeping my vinyl shelves organized and has given me new ways of thinking about the music and what goes together. All of this has taken a lot of time. I’ve been using iTunes for over 8 years and am just getting around to making sense of it. It didn’t happen overnight but it’s an ongoing process and a rewarding one. – Martín Perna
Exercise your patience as DJ and the audience will follow. Don’t mix too fast unless the crowd demands it. If it’s a packed room and they’re ready, go all in, but if they’re still warming up, build their anticipation for the rest of the night (you want them to be there all night, right?). – Alex Burkat
Use Traktor’s Sample Decks to create loops of the best parts of your tracks. Before sampling the track, make sure that the track is perfectly beatgridded to a metronome, and use the sample decks to create loops that you would want to use in a live performance. To do this, create a loop in a track deck, then click and drag from the deck header to a sample deck slot. To save the sample you will need to un-mute the sample slot and either let the sample play all the way through 3 times, or you can just turn the sample slots play button on and off 3 times really fast. The loop will then be saved under Track Collection – All Samples. Once you have a bunch of loops saved, you can additionally rename the loops by clicking on the track name in the browser. I like to keep my loops named under 15 characters long. – DJ Endo
photo by Taylor Seven-Divine Flash
Don’t let your computer go to sleep while DJing. If your computer puts the display or hard drive to sleep during the middle of a performance, it will make the audio stutter, drop out, or freeze. Before you perform, you can change your system preferences to make sure this won’t happen. Open “System Preferences.”Go to the “Energy Saver” settings. Set “Computer Sleep” and “Display Sleep” to “never.” Uncheck the box by the option to “put the hard disk to sleep when possible.” After the show, you can change the energy settings back to its original settings to preserve your computer’s lifespan during day to day use. – DJ Kiva
Learn to produce. Unless you have some exemplary skill you can showcase (DMC-style scratching, controllerism tricks, amazing audio/visual presentation), then producing your own music in conjunction with DJing is the best way to make a name for yourself. – Matt Cellitti
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Related Dubspot Courses
Immerse yourself in the complete art of DJing from beatmatching to stage presence. Whether you’re a beginner in search of the fundamentals or a seasoned pro looking to take your talent to the next level, our curriculum is designed to accommodate all skill levels and styles of music. This comprehensive DJ program covers everything from basic mixing to advanced digital DJing. Learn more about our DJ courses and programs.
- DJ Level 1: Rookie Sessions | Essentials I
- DJ Level 2: Phrase Mixing | Essentials II
- DJ Level 3: Beyond The Blend | Intermediate Skills
- DJ Level 4: Preparation | DJ Psychology
- DJ Level 5: Classroom to the Club | Advanced Techniques I
- DJ Level 6: Club to the World | Advanced Techniques II
“I love the class, and the content! Shiftee and Endo are very funny, and very clear, so the material is easy and fun to follow! I wish my college teachers were more like these two!” – Leandro Martinez, Chicago IL