After last week’s post about one of the worst DJ sets ever, I’d like to take the opportunity this week to talk about how you can recover when you run into one of those “oh #$%&!” moments in one of your sets.
The most important thing to keep in mind about losing the crowd is that it happens to everyone. No matter how much you prepare for your gigs, if you DJ enough, eventually you’re going to bomb. Sometimes the crowd is just not feeling your style, sometimes your equipment malfunctions, or sometimes you’ll just have an off night.
The point is not to obsess over playing perfectly every time, since it’s impossible. Rather, you need to know how to gracefully recover before you make a total fool of yourself and get booed off the stage. Messing up is not what sets the pros apart from the amateurs; knowing how to recover is. So here are a few things you can do when you start to feel your set going downhill.
Have an Exit Strategy
Different DJs have different approaches to how much they pre-plan their sets – from total improv to having everything pre-recorded – but no matter how you plan your sets, you always need to give yourself options.
If you’re in the middle of a song and the crowd’s just not feeling it, you need to be flexible enough to change up your set on the fly. Often, DJs will have “exit strategy” songs built into their set at various points that they can use to take their set in a different direction. So whether you’re improvising your set or you have it mapped out from beginning to end, you always need to have several options for what to play next.
Don’t Be Too Proud to Adapt Your Set
One of the toughest things about DJing is that crowds can change dramatically from venue to venue and from night to night. You might even play the same venue two nights in a row, but for whatever reason, one set that went over great one night might totally bomb the next.
Sometimes when a crowd’s mood changes, you simply have to let go of your pride. So what if you have an amazing set planned? If the crowd’s not in the mood for it, you need to throw your set out the window and move on to plan B.
Get out Smoothly
When you start to bomb, don’t freak out. It’s not too late to recover. Sometimes when you feel like you’re losing the crowd, you may have to keep running the current track or set for a while until you can find a smooth spot to transition into a new vibe. The worst possible thing to do would be to simply cut the music and leave an empty silence while you madly search through your library for something new to play.
Learn from Your Mistakes
No DJ really wants to mess up. But the thing that most people won’t tell you is that messing up is actually the key to becoming a better DJ. How will you get better at reading a crowd if you don’t lose the room once in a while?
Take it from a pro: “You have to fall on your face. So that next time, you don’t fall on your face, and you create a new move,” says will.i.am.
If you don’t risk messing up, you won’t get any bigger. So embrace the mess, and use it as an opportunity to up your game.
Speaking of upping your game, why not check out some of our free video lessons – maybe you’ll find some tricks to keep the crowd more engaged at your next DJ gig.
It’s no secret that pulling off a great DJ set is hard work. And lest you have any grand delusions that pro DJs are some sort of invincible superhuman breed of DJs who never make mistakes, take a lesson from Diplo’s recent experience at Burning Man.
Apparently EDM supergroup Jack U a.k.a. Skrillex and Diplo was all set to play at Burning Man’s Camp Question Mark stage, but the night before their set, Detroit DJ Seth Troxler refused to play his set at the Robot Heart Bus – Burning Man’s most infamous stage. Thankfully for the festival’s organizers, Skrillex and Diplo just happened to be hanging out on their bus with nothing else to do at the time, and they agreed to take over Troxler’s set.
Sounds like a pretty good story, right? Too bad it’s not over yet.
Skrillex’s set was well received, but things took a harsh turn for the worse when Diplo jumped on the decks and decided to play DJ Snake & Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What.”
Turns out the decision was not a good one.
The crowd immediately started booing, and Diplo and Skrillex were ushered off the stage before they could finish their set.
Ouch. Pretty embassassing.
But here’s the thing: Is Diplo going to lay down his turntables and quit DJing over one embarrassing set? Definitely not. And that’s what makes him a real pro.
So keep this in mind: If you’re a DJ, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll have a bad set once in a while. But having a bad set is not what’s going to make or break your DJ career. What will break your DJ career, however, is you deciding to quit after you have a bad set.
Learn from your mistakes but don’t dwell on them. And remember, even the best of us screw up sometimes.
(By the way, Diplo, for his part, later came out and denied the whole thing. But whether or not the story is true, the point remains the same – he’s not dwelling on the bad press or what people think, he’s moving past it and choosing to focus on playing good music instead.)
Want more motivation on how to grow your DJ career? Follow our blog, and be sure to check out our DJ school – we’ve even got video interviews with celebrity DJs who share their tips on what to do (and what not to do) on stage.