It seems like there’s a playlist for everything out there these days, from the best murder ballads to the best songs for 90’s bachelor pads. Thanks to streaming music services like Spotify and Songza, today’s music listeners are well-versed in the art of playlist browsing and playlist making. Pitchfork has even called playlists the “future of music.” So where does this proliferation of playlists leave DJs? Now that anyone can instantly find a playlist for any type of event, many DJs are left wondering how to get DJ gigs in this already competitive space. If you’re a good DJ, however, there should be no question that you’ll do a better job than a playlist. Here are 3 ways to set yourself apart as a DJ and prove to clients and venues that you’re worth hiring.
You’re a Human Being
The most important (and arguably most obvious) difference between you and a playlist is that you’re a human being, and as such, are capable of understanding human emotions and interacting with other human beings. A playlist doesn’t know how to read the energy in a room. A playlist can’t sort through song requests and separate the good requests from the bad. A playlist can’t get a crowd pumped up by choosing just the right song for just the right moment. These are all things that only you as a real life human DJ can do. Plus, there’s just something about seeing a real human behind a turntable that makes people want to dance more than seeing an iPhone hooked up to a sound system.
Many wedding and event planners looking to save money will recommend that their clients simply load up a playlist and pick a responsible friend or relative to oversee the sound system for the night. This sounds easy at first, but the problem with this approach is that something almost always goes wrong. The wifi cuts out, one of the speakers stops working, the iPhone gets knocked off the table and disconnected, or some other random problem occurs. As a DJ, your job is to be reliable. If there’s a problem with the sound system, you know how to fix it, and you have plenty of backup gear in case something breaks. That’s why it’s important to understand the basics of how DJ gear works before you even think about how to get DJ gigs.
You’re an Artist
A good DJ is more than someone who picks songs and plays them in front of an audience. A good DJ understands the art of how those songs work together and flow into each other. So in addition to playing the right songs at the right time, you can showcase your artistry by executing a killer transition, pulling off a live remix, throwing in some scratching tricks, adding effects to build a track, or playing your own mashup. When’s the last time you saw a playlist do any of those things?
If you want to know how to get DJ gigs in the age of playlisting and iPhone DJs, you need to understand the value of what you bring to a situation. As a reliable, artistic, human DJ who understands human emotions and knows how to read a room, you can create about a thousand times more value for an audience than a playlist can. All you need to do is keep building your skills so you can continue to offer value to anyone who hires you.
So you understand the basic philosophy of how house tracks are built, you’ve mastered some basic moves, and maybe even learned some advanced house DJ tricks? You’re on your way to becoming a great house DJ, but before heading out on the dance floor, you need to answer one more crucial question: which songs are you going to play? House music is all about flow and energy, so even if you have the best moves in the world, you’ll fall on your face if you don’t understand how to plan a house DJ set that makes people want to dance. Here’s what you need to know about song selection and set planning before you play a house DJ set.
To Plan or Not to Plan?
Discussions surrounding how to plan a house DJ set can get controversial pretty quickly; some people will tell you that you need to plan your whole set from start to finish to avoid messing up in front of everyone, while others will tell you that any type of planning equates to cheating. So how much planning should you do? The answer will depend on your personality and how you like to work as a DJ.
Most people will find that planning a whole setlist from start to finish feels stale, while improvising the whole time leaves too much up to chance. A good middle ground approach is to choose a number of potential songs for each set, and organize them into groups that work well together. These might be songs in the same key, songs with a similar energy level, songs at the same bpm, or songs with some other common denominator. Then, rather than planning every single song back to back, you can plan when to move from one group to the next, and then pick different songs from each group every night depending on how you’re feeling.
Start Out Slow and Strong
To figure out how to plan a house DJ set that keeps people dancing from start to finish, you want to plan a set that helps people ease into the music, rather than hitting them over the head with a huge track right out of the gate. Start at a lower tempo (less than 120 bpm) to help people get warmed up, and pick something with a strong bassline and kick drum to get the blood flowing through people’s bodies.
Follow the Room Energy
If you plan your set around groups of songs, you’ll be able to shape your set around the energy in the room. If people are looking tired, switch to a slower song or two to give everyone some breathing room. Because house set are meant to be smooth, you’ll want to move in small increments. So rather than switching from a song at 126 bpm straight to one at 112 bpm, move a few bpm at a time. The idea is to keep people dancing and not leave room for anything to take them out of the moment.
Work in Arcs
To determine how to plan a house DJ set with the most impact, it helps to think about several arcs happening at once. First you have the overall arc of the set, which should slowly build up to a peak, before taking some time to cool off after the climax. You can also have smaller arcs within the set where you move from a lower energy level to a higher energy level, or vice versa. You’ll also have mini arcs that occur within each song. These arcs are all about taking people on a journey. For a successful house set, you’ll want to take people on a journey within each song, from song to song, and from the beginning of the set to the end.
Want more tips on how to plan a house DJ set? Check out our blog series on Picking Music for Your DJ Sets, or learn about where to look great music in our series on Where to Find New Music for your DJ Sets. For a more in-depth look at how to plan a house DJ set, check out our video tutorial on Preparing Your DJ Set, which is available as part of a Spin Academy membership for only $19.95 per month.