1. Genre and BPM Range
The type of show you are playing will provide the framework of your genre and BPM choices for the night. Some shows leave you to decide on your own what to play, some might need a wide variety of genres and BPMs (i.e. Top 40 clubs), while others might have a very specific genre and style that you need to play (i.e. opening for a well-known producer). You should do a little research into the club you are playing and the other DJs you are playing with to get a general idea of what kind of music will go over best with the crowd.
2. Key Analysis
There are a few different software options for key analyzing your songs. One of the favorites among DJs is a program called Mixed in Key. Programs like this analyze the audio waveform of each track and determine what key they are in as well as their tempo. Results can be displayed in their traditional key form (i.e. A Major) or in a custom system called the ‘Camelot System’ that shows the key as a number and letter combination that is easy for DJs to use (i.e. 1a, 5b, etc.). Mixed in Key gives you the option to write this new info into the metadata of the digital file so that music programs like iTunes, Traktor, Serato, etc. can display it. This information can be very useful when creating playlists and also when you need to quickly throw on a track in a mix without being able to fully preview because you know that it will sonically fit with the rest.
3. Playlist Organization
In a previous article, I discussed creating “smart playlists” in iTunes and how you can integrate them into your DJ workflow. A huge part of learning to how DJ is this type of song preparation that takes place well before you get to the club. You can’t (and some would argue shouldn’t) always play out a set as a rigid playlist. Vibes on the dancefloor can change quickly and you need to be able to adapt to these changes equally as fast. Having all of your music categorized into sub folders of genre, BPM, ratings, color, etc. will help you tremendously in these situations. If you think that you suddenly need to switch from a dubstep song in A minor to a trap song that will fit in key, a little playlist organization can make the search a lot easier.
4. Improvised and Transition Material
One topic that sometimes gets passed over is the issue of having song material that you can use to improvise with and/or transition out of an area that isn’t working. This can take many different forms depending on your personal style. Here are a couple of examples;
- A big melodic wash out without any drums or percussion to give the crowd a break.
- Playable drum kits, synths, or other hardware to break down the flow and give the crowd something tailor-made from your brain.
- A capellas (either from songs or spoken word) to transition between genres and/or BPM ranges.
This cannot be stressed enough; PRACTICE. Practice as much as possible. All of this preparation might not seem like it’s needed on a night where you’re running smooth and everyone is dancing, but nights like these are not common occurrences. Very rarely will you be able to play through a set exactly as you laid it in your iTunes playlist or in the mixtape that you made. Maybe the DJ before you played 3 songs that you were going to play. Maybe there was a fight on the dancefloor and the vibe of the room changed. There will always be unexpected twists and turns, and you have to be ready to deal with them. The best way to prepare for unexpected events is to have a complete handle on all of your equipment and songs so that you can react as quickly as possible.
If you want to learn more about DJing and gear we highly recommend you check out our online DJ School here at Spin-Academy.