How to Set Up in a Club

Many of you out there are new to the game and starting to get gigs with your digital dj equipment. As a few readers have pointed out, frequently that gear does not really mesh well with the bread and butter setups clubs have installed. Showing up and plugging in equipment can be a nerve racking affair to begin with but if there is one thing MORE scary- its your first 30 dj gigs. So, if you want calm nerves and smooth sets with digital dj gear your going to need a game plan.

For the past 5 years I have setup my laptop, sound card and midi gear in hundreds upon hundreds of clubs around the world. From a traditional Tico dance hall in Costa Rica to techno clubs in Berlin, there was always a way to make it work. Here are a few helpful things I have learned upon the way.

First of all,

clubs have gotten much more understanding about digital dj gear. The first time I brought traktor 1.5 into Ruby Skye the sound tech told me “we don’t allow final scratch without 48 hours advance notice” I promptly told him to go jump in the shallow end of a lake. The point is, refuse to take any grief from punters that don’t know anything about your craft. Respectfully explain to them that the setup will be very simple (10 minutes top) and if needed, you would be happy to set up before the club opens. If that does not work, tell him your new fancy dj tech tools vci-100 is going to make his patrons buy triple the normal amount of booze. Look very convinced of this, and he will now allow you to set up anything you want.


1)create a digital dj bag

that keeps all your needed cables inside at all times. Only take them out to setup and and put it right back when you are done. That includes an extra power supply for the laptop. It would be VERY embarrassing to tell you how many times I had to put on a 15 minute mix CD and rush back to the house to get my power supply. Fortunately San Francisco is small.

2)space will be limited

so always pack a laptop stand for your midi gear OR my old standard: a piece of grey foam cut to size. I placed this right on top of the turntables to provide a level, slip proof surface and it worked out quite well.

3)use the CD player’s

RCA cables to get your signal into the mixer. Instead of bringing your own cables, bring 1/4″ to RCA Barrel plugs (if you have 1/4″ outs) and plug the CD lines directly into your sound card. Running cables into the mixer takes 75% of the time and hassle in setting up and is frequently when you have the margin for error.

4)get your sound card

and software up and running before you leave for the club. Then all you have to do is open up the programs without any opportunity for settings to get mixed up.

5)if you can- go to the club

before they open. Especially if this is your first time in the place, getting there early will GREATLY reduce your stress and make you appear much more professional. Call it a “Sound Check” and your an instant rock star. 🙂

6)if sound check is not possible

bring a few short options of pre-mixed music. usually 3-4 songs is sufficient. Then instead of setting up while the opening dj is trying to mix (which is very in-appropriate) you can pop in a CD and take your time after he has exited the booth.

7)don’t drink!

Booze is free and plentiful and may even be your only form of payment. If your new to the game,drinking will only make things even more confusing. At least wait till the end of your set when your in the groove to crack open a Heineken.

8)bring a USB penlight.

The lighting always sucks!

9)now take a deep breath

relax and let the songs play themselves. You will do great.

  • Xian

    Great list! I can’t tell you how many times it sucks when artists don’t know how to setup their stuff right…having the confidence to tell them what’s up makes all the difference in them acting out to you as well…

  • more odour

    a couple of extra things, if you haven’t got around to cutting a piece of foam to size (or using a mario mushroom cushion like i used to in tokyo) most bars/clubs i know use these metal trays in their dishwashers, that just happen to fit perfectly over turntables 😀

    also tbh i don’t agree with the tip about using the cd players cables, as sometimes the dj on after you may want to cue up or start mixing in his cd before you finish, so having a little torch handy for those ‘fumbling around the back of the mixer’ moments can be useful! also, remember to ask whoever is playing if its ok to plug/unplug things. its polite, they may not know you’re playing, so introduce yourself, and be careful! a couple of times i’ve had an rca or even the power pulled out by the previous/next dj setting up…

    other than that, great post!

  • Jay

    [quote comment="1484"]There is hum on apple to….?!?!?!

    its the power adaptor that does it!!

    Remove the Ground on pc and if mac buy a ground lift.[/quote]

    [quote comment=""][…] How to Set Up in a Club – Ean Golden writes: For the past 5 years I have setup my laptop, sound card and midi gear in hundreds upon hundreds of clubs around the world. From a traditional Tico dance hall in Costa Rica to techno clubs in Berlin, there was always a way to make it work. Here are a few helpful things I have learned upon the way. […][/quote]

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Remove the Ground on pc….. That makes no sense but works perfect with a 3 prong adapter!

  • Great tutorial! Never the less, I do have question that was not covered…

    Unlike Ean and most of the users here, I am utilizing Ableton Live 7 for DJing. The only issue I can not figure out is how to utilize my laptop, interface and an analog/digital DJ mixer!!! If anyone has an answer, please help me!

  • Ally

    cool info,

    any1 knows who to set the Cue point on Traktor Scratch Pro please?

  • People should read this.

  • Manalog

    …wow, it's hard not to have a few pints when playing, or turn away a shooter or two from an enthousiastic patron. But yes, I agree, don't arrive at your gig buzzed out of your tree…at leat wait to be well into a groove before hitting the sauce.I must say, I've left a few gigs with a slurred speech and a bit of a wobble. Friends at gigs and happy patrons will do that I suppose! Good tips on setting up though…it's common sense!

  • John

    Great post. On the ground hum issue… here's some things that have worked for me in various situations.

    Keep your laptops power brick far away from any kind of audio interface. I know the macbook pro power supply will cause hum if it's near the serato box.

    If your laptop power plug uses a 3 prong power plug, use a 2 prong adapter to effectively disconnect the ground pin.

    Connect your turntables ground wires to the mixer (happens to the best of us)

  • Hi all, Ive been djing for 17 years and digi jocking with a mac and traktor since 2001. I currently use the audio 8 with traktor 3.3.2 with scratch functionality, along with a Kontrol DJ KDJ 500, does any one else here use the audio8? I often have to let it run for a few mins then unplug and plug it back in otherwise it gets gitchy. anyone get the same? apart from that rock solid – nice site by the way bro.

  • nan

    Just adding up to the advice, as in many other things, making a checklist for a gig works great… It's simple, not time consuming, and works.. if your setup doesn't change that much from gig to gig, you can actually leave it in your gigbag, in a special compartment for it, so it doesn't get lost… It works better if you do it with a week in advance or so… not last minute, but not too far ahead from the gig, just in case some new idea pops up that requires a bit more or less equipment…

  • Dan

    Great tips. Thanks for sharing it.

  • There is hum on apple to….?!?!?!

    its the power adaptor that does it!!

    Remove the Ground on pc and if mac buy a ground lift.

  • Avelin

    Thx again DvlsAdvct! 🙂

  • I like NI's stuff. Skratchworx has an article up right now about how regardless of how good something is the people who bad mouth it will always be the loudest, so just be wary about what you hear.

    I really like the Audio8 as much as I've used it. I haven't had a chance to take it live (yet) but everyone I've talked to has never had a problem with it. I've never used the Audio Kontrol, but sniff around some forums and you'll get a good idea of what the userbase thinks. The NI forum is pretty good with moderation and people.

  • Avelin

    Thx DvlsAdvct…i don't know is it better then M-audio Fast track pro. I want to buy some quality sound card for 200euro's but i dont know what to buy???

  • phil

    Anyone reading this feedback…

    http://uk.europe.creative.com/products/product.as

    Is it possible to use this external soundcard for cue'ing through headphones when dj'ing in Traktor? I'm really struggling to get it to work atm.

  • Great tips. love the foam on the decks idea esoecially. Will use that form now on. Have had much experience of being crammed in at the end of the dj booth! Not any more

  • Avelin… Audio Kontrol 1 is a sound card Native Instruments puts out that can be used with Traktor 3. It can also be used as a recording interface. The Audio8 is the soundcard NI puts out for Traktor Scratch and is generally more used just for DJing. It is also the only way you can use Time Code with Traktor Scratch/Traktor3

  • Avelin

    Can please someone tell me what is Audio Kontrol 1 from Native Instruments??? Is that a sound card for Traktor 3 or what? thx…

  • Matt Holden

    First of all thanks again ean for bringing up another really usefull topic.

    Im just starting out myself and bought a Behringer BCD 3000 about 3 months ago and have been using it with my home pc with Traktor and its been working out great.

    Just about to buy a 13" Macbook next week as i feel im ready to go out and DJ some clubs, have first gig lined up in 3 weeks.

    What id find really usefull is maybe some DJ Etiquette tips like someone touched on in this thread: e.g, the transitions between DJ's is the one i am most curious/nervous about. Making sure that my digital setup dosent screw the rig up when i unplug.

    For Example:

    Coming into the set would the previous dj's last track be on one Line/CDJ and i should be plugging my behringer into the 2nd RCA ready with my track to take over, and viceversa for when i finish my set, would the next dj just be cueing up his track in the spare line. Is this standard practice ?

    cheers

  • ean, i love your blog !

  • I have heard people complain about ground hum but personally "knock on wood" i have never experienced ground hum. Perhaps thats because I have always used a mac? Anyone ever gotten ground hum with a mac?

    Thanks for the compliments guys! just trying to mix some good tunes together and get people groovin.

    On the cd player thing- I have found if you put your sound card right next to the cd player, its very quick and easy to plug the rcas in just before you play your first track and then put them back after your last track. This allows for zero margin for error, as opposed to trying to plug-in new lines running to the mixer.

    If your sound card does not have RCA outputs, thats when you need the 1/4" to rca barrel plugs so you dont have to pack thick 1/4" to RCA cables.

  • p1554nt

    <blockquote cite="#comment-1416">The only time I ever got ground hum was when I used an external USB M-Audio Quattro, so I wouldn't exactly say that you're offering some kind of safeguard there. Lots of things can cause ground hum.

    i have the m-audio sonica theater. never had a hum. sorry to hear that.

  • truenube73

    Thank you for posting this i am a aspiring dj and looking for a good way to make so cash in college i just bought my vci 100 and counting down the days until i get to start mixing, and Ean you are a fucking boss and your music flows like i have never heard

  • The only time I ever got ground hum was when I used an external USB M-Audio Quattro, so I wouldn't exactly say that you're offering some kind of safeguard there. Lots of things can cause ground hum.

  • p1554nt

    <blockquote cite="#comment-1411">I always bring an Ebtech Hum-X to eliminate ground loop, especially because 1/4" to RCA is inherently unbalanced and laptops are notorious for 60Hz hum. The Hum-X is totally worth the money.thats why i use a external usb sound card. no hum what so ever

  • Tnx for the tips Ean. I'm glad that I'm on the right way. Very similar steps and rules I have developed for me too in the first 10 gigs. I usually pack a little baggy of all kinds of converters, half of those fabricated by hand (i.e. single RCA to stereo headphone jack for using one channel for CUEing on the internal soundcard if external fails).

    The charger was forgotten only once so far. 😀

    Now if I would just force myself to finish my midibox controller (weights about 10kg, size of a DJM700/Xone:3D).

  • I always bring an Ebtech Hum-X to eliminate ground loop, especially because 1/4" to RCA is inherently unbalanced and laptops are notorious for 60Hz hum. The Hum-X is totally worth the money.

  • Thx Ean for this great advices. I am new in this too so this stuff really help'd me in some things. keep up the good work… 🙂

    p.s do you have MSN???

  • what about some ground (loop) noize errors?

    had that as well?

  • p1554nt

    also things that help me are as follows.

    use colored electrical tape near the ends of RCA plugs so you know what end goes to what quickly they can be found on the cheap @ a dollar store. us a little tape to have your wires wound up so you don't have to untangle.

    always have something cued up that is not a computer in case system issue. i have used an ipod or an extra cd player.

    bring extra cables, connectors, & headphones. especially 1/4-1/8 inch headphone adapters i go through those like crazy.

    maybe overboard but i bring a driver disk for my soundcard & disks for other odd things. i have seen windows loose drivers for no reason.

    i also try to bring paper & pen so people can write to you instead of talking while you are trying to mix.

    business cards & promo CDs.

    best advise ever given to me was "play for the women. the men will follow."

  • charlie echo

    A word of warning on pulling the RCA's from the CD players, make sure that you discuss this or any other changes you make to the system with any other DJ's that are going up after you. I've had people play before me and completely re-wire the rig, not bothering to tell anyone. If this is your first gig out, screwing up a resident's rig and making them rush to figure out what you changed is an easy way to ensure that you won't be asked back.

  • Ean–

    The tip on the foam is worth its weight in gold, and would have saved me more than a few times. 🙂

    Could you elaborate on #3, using barrel plugs into the CD player? I'm not clear on the routing you are suggesting. Usually I bring good 1/4" to RCA cables and plug into an empty channel on the house mixer, which I leave on that deck for my set to free up the incoming DJ to mix in on any remaining channels. It often *does* mean a pain to set up, but usually means I'm out of the next guy's way with minimal fuss. But anything that simplifies plugging in is hugely welcome.

    I also appreciate your advice to bring a couple of startoff tracks on CD to play during setup. It's easy to get locked into a mentality that the set has to be "pure" in the sense that you're mixing everything, but really, if you have a few opening tracks in mind anyhow, the "opener CD" is a great idea to make the transition easier for the outgoing DJ, help prevent downtime, and give you some breathing room — especially because the CD can be as long as you want, and you can mix in when you're ready.

    Thanks again for the tips!

  • Dj Miesle

    First I want so say that i think that you are one of the best djs ever !!!!

    Last month I bought my vci-100 and I?m excited what things that little controller can do !!!!

    Thanks Ean for your great Site an do your things like you think to do it !!!!

    Dj Miesle