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Taking DJ Gigs Outside Of Your Normal Genre

We all too often see DJs on our forums and other online DJ communities asking for advice for an upcoming gig in a brand new genre or style than they normally play. While playing loads of gigs will give you some great experience, it’s also true that not every gig is right for every DJ. Think you’re ready to step out of your comfort zone? Ask yourself the questions inside to make sure you’re prepared.

WHAT’S YOUR DJ COMFORT ZONE?

Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page - photo: Neal Preston“Hi, I’m exclusively a bass player but this Saturday I have a performance playing lead guitar and I was wondering if someone could point me at some music tabs I could use.”

If you ever overhear someone say something along those lines, the first thing out of your mouth should be “why are you playing the gig if you don’t know how to play guitar?” Sadly, many DJs do not always have the perspective to realize that they’re asking the exact same thing when they pose questions like:

“I only play Dubstep but this Friday the gig I have says I need to play House, can anyone help me out?”

There’s an understandable desire shared by most DJs to book as many gigs as possible. However, it becomes a problem when DJs book gigs they’re wholly unequipped to play. Doing so runs the risk of damaging their name, and more importantly it could ruin the experience for the people paying to see the show.

Musical diversity is extremely beneficial to any DJ, and that is not what this article is about. This article is not saying you shouldn’t branch out from your comfort zone or that you should specialize in one particular genre. It simply boils down to this: if you have never played a specific style of music before, the first place you try it out should not be in front of a crowd.

A DJ’S SELF-REFLECTION TEST

In order to make sure you’re ready to jockey an incredible evening, we’ve concocted a few great questions to make sure that this type of gig is right for you. So before you accept a new DJ gig outside of your comfort zone, you should ask yourself a few important questions:

1) Do you have enough time to find a sufficient quantity of music and listen to every song at least once?

It’s extremely amusing as a punter to watch a DJ caught off guard by a track that does something they weren’t expecting. As a DJ it’s far less amusing when your Progressive House set is interrupted with a rap interlude by Eminem because the track you downloaded is actually a mash-up but you didn’t listen that far into the track when prepping.

Not only do you need sufficient time before a gig to get the right amount of music, you have to use that time to get the right kind of music. You should listen to every song as least once before ever playing it out so you know how it’s structured, if there is anything surprising in it, and so you can get an idea of where it will fit in to your set.

If you said no to this question, say no to the gig.

2) Do you have time to get a variety of music so you can properly react to the mood of your crowd?

A good DJ can create multiple sets that sound completely different all within the same genre. When you cram for a gig you’re not prepared for, you run the risk of building a collection that’s at either extreme:

  • Tracks that are too varied and incohesive together
  • Tracks that are not varied enough to deal with a situation where the crowd is not feeling what you’re playing

Seasoned DJs do not stick to preplanned sets when they’re tanking the dance floor. Adaptability is the primary weapon in the DJ’s arsenal and it doesn’t matter how amazing a DJ you are – if you don’t actually have enough music in the style you’re playing to be adaptable, it will catch up to you.

If you said no to this question, say no to the gig.

3) Do you actually know anything about mixing the genre and do you have time to figure it out?

There is a difference between beatmatching and mixing. Just because you can beatmatch something does not mean you will be able to mix it properly.

For example, if you can beatmatch Tech House, you can beatmatch Electro House – but the actual way you arrange and blend your tracks is considerably different between the two. Tech House lends itself to long and intricate layering whereas the build-and-drop nature of Electro House with a greater reliance on vocals means it often lends more to quick cuts and fast blends.

Taking time to listen to some mixes in the genre you’re looking at exploring is a good way to get a feel for how it’s mixed and arranged but nothing beats taking the time to go watch a good DJ in action.

If you said no to this question, say no to the gig.

4) Do you know what’s popular in your local scene and what people will dance to?

The Beatport charts and other common sources of “popular music” within a genre tend to be based on downloads by other DJs and not on actual dance floor appeal. Just because it’s popular with other DJs doesn’t mean the punters in your city will enjoy it. This is especially true when you’re playing a genre with a pre-established audience and local scene – just because you know a lot of great bhangra tracks doesn’t mean you’ll be ready to wow the crowds at Non Stop Bhangra!

Knowing the scene in your city and the type of music people go out to hear is important if you want to make a good impression when you hit the decks. It’s not possible for a single person to follow every scene in a city which is why we tend to specialize in a smaller number of genres for playing out.

If you said no to this question, say no to the gig.

5) If you’re new, do you really want to play gigs you’re not 100% prepared for and possibly ruin your name in your scene?

Putting on my promoter hat for a moment, I can tell you that I’m more likely to consider a DJ for future gigs who says no to a party they know they cannot play compared to a DJ who takes a gig and bombs because they have no idea what they’re doing. Furthering the second scenario, I am more likely to tell other promoters about a DJ who bombed and that they should avoid them whereas if you say no to the gig and tell me what you actually are good at playing I might be able to pass your name to a promoter for whom you would be a better fit.

Consider for a moment Paris Hilton – if she had actually come out earlier this year at her first DJ gig and blown away the world with an incredible set, she could have very easily been headlining festivals around the world based on that performance. Instead, she’s fighting a really bad performance reputation that has defined her career as a DJ (not that we’re especially sad about that).

It’s far too easy for new DJs to fade into obscurity if they don’t leave a good impression early on. Once your name is associated with poor performances it’s extremely difficult to break that stigma.

If you said no to this question, ask yourself, should you take the gig?

DON’T BE AFRAID!

In closing, it’s always good to broaden your horizons and avoid pigeonholing yourself into one niche genre. The secret behind how to do so successfully is by practicing at home before you start accepting gigs that you’re not equipped to play. It is saying no to gigs you are not suited for that will set you apart as a professional.

Nick James expanded his original Reddit post into this full article at our request. Thanks Nick! Additionally, we’re always open to a healthy debate – disagree or agree with some of the questions in this article? Let us know in the comments below! 

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  • Paul Lothary

    My comment to this is that DJing to a niche crowd is a moving target. When the crowd moves on to a different niche in a year, you’ll be left behind and forgotten. The longer you wait to open your mind to other varieties of music, the farther left behind you will be when you’re too old to have the ‘street credibility’ to pull of the current niche and you find your audience aging and those party and wedding gigs will be out of your reach due to your one dimensionality.

  • Jordan Tibbs Timms

    I just get on top of everything i can and if i know the audience then i know what they want.. so for example the girls want some One Direction i have various remixes so i can actually bring it into part of my set apart from if they want the original, the idea on a DJ is to entertain a crowd and what they want goes to be honest so i do what i can to keep the dance floor lively. If i do not know the crowd then i research into the venue or even talk to the venue owners to see what is normally played and i follow that. By keeping on top of different genres allows you to understand more of what different people want. I also try not to hate a specific genre, i might not like it but because i listen to the main artists within that genre i know what people are looking for and that gives mobile DJ the upper hand when playing to a unknown crowd.

    But from a producer/dj that makes house music for example it would be stupid to book a gig that wants hip hop. You are booked to play YOUR music as a artist at the end of the day so if people don’t like it then maybe play around with some other stuff you enjoy and see if that works, but if you have a full dance floor and everyone is having a good time to your own music then you are doing your job well. For mobile DJ’s i think it is a key factor to have a wide knowledge and a library of different music but for producers if you are booked because they want your music then play it, don’t take bookings unless it is clear that you will play what you play…”this is my genre, will it work?”

  • IAmTheHitman

    Man i remember the days of the open format DJ when none of this crap applied and people didnt only play chillstep or brohouse or whatever made up genre is popular nowadays

    • Paul Lothary

      Exactly what I think reading this thread:

  • Tom Wenger

    very useful ! i’ve got my first big big (about 400 people ) in a month and i’m very anxious about that, i’m a multi musician player and i’m searching for something new ! it’s very heard (plus the guy who booked me doesn’t want me to play 80’s :p not cool) thx for those tips 🙂

  • paris hilton is a dj? AWKWARD

  • Djfrankiefiore

    First off I don’t care if you consider yourself house, hiphop, dub step or top forty Dj. My advice is know all genres even if u focus only on one. If you know beats you should be able to blend anything in. Nowadays with technology and software for djs allowing loop effects there shouldn’t be an issue. This business is about risks and taking them. How will u ever be comfortable if u don’t try.

  • orig

    I play a wide variety of DJ styles. From hip hop, electronic and rock or country to even playing in funk bands and rock bands. One thing I’ve learned about preparing is… You’ll never be prepared enough, so you must over prepare. Have a DJ playlist for different genres. Keep in mind that the mood of the night might go in a different direction and that you have to roll with it. I used to practice a certain set for a gig, but I stopped doing that because, unless you’re a DJ act that’s playing your own productions or you’re known for a specific style, You must be able to adapt in a moments notice. I encourage all DJ’s to venture into new genres of music…. You never know it could spark a new sub-genre of music.

  • Hunter

    Produce good music and you don’t have to be held hostage to the whims of the crowd.

  • i didnt know they guys at DJTT were reddit lurkers!

  • santi elena

    just dj music you strongly beleave or get another job!

  • Jeremybastard

    Totally disagree, taking chances, playing outside of your comfort zone and accepting challenges makes you better.

    Reputations are the things people rely on when they don’t have the talent to think on their feet. Sorry. I would never advise a beginner dj to turn down a gig just because they aren’t familiar with the exact style of mixing for the prescribed genre of music.

    I would say, study up best you can and go out there and give it all you’ve got son!

  • I play everything from hiphop, rnb, latin and salsa, to electro and house. It’s fun to poke around different music styles. However I strongly disagree with the intro example of the bass and lead guitar. A fair example would be to play on a bass you haven’t played before…

  • So far, my practice repertoire includes classic house, progressive house, dub step, dnb, jazz, funk and a bit of raga/jungle. I tend to play songs that are popular but add a little something by playing cross genres and experimenting with layering sounds. Haven’t played live yet but I listen keenly to what dj’s are doing and try t emulate and improvise. And of course getting to grips with the tech and trying to experiment with various features. Practice makes perfect, and for me, it’s not about getting out there, but taking time and enjoying the experience. It would be absolutely awesome to be able to walk into a gig and know exactly what you need to do to get people exited about music, even if you don’t have the exact music people are used to listening to.

  • calkutta

    Like all artists…Be it illustration,sculpture,painting,photography,acting…etc.The profession asks for ‘commission’ type works…Draw this,paint that,”photograph these stupid things for our catalogs and we will pay you”.Until you have been around long enough and shown your ‘style’ enough that people book/commission you for ‘your personal stuff’.If one doesnt lend themselves to the variety of tastes and styles or genres.You become what they call a ‘One Trick Pony’…So like any pro at anything,you got to be well rounded-versed in many facets of your chosen artistic field.

  • Shaoba McCoy

    I will say this to some of the fore Menton comments, master four styles of music. As a open format DJ that does not Pre plan my sets, I generally read the crowd for everything. With that said most genres have sub genres or related cousin. For example if I’m spinning dancehall well I better know how to spin soca, hip hop and R&B. I should going through those genres base off the crowd feel.

    I also adivse not to book yourself for 3+ gigs if your just a specialists in one genre. Maybe split the gig with a friend that plays something totally different.

    With today’s technology it’s far much easier to play multiple genres you just need to know the music. I use a cue point system that I developed, which of course I won’t share. Every song is cued up using that system. When I load a song and see an anomaly according to my system, then I know this track has special needs in terms of mixing.

    You have to master the music. I generally load a iPod with music and go for a walk in the park.

    You also have to master different transition techniques ( slamming, eq blends, effects, etc)

    Another good idea is to make your own mash ups to help transitions like have Levels over a soca track loop

    • You have good commentary on this article but why add in ‘of course I won’t share’? This community would not exist if not for others sharing their techniques, people like those at DJTT, who shared their long time developments just to become someone’s preset… and for no money or recognition, but sharing their knowledge to benefit others and to help grow and cultivate this community… These people are the ones who open the doors of innovation and progression, and are probably how you ‘developed your system’… Not trying to say you aren’t a contributor to the controllerism movement, just the ‘won’t share’ comment leaves a bad taste…

    • somethingshaw

      1st time I come across a comment like this here. I don’t think you and your secrets are welcome here; there is no help or usefulness in such attitude.

  • Good article, learning the hard way isn’t fun either it can be really discouraging. Ive had a show where it was mainly latino’s expecting latin rhythems which i have no experience. Played house at the gig expecting good results and they never came. Played some random pisca music hidden in my chest and got way better results.

  • I was kinda’ hoping for a more general help section like the part where Nick James broke down the socially accepted differences between Tech House and Electro House (in part 3). I did find this article useful though.

    • omers

      Hey! 🙂

      Nick here, if there are specific genres you’d like to know the differences between I can certainly break it down, I can also give you some pointers for digging for music in the digital age… I’ll need starting point though, what you play, and what you’re interested in. There are far too many genres to just go general.

      • This is not exactly directed towards you, but I personally would love to some day see an article on DJTT regarding different (sub)genres of current EDM and the dos & don’ts we as DJs should be considering when playing them. I still remember when there was “just” house & techno – granted, it got fragmented very quickly after that 😉

        Personally, I don’t bother myself to much with these things, but … then again, there are very “genre-aware” audiences that can be very unforgiving these days. I still tag most of my songs with umbrella terms like “latest dance (month)”, “floorfillers (venue)”, “worth trying (where/when)”, etc. and I use a lot of other tagging methodologies to help me find the right songs for the right part of an evening…

      • Rhapz

        I am normally a House DJ, but I also spin Hip-Hop from time to time. I’m
        booked for an hour gig in Japan to play Hip-Hop. I’m thinking about
        incorporating pop house (Rhianna, Ne-Yo, Pit-Bull, LMFAO, yeah, you know
        the deal) gradually around 20 mins left.

        In Hip-Hop there is
        cutting on the 1, spin-back, turn table stop, and of course
        beat-matching; however, these techniques for Hip-Hop seem a bit abrupt
        to dive straight into house-ish territory, so I’m curious on how you
        would personally make the transition gradually as possible from 80-90ish
        BPMs to 128 in the semi-related.

        Appreciate the help and good article. Thought about not doing this gig, but I will give it a try in 2 weeks.

        • Rhapz

          *in these semi-related genres

          • Brat O.K.

            It’s a bit late to help you with this, but I can tell you what I like to do when I am transitioning these genres.
            1. I Speed up the genres from 128- up to 140-150 BPM. So I switch from House to Baltimore Club 132-136, to Trap music 140-150, and then switch over to slower hip hop 70-75 BPM

            2. In a House song during the breakdown, with or without Key Lock you can drop down the pitch to 90 BPM. If you do it without key lock, try to descend a full octave (think this is the correct musical word) i.e. the Key C on a piano and play a lower C so the song remains in the same key.
            3. You can set a loop on a catchy part of a House song like vocal hook, and then pitch that down. There’s an example in a mix I did here @ 2:22:00 : http://www.hulkshare.com/tft4dv2qnw1s EX:Listen to Justice’s mix and ‘on to the next’ by Jay-Z

            4. You can set cue points on a song and change the rhythm so juggle 2 or 3 cue points in a house song and do it to the beat of a hip hop song

  • As a mobile DJ, it is very important to put yourself on game on different genres. Especially for Latino house parties where cumbias, merengue, banda, house music, and hip hop(for the younger crowd) is played. I personally think a DJ needs to be versatile in all music because you never know what gigs might pop up. In this day in age one cannot be a one track minded DJ but to be knowledgeable of diff genres. In the end if you play some dope tracks your career will grow.
    Keep on rocking on the free world

  • Flip the skript

    I learned from the start to be open to other genre’s. The more you learn the more you can get booked. I play country nights on Mondays, hip hop night on Tuesdays, and dubstep and EDM on Thursdays. I do agree though, before you play a gig, make sure you study the genre. It’s nice to be open format. And the person who booked you might even ask you to do multiple nights but different genre’s.

    • No offense but based on this you are probably not great any of them. That is how it usually works anyways.

      • Doughboy

        Yeah, the fact that he GETS BOOKED to play 3 nights a week would imply that he’s not very good wouldn’t it…… Errrrrr…… Wait

      • No offense but based on your disqus account, you are a pretty negative and obviously angry person. It’s ok buddy, have a hug.

  • &What?

    I have had this before, turned up for a gig and the person who booked me asked me to play an hour of rat pack era crooner tracks! Then told me she had given every table a piece of paper forthem to list requests of ANY GENRE….having booked me as a house DJ. This was not a good gig

    • Georgio Van Rosenbush

      I guess when some people think of the term “DJ”, they think of someone with an infinite music library.

      • eduardo

        Sooo true! Amen To That Brother

  • What about when you audition for a gig, play your style for 3 hours + and suddenly at the gig they ask you to start playing hip-hop when it’s not what you play or prepared for. Is that normal? It happened to me and I was baffled as to how that could happen.

    I’ve been doing this for a while and I’ve never had some one who hired me suddenly ask me to stop what I’m doing and change, especially when they’ve heard me and understand what I’m about.

    • Usually some slutty drunk girl flashes the manager to get him to consider changing the style of music being played and BAM! The guy who booked you for electro-house now wants you to play nothing but usher and 50 cent.

    • Just to add, 4 beat gets old. Unless you have some electro hop or whatever its considered. Thats usually why they ask for hip hop.

      • That sorta depends on the club. The places I play, and the audience I play to, would never ask for hip hop.

        • Anon

          you must okay at the dopest club of all dope clubs

  • actually googled bhangra… guess, I learned something today! :^)

  • djundertown

    Seems like someone has been reading reddit…

    • omers

      I wrote the rant on /r/beatmatch (xposted to /r/DJs) and I wrote this 😉 One of the editors here contacted me and asked me to rewrite it as an article.

    • Spacecamp

      Yep! Omers’ post was so awesome that I thought he should expand it out for us (see the footnote)

  • awesome article even myself have said no to clubs on second
    life that want me to play something out of my comfort zone , like for
    instance to much heavy industrial music leads to headaches in my case ..
    I mostly work at second life clubs that allow a dj to play a varity of
    music not just one genre