Should Warmup DJs Hold Back Or Play To The Crowd?

Almost every DJ has heard the passionate arguments for why opening acts should show restraint and only exist to serve the headliner’s set. But what if they’re wrong? What if opening DJs should play to the crowd and not to the headliner’s personal preference? Read some great alternate viewpoints from experienced DJs in today’s article from guest contributor Steven Maude.

The Traditional View On Opener DJs

This article is supposed to be about warm-up DJs, but the more I think about it, the more pointless it seems. There’s a prevalent “shared wisdom” out there that says the role is well-defined:

It seems that everyone agrees: warm-ups should know their place and stick rigidly within that set of well-defined boundaries. With these ideas so commonly propagated, sometimes with outright hostility towards warm-ups, seems like my job’s easy: agree completely, hit submit, then watch the likes, retweets and page views roll in. OK, thanks for reading!

In Defense Of Warmup DJs Playing To The Crowd

Hold on, wait. There are some dissenting voices too. Sometimes even influential DJs, in their own words, “stand up for the little guy”. Being in the business for longer than many DJs have been alive, Fabio and Grooverider are two of the most important DJs in crafting the sound of UK jungle and drum and bass. So, when they talk, it’s not just entertaining, but often an education. Their discussion about warmup DJs (skip to 1:40:00 in the above Soundcloud player) is worth taking the few minutes to listen to as they fire off several arguments that go against this grain:

1. Big name DJs usually start out as warm-ups

Of course there’s the odd exception where an unknown producer unleashes a hot new track, bumping them to the top of the bill (regardless of whether they have any DJ credentials). Otherwise, just like Drake, most DJs start from the bottom.

How are competent DJs meant to progress beyond an opening slot, unless they somehow stand out? Maybe you have a producer sideline and can hope that your talent on that side, along with some luck, will eventually bump you up the bill? If not, then it’s your DJ performances alone that will make you. Or not. As Fabio says:

“You get your chance… you got to take it, it’s simple as that.”

2. Why stop the warm-up from playing big records?

If this is the dancefloor when a warmup DJ is playing, then big tracks aren't appropriate. (photo credit: Marcelo Páez Bermúdez on Flickr)
If this is the dancefloor when a warmup DJ is playing, then big tracks aren’t appropriate. (photo credit: Marcelo Páez Bermúdez on Flickr)

Fabio and Grooverider are not impressed at the idea that certain records shouldn’t be played by the warm-up either, just because they are too big. Prescribing what anyone should or shouldn’t play doesn’t seem right to me either.

If the warm-up DJ’s competent, they’ll know what’s right or wrong for the moment themselves. No hand-holding required. Of course, playing big tunes while the dancefloor’s empty would seem odd. But what about later in the set, if the moment happens to be right? It’s the context at a specific instant that’s all-important, and not following dogmatic rules.

Plus, if you are a headliner, aren’t you going to have the bigger records? Grooverider puts it more combatively:

“If you’re going into a party and playing the same tunes as a warm-up DJ, you should be a warm-up DJ too.”

You could say that the main act’s tracks should be certainly off-limits, and you’re obviously not going to make friends with anyone doing something like this:

But, if the headliner’s had a long, illustrious career, maybe a warm-up asking to play one or two of their older tracks isn’t an awful idea? It certainly makes for a nice segue into the headliner’s set. Surely working with the warm-up rather than battling against them is a better way to go?

And, even then, so what if the warm-up completely screw up and play a bunch of big songs? Grooverider is straight to the point on this:

“what, you can’t find another twenty tunes to play?”

3. The headliner is in the main slot only because they are great performers

 “If you’re a big DJ getting X amount of pounds for an hour’s session, how are you fearing the warm-up DJ?”

A warm-up can make a headliner’s job easier, but a big name should be able to professionally cope with the unexpected, otherwise why is their name up there?

The worst cases where the warm-up manages to pull off a major faux pas and ruin what the headliner has planned, yes, that’s a bad move, but the headliner should have the talent and experience to brush it off and get the show back on track. Sometimes with more theatric productions with advanced visuals and lighting FX this might be more difficult – but for most situations with an opening DJ, you’re going to be in a club or traditional venue, not a festival stage.

Plus, a lively warm-up set might actually push the headliner to perform an even better set, and not perhaps sitting back a little. Again Grooverider makes the apt comment:

“I want the warm-up DJ to be smashing it out, because it makes me have to go and do my job.”

So What’s An Opener DJ To Do?

Photo credit: Rasmus Andersson on Flickr.
Photo credit: Rasmus Andersson on Flickr.

Personally, if the warm-up takes some risks and succeeds, then I’m interested in what they’re doing in future, am going to be more hyped for the headliner and am more likely to have had a more enjoyable night. Everyone’s happy. No-one loses.

Not all club nights have to adhere to the same rigid schedule of progressive buildup through the night to the headliner. The idea of a journey, ebb and flow, tension and release is often mentioned when discussing programming DJ sets. Why can’t that happen over the course of the entire night, providing it’s curated properly?

For small, intimate shows, I’ll concede that slowly creating the right atmosphere is absolutely crucial. Nonetheless, compare that to larger events with multiple rooms, or festivals, perhaps even spanning completely different genres of dance music. Then, it’s harder to consider a show as hermetically sealed. People are wandering in and out all the time and may not have any idea of what’s gone on before or any expectation of what’s to follow.

Opening DJs undoubtedly do have a role, but one that’s perhaps more fluid than is often regarded. And like this great Resident Advisor article states, they certainly deserve more than they are often given.

One of the best summaries came from DJ Shiftee – who shares in an interview a great thought that takes into account the demands of everyone involved, clubgoers and promoters, warm-ups and headliners:

“If you don’t turn heads with your set, what was the point?… stand out, but do so appropriately!”

Header photo credit: Rene Ehrhardt on Flickr

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  • Aj Reddy

    One thing I learnt as a DJ. If you outshine or outperform the headliner, you don’t get gigs. Its an old boys mafia network. Know your place. Don’t make the headliner look bad. Its not about playing the biggest songs or the latest. If your music and your choice and your style and your technique is better than the headliner, you are not making any friends or getting any gigs.

  • Stephen Nawlins

    Friend of mine had to open for a here (Switzerland) more or less wellknown House DJ (Mr. DaNos)
    He made the crowd boiling that much, that the promoter come and told him to Switch to Slowtime for the last 1/2h before the main act would start. because that one was going crazy in backstage when he saw how hot the crowd already was.
    As the Event is the main Event for him every year since 10 years he made it afraid of losing his future bookings.
    Really Poor Main Act

  • ithinkmynameismoose

    Hey , new format. I like it. Nice and clean.

    I like the article as well. Nice to see a new opinion on the opening act.

  • Joshua Giron

    I understand that most events require some restraint on opening DJ sets, but how can you DO YOU, if you cant BE YOU!? The crowd aint going to see who you really are. Im hard-headed myself, ill drop nasty dub at a club, because its just me. If no one likes me for my style of music, then maybe I wont make it to the big shots, but if I do succeed, then im just happy to be myself!

    comin from maui, hawaii!
    – BLKSHP

  • Duben Defresh

    i just will say. promoters and club owners needs to know the warm up dj if his style fits the headliner. I don’t mind being a warm up dj or pre headliner dj but i do and always will do my thing and make the crowd have fun without going over the top. If the headliner is a Electro EDM style dj don’t put a D&B dj to warm up or a techno dj to warm up. You’ll be surprised to know that this things happen more often than you think. (Sorry for my bad english).

  • Max Bunt

    ahha so my main problem would be i have no old stuff yet because im not a dj for very long. arent people comming to hear a dj for his taste in music. for the filter of music he provides? shouldnt it be unimportant what a dj plays befor him? i find it strange that there are people who worry about this but imho they wont get far in this buisness.

  • BDD

    I’ll preface this by saying that I’m not a DJ, so I don’t know how I’d treat certain, specific situations if I faced them. That being said…

    Openers should play whatever they want. If a big-name DJ (or whomever) is following, I’d ask that DJ what tracks they were playing (if they were anywhere to be found, and “available” to coordinate with beforehand), in order to avoid playing the exact tracks they had on their list. Although I can imagine that, even if you could actually track them down prior to the show, they probably wouldn’t– in most cases– be willing to tell which tracks they were gonna play. If they did name specific tracks, and they were publicly available, I’d definitely NOT play those. Outside of that, like Fabio said above, “You get your chance… you got to take it, it’s simple as that.” If you open for a big name DJ, THAT IS YOUR CHANCE to make a name for yourself. To hell with chumps who try to tell you to be “that guy” who plays that weak little set before “the man” comes out. Again, I’d ATTEMPT to coordinate which specific tracks the guy was planning on playing, and stay away from those– but outside of that, play whatever you think will help YOU further YOUR career (or whatever). Let (insert-DJ-name-here) actually WORK to keep his already-acquired ‘fame and fortune’. Don’t let the big name guy prevent you from getting to where he already is, just to make his night easier.

    Some of the big-name guys might end up hating me, but there’s no way I’d be a submissive b**ch, and intentionally sabotage MY FUTURE by playing weak stuff, just to make the night easier for the world-famous, filthy-rich guy who’s following me (and who honestly has plenty of ‘competition-related’ incentives for keeping you from getting “famous” in the long run). YOU should always DO YOU– and look out for YOURSELF, first and foremost. That’s what ANYONE who tells the warm-up DJ what they’re “allowed” to play is doing…

  • Cosmo0

    I have a question. how does a warm-up DJ can be a headliner DJ if he can’t play “huge” songs?

  • detroitologist

    There’s no gray area between art and commercialism. You either sign up for the dog and pony show and then wait for you turn to jump through a hoop of fire or you do what your gut tells you. There’s a huge distinction between what has become the “music industry” version of dj’ing and IDM and what the house and techno party culture was like before the sale of the culture. That’s just the history of music in general. For the scene in Detroit in the 90’s dj’ing was first about making a party atmosphere where you could leave the shitty conditions of daily life behind and it was also about bringing out individual artists who become the ones who have the great ideas, make the night what it is, and have the creative control over the crowd, not some unrelated person who is just the one putting their hands around the pile of money at the end of the night. The way
    any art form works – doesn’t matter if you are talking about design, architecture, art, music – is a culture is created and that spreads around until it finally grows big enough for industry and commercialism to come in and sink its talons into whatever it can for as long as it can and then it moves on to the next trendy thing when the well starts to dry up. If you follow the the program then the concept of a warm up dj is a part of the show. The majority of modern life is formulated and that’s just a huge majority of reality. What side of the mushroom we munch into is our own choice Alice. I’m personally a dj who, like the dj’s I learned from who just gave a damn about dj’ing and the music, would bang the shit out of whatever equipment and crowd that was placed in front of me.

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  • Donovan Vega

    I recently went to see Michael Brun play at Temple in San Francisco a few months ago. The opener for the night, DJ TripleXL (if I’m not mistaken), did a fantastic job IMHO. I arrived relatively early by nightclub standards (10:30pm) so I was able to see the dance floor go from 5 people to jam packed with a good hour left before the headliner came on.
    I listened and watched as he effectively brought people to the dance floor playing a mix of groovy house tracks mixed with some awesome remixes of popular Top 40 tracks. It was the familiarity with the “radio hits” that initially got the crowd moving and singing along, resulting in the dance floor getting very crowded, very quickly. Once the floor was full, he started to “turn up the heat”. Big Room bangers and Progressive anthems became completely appropriate and the crowd was going nuts. The setup was perfect.
    By the time Michael came in, the crowd was primed to turn up.
    Now, I would wager that the majority of the people there that night were familiar with Michael’s tracks and style of his sets and knew what to expect; the opening DJ was clearly one of them. There were plenty of “peak hour” tracks played during the opening set, but they were used strategically and to ultimately get the crowd to a certain energy level prior to the headliner. A true sign of a professional in my opinion.
    In reading the comments on this thread, I think the majority of them all have valid points that I may agree or disagree with, but I think it all depends on the situation. There’s no “right” way for every scenario. Know the headliner, feed off of the crowd, and have fun. Thanks to all of you for your opinions and experiences and thanks to DJTT for a great article.

  • Stephen Nawlins

    Normally I always Play all night Long allone no opening no closing DJs.
    I’ve been asked once to be Opener and Closer for another guy and been asked not to Play Top Songs…My Answer was “I can hold back the Songs if I get a Playlist of the Main Act, if not I’ll Play my style and my selection and don’t give a Sh**!!!”
    As they couldn’t get a List of “No Goes” I made my Thing, Main Act came 1h before his Set and congratulated me like “Great Job, I really Like what you Play” I apologized for not giving a Sh** on what he Plays and he told me “Hey Dude we both wanna have a good time why should I be upset?”
    This was a really cool reaction

  • Michael Thex Corley

    My first reaction is “the 80;s called, and they want their show format back” … the concept of a “warm up dj” really only applies to settings where there is a single “headliner”, a homogeneous music format, and an expectation that the majority of the crowd is there primarily to see the “headliner” … that really hasn’t been my experience over the last 5-7 years of attending or playing at electronic dance nights… and especially recently the push seems to be towards multi-genre nights to try and garner the greatest possible appeal and turnout… so the whole idea of “warm up” goes out the window entirely… how is a trap dj going to “warm up” the crowd for a hard dance, or uk hardcore dj? To me, it makes more sense to think of it in as a series of “one man shows” and if the promoter/planner is doing their job right, the proper sequencing of the dj’s/genre’s provides for a natural progression throughout the night … I know though, if I am paying $20-$100+ for a night of music and dancing, I want ALL the dj’s to bring it… not just the one they are paying the most money to…

  • Holiday

    I’m primarily a Techno DJ now so I don’t have “hits” to hold back, therefore do not face the issues opening DJs who play more popular dance music have to deal with. I do however remember being an opener at a gig and being begged by the audience to play some hard, full-on Techno, to which I declined as to not cast a shadow on the headliner. Big mistake, a lot of the crowd just left the club. On the flip side a lot of the time (at least where I live) no one is even around to hear the opening set. You get noticed for 15 minutes just before the next DJ and that is it. An opening slot at best is an opportunity to hone your craft because if you mess up no one is really around to notice.

    At any rate, these days for me if no one is around I’m not going to play floor killahs, If people are around and they want to dance during my set I’m going to bring my A game and the DJ after me is gonna have to do the same. Often as an opener I wish I could play Dub Techno (cause I love Dub Techno) to a crowd and they’d be into it and dance and it wouldn’t even be a consideration of mine as to whether or not I was dropping killer 130 BPM Techno tacks.

  • Gemini Boi

    Try opening up for Kid Capri…. He lets you know not to play anything that’s hot. Nothing!!!! Because he says he’s going to play it.

  • DJ Rodrigo Costa

    Like all things in life, I believe that achieving balance is what counts. The main dj needs the opening dj and vice-versa. To be honest any good DJ can do both. The most fun I have had is when I have had to start with an empty dancefloor, do the right things to get it filled up and then when the momentum is there, bring it home and make the party explode into the early hours of the day. That is what being a good dj is about imho…

  • Chris

    first track have to be awesome and fresh for the crowd
    if nobody is listen, you have some problem with your own taste

  • Be

    Wouldn’t it be nice if opening DJs played ambient music?

    • some do.. and if they do good , no one in the crowd will be unpleased

  • kebzer

    There’s only 1 rule for warm-up DJs: don’t play any of the headliner’s own songs (if he has any of his own). Besides that, any warm-up DJ should do his thing no matter what. (Some DJ said this but I can’t recall the name) If he smashes it, then it’s the headliner’s problem to keep up. If he can’t smash it also, then he shouldn’t be a headliner in the first place.

    I agree with that 100%. Any DJ in any proper gig is commissioned to demonstrate his craft, be it headliner or warm-up, and he should do it with no hold backs.

    • Jose Hinojoza

      I agree with that! If the main act is getting paid all this money and can’t even keep up with the opener. Then her/she doesn’t deserve the pay or hype that is behind there name.

  • Jørgen Jonassen

    i remember for 2 years ago,i played a warm up set for robbie williams, i was playing deep house nad some other mashed thing,it works very well if you find the right vibe,just have 2 songs to test the people in the place to see the reaction

  • Scott

    A real DJ should be able to hold his own, no matter when he gets on first or last. If you know the craft it should not matter. Pay attention to your crowd, and adjust your set accordingly. I was taught a dj speaks with his hands. I have applied this since I started in 1980. To this day i still travel all over dj’n. These radio dj’s come to dj parties, can’t get the crowds into it their cursing for what??? and the local dj has the floor jumping. You go figure and the local dj is the warm up and finising guy cause the headliner can’t cut the mustard… just my opinion…

  • David

    I’d recommend bringing something new to the table. Your own tracks can light up the dance floor, especially when it’s the first EDM they are hearing that night makes it more memorable. Branding is important as a DJ and what better branding than having your name plastered on covers, tracks and on consumer devices? The only issue is, can you produce music? If not, then there are plenty of music producers for hire sites like Producer Factory – http://producerfactory.com – it makes sense if you want to get known and build a strong following. A DJ can’t do everything they are expected to, so team up and network yourself to …

    A: Get a warmup DJ booking.
    B: Make an impression on a crowd.

    In the end, it’s business and every business needs to invest.

    • That is all what it is not about to be a DJ! LOL

  • Duckie DigDoug

    always play to the crowd or you’ll always just be a warm up DJ.

  • Anton.a1

    I lot of good points here on both sides of the discussion. I feel that the main point for having the warm up DJ hold back a bit is:

    – He shouldn’t try to ‘steal the thunder’ of the main invited artist; asking the warm up DJ to play something different and relatively restrained ensures a logic flow of energy and a peak at the right time, pacing the night and giving it somewhere to go, as well as keeping the dancers in the game but not burning them out. I always see the dance floor as a fire. Burn it too hot too fast and all the wood will be gone. Not enough oxygen or heat and it starts to die. If, as Goldie and company are pointing out, there is ample music out there for the headliner to choose from and to play, the same can be said of for the warm up artists. They have ample choice, so why play the same songs the headliner is known for unless it’s for ego inflating glory and thinking you just showed how amazing you are?

    On the other hand, a good DJ will always read the crowd (something rarely done these days) and give them a rise when required.

    Put it this way: you’re back in the 2000’s and paying good money to see Radiohead live. Do you want an opening playlist or live act before the show starts that is going to blow your socks (and your ears) off? Or do you want something, subtle, entrancing, and flirtatious that creates anticipation and holds a promise of what’s to come?

    It’s not rocket science. And anyone who says otherwise is, perhaps, just another product of our new ADD oriented culture.

    • Dan White

      “Put it this way: you’re back in the 2000’s and paying good money to see Radiohead live. Do you want an opening playlist or live act before the show starts that is going to blow your socks (and your ears) off? Or do you want something, subtle, entrancing, and flirtatious that creates anticipation and holds a promise of what’s to come?”

      I saw Radiohead twice in the 2000s, both at large music festivals, and saw acts immediately before (and all day long) that were incredible and didn’t hold back. I just don’t buy the idea that the “vibe” of a performance is negatively impacted by other performers going all out at other points in the night.

      • Anton.a1

        Looking at the posts they seem pretty divided…no surprise really, as each person brings their own character and experience to the discussion.

        • Huge Endkins

          If people are up for it then bang it off! I don’t want to go to a club night and listen to shit for 2hrs before the main DJ gets on. I want to party all night to awesome and exciting music, if the main DJ can’t keep up then they’re shit.

          • Anton.a1

            I hear you….I don’t really think it’s about playing bad music though. It’s more like a tried and true approach that just works, whether it’s for preparing and serving an amazing meal, sex, or any number of examples. You don’t serve the main course first. You keep the intros delicious and teasing. Same goes for volume. You don’t want to start off at max volume and kill everyone’s ears too early in the night.

            It’s about starting the intensity of the night (both volume wise and song wise) at an intentionally lower point in the curve to give the night somewhere to go. If you do that, then you give your warm up DJ the chance to build up towards something. People feel when a set is building towards something, and people usually prefer to feel that it’s building up rather than building down.

            So basically it’s about building sustainable momentum. Good DJs often do that in their longer sets too: breaking it down after a sustained peak to start a fresh wave.

            Of course if everyone one wants to go bananas right away, what are you going to do? Your job is to read the crowd and give them what they want, but also to educate them a bit and give them what they need (which is not always the same thing).

            And of course, everything depends on context: where are you playing? What time of day? etc. etc. If you’re playing at some UK festival where everyone is off their face 24/7 it will not be the same as playing at a club somewhere where everyone shows up late.

          • Huge Endkins

            I agree with what you say to a certain point, tempo is really fucking important. never ever drop the tempo or you kill the energy in the room for the whole night. Seen it a million times, even done it a few. I’m a festival DJ these days so it matters less than when you’ve got heavy footfall (although you can never play it hard enough at a festival, they fucking love it!). But it’s about having the right DJ in the right place, I would never book a DJ who fucking nails it and ask them to play anything other than what they excel at. Again, I know some good djs who play it lighter and I’d never put them on after a banging DJ. I think the idea of warm up djs is a bit naff, everyone has their place and a place for everyone. A good programmer puts the right people in the right place. Simples 😉

  • killmedj

    Some interesting points. Back in the day as a warm up DJ I just didn’t have the “Big”tracks the touring guys had anyway. (pre-internet) so you’d play to the room with what you had, mindful not to drop bomb after bomb of course. You could play some known tracks because you knew the Headliner was gonna rock up with so dope white labels, that you totally won’t have. Obviously that’s much harder now. so I can understand “Don’t Play’ lists etc. Also if the warm up Dj really “is” playing to the room they’ll read that the crowd just getting warm, and will need to be massaged into the vibe. But if the crowd is ready and rockin’ you gotta roll with that too.

  • DeejayBishop

    This is hilarious. I not a big dj but i have opening djs for me often, and the open djs are scared to play new music. So i ask him why are you playing all this old stuff? he reply im saving the good stuff for you. i laugh and said “do you, play what ever you want”. Its to much music in the world to worry about the hot top 20 songs, plus i got tons of remixes that i can later of them same songs. So to me if you are a opening dj, do you this is your time to shine. Now keep in mind if you out shine that pro dj he might not let you open up for you again lol. Open djs help me set the vibe and let me get a feel for what lane i should go in.

    • Jose Hinojoza

      I tip my hat to you sir. The clubs need more level headed main acts like yourself.

      • DeejayBishop

        thanks sir

    • Kevin

      Perfectly put man, absolutely the best way to approach the situation. You definitely have the right mind set. Cheers

  • midiman

    the warm up has to step back when a “star” is in the house. the headliner is booked to do something special , everything has to be perfect in the 1-2 hours he plays. thats what the club owner pays for. headliner have a setlist. the list does not work anymore if the warm up plays half of the headliners songs . the warm up is the warmup. the nobdy who has to fill the gap before and after the headliner plays. you are a warm up and you dont like that? so earn the right to be the headliner and make a killer track! i am one of those nobodys to and i am perfectly fine with the fact that it is not my day when a guest is in da house.

    • Jerr1233

      This right here is the problem with the club scene. Headliners are no longer the best and baddest DJs who have crafted their DJ skills over years. No they are producers who managed to get a hit track out and can only play a set list. So if the DJ before them plays something in that set list, they can’t improvise and then they bitch and moan. At that point, they should just do what a band does and give the opener their set list and say, don’t play these 20 songs and let the opener do their thing.

      A headliner DJ “SHOULD BE” somebody that can play a whole night by themselves or step in a blow the roof off with a one hour set. If you can’t do both of those things then you need to get back to working on your skills as a DJ.

      • jgu9o3i

        ^So much this.

      • midiman

        do you really think a headliner should be/is a better dj than the resident? I say NO! They are not better! But they earned the right to be headliner with their hits they produced! Avicci is a horrible dj with absolutely NO dj skills! But he is the guy wo produces the magic in his studio! He is the one who makes people lots of money to come to the gig! If you sell the tickets , you are the king. If you are a good local dj but only in your area and you are not famous you dont desereve to take away the best tracks from the main act. If you look at the setlist of any festival you dont see anything special in the top djs list. Any resident can do this but if YOU dont have the beatport hit and you are not famous just step back you did not earn it. In real life dj skills mean absolutely nothing.

        • Felipe Zona

          This is maybe the worst comment I have ever read

    • Chris Wunder

      Do you hear yourself right now?^

    • briandear

      A setlist? See that’s where you lost me. Simple rule: don’t play the headliner’s productions. Other than that they can take their setlist a and shove it up.. My point is that crowds are all different a DJ should both lead the crowd and follow it. Set listing shows is disrepecting the crowd. If you are a producer you of course want to showcase your productions, but actually having a setlist? That’s like pre-recording your side of a conversation with your girlfriend.

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  • eugene

    As a warmup DJ your job is to flirt with the crowd, not have sex with it. You are teasing and getting the crowd comfortable, not stripping it of it’s clothing and stuffing your tongue down it’s throat. It is the newer/younger dj’s that should learn how to warmup a crowd, not only as a “warm up dj” but also when you are solo or a headliner and want to create a mood/atmosphere. Treat playing music as a dj as an “art”.

  • noxxi

    nothing worse than somebody telling you what to play or how to play it

  • gigglekey

    I think being the opener is freeing, because you don’t HAVE to play Where Are You Now or whatever ear bleeder is popular, or stick tightly to the show’s theme. You’re free to cross genres and play really good, interesting songs: head nodders. You can build up to a banger once or twice over an hour, and keep things funky, without ending your set with nonstop bangers.

    It’s just rude to the next guy, because he either keeps going with super high energy tracks, or have the crowd be slightly mad at him for lowering the energy, and bitching about it while they go to the bar. Besides, if you’re playing radio top 10 or Beatport top 25 at the start of the night, odds are the next guy was going to play those same tracks, because *of course*, and now he’s got to rethink his set.

  • Dennis Olivieira

    Depent on how much people are in the club/party on that moment. You can play to the crowd, but keep it easy so that the headliner can do his thing after you. Also a thing that is not done if you play the headliners tracks are remixes if he play after you. Let the maker of those tracks play his own tracks. Thats is how you pay respect of the headliner.

  • Anshuman Accanoor

    I don’t know why people think low of being a warm up or an opening DJ. I feel, as a DJ, if you’re asked to warm up or open for another DJ, it is an honor. The DJ you’re opening or warming up for is surely someone who has accomplished a lot in his or her career. Doing a good warm up set, or a good opening set, could make your career as a DJ. Doing it wrong, could break it too.

    It is important to find a good mix, as a warm up or opening DJ. A good mix between playing the right kind of music and playing to the crowd. It is vertu important to know what the main act will be playing. If possible, ask what the main act would like you to play, to set the mood. Play what is expected of you, and the organizers and the headliner are happy. This is where you can be a little experimental and play to the crowd. As a warm up or opening DJ, it is your duty to get the crowd to the dance floor. It is, though, not your job to make them go crazy and dance to the big tracks. Set the mood right, and you’ll get more gigs to open, to warm up, and eventually move up the order. You can’t directly jump up, I don’t think that’s a good approach. If you’re able to move up the order, you become a more complete DJ.

    You don’t want the crowd to be tired by the time the headliner come on, you want them ready to explode.

    Warm up DJs and Opening DJs are a lot more important than everything thinks. People don’t realize the impact a good warm up/opening DJ has.

    So, I say it is important that a warm up/opening DJ plays the right sort of music. If possible, ask the main act what they’d want you to play. Also, it’s OK to play to the crowd, but don’t go overboard. Stay within the limits. Experiment a bit to bring in the crowd, and then let the main act take it to the next level. You’ll feel amazing when you see where the main act takes it, because you know that you contributed towards it in a way.

    In other words, I think a warm up or opening act is like foreplay. A good foreplay gives a good climax. Bad or no foreplay is not a good experience. A climax without a good foreplay is not much fun either.

    So, warm up DJs and opening DJs have a very crucial role in making the evening a memorable one.

  • I believe there is no such thing as “Warmup DJ”.

    We may talk about a DJ choosing some tunes which is appropriate for the moment. In my perspective DJ has to create an atmosphere.

    It’s so cliche to share this saying “DJing is not about choosing a few tunes. It is about creating shared moods; its about understanding the feelings of a group of people and directing them to a better place”, but It perfectly fit to this “warmup dj” topic.

    If you look from this perspective everything is so simple; you can choose the right tunes, right volume level, even right EQ settings, to create a great “warm up” atmosphere.

    Which makes you a “great DJ” not a “Warmup DJ”.

  • deejae snafu

    warm up DJs should not intentionally upstage the main acts by playing music they know will be played and stuff like that, but every DJ should be doing their best to make them moment memorable for the crowd. this means bringing your A game every set. the crowd does not deserve a mediocre set from the warm up act , just so the main act can save face. if the main act is getting upstaged by the warm up act, just by the warm up act doing their normal thing….then this speaks on many levels about the abilities of the main act. as a headliner it is your main job/responsibility to be the one wowing the crowd and this means putting in work. the problem comes when big names stop being hungry, stop putting in the time to wow the crowd and expect everyone to pick up the slack and make them look good. they want the sound guy to play the warm up act on half the system so the main act sounds bigger and they want the warm up act to play their B material, so people stay bored until its headliner time. IDGAF about any business priorities of the label, or the acts themselves.. if you want to be a headliner, you must simply be amazing , always……the crowd deserves A game from everyone. not a carefully arranged shit show that puts a sub par artist on a pedestal.

    my .02

    • Aj Reddy

      the best response so far.

  • I always hold back and mix eclectically. Pretty much trying to impress other dj’s in the crowd at that point. I love warm up sets. I actually like holding back because playing bangers for the crowd gets old sometimes.

  • Dubby Labby

    Stars shine without condition.
    Silence and darkness has their own place in the sky.

    -Haiku.

  • Doug

    Hummm…interesting opinions…my take on this subject would be that a warm up DJ should bare in mind that his job is to get the punters moving with the right tracks and not going overboard playing like he’s the headliner…as they said “know your place” and that will probably get you more gigs and eventually lead to become a the headliner…

    • Fuller

      Is your friend now a headliner? If not, I’m not sure your story leads to the conclusion that “knowing your place” is all it is cracked up to be. Doesn’t sound like he had a fun night since he was very frustrated… If his restraint led to more and bigger bookings, then he did the right thing. If it didn’t, then he had a shitty night and may have done better for himself if he’d just rocked the crowd…

      • Doug

        @Fuller we all have shitty gigs and the point that I was making is that life can be harsh and having bad nights is just a part of the job… yes, he became a headliner but he decided to have a family instead…we started when we where 20 and now we are in our 40’s…so its not a matter of just talking but experience…

  • qazen

    If the headliner needs the warm-up to keep it low, then he wasn’t as good to begin with. Not even one pro dj ever things about stuff like that. Everyone, who doesn’t know why, simply isn’t as good as they think they are.

    • Dan White

      There are many “pro” DJs that give their openers a long “Do not play” list – what are your thoughts on that?

      • qazen

        Thanks for putting “pro” in quotes. This kind of slipped out of me. What I had in mind was a little more transcendental. I rather thought of a person, who couldn’t care less about anything else but his profession – or even better – his true calling. I do not like this archetypical “DJ-behaviour” and personally despise most “popular” DJ’s attitudes as I (on the way toward being an solely original live act) strive for true musicianship.
        Genres and Track IDs do not exist for me. It is all just audio.

        If you want to please a certain crowd, go ahead and play “their” tracks. If you dig them yourself, you are lucky! Great for you, keep it going!

        Here’s the big BUT. If you actually depend on certain tracks (presumably not your own artistic work) to substantiate your spot as the headliner, then there’s nothing left really, that distinguishes you from your predecessor. Keeping others from playing “your tracks” doesn’t make you deserving of getting paid more. wtf? You shouldn’t even play to feed your privilege or ego or worst, yourself some more money.

        You should play, because you love music and want to share this feeling with as many other individuals as possible. Nothing more, nothing less. If the money comes doing that, fine. If it’s enough to life off of it, even better.
        But not the other way around. Those people are true scum corrupting that pure thing, that is audio.

        BTT: Nevertheless I think the warm-ups should know their place. Cranking levels up to peak hour height and pumping at ridiculous energy levels on high bpms wouldn’t feel appropriate. People, who can’t feel this, are simply not fit for being a DJ. Nothing wrong with that. Though I don’t believe in so called “talent”, everybody can become truly great at something.

        But please ask yourself, what your motivation is to do so.

        What the heck am I talking about here. Stuff like this must be told face to face. I’m rather sure, you misunderstood at least half of it as I just cannot elaborate as deep as I need to on such limited space.

        I am open for any follow up questions!
        Cheers from Germany

        • Thats it! If i am headliner and i want to play those “Do not play” list , then I will do it in an awesome order & performance. If the warm up dj played my entire selection, I am able to play it again, but more exiting, surprising, banging & hittin on the floor … just my way ..

        • Holiday

          For me, I do deep searches finding tracks that I think are winners but that are not well know or haven’t received much attention. I drop tracks and other DJs shoulder surf. There is sooooo much good music out there and a lot gets ignored because there is no big $$$ representation.

      • midiman

        thats just the way it has to be! a warm up can ruin the setlist if he plays all the killer tracks before the headliner.

        • k!D Stress

          Killer tracks are only hot for a brief second so who cares if warm up DJ plays them. If a song is going to move a crowd then it is. As a DJ you should be able to play to the crowd and tell if they are enjoying the vibe you are creating. I am no way a headliner but I do not follow a do not play list and will never. In my opinion it really the DJs that are the ones creating these silly rules because as a dancer I just want to hear good music even if I heard it before.

        • briandear

          Unless those killer tracks were actually made by the headliner, they’re fair game. I don’t go see headliners to hear THE killer tracks. I go to hear killer tracks. If the headliner isn’t crate digging he’s no better than just a dude playing the Beatport Top 10. If you’re playing the same Too 10 nonsense as everyone else, what’s the point?

          I want originality. There are hundreds, if not thousands of killer tracks and hundreds if not thousands of ways to make them interesting. Throw a Pogues accapella over an early 90s Derrick May track. Put a Bill Hicks comedy bit over a Dave Spoon track. Earn your damned money.

      • briandear

        I was an opener for Tiesto a few years ago and we could play anything as long it was under 128bpm. Very strict rule that night.

      • ithinkmynameismoose

        I’d say that the current implied rule of don’t play the headliner’s tracks should stand but otherwise, run wild.

      • Bc8410

        As a possible exception to the “never play a headliner’s track” rule–what about teasing one track throughout your set to amp the crowd up for the headliner? Does this not accomplish the warm-up DJs “role” while also bending/breaking the “golden rule”?

        FWIW I’ve never done this, but the idea popped into my head while reading the comments and I am interested in hearing others’ opinions.

        • Depends on the situation and artist. Maybe a deep cut remix that’s unlike the original track so it’s even more disparate?

  • Product tester

    It is very simple…
    Play to the crowd, because it is about nobody else, but the crowd.
    When people start to say you cannot play this or play that, is like saying you cannot use these colours for your painting.
    If promoters really want a “Warm-up” DJ go do some digging like jockies do, but then for jockies who play the type of music naturally.
    The piss with headliners… let DJ’s go back to playing the whole night and then see who holds up!
    I am sure around 3 quarters of the jockies will fail and will mess up their so called painting.
    A lot of times headliners mess up the vibe anyway, so I would vote for allnighters, which will separate the boys from the men, or girls from the women for that matter.

    • Dan White

      Great points. I always think it’s interesting (and bad) when a headliner DJ walks into the venue 5 – 10 minutes before their set and jumps on the decks. How are you supposed to actually know what the vibe is? What has gone off well, and what tracks have flatlined? What mood are these people in?

      • Product tester

        Exactly!

        The whole “multiple” jockies
        on one night also helped change the nightlife from back in the days
        where people knew what to expect for the whole night and that knowing
        helped a lot of parties grow into memorable experiences.
        Look at The Muzik Box in Chicago with Ron Hardy.
        Larry Levan and Paradise Garage, etc.
        One jockie on one night.
        Nowadays the industry is not changed only because of commerce, but more because of the multiple jockies on one-night-trend promoters rely on, to get as much money as possible.

        It changed everything if you think about it deep enough.

        Off course people know by now what to expect when certain names pop-up on the line-up, but still DJing in that sense is now all about Shock and Awe to stand out, so where did the story telling journey went?
        It
        is still there off course, but as with tracks, the memories… at least
        for me are not that memorable at all and more of a throw-away thing. Maybe because I have been spoiled
        with the past, who knows.

        That said… one time back in 2011 a jockie was “warming-up” before Derrick May and was told to not go beyond the 126BPM threshold.
        He is a bit of a stinger when it comes to bending rules (not laws) and
        daring people, so off course he didn’t went along and went faster because
        the night went into that direction… resulting in Derrick May having to
        start off strong right away… and needless to say, it was a memorable party!
        It
        just comes to show that if you keep people below a certain expectancy
        threshold, you will get them irritated and you don’t want to
        piss off people who pay money to get a good time.
        It is all about the crowd and not about the DJ or that ego.

    • briandear

      These days Gabriel & Dresden almost exclusively play open to close sets. Generally 6-7 hour shows. Fun journeys those are!

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