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How To Practice DJing When You’re Not At A Gig

As a DJ, one of the most difficult skills to learn is how to play to a crowd. It’s a challenge, particularly for DJs that don’t have weekly or monthly residencies locked down. So what are the best ways to get that same positive nervousness and tension that you experience when playing in front of a crowd? Keep reading for some great ideas.

Record Yourself – Emulated Pressure

photo credit: charlesdyer via photopin

Back in 2012, we published an article on how recording your sets is a critical habit for any DJ to get into. Beyond being great for self-analysis for skill level and a wonderful way to remember and document your technical development and musical taste, recording yourself DJing is a way to emulate the pressure of a live audience. There was a great comment on the article that really captures this idea:

This may sound weird but I treated the recorder as my audience. At the time I was not playing in front of anyone, not even friends and so visualizing the recorder in Traktor as my audience made me focus a lot more when mixing. When I made mistakes I actually felt embarrassed even if I was alone. After a while I began to take a closer look at the decisions I was making while the recorder was on and this lead me to get my game up progressively. Not only was I able to catch mistakes and less than appropriate decisions I had taken during the mix (like mixing in a track prematurely or late) but it also gave me confidence to start going out to play.

When I was finally at a venue I still felt the jitters but only before I pressed play, after that it felt like I was just recording another mix at home. Needless to say I was able to eliminate the mistakes I had when setting my frequencies in the mixer. My transitions became a lot more seamless even without the use of filters and it became second nature to me. After that I was then concentrating on using effects to make bigger build-ups and aid my transitions even further. Recording your mixes is something every DJ should be doing!

Streaming Your Set

How To Live Stream DJ Sets On Facebook

Streaming your set online is a great way to have an actual audience – it’s a bit like the recording yourself tip above, except there’s additional pressure because you are actually competing for attention and getting feedback from listeners. The online streaming landscape is constantly changing – but we recommend using services like Chew.TV (dedicated for DJ sets) or Restream.IO (allows you to broadcast one stream to many platforms) when setting up your streaming set.

Be careful to not put too much stock into how well you “capture” a crowd on a stream. The current state of streaming on many platforms encourages very casual consumption (on Facebook, it’s not uncommon to watch a stream for less than 30 seconds). It can be distracting to constantly be watching the viewer count, so try not to focus on that.

Play For/With Friends

photo credit: Alex-de-Haas via photopin

One of my friends recently started learning how to DJ and asked for advice on how to build her skill set in a short amount of time. My answer was simple: take every opportunity you can to mix songs together. Make it not only a private practice, but also something that you do idly while:

  • pregaming before a night out with friends
  • relaxing in the park
  • waiting for your laundry to dry, etc.

If you make DJing a social activity, it’s easy to get more hours in without setting aside tons of time for yourself. If you’re doing this with other DJs, it’s also a good chance to hear new music and learn new techniques by watching other people mix.

Screw Up A Mix – Do You Try Again, or Not?

There’s a famous quote about practicing that’s commonly attributed to NFL legend Vince Lombardi. It’s also often used to explain to young musicians learning an instrument why they need to practice deliberately:

“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

There’s two ways to take this quote:

  1. If you screw up while practicing, go back and try again until you do it correctly
  2. If you don’t practice with intention/dedication and analyze your mistakes, it’s harder to get better

Both are acceptable ways to view practice – although many artists will likely take issue with the first, because it is an interruption of getting into an immersive “flow state” of focus.

It’s also important to consider that DJing is not always a well choreographed performance – it can often be full of experimentation and mistakes. If you rewind the track every time you screw up a mix when practicing, you don’t learn how to move on from mistakes and recover. You won’t have a second chance at mixing two songs together at a real gig!


Set A Countdown Timer

Here’s a really cheap and easy tip for creating a bit of external pressure on a studio session on the decks. When you start mixing, set up a countdown timer for yourself that you can easily see the entire time you’re DJing. This is a good practice because it forces you to consider what tracks you’ll mix into your set during that time – similar to what a DJ experiences at most gigs.

Pro Tip: Most people set timers with their phones. I find it really helps to plug it in and turn off the screen sleep settings, so that you’ve always got a running timer visible when you glance at it.

What’s Harder To Practice Without A Real Gig

Of course, not every element of DJing can be emulated outside of real performances. A few things that you only get when you’re playing in a real venue:

  • How the crowd changes over the course of the night
  • Adjusting volume and EQ based on the room, crowd, and sound system
  • Seeing people dance and react to your selections (and allowing that to drive what you choose next)
  • Requests (for better or for worse)

Have your own tips for practicing DJing? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

  • Roshan u t

    I am like to DJ

  • David Sanei

    I make a mix probably once a week. I then upload it to mixcloud. And listen to it whenever I am driving. Also it allows people to give me feedback

  • Armstrong Souljah

    I practice srew up practice until i learn a cool trick.. Jus don give up.

  • Justin Chaos

    Why am I getting this retarded articles for mongoloids on my feed all the time???
    I’d like to know…those of you taking part in the debate, kill yourselves

  • Try these: No sync, no screen watching. Use records if you can.

    Try mixing without headphones in front of friends. You’ll make mistakes but the buzz of landing a good mix, getting it in time and keeping it tight, even when it wobbles is the closest thing you’ll get to playing in a club, when the sound system is louder than your booth.

    21 seconds to go. Try to land a mix in 21s (16 bars) from mixing out the last, this will push you to think ahead and set up a mix under pressure.

    Random Records. Get a friend to choose a record. Mix it. No matter what the music style or Genre no excuse. Works great with old rock or disco tunes you’ve never heard before.

    All these methods help you build confidence, if you can mix like this, you’ll be able to handle any situation in a club. It’s a great laugh too, you will relax pretty soon. Djing should be fun, not stressful.

    Also remember, your first couple of gigs might be warm up slots, get used to finding tunes that hook people in, but keep it easy going and build up to the excitement. There is nothing worse than walking into a club where the warm up DJ is Playing bangers and the dance floor us empty, you need to get them in the mood.

    You’ll get the biggest buzz from getting people dancing and the promoter will love you for it.

  • Farhan Hasan Ferri

    Be Sober….once you get used to it..its always better and a way more reliable way of doing things…but then again it might be just me

  • Oxlo Music

    Something I like to do is mix with a fellow DJ in a Skype call this gives you the pressure of an audience the ability to pass the mix back and forth. This builds my confidence and is a great way to receive constructive criticism

  • Toby Silver

    I practise B2B sets using a game, If we can throw off the other one with our track selection we get a point. You have to mix in well though. This helps with your ability to adapt to the change in music or atmosphere.

    • Great game – I play a few similar ones with my friends as well!

  • bla

    man… DJ practice is so overrated. Get to know your gear. Built your setup to your needs. Unterstand musical structure and EQ. Then get creative and develop a flow. AND DO NOT USE FX. THEY SUCK. Tracks are the best they can be. All you do with FX, is fucking up masterpieces.
    Instead use the content of the tracks to “create FX”… the GOOD sounding FX, somebody put hours or days into crafting. Thanks.

    • I’ll politely disagree. I can understand wanting to not use FX on tracks – but they’re incredibly useful tools when DJing because they can be used to create very smooth transitions between tracks.
      There’s a lot that can be done with subtle, well-used FX, and the only way to learn how to do that is to practice.

  • Raid Zero

    DJ’ing a live stream is a great way to practice – if you mess up it’s in front of a live audience (even if it’s just your friends) can add some extra pressure to your normal practice, especially if you improvise your sets.

    For me I find that really helpful when I’m getting ready for a big gig, it helps me become more comfortable once I take the stage at the gig. 🙂

  • bert

    Join an internet radio station, this way your guaranteed a weekly time slot, even if it’s at home.
    I’ve done this for about 14 years now and I attribute all my confidence to my weekly radio slot.
    I’ve now got it down, that I control 2 web cams, 2 cdjs, 2 turntables, the radio station chat room, personal instant messengers and recording software while monitoring my radio show sound levels etc on a laptop and iPod.

  • Disease Interface

    i practice by just playing around on my gear for a few hours, that makes practice fun for me. best way i’ve found to develop or modify different techniques.. at least for me

  • Disease Interface

    i just play around with my gear for an hour or two, why not just make practice fun by just messing about?

  • What has worked well for me is starting a weekly mix podcast. I put up an hour long mix once a week every week. This has kept the pressure on myself to make sure I set aside some time every week to find new tracks and work on mixing. It’s also great for listening to your own progression when you go back to some of the older mixes and compare them to recent ones. Plus if anyone is interested in booking me and wants to hear what my style is I have a ton of mixes available online for them to easily check out since I’ve been at it for about 2.5 years now.

  • Dr Beatz

    get together with several DJs and all use the same setup. Each person mixes for 20 or so minutes then switches. While you are on “break” you can discuss what went well or needs improvement. It is beyond helpful to watch a DJ and take notes and ask questions in real-time.

  • Nathan Moore

    Give yourself time to cue up the next track, if it doesn’t go or sound great together pick another record. If it doesn’t fit too well and you really want to play the next track, Mixing outro to the next record intro is also a safe way to mix it, eliminates the risk of clashed melodys or if the next track key is far different from the current record your playing. Most importantly know your record collection, know when the baseline kicks in, know when the vocals start.

  • Aron van der Linden

    I have a question about practicing. I sent the question to one of my DJ-heroes a few days ago. No response though.

    Laidback Luke is one of my heroes when it comes to DJ’ing. He uses in-ears. Mainly for ear protection AND the ability to hear all the details very well. In the past I spent 300 euros on the Armin van Buuren A5 pro headphones.

    Now, I live in a flat with people living all around me. That’s why I can’t practice with a monitor. I also bought custom made filters for when I go out. They’re really good ones. They were about 120 euros or something.

    I don’t care about looking cool so now I feel like I might as well sell the expensive headphones and keep using my in-ears for the same reasons LL mentions. I always have the ‘cue-button’ beneath the master ON and just add the next track for a while during beatmatching. I’m getting so used to this that I’m kinda confused about what to do….

    I did try mixing while using the filters a few times with the A5 Pro headphones but was kinda annoyed by not hearing the details of the tracks.

    What is your opinion about that? Any other people wearing filters while mixing in a club and not able to use a monitor at home? Does it ever bother anyone that you can’t hear as many details with filters in combination with over-ear headphones? I already lost one eye due to an accident when I was 13. I’m very careful with my ears. Having tinnitus sounds like a nightmare.

    Kind regards from the Netherlands,

    Aron (One Eyed Jack)

    • Dr Beatz

      i swear by in ear monitors. I have the $100 model by shure, and they are magic. Fit nicely in a bag, block out loud noises and isolate what you want to hear. I have an adapter to hear the cue in 1 ear and the live mix in the other, so i never take them off. I have been performing for 15 years and still have decent hearing. Earplugs always!!!! Dr’s orders 😉

      • Aron van der Linden

        Dear Dr. Beatz. Thank you so much for responding! I thought I was too late with a comment on this topic. One more question for you though: does is not annoy you that can only hear your tracks in one ear though? When one of my earbuds all of a sudden stops working in the gym I almost want to go home because I’m so annoyed ;-D I do have that setting on my DJM-900NXS2 though, so I could achieve that mono-split sound. Maybe I should just get used to it. It does make it easier to hear if a track is behind or ahead…

        • Dr Beatz

          yeah, it takes getting used to, but i think you will really like it once you get comfortable. One nice thing is you can hear the sync difference much better. It helps to line up the tracks/groove more succinctly. And again HEARING PROTECTION!!!!! This is something so many DJs and musicians disregard, which is silly, because you can not be a producer in the long run without adequate hearing. This Dr recommends it 100%

          For $100 you really can’t go wrong. I use them at the gym, and for other gigs. The come in a pouch you can clip to you key ring, and take up so much less space than a traditional pair of cans. I own 3 pairs, keep one as backup in my DJ bag, and one on me at all times.

          link to them online

          • Aron van der Linden

            Thanks for the advice! I’ll order a set of these today .-)

            Kind regards from the Netherlands

            (One Eyed Jack)

  • Oddie O’Phyle

    Set aside at least an hour a day, fire up your gear and play whatever your mood leads you through.

  • I absolutely love livestreaming. Keeps you on your toes but I actually think you should treat it like you have an audience and need to keep mixing as opposed to ignoring the numbers. Also allows you to get a bit more creative in your setup. I have sound-reactive lights, multiple cameras, and visualizations (Milkdrop) and it’s super fun.

  • Skratchin Jackson

    At the beginning of practice, I’ll go back and redo mixes. But I always end practice with a non-stop mix, warts and all.

  • djdemand

    Excellent advice here.

  • Pingback: How To Practice DJing When You’re Not At A Gig – dPico AUDIOS()

  • Liquid

    Do you have to watch out for any legal issues when streaming your set? For example I would assume that facebook streams would pay high attention to any sort of copywritten music.

    • agreed. They take down videos all the time. Best bet is to make a youtube video then post. Or do a live youtbue stream

      • Aron van der Linden

        Doesn’t youtube have an even stricter analysis-program for copyright infringement than soundcloud? My lounge-mixes got flagged after being on soundcloud for two years. It was insane. Probably because the tracks I used (Kygo for example) were not signed yet. It was in 2013 when these producers were relying on youtube to get more recognised. Maybe after the tracks were signed they started flagging these older tracks working backwards. Anyway….I’m still frustrated about it hahaha. Most mixes had a least a thousand plays and I only had 200 followers. I was so proud. Now I’m on Mixcloud and have 30 plays after a month….

  • Again, I seem to have a different perspective.. It takes experience.. You will never get that experience unless somebody pushes you into the water..

    Stream.. don’t care if you mess up.. because everybody does.. even the legends.. Nobody cares if you are good anymore.. just make sure to buy a beer or twenty at their establishment, tell them you’ll bring a thousand people, and give them your studio mix.. you’ll get that gig.

  • Nevada Montagu

    Great article

  • killmedj

    Recording yourself is very sobering, but totally worth it.

    • Sometimes it’s actually a pleasant surprise. I’ve walked away from a set feeling very whatever about it, and then gone back and listened later to find it’s much better than I remembered.

      • killmedj

        Yeah it definitely can be “career affirming” when it sounds good that’s for sure!
        But then I’ve recorded myself doing mixes that I thought were killing it with the crowds, but then when I recorded the same mix for a podcast it sounded terrible! The cold light of the practise studio is far less forgiving than a hyped crowd that’s for sure!

      • Jorge

        Totally agree…Im sure many are like me, as in Im incredibly hard on myself, I always have this “ahhh that was shit”…but then a few days later and in some cases months/years where I may have forgot a transitions, I’m pleasantly surprised…which brings me to this, anybody able to recall a transition/mix/cutting pattern from years ago like you just did it a few minutes ago. I guess it’s our version of being a singer who remembers their lyrics.

  • I like to practice with a certain event in mind – house party, after-hours, etc.

    • Good thinking – how does this change your practice process (if at all)?

      • If helps me understand how my songs work together to create a specific vibe. Examples:

        If I am practicing for a set in-between people I will pick a couple of seed songs in a style that I am guessing that other people might be playing and then focus on taking my set from there. If someone is playing deep house how could I take it from there music and shift over to my style. I then play for my allotted time and try to end my practice session with a couple of songs that would set-up the next DJ.

        In my record box I will actually collect these starter and closing songs so that I don’t have to dig for them when I first get into the booth.

        On the other end of the spectrum would be practicing for an after-hours party. For these I am looking for my records that create the deep groove and how can I extend that for as long as possible.

        • Michi Veicht

          I also imagine that im for example at a festival and implaying tracks that will be played there(bigroom) or at a club then my set is all about deep future and bass house

  • ghal gol hajt

    I practice with a small all in one player which is connected to a mixer. I use a volca sample as a reference point to beat match with, so that I can play 2 tracks simultaneously while also adding additional elements to the mix.

  • DJCela

    I like to practice for when something goes wrong, Mixing off one turntable and using instant doubles, mixer not working properly, both needle broken and mixing in just serato, stuff like that. When you use turntables something like that is bound to happen eventually.

    • This is a great tip – it’s like training for a marathon with extra weights, and then removing them when you’re really running it.

      • Sab T Macintosh

        stop look dragon ball z !!! 😮 running don’t work like this :p

  • Deksel

    When I just started playing (turntables) I was completely caught off guard by how loud everything was and how little I could hear over my headphones (especially at the low end). Took me some time to find out that in your bedroom you can mix on the sound of the kick, but in a loud club it can be easier to mix to the claps.

    • Very much a different environment in terms of cueing and monitoring. What type of headphones do you use?

      • Josh Clark

        I also have this problem while playing out due to going deaf from a genetic problem, otosclerosis. I use V-Moda head phones and they work out great, but a lot of times I can’t hear over the monitor speakers..I play glitch hop and at home have no issues with beat matching and then I’ll end up playing out and having huge issues with trying to listen to my beats over all the random noise that I can’t distinguish.

      • Linz&Mars

        Back at that festival in the late 90’s I was using really cheap technics headphones that weren’t made for dj’ing.
        Now I have both pioneer hdj-2000’s and sennheisser hd25’s. The hd25’s are my favs though. They just sound great, isolation is awesome and the durability is quality.
        The one thing I like about the hdj2000’s is being able to quickly monitor by wedging a can between my shoulder and my ear. But the pads on them fell apart pretty quickly. Hd25’s for the win IMHO.

      • I use Audio technica. Works fine for me..what do you suggest?

    • Dave Keset

      ^ this.

      in the late 90’s i played on LARGE sound systems for the first time. there were times i was playing a record, and i had NO idea what it even was lol. having the monitor turned up at loud as possible and headphones cranked to max, was a totally new thing id never experienced. it was something i was not prepared for, or ever really thought about how different it’d be from my bedroom/small pa systems.

      • Linz&Mars

        I had exactly the same thing happen but also discovered that my headphones were completely inadequate for a big sound system.
        Lesson: Good headphones are important!

        • Dr Beatz

          in ear monitors!!! I got a $100 pair by shure, and will never go back. Mix cue in 1 ear, house mix in the other, block out the BS and go to work

    • G Funk

      I recently watched bits and pieces of a (fairly brutal) dj seminar from Laidback Luke at some Netherlands festival. One thing he mentioned was moving home monitors to different locations throughout the room after not being able to beatmatch from the ear he was used to. It resonated with me because my biggest struggle has been booth monitors out of phase with the floor (typically bass).

      • Thanks for this. been having similar issues too. Mixing at home is TOTALLY different from mixing in big clubs.

  • Plasma Phil

    I try to bring my DJ kit around to my mates anytime we are just having a few or watching a game
    It’s a fun way to mess about on the gear, get some practise in, and impress one another with fresh tracks we all have

    Good article DJTT!

    • Dr Beatz

      DJ during the commercials!!!!

  • Anytime I turn the decks on I hit record in serato. After Im done I use audcaity to turn mix into mp3. Then I upload to phone so I can listen to it when Im driving. Eventually I will make another mix but its nice to be able to listen to good and bad parts of my mix.

    • The infamous “road test” is always a good way to check your mix. Good on you for hitting record every. single. time.

      • Thank you. As a wedding dj sometimes it can be easy to get stuck in the same 100 songs, so its important for me to go back to my 90’s hip hop roots and reggae dancehall for fun. Also my kids are old enough to enjoy my mixes and sometimes they try to Dj with my NS7iii. They love it.