As DJs move from tens to hundreds of hours behind the decks, certain practices become reliable ways to craft great DJ sets. But many experienced DJs learn that some of their early inclinations are actually bad habits – like over-using FX or boosting the low EQs to max. In today’s article, we share insight from the DJTT community about the bad habits that they’ve stopped doing with experience.
Pro tip on how to identify your bad habits: Even veteran DJs can occasionally find things that they’re not happy with about their own performances. The best way to find these is to record every set and re-listen to it after the fact, in full. Take notes, listen to your mixes, and be your own biggest critic! Set recordings can be huge eye-openers.
The Bad Habits That DJs Grow Out Of
Wondering where we got most of these from? We asked DJTT newsletter readers about a month ago to share their outgrown habits. If you want to be a part of future questions like this, sign up for the newsletter today.
1) Overusing FX
“Overusing FX at first is awesome but it becomes annoying with time. I have come to the conclusion that they have to be used with not a lot of dry/wet, and try to use them in different ways, not always using them the same way, because it makes the set monotonous.” – Franco Pallares
This might be the most commonly suggested bad habit that DJs learn that they need to stop doing as they move beyond the beginner phase of DJing. Effects are a great way to add a splash of excitement into a mix – but new DJs will often blast FX nonstop into their mixes. It might be fun in the moment, but re-listening to set recording with excessive FX use is a great way to realize how bad it can sound.
Franco also raises a second point – doing the same style of effect over and over in the same set can be just as bad. This can become really noticeable if it is a non-subtle effect (like roll/beatmasher or filter sweeps) used in the exact same style throughout the set.
Watch a classic FX tutorial on DJTT:
Four Powerful FX Techniques For Digital DJs
2) Playing All The Best Tracks First
Making a splash and holding your audience is critical in almost any type of performance. For DJs it can be especially challenging because crowds at a nightclub are non-captive (in comparison to, say, a ballet with a seated, respectful audience). People will come and go – so when you play out, it is tempting to do everything possible to keep the crowd’s attention at the start.
“I’ve discovered that DJing is like a fireworks show, don’t fire everything you have off in the first few minutes because you’ll have nothing left to shoot off for the rest of the show.” – DJ Marquee Mark
What this means practically is not to play every banger and floor filler that you’ve pulled for the set at the very beginning. Instead, create a flow and program a DJ set like you might tell a story. Even if you’re playing top 40 tracks, consider saving some of the best hits and remixes that you’ve uncovered for the final 20 minutes of your set – and leave the crowd wanting more when you’ve finished! Don’t explode every firework at once like in this hilarious (but warning, loud) fireworks show in San Diego a few years ago:
3) Planning Every Track and Mix
When starting out, you might not have the biggest collection of music you actually want to DJ with. You also might have found just a few tracks that mix well together or that you like to transition between.
These factors can make it very tempting for beginner DJs to plan – down to the minute – every track and mix in their DJ sets. It’s great to be prepared, over-planning can mean forgetting to leave room for creativity, improvisation, and adapting to the crowd.
Most experienced DJs report that they instead try to strike a balance between both worlds – bringing a few planned mixes but not mapping every single mix and track out.
Read more about set planning in this classic article:
Is Planning A DJ Set Cheating?
4) Boosting EQs Past 12
“When I first started mixing, I would put the low(bass) all the way up. Shortly realized at my first booking that that was the wrong thing to do.”
EQ knobs are fascinating to new DJs – big room festival DJs often look as though they are cranking on these knobs with reckless abandon. But with a bit of experience, it quickly becomes clear that EQ knobs should be used more as precision tools to make blends sound amazing.
One of the biggest EQ misconceptions is that boosting frequencies past 12 o’clock is something that needs to happen. Usually, every track has already been mastered and carefully balanced. To get great bass response, don’t keep turning up the low-end knob, but instead consider investing in a better subwoofer.
Read more about EQ & Filter knobs:
EQs vs Filters: Which, When, Why?
5) Drinking To Excess
“[I stopped] drinking too much” – Charlie
We got a number of responses from DJs who shared that since they’ve become more experienced DJs, they’ve reconsidered what substances they regularly imbibe. Alcohol and drugs can have a dramatic effect on a DJ’s:
- ability to tell the difference between sloppy and great mixing
- ability to read the crowd and tell what they want
- self-control (see: overusing FX)
- personal wellness + health
- sense of timing (making it hard to line up beats and phrases)
- ability to communicate with promoters/club owners in a respectful manner (see video below)
Touring artists report an even bigger challenge: alcohol is such a part of nightlife culture that it can be hard to abstain – but drinking at every gig would be an incredible health hazard if you’re playing out 3-5 nights a week.
To Drink or Not To Drink (While DJing)
What are your old bad habits? In the comments, share what you’ve stopped doing since you’ve become a more experienced DJ so that others can learn from your mistakes.