How to Launch a Club Night – Part 2

This time, we’re going to talk about music policy. Let’s level here – in some clubs, music policy just isn’t important. Celebrity joints, commercial dives, captive markets… in these places, the music often really isn’t high on the list of priorities for either the club owners or the audience. But I’m gambling that in any night YOU launch, music is going to be paramount. You’ll be playing the tunes, to start with. I’ll also gamble that you’re looking for a crowd who know their music too. You’re trying to get something worthwhile going – otherwise, why take the risk?

That’s a good start – taking the music seriously. But, you’re going to need to think a bit further than just knowing you want to start an “electro house night” or a “dubstep night” (or whatever). Let’s look at why, and what you need to do.

1. YOU NEED TO FILL A GAPHopefully you’re an avid clubber. You know already which clubs and DJs you like. And the fact that you’ve decided to put on your own night probably means that you have a good idea as to what you would change about your favourite club nights. This is your starting point. What are the other local clubs doing wrong? Is it that:

  • Their music policy is trendy but boring? – Then maybe you need a tongue-in-cheek night with a bit of attitude and energy
  • They program their music badly, playing “bangers from start to finish”? Then maybe you should make a point of pacing things well, with good warm-up DJs, and obvious musical progression
  • They have a bored guy hidden behind a rack-mounted CD player doing the same old tired mixes? Then maybe you need to show off what you do, by putting your equipment centre-stage and introducing improvised or live elements
  • They have the same music in all rooms? Then maybe you need to have two different (but complementary) musical styles across the venue

What we’re looking for here is where you can stand out, as there’s no point trying to copy anyone else – why would people abandon your competition to start coming to your unproven night otherwise? Note also that what’s making you different is not necessarily something musical. Sure you’re going to play a certain style or styles. But it’s HOW you do it that’s going to make the difference.


This is more important than being musically “cutting edge”. Trends come and go. Sounds come and go. But if you can come up with a formula within which musical style is only one element, you now have something that is harder for others to copy and easier for you to repeat week in, week out.

So how do you achieve consistency? By following your formula once you have it, and by playing the music you’ve chosen as part of that week in, week out. That way everyone knows what they’re getting. It’s far better to overplay than underplay music. If your night is every week, then as a rule of thumb you want to be playing two-thirds the same tunes every time.

New music should fight to get into your playlist. Old music should only drop off when you’ve got something better to replace it with.

People are only coming to your club for a few hours a week, so they’re not going to get bored of what you play. Unlike you, they don’t spend the other 6 nights mixing those same tunes for fun/practice! You are going to get bored of music much quicker than your audience, so don’t chop and change to keep yourself amused – find your formula and your big tunes and stick to it, changing things deliberately and thoughtfully. All your DJs should be able to play out of the same “box” and deliver the same experience to your punters.

Having a consistent, reliable playlist and formula is also important for booking guest DJs, as you need to be sure that your music is going to be the same in 2, 3, or 6 months as it is now – otherwise how can you book guest who complement your sound?

One of the best ways to make sure you’re staying consistent is to have formal meetings about the music, every week. We used to like doing it actually in the club itself. Acknowledge the records, sounds and styles that worked and didn’t, and formalise your big tunes, your “keep trying” and your “not again” records.

It’s good to involve your club manager, too. Not only is this politically a good idea but it can be genuinely helpful. One manager I recall would say thing like “guys, it was a bit flat,” or “the girls all seemed to be moaning about the music this week,” (or sometimes, of course, “it rocked!”)

Often, his views as an outsider to the musical process were at odds to ours – comforting us or bringing us down to earth, but always useful. (It will also give you a chance to talk to him about other issues surrounding the club at the same time.)


The beauty about doing the above is that when you choose to deliberately break that formula, to stop yourselves going stale or getting really bored, your fans will go with you on it.

One of the joys and challenges of running a club night, especially a weekly one, is programming your music over the months and years. There are nights in the year that beg for you to do something different – public holidays being a main one. There’s money to be made by putting special event on using these “extra” dates, and this is a good chance to spread your wings and try those styles you’ve been thinking about but that your formula won’t allow.

Classics nights, back-to-backs, DJ play-offs, and new sounds (my night, Tangled, used to do all of these, with nights like “Tangled goes Techno”, “Tangled Harder Faster”, “Tangled New Talent”, “Tangled Classics” and so on) allow you to experiment with new (or old) sounds and ideas, groom exciting young talent for future residencies, and generally try stuff out.

Even if you don’t use public holidays, you can use the end of the month to do an all-nighter with a different music policy, or have a classics night once a quarter, or whatever. Just keep your inconsistencies consistent, if you know what I mean, and make sure you don’t break things by straying too far from what you normally do!


I hope you agree that approaching your music policy professionally and not just letting your creativity dictate things is a worthwhile approach.

For instance, if you think of your event as a “dubstep night”, and dubstep dies, that’s it for you! But if you’ve done your homework and actually, you regard what you’re doing as a dress-down underground-leaning night that plays minimal warm-up music before letting rip with new fierce tunes at midnight, then changes again to play a full hour of big scene-stopping anthems at the very end – well that’s formula.

And while you may be executing that formula with predominantly dubstep when you launch your night, over the years you can morph into new styles while keeping the framework identical – and keeping a loyal audience who trust you to deliver the overall experience they’re used to.

Our nights ran for 13 years and we saw 4 or 5 generations of clubbers through our doors, and while our music policy changed fundamentally but gradually several times through that period, our formula didn’t. Find your formula and you’ve got a better chance of DJing every week in a successful club for as long as it makes you happy to do so. There are few better feelings.


We’ve come a long way from just thinking about a club night – we’ve worked out who we’re going to run it with, how we’re going to keep the business side of it ship-shape, and planned out our music properly. Next time, we’ll figure out how to find the right venue. See you then!

Co-founder and resident at Manchester (England) club night ‘Tangled’ through most of the 1990s and early 2000s, Phil Morse is also a music journalist and currently edits the Digital DJ Tips blog.

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  • Scotty K

    Quality article!!! Starting my own Trance night in Manchester tonight and will be focusing on many of the points you’ve made in future. Its called Bad Habit at Jabez Clegg!! Hopefully with the eclectic and progressive range of music played by our different DJ’s it should be a success, although a weekend would be better! Wish me luck!!

  • Redsamick

    Nice article! I’m not even close to throwing a house party, much less a club night, but I like the fact that people are talking seriously about DJing. I like how Phil leans into the topic of art/creativity meeting business. While I realise there is value in simply being a creating machine – crossing all the lines and pushing the envelopes (i.e. Pollock, Picasso, Tom Waits, etc.) – I think many of us need to make a living. So, if we can do it (make a living) through music, we are better off thinking logically about reflecting on the topic of DJing/performance.

    Bottom line: I dig the conversation and can appreciate how Phil, and you fellow commenters, are looking at DJing.

    Much love.

  • DJ Ben

    A good way is to start with quality house parties – collect the emails of the people turning up, this will give you a head start and get the power of the people talking about what your doing and marketing your nights for free – when you think its ready take it to a club – if you house parties were quality then your on!

    Hard work but loads of fun and can be worth it if you get it right. Quality music and a HIGH quality sound system is king, even at the house parties when your start out…

  • Phil Morse

    Chris & Deep Down Inside: I think you’ve said it better than I did. Clubs are communities, you have to understand who is in the room regular and play to them, that’s what builds something special – new music is great (after all you picked the old stuff, that was new once), but it has to be evolution not revolution.

    Why throw everything out every week for the hell of it? What if your club night was every single night? Would you look for 5 hours of new records on a nightly basis?¿ That kind of thinking doesn’t make sense.

    Get a sound, a formula, a vision if you like, and once you’re happy with it, be very careful in how you let it evolve – bring more and more people with you as you slowly move your sound forward, don’t alienate them by never making your mind up as to what you’re about and chopping and changing all the time. That’s not the job of resident DJs at all. As you say, let the guests do that.

    That’s why it’s best to let the residents end – they can fill in the gaps that have been missed and get the night’s big tunes played if necessary to send everyone home happy.

  • Chrisneil

    [quote comment=”41102″]Playing two-thirds the same tunes every week is ridiculous. If I go a club two weeks in a row and more than half the tunes are the same, I will not go back there (at leat not for a long time).
    Don’t underestimate your public. People will remember the tracks you played last time and feel cheated if they are the same every week.
    The big challenge is to create the desired atmosphere without having to play the same tunes over and over again.[/quote]

    I’m sorry phils right in what he says,people remember tunes that make them feel happy ,and they do want you to play them again,and again,and again,clubs become more like familys ,and those who go week in week out do get to know the dj’s ,staff ,each other.
    This is what playing to the crowd means watching what people like and get upto and dance to,remembering ,and dropping those tunes at the right time..
    Its the guests that can usually come along and blast away..

    Not to say that new tunes can’t be dropped or special occasions you can let loose with sonic abandon.

    We do small monthly parties ,that way we can ensure the correct crowd and we can bring each other along nicely feeding off each other…The music usually overlaps between new stuff,promo’s demo’s to crowd pleasers..

    Thanks for the good advice phil..


    “people want to know what they’re getting when they go out.” Great point Phil!

    I was an avid club goer for at least 10 years straight starting on Thursday night ending Sunday nights. One of the biggest things with me and my crew, who were mostly women, was deciding where to go on those nights. We had our spots we would hit and we were RELIGIOUS with that small list of spots. WHY? Just like Phil said we all knew what tunes were going to be played, we all knew we were going to dance, and we sure to have a great time. My girlfriend always knew the DJ was gonna play her jam. Her jam is that “one” tune, the one that is always played every week or every time we went this or that particular club.

    Most really dedicated music connoisseurs just wont get it, new music gets you nothing but wallflowers waiting to hear something they know.

    Don’t get me wrong its very cool to drop a hot new track that everyone is talking about. So don’t hold off on those! Again like Phil said those tunes should fight to get on your play list.

    The best nights are the clubs that establish a community. The people who attend every week or month come out each time because you the DJ provide a comfortable atmosphere and provide music that is familiar.

  • VJ Stu-Pid

    Great article, although I would probably mention to any new comers to start off with one off or monthly nights first. This lessens the pressure to create something new and exciting and promote it week in week out (a difficult operation if you have a day job).
    Other than that note, its a great explanation of how to make a night stand out from the rest.
    A nice read and definitely one I will refer to when thinking up new ideas to make sure I dont focus on the wrong aspects at future events.

  • Phil Morse

    To Mahkitah: On the contrary, the 2/3rds rule came from years of experimenting and experience. Most people aren’t like you (you’re obviously a dedicated music enthusiast) – they’re just not. 90% of people in a club don’t DJ, they don’t collect music, and they’ll only come if they hear songs they like.

    If I hear a song I like, and the only place I hear it is in a club where the DJs have actually taken the time to formulate a proper music policy rather than Beatport or Billboard, when I go back I’d like to hear it again, please.

    If the club night you run has a distinctive, popular, forward-looking music policy, you can slowly break new records (even if they’re only “new” to your audience), keep on them when you’ve made them floorfillers, and occasionally dig them out again later on to give your regulars a familiar bit of nostalgia.

    Yes, some people will realise you’re working to a formula and go off searching for the “new” – but when they just want a good night out (after maybe a few nights in places that haven’t hit the standard), they’ll be back. As for underestimating clubbers, it’s my experience that when people realise the time and thinking that’s gone into your “formula”, they actually respect it.

    If you DJ the same place week in, week out, you know practically everyone who comes to your club almost as friends. You’re a big family – and you have the utmost mutual respect for each other.

  • mahkitah

    Playing two-thirds the same tunes every week is ridiculous. If I go a club two weeks in a row and more than half the tunes are the same, I will not go back there (at leat not for a long time).
    Don’t underestimate your public. People will remember the tracks you played last time and feel cheated if they are the same every week.
    The big challenge is to create the desired atmosphere without having to play the same tunes over and over again.

  • Phil Morse

    Thanks for the comments on the article folks.

    To Ali: If having “no genre boundaries” IS your consistency, then I guess it could work… but the truth is that people want to know what they’re getting when they go out. I hate to use fast food as an analogy, but if every time you went to Subway they were serving a completely different type of food, you’d probably think twice about going. There’s nothing wrong with finding an exciting, original musical formula… and sticking to it.

    To Dee Jay Flic: It’s a major issue, this one. It certainly isn’t just you. Even worse, once you get “known” for something, it’s hard to just let your creative juices flow and do what you want. I guess to an extent you have to accept that when something becomes your job, you have to treat it in a professional way – let’s be honest, it’s still a pretty hot job! – and that that brings with it a change in attitude.

    When I DJed week in, week out at the same residency (for 13 years….) it was the public holiday parties, the after parties, the one-offs we managed to throw, the radio mixes where I could do something different, it was all these things that allowed me to push the boundaries and be more creative. Then, anything that stuck or worked could be fed back into the main breadwinning weekly gig.

    We used to have a “recovery session” on the first Saturday after new year. We’d let members in for free, only open one floor (of our two-floor club), and often only I would DJ instead of the other residents too. There was no pressure as nobody had really paid (although the members always brought non-member friends who paid, which sometimes made such a cheap night quite profitable…), and my rule was to throw out ALL the overplayed music from the previous year and pack my box with only records I owned but had never played in the club or that were brand new.

    It was often my most creative set of the year! It is an example of how you can get creative when the professional pressures are removed, and so yes – I totally agree with you. The trick is, as I say, to find ways to let yourself be creative within the framework that’s paying your wages.

  • dlfsahk

    [quote comment=”41028″]I feel the more professional I get the less creative I become. Probable just a personal problem.[/quote]
    same for me…

  • Dee Jay Flic

    I feel the more professional I get the less creative I become. Probable just a personal problem.

  • Santiago Paramo

    Great article!
    Thanks for sharing.

  • theory28

    oh, i thought it was just me. a whole day without the forum *shivers*

  • Tyfurious

    [quote comment=”40975″]soz 2 be off-topic bro but wtf happened to the forums?[/quote]

    I concur.

  • Max

    soz 2 be off-topic bro but wtf happened to the forums?

  • jasperjones

    really good article, thanks

  • mx almond

    props on flight, amazing flow 🙂

  • mx almond

    for a response to D-jam,

    thats why mash up is absolutely perfect for every “house” party and the few clubs ive had the pleasure of playing. granted im using traktor and changing each song about every 30 secs or so but in a way that it doesnt just sound like – transition to transition to transition – ill start with a 16 or 32 loop and let it play in the back round for a good minute. then drop the hook everyone was waiting for but with a new loop on deck c and d ready to go. ill fly in between genres. its been working, ive had nothing but cheers and high fives, and i love it 🙂

  • D-Jam

    I think for the “musically minded” the best possible routes to start are either (A) the regular on-off or (B) bring out bigger names.

    I notice when one doesn’t have the capital to bring out big headliners, and yet they want to do a night where they don’t have to play the Top 40 everyone else does, they do a one-off. So the “trance classics” night for instance might happen once a year, or the promoter will throw several of these events over the year, but make them different from one another. They just seem to work because then it’s a special occasion, and you don’t get the “I can see this any week” people…because they can’t see it any week.

    The bigger names are of course the broader standard many use. So someone wants to get their club night going on a certain sound, and wants that crowd to come out as opposed to normal folk who beg for anything but what you’re playing, then you bring out the bigger name so the right crowd comes out and even the “outsiders” will be drawn into it all because they see a room going nuts for the music. I know a few promoters now who stopped bothering with regular club nights and only do monthly or bi-monthly big name DJ performances at halls.

    In the end, the crowd is king, and one has to be ready to please all. So your breaks night kicks off and you have 20 people there deep into it…but 100 others show up who want Lil Jon and Black-Eyed Peas. It comes down then to you to figure out what to do. The smarter DJs then have the folder of Top 40 tunes remixed as breaks for those occasions. Others simply tell the 100 they’re SOL and hope their night doesn’t die a quick death over time.

  • Leo Outcast

    I think the consistency thing with the music is key, that’s a great point. I’ve always been one to bang out everything I’m into that week or month, but it’s only till I realised that your clubbers are drawn to tracks that you make your own that I really learned to hook an audience. I fully operate the policy of letting only the most special new tracks get into my play list these days and on the rare occasion they don’t work they quickly get archived!

  • Lee Farrell

    nice one! Look forward to the next part

  • Dj PC3

    Good Idea! I think having themed parties is under rated need more of them….

  • Ali

    Very good advice given here Phil.
    How do you think about a night with no limits genre-wise? There is of course a floor for DJs spinning every time with set genre-boundaries (to bring some consistency) but another one which may vary each time.

  • Malphemist

    A major reason I stopped going to club nights was the fact the music was always the bloody same. I’ll take variety over consistency any day! Meh, to each their own I guess…