Is Planning a DJ Set Cheating?

Several people have asked me an important question in the past month. “How do you plan your DJ sets? Is planning my DJ sets cheating?” There’s a spectrum of DJ preparation that ranges from total improvisation in the moment to completely pre-defined and recorded sets. Most of you probably sit somewhere in the middle. Today we address the question: is planning cheating, and if not- how can I do it effectively?

We all know the magic moments when everything comes together perfectly. The crowd, the songs, and the moment all synchronize to create an unexpected result that gives everyone shivers. These are the moments that DJs chase after. But how many of them organically occur in a night? Not that many. Would it be better to engineer great moments and plan incredible mixes in advance or does that strip the moments of their unexpected charm?

With so many other grey areas in digital DJing, it’s really hard to say what is a technology shortcut and a quality compromise. Instead of offering a yes or no answer, I would ask you:

Will planning the set cheat you or your audience out of a magic night?

If solid preparation is creating amazing results, then who cares how you get there? If your sets feel flat and don’t connect with the crowd – that’s a sure sign you need to improvise more.


Conditions on the dance floor change from night to night and from minute to minute, so coming into a set with a fully planned and rehearsed set could be a hit or a total flop. Without “reading” the crowd and responding to their needs in the moment, some DJs will quickly lose their attention or at worst, clear the dance floor. We’ve all heard tales of DJs with a particular set or sound that just didn’t fit the venue, who refused to adapt and the room emptied. That word, adaption, is key. I believe a truly great DJ must have deep range, and be able to adapt to the room and the crowd that is present in the moment.


Especially with digital DJ technology and the advancement of controllerism, a DJ’s set has begun to become significantly more complex than in the past. With 3-4 songs, loops, and specific effects, sometimes a live remix is just too complicated to pull off perfectly when left up to chance. Many of my personal routines, like the Funk Phenomenon, are basically impossible from a technical standpoint to set up on the fly. For this reason, it may be necessary to do some planning and organization of your sets – the question is how much?

Here’s some more detail of the range of “planning” that a DJ could engage in, from least to most prep work.

Preparing Playlists

  • Mode: pre-grouping buckets of music that fit together or are in a similar style.  A common grouping is where they should be used in a set: early, mid, peak, and closeout tracks.
  • Verdict? For almost anyone, this is a crucial stage of prep in the digital age with so much music at your finger tips.

Organize Songs By Set Time

  • Mode: Creating a single playlist ordered roughly by their place in the night. For example, ten songs most likely to fit well in the intro and the last ten being your favorite closers for that night.
  • Verdict? This is good way to stay flexible, and takes the guess work out of finding good tracks in a pinch.

Order Of Songs With Variables

  • Mode: Creating a sequence of tracks: “Track A goes well after track B and then for sure track C”  but giving yourself options. Track D could also go well after B if the crowd is feeling an underground vibe.
  • Verdict: With only a few optional paths, this method is fairly focused on one mix for the night with some flexibility for the crowd built in. I would go with this modality if you want a polished sound with crowd options.

 Planning Every Mix, Down To The Second

  • Mode: This means knowing not only what tracks you are going to play, but exactly where they will sound best. Everything is tightly planned, rehearsed and leaves zero room for error.
  • Verdict: For DJs that absolutely must sound perfect because their career depends on it, or for those who are performing complicated turntabilism or controllerism routines, sometimes this is a must.

Pre-Sequencing A Set And Playing It Back

Some detractors from the previous option might say; “Hey , why not just do your set in Ableton Live then and play it back?!”  What is the point of doing the mixes live? Some big time DJs agree (we won’t mention names!), and have been known to pre-sequence sets, creating perfect mixes of their latest tracks in the DAW before hitting the stage.

  • Verdict: If you need to focus on your stage appearance and fist pumping without worrying about hitting play – this might be an option for you.
  • Where It Works: If you’re more of a performer or instrumentalist who will be soloing and jamming over a continuous pre-planned mix.


  • Mode: Arranging sets of mixes and playing them when appropriate
  • Verdict: A clean way to plan great moments and play them when the crowd is ready.

I’ve played on many ends of this spectrum and, at least for myself, come to a happy balance that works for my style of music. Instead of sequencing a full one hour mix, I work on short vignettes based around a big song that might total three to five deep. These can be dropped when the moment is right without sounding contrived. As you can see below – there is common name in the comments group these mixes together.

In this (somewhat crazy) example, I play these four songs in order with several options for other tracks. I drop into drum and bass for two songs and if it works then I might keep it going – and if not – there’s a clean exit back into house.

In the following video, Will-I-Am explains how he does a similar thing.

Where does your set preparation fall on our scale? Do think you need more preparation, or should you start improvising more? Discuss in the comments! 

arranging dj setsdj cheatsdj preparationordering songsplanning dj mixessecrets of djingwhen to play songs in a dj set
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  • Why Every DJ Should Be Making Edits

    […] with many new DJs, when first learning I asked my mentors, “Should I preplan my set?”. Unsurprisingly, I was met with a resounding “NO,” from each of them, stressing the […]

  • Why Every DJ Should Be Making Edits - DJ TechTools

    […] with many new DJs, when first learning I asked my mentors, “Should I preplan my set?”. Unsurprisingly, I was met with a resounding “NO,” from each of them, stressing the […]

  • Greg Adams

    Predetermined sets stifle a DJs creativity, unless you’re a club DJ whose club has a specific genre style. With an ever changing audience you have to leave a door available to maneuver. Four hrs would be a long time using a predetermined playlist. Just another opinion!

  • Ramiro Vega

    in regards to this matter, 2 words: JOHN DIGWEED

  • Mr. V

    The absolute best sets are those that are not planned PERIOD!.
    Any professional knows this and it doesn’t matter the crowd size….
    DJing should and always be about taking chances… planned sets make things boring and doesn’t push those to challenge themselves.
    IMHO…. but who am I?

    Carry On.

  • Dj Set Planning | Computer DJ Midi

    […] Is Planning a DJ Set Cheating? | DJ … – Several people have asked me an important question in the past month. “How do you plan your DJ sets? Is planning my DJ sets cheating?” There’s a … […]

  • i_spit_hot_fire

    I don’t professionally DJ, but as far as I’ve DJ’ed for myself and friends, I like sharing new tracks that don’t necessarily mesh together, but I’m not content trying to find the beat or the hook on the fly. So I’ll listen to a handful of tracks and try to pair them prior to mixing (or maybe follow one song with another of a completely other genre). I see how it could be cheating to purists, but I’m a shy perfectionist at this point in my knowledge, so I really don’t care about impressing the DJs as much as the audience.

  • Benj

    I am a reasonably new DJ, I have been doing it for 3 months now, I have been praised enormously on how quickly I picked it up, and how my skill grew insanely. Because I am reasonably new, I am unsure as to how valid my input is, but I have never even thought of pre-planning or recording sets in advance. I see the crowd, I gauge them and imagine myself where they are, what the venue is like, the mood, the month, the temperature in the venue even, and make my choices on the fly, it hasn’t let me down once. I do wish I was old enough to have been around before digital DJing, people seem to assume that digital DJing takes less skill, “the computer does it all for you” or “all you do is press play” but it simply isn’t true, I can’t speak for vinyl DJing but I feel like there can be soooo many more layers in digital DJing, it does make it easier, but opens up a whole new field of crazy.

  • phiWINS

    OMG THANKS i was just wondering about this.


    Great comments and spot on article. As a controllorist using complicated ableton sets I need to pre plan and practice practice practice. I came from a guitar background, the same is true their. I love the mashup and tend to work hard on that side and then drop into the main element when it feels right. Its a little more restrictive but by using loopers and fx I can create unique sections on the fly. I don’t like taking requests but as I DJ in the Electro House side most of my set is what my crowd want. if it ain’t working I can switch key and mash into something new and interesting. I have also just started jamming live synths over the top and its so much fun (you gotta have good timing tho and it doesnt always work). Each way is the right way as long as it works for you and you make it your own

  • set or no

    what is the problem with performing LIVE instead of depending on sets for every gigs?i mean,isn’t it more practical?or is DJs supposed to play for the people LIVE?instead of playing like a band?i am confused.i am not a big tym DJ.please give me an idea

  • abcdefghijnopqrstuvwxyz

    I fell into DJing “for myself I use that term loosely”, a very short time ago and quite by accident. I have always loved music, especially 80s, but my first love was programming so I went that career route. My first gig was a retirement party with friends and family and was a flop in my opinion. A year later I did a birthday party and things were much better, so well in fact the bartender said I impressed her and asked if I’d be interested in working as a DJ. My first two “family” gigs I planned the entire playlist pretty much. My first non family gig I was called in to replace an ill DJ, so I had no time to prepare and it actually went better than I had expected. Fortunately I have a good command of my personal music collection and I had spent about a year collecting top 40 tracks. My DJing rules are #1, do not over extend your speakers, I have been to too many events where the DJ was either playing 128bit MP3z or had insufficient speakers and the music sounded like shit. #2 I don’t generally play a non modern groups/artists chart toppers, they have been over played/heard, I prefer to play the B sides per se (I know aging myself with that comment). #3 Just because a song is top 40, I don’t necessarily play it. I review the top 40 songs once a month and put the songs that appeal to me in my current music playlist. I keep the rest aside in the event of a request. I firmly believe my long love of music, ear for good music and choice to play only what I love instead of the “DJ standard list” is what got me noticed…because I have nothing else going for me.

    • abcdefghijnopqrstuvwxyz

      Oh yea #4, you MUST…MUST…MUST read the crowd, especially if you are winging your music set, and not just the people dancing, even if some people are sitting but bopping to your tunes or tapping their feet, you are on the right track…they just may not be drunk enough yet…it is a thing…as long as they are responding, you’ll lure them in eventually.

  • Cristal Arcade

    I played an event once that I thought might have main-stream requests, so I modified my track pool to include underground remixes of mainstream songs. There ended up being people in the crowd that insisted on me changing my set to rap and hip-hop only, (I was booked and promoted as playing house) to the point that I was threatened and screamed at by drunken women. Their boyfriends then tried to push into the booth and mess with my equipment. I had never experienced anything even close to this before, and the complete lack of security (this took place in a well-respected venue) or awareness of what was going on took me by surprise. DJ lessons learned: sometimes it doesn’t matter how polite you are in turning down a request, and always pack a stun gun ;).

  • David

    If you make a full set at home and bring it to the club,
    you will empty the dance floor,
    you will even make the crowd leave the club, and the crowd will leave harsh negative feedback of the club online.
    that’s how important the promoters choose the right dj.

    i like this article,
    if you are a instrumentalist or performer, then get your fxxxxxx fans and then play whatever you want.

    you should not be called a dj.
    club is not ur place.

    you only make 1 successful night out of 10 tries.

    like i said, if you already have big fans then your math would work.
    if not…. ur killing the mood, the club and the crowd.

  • Magic Marc

    I can not say this any simpler…. just Push Play! see where it takes you ! read the crowd and run with it!

  • B Mick Kay

    It’s articles and forums like this that make DJTT an invaluable resource! Primarily, I do private work: weddings, parties and corporate gigs. I just started booking more clubs and big bars. There’s a difference in those gigs and I find no fault in being organized and ready to kill. At the end of the end day, if you’re not reading the crowd – you lost.

  • Alan Dodson

    Preparation is important in every job. As a professional DJ, I spend a great deal of time preparing for events. However, the music must be driven by the audience. Just because you plan to play something, you must read your crowd, adjust and match. Making it up as you go along is laziness, playing a fixed playlist with regard to audience is suicide and stupid.

  • Azul

    For me it’s a in between game. I use my own edits/bootlegs because some of them are hard to performe live, that’s why I like this easy way. I record them at home, using FL studio and then play them live. The result is they sound unique and represent my styl and I don’t fuck up. But most of these edits have a history, because I played those two or three tracks in a simple form together during a gig or at home. I also like to choose a couple of 3-5 tracks that work realy nice together and play them in a mini set during a live set. It gives me a bit of consistency that I like to have because I know that will work that will get the crowd go and then going back to oh let’s try this or that 😀

  • Kevin

    I am not pro at all! I only really got my start cuz a DJ didn’t show I mixed all right from my phone! I already had a mix planned all on bpm using an app! iDJ is what I use! I’ve watched n listened to DJ’s in def clubs to hear the mix how the let the misidentified flow together! I am still learning and I am slowly getting equipment to start DJ’ing! But as for now I again use my phone and I pre mix the mix at home to see what goes and doesn’t go! I play in group of 5! So 5 dance, 5house, 5 dancehall 5 raggae 5 spanish 5 hip hop! If you want to call it a set I’ve pre mixed a set that was 2 and a half hours… But I always set up another one with def songs to make sure! If the crowd isn’t liking what I got on I can switch it up… If I used a lap top tho would probably be a just go with it type! But would have a start off mix!

  • Robert Wulfman

    I plan out my mixtapes extensively, getting every transition planned and mapped out but when I’m actually playing live I don’t plan that much, usually I’ll pick out the first 2 or 3 so I can get a good intro going (usually what I pick to start off sets is hard to mix out of) and then after that I have a basic idea of what works together in my head. Revolution 909 goes great with Deep Inside, Together with One More Time, that kind of stuff. but I don’t bother to keep these combinations written down in any format.

    Though sometimes if I’m doing something really casual like a house party with a few friends, I’ll put on a pre-recorded mix of mine (or even somebody else’s) for a while so I can hang out with people or do other things. but even in these cases it’s usually a 6-8 hour party where it would take a bit of endurance to play the whole thing.

  • Chris Conforti

    I often go either way. Some times i plan some times i freestyle…but i always refer to an interview i watched where KRS 1 was talking about doing shows and he said, “you dont want to freestyle your career.” His point is each time you do a gig it could be an opportunity for you to get discovered and that is why for my biggest gigs I always will prepare at least the intro of my set so I can drop some sick mixes that show my ability and that i know will grab the crowds interest. I understand the idea that you have to feel the crowd but I also believe that you should know the type of crowd your playing for ahead of time and that you should trust your music and know if you drop your trax the way you should that the crowd will love it even if they didnt know they did before you played it. Thats why your the dj. When I go to an event and see a dj i look up to I can be sure that he or she will play a bunch of trax that I wish i had when the party is over.

  • Joey C

    I’ve never planned a DJ set in ten years of playing in rave/UG/club environments.

    I feel like It absolutely rips the excitement out of the set, to be pre-planned.

    Actually I take that back. Once I did. First time back from a 1.5 year DJing hiatus.
    In that case It helped but I feel that is a crutch that shouldn’t be used if you’re playing consistently. My general theory.. KNOW YOUR TRACKS.
    or conversely.. like says, have the balls to take risks sometimes.

  • Dude

    You had me till Will.i.Am…c’mon dude.

  • Djjohnnyagenda

    I just arrange my songs into a playlist that are specific to the dance floor. We know which venue we are playing at and what the crowd expects. Just put a bunch of tracks that sound really good together and then try and match them by key when mixing so you’re not all over the spectrum and confusing the crowd.

  • Anonymous

    High Prep is no different than playing a mix CD – nothing short of an embarrassing disgrace when people are paying big money to see you perform. Sure you might have mixed it but anyone with basic knowledge of a DAW could do it and make it sound good. Where’s the passion, where’s the excitement, where’s the spontaneity? That’s why I love DJing. Do it for yourself if not for the crowd. If you want to mime DJ you belong on MTV with all the other manufactured posers. Don’t forget to plug your mixers in!

  • Anonymous

    i’ve DJed across a variety of venues. the funnest nights are when you’ve got nothing planned at all… it really calls upon your knowledge of music and DJing when you’re given 3-4 minutes to pick the next song. 

    i tried doing something interesting last week. i played a 30-minute dubstep and hiphop session which really went over really well with the crowd. so when the bar was hitting 5 minutes to closing time, i reprised that earlier session and redid the mix as a sort of mini mix. it was loads of fun.

  • conor rynne


    1) have the tunes for almost all genres already in your collection (at least enough of each genre for a set or two)

    2) practice each genre, again without much in the way of preparation, so that you get it right

    3) turn up to the club and f**k s**t up

  • Djcrazy4

    Its all about reading a crowd i think. I have been a mobile DJ for 4 years and only recently am i getting into a Club or bigger party environment. You can plan a set without a doubt and no its not cheating it is just your own expression of getting your set down to the tee. But i also find if you have a set that you have been planning does not work out when you put it to practice you have to improvise and watch how people react. That is what i find is very very important.

  • Fraa

    The thing with DJ’ing is that only us geeks are interested in how it’s done. 95% of the people on the floor don’t give a crap as long as they have something to dance to. Some DJ’s are better than others, some plan everything out, some record mashups before they play, some do everything out of the wrist. In the end it doesn’t really matter.

    I’ve been DJ’ing since ’99 and I did vinyl, cd’s, mp3’s, 4 decks, traktor, ableton, whatever. Nobody gives a shit because in the end, we’re all just glorified jukeboxes.
    I always play what I like and I never planned stuff out before. It’s just me and my tunes and I’ll see where the night goes. I also don’t really play what the crowd likes persé, although that might sound obnoxious, it’s MY passion and it’s MY style of music that I want to play. If people don’t like it, they’re probably in the wrong club to begin with. It’s like getting R&B requests in a Techno night club.

    Don’t get me wrong, the world needs crowdpleasers and it’s fine if it works for them, I’m just not one of em. Also, it’s easier just to play the things the crowd will automatically go for, isn’t just more fun to play what YOU like and get a good response anyway? Without planning everything out? Just doing everything on the fly? I think so, but if the total oppisite floats your boat anyway, that’s cool too 🙂

    • abcdefghijnopqrstuvwxyz

      You are right, getting paid or not, you don’t want to listen to a bunch of music you are not partial to night after night. You need a wide variety of genres, you need to isolate the tracks from each genre that speak to you, even if it may not be your favorite genre. Then no matter what genre you are asked to play, play your favorites from that genre. The only time you should play something you don’t particularly like is if a specific song is requested.

  • Jalou1995

    Mixing on the fly….  it’s thrilling, more feelings coming out from your mixes

  • RU57Yrobot

    Like others have said, preparation is sometimes necessary to achieve a polished error free sound. I think that reading a crowd is important but I don’t believe that taking requests is a good idea because I think a DJ is there to present music to the crowd. A DJ shouldn’t be a tool that is there to play the tracks that everyone knows. A DJ should know the crowd that they are playing to and not play to crowds that aren’t into their style.

  • Riddmkidd

    great article and good video opinion. Coming from 30+ years of live performance on drums and bass guitar, DJing is no different from playing any other instrument. if you want to be competent during a performance practice your skills to the point you don’t have to think about what you’re doing. to keep things fresh you have to constantly update your skill set and “bag of tricks” – the mashups, effect drops, buildups, etc. that make a dance floor move. 

    When I was in a touring band we would often play the same set list for an entire year. The first time I did this I went nuts wishing we would change up the set, as it was getting boring. At the end of that year I realized two things:  1. The audience kept changing so it was always new to them. 2. Being a live musician is like being a magician: the magician knows how the magic trick works and there is very little amazement for him/her. But the audience doesn’t know what’s coming next and is amazed when the rabbit gets pulled out of the hat. As the magician/performer I was getting my highs from experiencing the audience’s reactions to hearing their favorite song, and getting lost in a well-executed performance. Being able to do both set planning and live performance makes for a well-rounded artist. I am very new to djing and I’m glad to have this site and community as a resource to help build my skills. Hopefully I’ll get to have the highs from the booth instead of the dance floor sooner than later. 

  • Bob J

    To paraphrase Gen. David Petraeus … “Magic is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

  • Mike Linder

    DJ’ing is allot like prize fighting, everyone has a plan until they get
    hit, its knowing how to react after being hit that separates the pros from
    the amateurs.

    I always prepare for the night im working for.  I do several nights in different genre’s and always have triple the amount of music needed to fill the time.  If im doing a 3 hour set and need 20-30 songs per hour, im going to have 250-300 songs ready for the night, in addition to my set lists from the other nights I do in my external hd ready to go (you never know when crossing genre’s will fit the people who show up).

    Always remember, what works for one crowd will not work for the other, hell what works for a crowd one week will not work the next.  You always have to be prepared to change up your set to fit the mood of the crowd.  You play for them, not yourself. 

  • Anonymous

    I have preplanned sets in the past, but of the total amount of gigs I’ve had in the last 16 or so years, planned sets have comprised less the 1% for me.

    I’m not against a planned set unless it absolutely ruins the crowd. You need to have the ability to avert disaster should your planned set go down like a lead zeppelin.

    DJs that are known for a specific genre and are booked and known to their fanbase for this… It becomes much easier to plan ahead.
    I still find that over-thinking it before the gig tends to stress me out far more than just making sure I have a few crates of solid track selections, making sure that my gear (these days, a MacBook and a Novation Twitch.) is functioning and free from any preventable digital hiccups, and just winging the track selection as I play.It keeps me in the moment, and, in my opinion, will always give a far more dynamic vibe than a preselected set, or pre-sequenced set with just FX tweaks.That said, I don’t hate on pre-selected sets, but I do feel like Pre-sequenced “playback” sets are a bit suspect, unless, as Ean put it, you’re actually freeing yourself up to perform something accompanying it in an instrumental fashion.

  • Filippo

    i think the improvisation is all… because every night is different… i play deep house and tech house… for me the key is: what sounds want i give to my dj set? so.. i go immediatly in my folder and take a track randomly… in the first ten minute i try to understand what are the sound that the crowd like… when i think that a sound is appreciated i immediatly build my dj set around this sound… this method allows me to change every time my dj set and allows me to try different connection between songs and the other… 

    sorry for my english,
    i’m italian 😉

  • 1000 Cutts

    I had the funniest request incident, I was playing in the main room of a club which is about500 capacity and was filling up nicely..I was playing deep tech as a warm up gradually building up for the next DJ…there was a fella on a small raised podium and as we made eye contact I saw him move towards me but he didn’t realise the podium didn’t extend all the way to the DJ booth…so he went arse over tit and put his pint of lager pretty much over his head…he then stood up and spluttered…”you got any David guetta?” ha ha

  • Cal Knights

    In my opinion, I think that planning a set shows professionalism and also makes it sound much more natural and smooth when it comes to it (and of course, error free). However, I always go into a set being prepared to adapt for a crowd. When it comes down to it, the most important thing isn’t how you play your music, it’s what the music is that you’re playing. 

  • Mixsessions

    i keep my record bag with the same tunes inside, so i just change a few cd’s or vinyls, but dont prepare nothing (set)   all depending of, where, when, how many, to play…

    i think better way is always to improvise… put a track, see reaction, put another, and so on….   full house club… so star playing more clubbing with a playlist….  DO IT YOURSELF in the moment ( not by bring it from home already)

    **sorry my inglish is kind rusty

    from Portugal


  • D-Jam

    The only planning I ever do is to put tunes into a folder (or crate in the past) that I want to bring out.  I like to organize my music by “general sound”…meaning I think about if I’m going to play a deep house set, or tech house, or trance, or electro house and breaks, etc…I organize things based on those vibes.  So I have one or a few folders to dig through and not loads of stuff that I wouldn’t play on that night.

    NOW…I do believe in the idea that you have to change in a moment’s notice.  Had too many nights years ago where I was booked to play house or trance, but the crowd wanted pop and rap music.   I think it’s sacrilegious to just decide “to hell with the crowd” unless the promoter wants it that way.Maybe it’s a club looking to push out the rap/pop crowd and get a global dance music thing happening…but if it’s just you disagreeing with everyone, then you’re cheating your role as a DJ.  I don’t care what you think is cool or not.  If you come out with hopes of playing tech house, and the crowd wants to hear the crap they play at weddings, you’re stuck.  Unless you’re a big enough name that you can dictate things, you’re stuck.  Play to the crowd and find a happy balance that makes you into a superstar.

    I don’t believe planning is cheating, but I do think it’s stupid to be uncompromising…especially if you’re not a “big name” and thus you can be easily replaced.  Seen enough guys plan a set completely, and they come in and play, and they still do that set only no matter what happens…and they wonder why promoters won’t book them.

    You play to the crowd…not to yourself.

  • Dandyrandy88

    i think one of the main points of djing, and really what makes it an artform is the ability to read the crowd and control it with the music. so by playing a prerecorded mix your taking out the art and awesomeness of djing.  you might as well put the mix on your ipod and not even be there. i’ve seen so many dj’s playing prerecorded mixes and pretending that they’re using the cdj’s that are up there. and i think thats lying and it makes me mad. cause i spent years working on my ability to read the crowd and i pride myself in my abilities to mix on the fly and letting the crowd control where my set goes. so i’m putting in all this work, and famous dj’s get paid thousands to dance on stage pretending to mix.  theres nothing wrong with finding songs that mix well together and haveing a few ideas of what to play but premixing the whole thing is just lame. you don’t even have to be talented to be a dj anymore and people think djing is the easiest job now adays when in reality it take alot of practice and hard work.

  • steve who??

    I really agree what will i am is saying. i have prepared, several tracks and pre mixes with 2 or so songs that really go well together. but what i would really like to see ean, is a review/comparison of the vci 400 vs the s4.


    This should open your eyes to the Top 40 Culture…Enjoy!

    Maybe this will help you with EDM and what is good and what is not

  • Rockon1213

    Great article and very inspirational video! Thanks 😀

  • lovingmiles

    lady gaga or miles davis? never ending story..

  • nontablist

    be prepared to the gig, but also be prepare for some unprepared mixes!!!

  • Peter Munch

    Thanks to Ean for shining light on this subject. Ean is right, too much planning can be your enemy.

    I find it extremely interested that nobody talks about how we connect with the audience, and the purpose of the DJ. IMHO the purpose of a DJ is to connect with the audience, and convey some kind of emotional content to the audience. If you really believe that you can plan your set the day before, you are bound to become a mediocre DJ. Sure, you will impress with your technique and you will have some drunk mediocre minds lifting their hands in the air pretending they are having a good time, the girls will make some moves to avoid looking like deadbeats. Meanwhile everybody is just hoping for something to touch them… they stand around with an empty look in their eyes, not even knowing what they are waiting for. They have been accustomed to pretending. They have been lulled into a deep mediocre state off mind, by too many pretentious DJs trying to plan ahead their “look how cool I am – 15 minute of fame” sets.

    That being said, what Ean is talking about in this article, I would consider practice. There is absolutely nothing wrong with practicing at home, to get your techniques tightened up and find some creative ways to mix tracks. When you do – I would suggest that you think about what it does to you… how does it make you feel. Planning a set IMHO is more about experiencing your own music and remembering how it makes you feel. Make notes in the comment fields (or on your CDs, Vinyls). You will need to build your own vocabulary and it takes time to do this, but remembering those feelings will help you communicate with the audience and have a much more powerful impact then planning your “Prince-kiss to Queen-AnotherOneBitesTheDust” mix or that 50 cent on top of Nine-inch-nails mix.

    Peter Munch
    Thanks to Ean Golden for taking his time to write his thoughts down and starting the discussion.


    • Chiebs

      maybe this will interest you; i think djs can start to play the roles that rock stars traditionally played and part of their job is to release that chemical (oxitocin or something) so people feel good about being together.

      Here’s something im gonna try; the next time i feel like smoking im gonna play the cigarette duet 

  • Riddimz

    I have seen times where playlist djs have fallen flat and where they have worked very well (sometimes at the same event)

    my view is that for the most part, the audience doesn’t care. they don’t care what you use, how you prepare, if your drunk etc. they just wanna hear good music

    I have been to parties where djs were replaced by mixed cds and one party where two pcs with youtube were the decks, and in all cases the audience didnt care, they just wanted good music.

    your only job as a dj is to entertain the crowd and its impossible to cheat at that, its only possible to succeed or fail

  • Michael Nelson

    you also gotta remember that some sets with these big name guys such ass , david guetta , swedsih house mafia and , tiesto , have big sets where theres midis synced lights pyro and all thats shit so for the most part shit has to be planned in order to execute a great show 

  • BPSS from Dub Church

    This post has lead to some great discussion!
    If I’m asked to play something outside my typical repertoire, I usually only prepare by getting specific tracks for whatever genre making sure they’re all in the same folder & then letting the crowd dictate when I play what tune that night. Typically though, I’m playing Bass music. In just the small music folder on my laptop that I DJ from I have over 3000 tunes & planning is a must just simply to keep some sort of control of it all. I have a weekly so I also have a pretty good idea what my typical audience likes already. I prefer to plan sets based on tempo range & sound; one night I feel like playing Glitchhop, one night D&B, one night Dubstep, one night maybe both & I’ll generally plan in a tune that has the tempo transition already in there. I don’t always get to plan though & I definitely think the ability to freestyle is important but I play a lot of vocal stuff & like to make sure without a doubt the transitions wont clash. Because I like to switch it up & because I also often prefer to leave certain more popular tunes out in favor of digging to find the rare gems, obviously every set has varying degrees of success. Because of the resources in Traktor, I have access to an archive of every set I’ve ever played in addition to any playlists I’ve made.
    So on a given night, If I see the crowd isn’t feeling the vibe, I can recall on the fly any of my more successful sets to pick & choose small groups of tunes that I can now switch back & forth between that sound good together & have already proven to get a good crowd response. This has saved me on more than one occasion. My preparation also includes making sure every track is beatgridded perfectly & placing cue points at typical spots at which I’d want to start a tune to mix into or begin an acapella on top of the tune im prepping. This way if I miss my mix point, I can fix it by doubling back on the right beat just as I start my new tune & ensure the transition is as tight as it should be.
      In the days of vinyl, a lot of guys would pre plan their sets to the tee because there were only so many tunes you could fit in your crate, far fewer opportunities to play & thusly far fewer chances to make an impression on the crowd.
      Also I’d like to add for anyone who has anything negative to say about controllerism & the current state of DJ software & technology, I recently had the opportunity to open for (using my S4 proudly) & speak at length with Mr. Frankie Bones, the father of US dance music culture & he had this to say: “All this stuff is tools for DJs, not for tools who wanna be DJs”. 
     He played All vinyl & CDs that night, his cds were labeled with a vibe or a genre & he read the crowd to dictate what vibe to switch to. He played a wide cross section of stuff throughout the night that way. He embraces new technology fully & had CDJ2000s on his tech rider.
    So basically the tools are what the DJ makes of them. All the syncing & planning in the world wont save a bad DJ from sucking. But for a good DJ, being organized & mastering their chosen set of tools will take their sets & crowds (& careers) to the next level.

  • techtitch

    I LOVE Will-I-Am’s thoughts – brilliant!

  • DJ Essentials

    If i play a hour and a half set i make a 45 min playlist of songs i know i want to play and then i pick songs according to the feel of the crowd. It leaves me open to feel out the my audience. I also always record my sets in traktor that way  if i feel like i had just a awesome mix or cue point juggle i can hear just what i did again because sometimes i get into the moment and let the groove control what i’m doing

  • DJ Skinny

    I had a VERY organized playlist (a-la-itunes).  It got fumbled (I’m keeping it clean here).  I’m re-organizing as we speak.  This secret was handed to me by one of the biggest DJs where I’m from, who taught me how to DJ.  And it’s true, I’ve seen DJs (including myself) fumble around, looking for something/what else to play due to unorganized chaos.  If I’m playing electronic/house at 2am, I want to be able to hit my “house/banger” folder and just click through the songs I feel would work for the crowd in front of me.  

    But at the same time, suppose it’s a dead night, or I’m not feeling so well, or it’s a simple to please crowd and I have a mix I know they would love, I’ll play that and MC or be creative with effects, the mix is already in, I can now use this opportunity to figure out how to use more FX in my sets live, and what does and does not work.  
    To each his own too I guess, if you walk into your spot and you notice your mix is not working and you leave it playing, then I would consider that to be cheating, because it means (in my oppinion at least) that you do not know what you’re doing or how to read your crowd.  I’m still learning as I go along, I get thrown for a loop every now and then, even at my regular spots.

  • Stanchristou

    As a dj the dance floor is my judge and jury!

  • Sin Sentido Comun

    It’s not cheating, it’s boring, specially for an EDM dj. What is the point of so many hours of practice at homes if you are just going to replicate a set? Where is the challenge? 

    • Misterfaust

      The challenge lies in creating a series of melodic relationships that build off of one another. Going at it freestyle is baller, don’t get me wrong. I love a successful string of blends and tracks, but there’s also a strong argument for have planned moments of extreme awesomeness

  • Yaakob Williams

    i like having some idea of what i want to play next but being able to be flexible is a huge part of djing to me. It’s more about taking the crowd on a journey that they’re going to enjoy if you’re playing a set that no ones dancing to i feel like you failed. I’m not saying go out there and just wing it I’m just saying play what feels right.

  • Joseph Chang

    most of the time, I find, if you run a line out to a device to record your set as you play and there is a mix you did that was absolutely insanely awesome you would have a high possibility of recreating it the day after at home. So you get the best of that improv goodness while knowing how you are going to kind of map out the set keeping in mind of reading the crowd. So you can record that “fuck up” and learn how to make it an awesome “fuck up” 

  • Lewislace

    I’m at the high end of the spectrum. In my practice sessions I’m running tracks in similar keys, matching tempos and rearranging songs into mood folders. During a live performance all the blends are done with the circles of fifths in mind and after reading the crowd a little I’ll PERFORM a premeditated mix that may match the moment. #DjsAreMusicians

    • luchini

      djs are certainly not musicians, and buying mixed in key doesnt make you come closer to being one either.

      • Misterfaust

        That’s not a solid blanket statement dude. I’m sure there’s plenty of exceptions, but personally I learned music through brass and woodwind instruments.

  • Al Masek

    The best preparation anyone should do is *know* their tracks pretty well… and it doesn’t hurt to have great taste in music either…

    • Misterfaust

      Agreed dude. That’s my firs piece of advice I give to any new DJ that asks me. I say “listen to the tracks you use a hundred times each” haha

  • Maximo Flugelman

    i am currently working on a live set with ableton and my own tracks mixing the sepparate elements of each track, playing synths and stuff, so that needs a lot of preparation.
    when I do dj sets, I only make gigs where i know people will love the music that i play so I do a lot of preparation so as to making a rocking set, nothing prerecorded,

  • Andrew

    Having well-executed and rehearsed transitions can lead to inflexibility which might make for boredom. I had the good fortune to see Gabriel and Dresden a few days ago, some of my favorite artists. Unfortunately the set was so similar to a set they posted on soundcloud from a few weeks before that I didn’t get the excitement of hearing new twists and transitions. However the mix was complex to the point that it could have been technically impossible to pull it off live, or be that creative on the fly. I loved the music but left wishing there was more improvisations, even if that meant less polished transitions. 

  • Curt J

    this is a great article…really gave me something to think about and consider when mixin’ it up.  In the end, strive for the best, prepare for the worst and take what comes.

    • Will

      Man, that should be my next tattoo 😉

  • Nordberg Trevor


    • Tony

      Best article for a while,perhaps might be a good idea if we all shared some mix combinations on here.

  • R3Bonaire

    i think the word cheating should no longer exist in the DJ world. No body on the dance floor will say you are cheating if they enjoy the event. The critical one that does is possibly a DJ that is jealouse that he is not the act for that event. Critics will always be there. I had a discussion with a club owner once. There was a oldschool Pro Dj invited. The owner was so excited that he was watching the DJ play the whole night. The owner noticed the DJ not touching the pitch fader on the CDJ 1000 even once. Only the jog wheel was usedand Cue and Play. The owner asked why others always used the Pitch fader. I told him to come to my studio ..The next day i took him in my home studio and showed him how to Plan and prep a DJ set with Ableton Live and record each song warped to 128 BPM with 8 bar intro and out loop. I burned him 2 CD’s with each 4 songs and hooked up the CDJ set. Showed him how to tap in the beat and adjust with the jog wheel and use the faders to mix over. He never played before and was mixing instantly. His responce was that is cheating…..
    I told him that it is not cheating. It is making it easy so you can use filter and effects and create ambience instead of spending time to Beat match. So nothing wrong with prepping a set. Still i would prep 4 different sets. That way you have always a possability to switch to something else incase the event is not set to a specific genre.
    Pleasing the crowd is very important, being innovative and using technology is not cheating……it is modern DJ-ing.
    Thanks Ean, another great article….

  • Sin Sentido Comun

    There was a time when great dj’s used to play 8 hours sets “on the fly” creating unique and magic experiences with their crowd. 

    • Modred

      like i do every weekend since 12 years

  • mmmbutch

    I make a playlist of what I’d like to play/expect to play (100-200 tunes for a 90 minute set) and just go from there….. Beyond choosing the first tune and a couple of key tunes I know I really wanna play I just take everything else as it comes.  I can’t imagine pre-planning an entire set. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    • Sam

      Haha, for a second there I thought you were saying that you play 100-200 tunes in 90 minutes…that’d be….interesting.

      My last set was 58 minutes and contained 12 tunes….

  • Faint L.A.

    Your brand is dependent upon your audience enjoying your sets. Therefore, I suggest you pre-plan your set 100%. Put on the best show possible. There is no such thing as cheating, the mere notion is ridiculous. I am willing to bet those who plan ahead tend to be the most prepared. 

  • Rooshdy

    I usually just jam, but everybody knows a mix or two that works well so why not throw it in for good measure, it gives you a chance to show your skills off!

  • Robert Weinhold

    I think the word “cheating” is the worst word around when it comes to music, DJ’ing or art. There is no cheating… if you can move a crowd it doesn’t matter what gear you use, if you use sync or not or if you made a statue with a damn laser or cut it by hand it is all the same.
    Joseph Beuys defined art as the science of freedom and that is my way of looking at it too.
    I have the freedom to use what I want and in what way I want.
    I personally have a kind of mixed approach .. I have pre-organized samples since I do a lot of improv during a set and having my samples ready for that is important. At the same time I am fairly flexible with the tracks I play.
    Yes, I can see some big time guys doing pre-made sets again that’s a stage show… think Metallica or Madonna or any of em don’t do that? That’s a performance not a club gig.
    Feel comfortable and good with what you do and try and make it even better and make that crowd move and feel…. if you achieve that by whatever means you use….  then its not cheating… it is a great night and a great set!

    • Misterfaust

      Sync is a separate issue. It’s not cheating, but it is cheapening. It’s a tool used by, more often than not, people who don’t have foresight. It’s a great tool for beginners but eventually it’s time to “grow up”.

  • Rdej47

    Nice article Ean, this topic is really important with the remix decks on the horizon. To really get awesome use out of those, I think its required that you do some preparation. It’s not a bad thing, it’s like sports. Teams have plays that they practice over and over until it’s just natural, obviously a team would get crushed if they couldn’t improvis but you get the idea. It’s the balance

  • DJ Collide

    At my current residency i had 1 hour to proof myself, so i programmed a list of songs that mix well together + some extra songs. I ended up following the playlist and it worked flawlessly. Now when i do 4~6 hour sets i just create lists with songs of that moment (nice top40 remixes, new house releases i like) and number them with the date. Also i have some genres (dirty house, progressive, warm-up songs (some older but recognized tunes)) from which i can pick. That are the lists i put on my USB-sticks. Then i have a folder on them used for requests, these songs copied to that folder aren’t analyzed so i beatmatch them completely by ear (the songs in the list have a correct BPM for use with CDJs

  • Misterfaust

    The more professional you get, the more prepared you are. At the same time the better you get at improvising. Personally, I go ahead and scope the scene the week before, define expectations, then use those expectations to my advantage while injecting my personality to whatever degree necessary into it.

  • DJ Phrogz

    I have started gigs with pre-constructed sets, and by the end of the night I found myself picking tracks out of a pile of cds that had accumulated on my table. I have played some gigs were my set was perfect and I did not have to change anything. The point is that whatever style gets people off their butt and onto the dance floor is style that is right for you. This style is different for everyone, rock your unique style and let no one tell you that you are cheating.

  • Levi Logic

    I do not pre plan my set, but some songs that i would have to mix on the fly too fast (as i dont use a laptop) i have as a mashup i have edited together, that way i can concentrate on the tune i will play after the mashup finshes, its effective, fast and has great results, i have also started mixing in key as often as possible and i have seen the advantages of this aswell, great combination

  • D3RKIN

    I have close to 20 years as a underground and club DJ. I think if you are just starting out as a DJ it is not a bad thing to make a set. It will help you feel more comfortable and an even allow you not to fumble through you collection so much. Your first blend is everything throwing in the first track sets how every track will blend after and whether your tracks will build and breakdown at the right moments. Stopping the blend to early will result in you having to wait a long time for the new track to build to it’s peak and will result in losing the crowd’s interest. I like for my tracks to climax before I cut over, then I throw in my next track at the very next break after cutting out of the other track. So by the time there has been one measure I have the tracks on beat and locked in so all I have to only make fine adjustments to the pitch. Having a set could also help you match your beats faster because you could kind of remember around where the pitch is supposed to be. I have also learned that touching the platter or pitch bend instead of just using a pitch results in you being able to tell you are making adjustment to the tempo. When I started djing I used to plan my sets, now I just make a folder of music I would like to play. Maybe have like 50 or 60 tracks in a folder otherwise there are to many tracks in each folder making me waste a lot of time. I feel that it is not cheating to have a planned set, but sometimes it could hurt you. Like if you were planning on throwing in a song at a certain place and you miss that break then every track after that will also miss the section you planned to play it in. But there could also be great rewards for planning a set that will impress your peers. Like have two tracks breakdown at the same time and riding through that breakdowns and coming out on beat. I also think it is up to you, not one person will mix the same way and there is no right or wrong way to play. As long as your fundamentals are solid.               

  • No Left Turn

    Planning a set is NOT cheating. If this were the case, then every participant in DMC is a blatant cheater. There are certain types of sets that DO require some level of planning or predetermination. Personally, I only plan the first couple minutes of my set and then wing the rest, part of which includes bundles of 2-3 songs that will be played in order.

    The thing about fully preplanned sets is that they don’t always work. You’re kind of rolling the dice with that. Does that mean you shouldn’t preplan your sets? Not at all. What you have to do is have a backup plan just in case the crowd isn’t feeling it. Have the set be flexible so that you can improvise on the fly if you need to.

    • Misterfaust

      There’s a vast difference in planning a set and planning a routine. Though I don’t think it’s cheating to plan a set either way you just can’t compare the two at all.

  • sim

    well for me its this way, I prepare a playlist for the gig with the tracks that i’d like to play out and I try to stick to it but there’s always those moments where you just have to squeze in that special track and rock the dancefloor even more! playing a pre-recorded set sound kinda pointless to me? why do you need a DJ if you just play it out! 

  • Peter

    Being prepared is the key to success in most lines of work. Professional athletes do it. Public speakers do it. Actors do it. How is DJing any different? 

    • Jlasdjf

      Djing is creative and music. Public speaking is not music, neither is sports.

        • abcdefghijnopqrstuvwxyz

          I don’t really consider myself a professional DJ, I play music at legion halls for birthdays, jack and jills, receptions, etc… very different from club DJs. My first 2 gigs I spent hours planning and had moderate success. I winged it once and would never go back to planning. For starters if you are getting paid a few hundred for 6 hours, but then you spend 20-40 hours planning the set, you are not getting paid what you are worth. Playing for events, there is a better chance the people may have a variety of different genre tastes you need to serve. If you are lucky and the guests are family or around the same age, the may be more aligned musically, if you are unlucky, they may all be into Newfie Jig music…don’t laugh it happened to me. Have you ever been sitting home alone at 3AM and decide to play music from your personal collection just to entertain yourself. You play one song and then half way through you think, now i want to listen to this and then half way through that song you think of another and then another…that is your mind naturally planning music that relates well or leads well into each other. That is a skill a DJ must have. Only issue is a DJ will have a much larger collection than one or two thousand songs, across a couple dozen genres. Rather than spending the time to plan each event, put that time into logically organizing your collection that is conducive to easily locating anything you need. I start with genre, then I break up each genre into decades. For each Genre/Decade pair I have a playlist of 20-40 of my personal favorites from that group. I then break that group into listen and dance music. Depending on the requested genre(s) for an event I will start off with listen music from those genre(s) until after the meal and then switch to the dance sets from those genre(s). If I get a specific song request most DJ software allows you to search all music. If I get a request for a specific genre switch, I can just navigate to that folder and start playing my favorites. I also found when I was planning sets, I would constantly second guess myself until it was an endless process.

          • Chris Conforti

            Look at it this way. Every top DJ whether they realize it or not is planning their sets. DJs who are successful play all the time and every DJ will connect certain tracks over time and find that they mix extremely well together or will have a playlist of tracks that they use to connect different genres or tempos. Every DJ who is established and actively DJing is known because of something they do that their fan base expects when they pay to go see them. That means that on some level every successful DJ has put some thought into their set. And when it comes to enormous festivals most DJs have planned all or most of their set. People think that DJs all need to react to the crowd but guess what. In a lot of situations/venues a DJ already knows his audience and if he cant anticipate or predict how his tracks will go over then he prolly isnt as good of a dj as he thinks he is cause all in all THAT IS THE JOB OF A DJ. And there is no better feeling then getting a crowd to dance to a style of music that they didnt even know they liked. Back in the day the best djs were the ones that played music you had never heard and felt the need to run up to the booth to find out what the hell that last track was.

        • felicia facundo


  • 2ez

    How can a website that adamantly condones sync try to write about what is and what isn’t cheating??

    • Awesomer

      How can a website that adamantly controls using a mixer with two channels and and no EQ try to write about what is and isn’t cheating? If you can’t mix using two channels at full volume with no crossfader or EQ, you’re CHEATING!!!

      • Metalhead

        A lot of people that play instruments like guitars and drums think that people using two turntables and a mixer are cheaters.  No matter what you’re doing there’s going to be some haters.  Look at how heavy metal musicians see punk rock musicians.  I used to frown upon how unskilled punk musicians were at their instruments.  Looking back it was pretty stupid.  Do what you love and let the crowd decide if they like it or not.

        • 2ez

          Its all subjective, most musicians can’t hate on anyone pulling off 32nd note rolls triplet bridges etc etc  …. Most people short of practiced turntablists can’t do those musically techincal things on tables…. get my drift? Theres nothing about mixing that screams “i make music”

      • 2ez

        How can a website that adamantly controls using a mixer with two
        channels and and no EQ try to write about what is and isn’t cheating?

        Point me to that website

        • Awesomer

          That’s the point, dude.. every technological innovation in music is met with people who believe it is “cheating” when compared to the old, harder, more manual way of doing things. 

          When multi channel mixers with cross-faders and EQs were first invented, the people who were really great at mixing with volume knobs probably thought they were cheating. When a direct-driven turntable with variable pitch control was invented, the people who were really good at picking a set so it was all exactly the same speed and never touching their belt-driven turntable thought it was cheating. And on and on and on.

    • rosco

       obvious troll is obvious

    • ToOntown

      Using a computer to do anything is cheating! Even to make music! Any music not recorded live with acoustic instruments onto an analog source is cheating! You are a cheater for not handwriting your comment and sending through the mail!

  • Irvin Cee

    Intresting Lecture.
    I like to pick my tracks on the fly, I like to feel the crowd and as my
    own feelings tell me where to go. wherever that may be…
    But I have no problem when DJ prepare their set, as long as you are able to modify it on the fly playing the crowd…
    If you just run your sequence ignoring the crowd, well then you are not a DJ…

  • belchman

    I agree that adaptability is they key to all this.. I always have two considerations which guide my sets – 
    a) What have I been booked to play? and b) What do they want to hear?

    It would be daft to pre plan an epic big room set which you think sounds amazing when you’re making it, if for whatever reason you’re playing to an empty room or people just aren’t feeling it… (trust me, I had a couple of gigs with a guy who did that on ableton – it just doesn’t feel right and the dancefloor was never full)

    Be warned, there are very different types of DJing, and this hasn’t really been touched on enough in this article. If you have a weekly or even monthly residency or two, then the likelyhood is that the same crowd will come back to that night. In which case, playing the same set/routines probably isnt such a good idea. However, if you’re only playing out occasionally then you can get way with a bit more prep, or if you’re touring the world, go right ahead and pre-record a mix CD (and pull the wool over the eyes of all the people paying 40 quid a ticket to come see you – they don’t give a shit)

    Plus, I play 3-4 times a week, and I’d just be bored if I prepared all my sets (and so would the punters)

  • Houseincorporated

    You can possibly plan 1/2 your set, no matter where you play, request will always be unavoidable.
    And if you are planning to stay in business , you will play requests.
    Unless you are a real famous dj.

  • Anonymous

    This is what I do to prepare:

    Essentially I tag songs whenever I add them to my library and then I have a ton of smart playlists in iTunes that pick up these tags. Then when I get ready for a gig, I start selecting tons I think could go well into a new play list. Using the tags I can then easily group related tracks into little blocks that mean I have to do less searching and more dance floor reading during the gig.

  • Noelflava

    I think preparation is a must for any good set. You have to practice before your gig, and the more the better. Just like any musician or band does the more preparation the tighter your set will be< and good things will happen more "second nature." Why go stressfully browsing for that next track that you just can't seem to think of instead of having 3-4 options already prepared? You may not even use one of those 4 tracks but just because you had them ready and were prepared it gave you that time and headspace to think of that special sauce to really destroy the floor. 

    • Rico

      thats exactly how i feel about it. the prep work in advance gives me more time and room in my head to do more creative stuff live.

  • DubstepisreallyweakDNB

    My question is: How could you not plan at least even a little bit? When I go to a club to see a DJ, I know what genre to expect. I like a lot of different EDM genres and sometimes I get surprised sometimes like when one of the opener DJ’s mixes some dnb into some techno or something but its rare. If I’m going to see electro I expect electro. I expect to hear some stuff I recognize and some stuff I don’t. Do I believe that DJ didnt plan out his set even a little? No way. Does it bother me? Nope.

  • Awkwerd

    I personally plan out my sets based on where I fint in the lineup. I will usually plan out my set start to finish, know exactley what I’m going to play and when and then get there and completley forget. I will remember really good blends and songs that go together really well or good transition songs from genre to genre but other then that I just try to have fun and the crowd usually follows. Theres a big difference between cheating and being comfortably prepared! Like I said, the biggest key is to keep it fun and the crowd will usually follow!

  • Dano

    I’m planning the start of a set – 5-6 songs. I’m a bit nervous on a start and this is helping me to focus on mixing and audience reactions. And i have “proven combinations”, so i’m using pairs of songs here and there.

  • Asignorelli

    as a vinyl dj, i go random, pick a tune and go to the next.
    But i prepear my back whit some deep house to raw techno….
    this preparation has some selection of course. Tunes whit the seme structure or at least whit a master key match.
    so i let that the crow make the set, some times the crow want mor classic house some time the want more tech house or wath ever…..
    you have to go to the booth whit something more than a selection of tunes.
    Nobody goes random to the booth, Sven Vath, Villalobos, cassy all have some selection made before to go on stage. if they keep the selection during the presentation is something ealse.

  • Stephen Almada

    I always plan “big” sets ahead of time, as in a promo mix, or a mix that will be played out, everything is planned.
    with planning goes organization, traktor, along with Ableton, has all the tools to do this. You just have to be organized.

    This is a great article. I have a friend that pre-records acapellas over the tune he wants to play, and will record that to 1 track, then play that mix out. At 1st I thought he was “cheating” and should use a 3rd deck….then I got an S4 and tried mixing 3 decks…you have to pay attention.

    I guess cheating is defined by the individual DJ, and his skills and limitations….with limitations comes innovation and creativity, to be judged by his own peers / DJ’s

    • Matt Emery

      I agree – Prep is different than cheating.

      Djing, like all types of music is an art. There is no right or wrong, there is only bad sets, and good sets – which is judged (IMO) by the mood of the crowd.

      Old school TT guys say Timecode is cheating, New school TT guys say controllers are cheating, and even some Controller guys say using sync is cheating. If you can make it sound good and move the crowd I dont think it matters how you do it. 

      The end goal is the same – rock everyone’s pants off, how you get there is up to you.

    • Thedjally

      those “mixes” your buddy makes are called bootlegs. I wouldn’t say that’s cheating….think of the time he has to take creating those that you get to spend practicing!

  • Bigapple63

    I always plan my sets for my radio show as it always follows the same format, 1 hour of deep house followed by an hour of a bit more tech..I generally use the same approach for club sets as I normally do warm up sets in main rooms or back rooms..start of deeper and build up…as a general rule after selecting the types of tracks I want to play I use bpm as an indicator of sequence..When playing in clubs I always have a crate called back ups containing more dancey stuff which I can use if crowd get going earlier than anticipated…. Radio show is actually on tonight at 20:00
    GMT if anyone fancies catching it

  • Tom B

    Great post. As far as I go for preparing is group songs by key and “intensity” so that it is easier to know where they go together. Also, setting cues to know when to bring in the next song. I have always felt that Traktor is really nice for on the fly stuff even if you have a prepared set. Sometimes a loop really sounds great so you save it for later or an echo would sound good somewhere. 

    By having your set planned, you don’t have to focus as much on transitions and you can focus more on effects. Even at parties where people are screaming at me to play Gaga or Drake, at the end they compliment my routine always say it would have messed up the rhythm of the set.

  • Djdraco

    In the area and demographic I play week to week, I’m 100% improv. I can guarantee that no two weeks are the same. What worked last week probably won’t work this week. I do have a few favorite blends I like to do and I keep them in the back of my mind, but it all falls on the crowd for that night as to wheater I’ll do them or not.

    • Garou9999

      exactly me aswell, i enter a precise ‘genre’ for every track an thats the only way i organise my songs (with over 200 songs per genre) i think if you listen to your music often enough you know what goes well together and will have no problem improvising

  • RockingClub

    The most important factor to consider is: It’s all about your listeners! Which strategy to take is highly dependant on your crowd. But often it’s much more important for people to get the right songs into the mix than to work out crazy transitions and effects.

  • Santielenaiscool

    a set of tunes you know , like and believe is the everything a dj should need, look to the people and choose the right thing, enough! can’t stand djs that play the same song selection night after night 

  • David De Garie-Lamanque

    awesome advice! especially useful for the ableton users…in my case i find myself prepping an insane amount of songs beforehand in a set (warping, and cutting tracks into clips as i build the set), choosing songs that follow each other really well, but giving myself more options, in case the audience doesn’t doesn’t really dig it when i mix track B, i can just as well go for C or D and really mix it up. and if i just feel like skipping over a bunch of tracks, i can put some crazy effects on the playing, bring in drum loops and other samples and just fade the track out

  • Loudist

    As a professional DJ who’s spent 35 years making it up as I go along, I’ve got to say; NOTHING is cheating. Do what feels right. Pre-recording a set sounds like a nightmare of inflexibility to me, but if it works with your audience, on your dancefloor – who the Hell has the authority to tell you what you’re doing is wrong?!

    I start my sets by picking a tune completely at random and seeing where that takes me for the next 4 or 5 hours. You don’t do that? C’est la vie. If everyone who picked up an electric guitar wanted to play like the guy in Green Day, the world would be an intensely duller place – but they don’t …and it’s the same with DJ’ing. There’s more than one way to do it, nothing is ‘wrong’ and there’s no such thing as cheating. There’s only good and bad – and if someone’s got an issue with the way you DJ, it’s their problem, not yours.

    …as long as the dancefloor’s rocking, that is!


      Indeed! Picking a tune and then trying to elaborate from there on the fly can take you to unexpected places, but while you do that, you can discover many things about your own DJing that you can use as your weapons…

      Now, going from random track to a big set (at least 30 mins) in a live situation is not for the faint hearted… it can go wonderfully well or terribly wrong…

      • Loudist

        In all honesty, the only way it could go terribly wrong is only the same way it would go terribly wrong via any other method of set construction; if you’re too busy concentrating on what you’re going to play next, rather than to what the audience is dancing to NOW.

        …and that’s why the idea of pre-recording or strictly pre-programming a set fills me with utter dread; No room for maneuver. I’m not saying it’s wrong – I just couldn’t work that way …and I would argue that going the pre-selected way is equally, “…not for the faint hearted”.

        • Buscapé

          I’ll put my 2 cents in here – I agree that there is nothing wrong with DJing in a certain way.
          The only thing that is wrong is LYING to the crowd, such as playing a fully recorded mix and trying to look like you are mixing live (i.e. lip-syncing as a dj). IF you are playing a pre-recorded set – OK! But don’t be trying to fool people with fake turntable spinning and knob twisting, otherwise, to each their own 🙂

    • M-Squared Music

      well said..I personally allow the venue/projected crowd to dictate what will be played…old school vs club vs deep house

      • Isaac luis

        i am not a whore

        • Red Foo

          …but I like to do it.

          • Sebastian Cavolina

            haha it’s funny how nobody noticed your comment, especially having the nickname “red foo”.

        • Sebastian Cavolina

          dj’s like to share music, in the beginning, “dj” sood for “the one who plays the records for the people” , if you’re playing for yourself, why are you a dj?

    • cheef

      spoken like a pro! 🙂 I’ve never pre-planned a set…the night of the show I just skim my collection for a backpack worth of records, and when it’s time to play, I just grab a record and go with it. Can totally relate on the headache of thinking about planning sets, I just can’t do it, but can understand why others do. If it works it works! But man, there’s some places I’ve gone when mixing on the fly that I would have never discovered if it weren’t for the improvisational approach. It’s always such a treat to share that with a room of people; getting lost in a completely random musical journey, just noting like it! 😀

      • set or no

        i think u r right.DJs with pre planned sets can not accommodate request from the crowd as they fear,it may spoil their sets and it will be hard for them to come back to their sets.the main important thing is they must also consider how to solve this issues as it is a part of their job.variety is a spice of life.specially these days,people are more demanding then ever before.

    • Isaac luis

      i love bacon bitch

  • Jesse

    What it comes down to is knowing all your tracks really well, so when you play one, you know what other 5 or 10 tracks mix perfectly with it and you also know the effect of each mix on the vibe and the crowd.

    Yes, preparation is needed because you need to be able to play these and have experience with all the mixes that are open to you.

  • Emil Beatsnatcher Brikha

    I’m a DJ who loves getting requests, it’s a simple way of connecting and getting close and personal with the people in the place, regardless of the size of the club. I play at many different venues, raging from anything between 30 to 3000 people. It is absolutely impossible to plan a set for this type of DJing. I just show up, read the room, talk to people and press play and see where it takes me. That’s the beauty of it, I got a fridge full of goodies and never know what I’m gonna cook until I start chopping things up!

    • Matt Emery

      Cool analogy! Haha
      How do you decide what requests to take? do you have a list people write on or do they come up to you shouting what they want to hear? Also (obviously not all song requests fit the vibe, or just plain suck) how do you deny someone? or do you just say ok.. wait until they walk away and forget it?

      I also am open to requests (even though I think my judgement is usually better than 1 guy at the party), but I know when someone requests a bad song and I say No, they bitch and I need to explain why I can’t do that, then I feel a bad vibe from that person. Or I say OK, which is an obvious lie, and they come back every time the song changes to see why their request wasn’t next. Either way I feel like a bit of a dick. Thats why as much as I want to give people what they really want to hear, I kind of stay away from taking requests.

      • Emil Beatsnatcher Brikha

        I’m really blunt and honest, even when I’m on the mic I go something like: “Don’t be afraid to make request. If it’s good, I’ll play it… if not, Cj The Bouncer will haul you into the sex dungeon and have his way with you… guys too”. The key is to handle people with respect BUT staying with your principles. If I get a request that doesn’t fit, I’ll tell you to try again, something that fits music wise. Usually they’re too drunk to think that far… but sometimes they request just the right track and you high five them and become their favorite DJ for listening to their request.:)

        • jerry

           That’s awesome! I’ve always found it hard to take requests because I’m so into the moment… I’m going to give this a try!

    • Dennisparrott

      Yup. Requests are cool until somebody wants Metallica during the dinner hour at a wedding.

      I have a simple policy about requests: so long as the song is so far out there it is coming back in from the other side AND I can get into it and back again without too much hassle, I might play it…

      Pre-planning EVERYTHING is sort of a problem for me… Each gig is a musical exploration. “turn off your mind, relax and float downstream” folks! yeah, I fill a crate with some stuff that the people who are paying requested but the rest is made-up-as-we-go…

      • Anthony Woodruffe

        I’ve played Metallica many a time during dinner hour at a wedding. It goes down unbelievably well. ‘Nothing Else Matters’ is a great waltz and has even been an opening dance once.

        As for playing requests that are easy to fit in?
        I like using requests to help me program.
        example: A request for Ram Jam’s Black betty but I’m playing Dr. Alban ‘It’s my life. I can’t just kill the dance floor and throw the request on but transitioning through various genres and steering the crowd into a 70’s rock set not only requires good musical knowledge but also knowledge of where and what can be mixed together so that the energy still remains on the floor.

        • 10songsblog

          This, this, this… I find most DJs have done their history homework so when somebody shows up and say I want “Love Child” by THe Supremes or “Fancy” by Reba they don’t know what to do. Usually the DJ just jumps into You Shook Me All Night Long out of nowhere (because that is the only rock songs they think people know) and the go right back to Madonna or Katy Perry. LOL! The floors around me are EMPTY because of this problem. The DJs have no flow, and the catalog of music is VERY limited.

  • Tomek Rubinski

    It’s absolutely not cheating. I’ve worked for a webradio as an editor/co-animator. Each of our shows were cautiously prepared, the timelines were defined minute per minute and that’s exactly why we managed to allow an important part of our shows for improvisation. It sounds contradictory ! But the preparation was only about giving us somewhere to land if the improvisations weren’t working the way we hoped : if the guests weren’t reactive enough, or if an akward silence lasted too long, we always had our timeline just in front of our eyes to rebound on something else.

    I work the same way while DJing : I prepare a playlist, “Order Of Songs With Variables” according to the graph, and if something I try with the audience didn’t work, well, I stick to the plan. Preparation = peace of mind, allowing you to be more expressive 🙂

  • djjc

    It’s absolutely NOT cheating. Read an interview many years ago with Paul Oakenfold stating that ‘you should never do anything in a club that you haven’t tried in your bedroom’ (no sniggers please !). He was almost right…. a good idea of where you want the set to go, and some killer mixes you know and love can only help. But always be able to deviate and remain open to the crowd.

  • Zero Slum

    As a person who came into electronic music from a background in playing with bands, I have huge issues with such questions and finding a right balance for my set, which should also include some instrumental jamming. Thanks for putting things into perspective.

    • DJ Urkel Dee

      Great article

  • DJ Peter Lo

    such a good post. i ask myself these questions all the time. 

  • Nate

    Cheating is pre-recording your set (a-la Swedish House Mafia, etc.)  I don’t think there’s any fault in choosing a broad playlist for the night.  What did true vinyl DJ’s do in the past: bring one crate, which means they have at least SOME idea of the tracks they’ll play that night.  When you’re mixing between songs every 2 minutes, do you have a lot of time to choose on the fly?  I use a method close to Brian, choosing a very broad playlist for the night and picking and choosing tracks for the right moment, mixing freely without planned transition moments.

    • seb

      Seen SHM very “up close”, from backstage at a venue, and they do not pre-record their sets, but they alter their mixes a lot and makes them very “user-friendly”.  

      • 2ez

        Everyone Does… If you see Skrillex or mouse boy on the west coast on friday, and then on the east coast on saturday theres a 95% your gonna hear the same set.

         But having said that – thats a producer thing – if your making half the tracks your playing from scratch why the hell wouldn’t you sequence them to mix perfectly and easily for a certain spot for you…. THAT is why sometimes you buy a track and listen to the intro and realize its almost unmixable without being edited because whoever made it, made it with a certain spot to fill in mind.

        If you ever edit anything don’t make it “hard to use” for yourself – Make shit easy to use, add a snare to accapella etc etc etc

    • ToOntown

      “Cheating” is playing something pre-recorded that you yourself did not mix. Besides, don’t fault a major touring act for putting a show together. They’re not the only attraction…they have pre-set lighting effects and video… There can’t be any surprises. I think this is more directed at the club or rave DJ.

      But I totally agree with the crate analogy. I’d go see DnB DJs who’d only brought enough wax for a set. Maybe 15-20 records. How is that different than building a playlist in iTunes? 

  • Brian Foster

    I always plan out my sets, including more songs than I really need.  I chose which songs to omit as I go.  Even though my sets are planned, I try to do a lot of improv in my mix transitions.  

    I have never once thought of this as being cheating and I will continue to do things my way.

    I also only take genre specific bookings. I’m not changing over to crappy Justin Beiber pop songs or dumbstep for some annoying brat. I play to “my” type of audience. In the past I have dealt with teenagers coming up to me one after another saying… “can you play some rap or pop?” These were events with a varied crowd. No more of that nonsense. Choose the audience that appreciates your style.

    • David De Garie-Lamanque

       sound advice. if you want to feel great about a performance it has to be honest, so it’s better NOT to compromise 🙂

    • Matt Emery

      This reminds me of my buddy’s party he convinced me to play on Friday. I was home for spring break and accepted to play his frat party for free (first mistake). Before I committed to doing it I asked what kind of party/music will I be playing. He said “It’s a dance party. With glow sticks, bright clothes and lights. So all house music!”

      I love playing house and I have a set that goes great for these types of parties. Its a bit mainstream mixed with house, because I know how these frat guys are when it comes to underground music (they don’t quite understand it).

      Anyway I started playing my set as people were coming in. Everyone was loving it and dancing, but once the place filled out He came up to me and said “we need more of the popular shit, you know like house music, not all this dance/techno.. Put on some wiz!”

      After being stubborn for awhile, I finally gave in and played a few wiz/ J.cole / Meek Mills. Not a huge problem, and people were ok with it, but He insisted on picking the next song every time, and stood by me.. and basically did my job.

      Not only was this very frustrating because obviously not all songs flow well into each other, but I realized something. This kid has no Idea what house music is. He tells me to play more “house music” and tells me to put on Meek Mill’s House Party.

      I was about to pack up my stuff and tell him to just plug in his Ipod because at this point my job was pointless.

      I guess what I am trying to say in this rant is don’t stray far from your roots. I know if I would have finished my house set the party would have been a hit as opposed to just so so, but he was so insisting that I couldn’t get away with doing my own thing. This was by far my least favorite gig, not because I did it for free, but because I felt violated and not appreciated. To be clear this guy is more a buddy I knew from Highschool, than someone I consider a best friend. 
      — That being said, What woud you have done? 

      • Brian Foster

        Stand your ground and adopt a “no requests policy”  unless it’s from the person handing over the cash. Then a request or two might be ok.

        • Christian

          Matt Emery’s post made me wanna punch this frat fuck in the face and I love what Brian said here and I feel like this should be the standard.  So I kinda wanna repeat it.

          If you’re playing a set for free; only take requests at anywhere from $1-$10/song.  Even if it’s a friend or the guys house; if he isn’t paying you and wants expects that he gets to pick the songs then politely look him straight in the eye and tell him he can pay for a request or fuck off.  This is the policy that I’m going to adapt and I have my first two gigs this weekend.

      • Chiebs

        I’m brainstorming ways to somehow make the person who made the request accountable.  Here’s a way I’ve been thinking:

        The person making the request has to speak into the mic very clearly and say “hey everybody, the next song is a song that I chose!”

        If the crowd likes it; great.  That person feels good for picking a good song and appreciates you letting them pick it; if the crowd hates it; great!  That person probably won’t make another request and the room will pick up on the fact that picking the next song is tough and others might be deterred or feel challenged which probably adds a level of excitement.  Also, you don’t get blamed for picking a song that clears out the dance floor.

        Any thoughts anyone?

      • rabble

        Mate I have done a million of these parties. I find house parties (18th / 21st birthdays) are the worst. You do them as a favor because it’s your friends or one of their siblings birthdays. They put you in a marque outside and everyone stands around just outside of the marque talking shite and smoking fags all night. Then 3 girls come in and tell you to put on rihanna or some shite while you are playing deep house. You oblige as they are the only people you can see taking any notice of the tunes. Then some asshole comes in and says what the fuck happened to the tunes? Were all outside listening to the tunes and why is rihanna now on?

        I could go off on a rant but, These gigs 9 out of 10 times are more trouble than they are worth. I have played 2 decent house parties for free in about 5 years.

        99% of people are happy with an ipod dock. 

        Pub gigs and commercial clubs are the hardest gigs to play. Seriously anyone who is a good DJ can smash the dance floor at DC10 with a bag of good tunes. You put jamie jones or seth in some disco bar and tell them to play for 6 hours they wouldn’t know what to do 

        • jamie

          Seriously , House parties are complete shit , you start playing deep /progressive , then a random guy comes and asks you to play the top 10 pop , Dude , if you wanted to listen to that crap , plug in your fucking cell phone

      • Dan Haynes

        I DJ house parties all the time and they are all the same. 95% of the people dig what I play, then theres the 5% that come back and back and back to request songs. Sometimes, hell, it’s a good recommendation, but most of the time it’s just mainstream pop/rap or a song that I feel isn’t going to mix well with what I’m playing. Not saying that I wont play that stuff, but theres a time and place for everything. Usually I’ll just explain that I’m in the middle of a mix and they’ll hear it later when people are feeling it. That’s it, just tell them the truth about what you’re doing and why.

        This is like deja-vu for me because last Friday I did a party where one single dude was coming up every song and requesting stuff time and time again. At one point I got so annoyed that I just played one of the songs. Didn’t mix well, people were all confused, but luckily I saved it on the next track. It was a mistake, and I’ll damn sure never fall for it again. Some people just get in your brain and convince you that Rebecca Black is going to go real well with Dada Life (That was an example!)

        I guess what I’m getting at is, being a hard-ass blows, especially when you’re having fun, people around you are having a good time and everything is going well. If you’ve had to explain to people multiple times that if they wait they’ll hear what they want to hear, or that they just straight up wont hear the song they request – it sucks to say, “Listen, I have a job, this is why I’m here, go dance to what I play or you can get the hell out.”

        Don’t be a push-over, as a DJ you know how to read the floor, you know what to play (planned or improvised), don’t let obnoxious pricks change that.

      • abcdefghijnopqrstuvwxyz

        I feel for you, my first gig, I won’t even use the term DJ, I was playing music for a retirement party. I planned the playlist top to bottom for a couple of months, listened to everyone’s input and it was a flop, too many cooks per se. My next gig, I played what I wanted, except for requests, it went much better. Then I was pushed into winging it when I was asked at the last minute to fill in for an ill DJ…It went even better…I will never plan a set again. I will instead redirect that time into categorizing my music by genre, decade, highlighting my personal favorites from each genre/decade pair and in keeping up with adding top 40s in the most popular genres to my collection.