Critical Steps Before Every Digital DJ Gig

Gigs are nerve racking enough without technical failures and software breakdowns. If you want to have total confidence stepping on stage, then follow this basic pre-game procedure every time and I guarantee it will reduce your stress to a very manageable level.


Last Thursday I played a one-hour short set to test the new Midi Fighter Twister sequencer. Unfortunately the first 40 minutes of the set sounded terrible with none of the synced effects or MIDI clock out running in time with the decks. A full system restart fixed the problem, but with only 10 minutes left in my set; the Twister never got a single minute of real play time. Of course, the frustrating thing was this issue could have been completely avoided had I followed my own basic setup rules. If you want to avoid having critical DJ sets ruined for you, I would advise always doing a few basic things before each performance. Otherwise you are leaving the outcome entirely up to chance and not your musical talent.


1. Setup + Test Your Entire Physical Rig

There are always a few little details that bite you in the butt on the night of a show:

  • Sound card routing issues
  • Cables going bad
  • Missing a key connector
  • Effects settings changed
  • Mappings getting messed up

All of these problems (and many others) can be very nerve-racking to fix or diagnose during a live show. Bring them to light early by setting up your full rig with ALL required equipment in the exact configuration it will be used the night before. Missing any gear, something not working? Fix it now and leave nothing to chance.

2. Create A “Must Play” List

Often mobile DJs will get a whole list of tracks for this playlist from their clients.

In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to lose track of the big picture and what your original vision for the night may have been. I find it helpful to create a short playlist of songs in advance that you would really like to work into the set. This should be short (5-10 songs) and something you check back with periodically through the night. You might also try placing these songs in a order that might make sense musically in case they end up getting played back to back. Make sure to check all of the songs’ beat grids are perfect using this technique.

3. Create A Master Backup Of All Settings

You really don’t want to know how times I have had everything perfectly ready for a show, only to have programs crash on power down and lose hours of work. Before shutting down the machine or quitting Traktor, once everything is gig-ready, create a “Safety” export of all your TSI and effects settings. Date stamp this file so you can use it as a Time Machine-style backup and go back to previous versions of your set up. 

4) Save The Collection

If your pre-gig process includes creating a lot of playlists, beat-gridding songs, and organizing the collection – make sure this is all saved. If Traktor does not reload or the collection becomes corrupted on startup (this can happen) then all your work will be lost. Simple save the collection manually before quitting and everything will be safe. Just CTRL+Click on the Collection icon. 

5) Quit Traktor And Shut Down The Computer

The reason all of my effects, MIDI clock, and sync were off in the gig last week was because I had left Traktor running for several days. Over time the internal metronome can float and everything will eventually go completely out of sync. It’s very important to start with a fresh instance of Traktor each time you play. I also like to shut down the computer to reset the system RAM and clear out any unneeded running programs.


Playing in Ibiza at ENTER

1) Start A Fresh Instance Of Your DJ Software

It’s common for DJs to be working on their set right up to the gig and leave the program open so everything is set up. I really don’t recommend it for two reasons:

  1. This tires the ears and eyes, making for a less inspired musical performance. My personal live set rules include avoiding DJ software completely for the day of a gig. This gives me a much-needed break and makes the music feel a lot more fresh and exciting during the show. Almost all top fighters and athletes don’t train the day of their events, besides a gentle warm up (more on this in a bit); they let the body and mind rest in preparation.
  2. You want to re-set the internal clock and make sure the timing is as tight as possible for the full gig.

2) Reset The Played State

If you did play around with software before hand, reset the played state of all your tracks so it’s still clear what tracks ended being played in the set – get to this context menu by right clicking on the Track Collection. Some DJ software requires a restart for this to work.  

3) Turn Off Wi-Fi + Bluetooth

Wi-Fi enabled can sometimes cause audio glitching.

These can eat up CPU power and sometimes demand resources at a critical time, which can very easily result in audio glitching. Since we are not all DJing from the cloud (with the exception of some Virtual DJ users) – turn off Wi-Fi and ideally Bluetooth if possible. Ideally your DJ software should be one of the only processes running (you can use Activity Monitor on Mac or Task Manager on PC to make sure this is the case).

4) Have A Backup Plan In Place + Ready To Play

Either run iTunes in the background or a place your USB stick or CD in the club’s CDJ so you have a back up music source ready to go in case of a failure. Your phone can also be an acceptable sound source, although the volume coming from a headphone jack is typically lower than most sound cards. Ideally you will always have a USB key with 20-40 songs ready to go at all times so if all else fails there is a simple way to mix songs in a pinch.


Oddly, Traktor’s history isn’t in the “History” folder – it’s in the “Archive” folder.

Immediately, and I mean immediately (otherwise you will forget) create a blank playlist and save your set list for the night. This is going to be very useful in future gigs or track sorting. I like to include the gig and the date in each playlist name. If you do forget, the history in most programs does work pretty well – in Traktor it can be found in Explorer > Archive (pictured above).

Read More Gig Preparation Articles:

Have your own required pre-gig checklist? Share it in the comments.
Header image credit: Dynamo Gold)

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Comments (52)
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  • Patrick Ijsselstein

    oh sweet vinyl, carrying 2 full cases 800 meters over a sandy beach, back-breaking? yes, but never let me down.

  • AJ

    Too bad alot of these hacks – digital desk jockeys – don’t know how to mix the old fashioned way. I’m not even talking about with wax – im talking beatmatching by ear without having to look at a computer screen. Seriously, all this technology is allowing no-talent hacks that haven’t learned the craft of DJing to come in and snipe gigs from real DJs who spent hours learning how to beatmatch.

  • Anteater32

    When swapping between real vinyl and timecode remember to switch back to 33 rpm………. I didn’t a couple of weeks ago and restarted Traktor twice before I realised why the pitch was all over the place. Luckily I was DJing with a mate so he played whilst I sorted my ‘issue’

  • Patrick Ijsselstein

    for mac, there’s an app called “killemall” this app “kills” everything on your system that’s not used in a liveset or gig, check it out. Also another tip which can save your life, literally, is to create a plugs and cable box with every possible adapter you can imagine. Here’s a picture of mine.

  • dgle

    i love my vms4 for the analog/usb switch, keep the ipod running and switch to analog if ever.. 4 analog channels is plenty

  • Michael J

    Thanks for this article! I must admit, I really struggle with the “avoid DJ software the day of” thing and I’m trying to get better about giving myself at least 4-6 hours of rest from on my computer before heading out to a gig. Some of these tips don’t apply since I use Serato, but thank you all the same! I love that even when I’ve had a crash Serato has saved playlists, folders, etc. and History in the order everything was played which is great for referencing later. One of the things I’ve started doing is keeping a much better organized request list, so I can reference back later and see what everyone is requesting – most of it’s garbage, but every once in a while I find a hidden gem.

  • France

    Had way to many problems with my Mac pro now it’s all about cdj pioneer the plus side of a thing I learn a few things a understanding of beats most of my day is spend beat griding & nor other of my problems jacking iTunes up had apple computer wipe the drive down still doing the same thing I’m dome puter

  • Mike

    …or you can just DJ with 2 CD players like a boss & skip all of this malarkey

    • o

      I guess you have never seen a CDJ die mid set before. It does happen.

  • Dr Beatz

    If you DJ frequently I would recommend having a dedicated set of cables/connectors that never leave your case. I have a small controller and mixer that I Velcro to a board along with an Ipod and folding laptop stand. It has all cables(audio and AC), headphones, connectors all PHYSICALLY ATTACHED to the board, which I cut to perfectly fit into a single suitcase.

    Then at gig time, all I need is my laptop and charger (and the case duh). You get to club, open case, put board on table, plug in laptop, 1 cord to AC/1 cord to house mains and BOOM. You can go from walking in the door to playing in literally 3 minutes.
    No forgetting anything small, and it always works since the cables never get jostled.

    I put the whole thing together for under $200 (minus laptop and traktor). The mixer has extra inputs for a Mic or something else. I generally run 2 Ipod inputs so I can take requests from peoples phones, and if laptop crashes, you still have 2 channels of your own mixer to hash a set together.

    I also firmly believe in never leaving anything up to chance. A good venue will have a CDJ or mixer input, but too many times this is not the case. A good rule to follow: if you ever say something like “the club will have this cable” or “my laptop is fine on that rickety stand”, the opposite will come true.

  • Dean Zulueta

    This is a HUGE part of every time I get ready to play. Part of my income stems from mobile DJing and silence is the last thing I want when doing a gig. Every week I set-up and tear-down just to ensure everything is working problem. Doing so, I have saved myself from disasters such as a blown fuse in my amp to a corrupted USB drive. Always test your tools because even if you are one hell of a DJ that doesn’t mean your equipment will be ready to show those skills.

  • BOW-tanic

    Thank you for this important post! Let me add some points:

    – come early to the gig: it can take time to set everything up, especially when something unexpected happens (it took too long to park your car; someone immediately wants to talk to you; you have to make space in your booth etc.)
    – bring a start-cd (see above): if you still not finish your setup early enough this cd can save your start-time and pre-show

    – have an exact place for everything in your case: you see an empty spot when something is missing (pre and post gig!)

  • Tomislav Simi? ToS

    “Had a Traktor running for a few days”. I’m so sorry to be this guy but that mistake is so “apple”.
    There is that joke, when a computer fails constantly and all present technicians agree that they should also try to leave the room and then come back and turn it on again.
    I find that similar to this situation.

    • djfreesoul

      Used to rely on my macbook, but after the last two big updates from Apple the spinning roulette is starting to annoy me more and more. Please mr Jobs, up there in the skies, can you point a finger at the guys who update OSX theese days?

  • Lucas

    Or you can avoid all of this by just using the cdjs in the club that are sitting there waiting to go…

    • Sam Andrus

      Unless they’re broken or you lost your usb with your music or the person who was supposed to return the cdjs from the other thing they were at didn’t return them yet and the club didn’t realize you needed to use theirs.

  • Dave Uv Frey

    I have a program called gamebooster thats designed to overclock PCs for gaming but this works well to quickly shut down background programs and resources. In most cases i’ve managed to improve performance by up to 50% and just open it when i boot up my laptop. I also manage playlists through itunes so i have exact playlists of what i plan to play and can make copies on my usb drive and back up those onto cds for cdjs so no matter what i can play on anything no matter what.

    • Oddie O'Phyle

      good ol’ i/o bit.

    • Chaser720

      I’ve used it as well. Good software.

  • Michael Provatas

    I have written an Automator script to prepare my laptop before launching Traktor. It will turn off the wifi, quit all applications and background services and run a memory cleaner.

    Also, I have a list with things I need to pack before I leave to the club. Obviously, this list was made after I once forgot my charger!

    • chris

      checklist tzh
      normaly has a music-prostitute feel such a thing deep inside


      checklist is every time a great idea.
      I want to emphasize this

    • Brilliant Idea

      It would be cool if DJTT showed how to do this! Or do you know any tutorials that would show how to do this? Would be very handy but I wouldn’t know where to start with automator scripts

      • chris

        the first thing to do:
        * Keep your Laptop clean and have enough space for the inside workflow.
        (Apples and Others works different. Apple use the disk-space more spontaneous) in fact: when you have an 500 GB inside Disk, so you have >MINIMUM< 50 GB to held free. *more free space is better* (an Apple cleans his space every time at shut down or booting)
        – if you have nor space on your inside disk
        * shut down all Apps
        * empty the trash
        * empty the history of the browser cache
        * us the task manager or the activity display to run only your dj-software.

        thats it

        • chris

          and if you use an external harddrive for music storage: check the latency between “USB 3.0” “Firewire” and “Thunderbolt”.

          but: USB is not USB. there are worlds between. my USB 2.0 on my MacBookPro works faster than some USB 3.0 on an other product. this is true.

          • Patrick Ijsselstein

            exactly, a decent usb-cable has the quality of the cable encrypted on it. You should look out for a combination of 2 numbers and the letters AWG. The first AWG is 28 and the second will be somewhere between 28 and 22, the lower the second AWG, the better the quality for streaming midi and audio. AWG 28/24 is minimum for streaming data, midi and audio. Anything like 28/28 or 28/26 or no description at all should be avoided!

          • MarkH

            Not quite how you describe it … the first number is the size of the data wires in the cable, and the second is the size of the power wires. Smaller number means fatter wire. Fatter wires pass more current and allow faster charging, and also support more demanding (current hungry) devices.

          • Patrick Ijsselstein

            so basically we are saying the same thing, or did i miss something?

          • MarkH

            You’re suggesting that the ability of the cable to stream data is better if the second number is lower, but that number relates not to the data but the power.

            Undoubtedly some cables are better than others, e.g. some have better shielding, or better quality connectors, and I’m sure even some AWG28 data wires will be better than other AWG28 data wires, based on the quality of the copper or insulation or whatever, but if all of them are marked AWG28 how will you be able to tell?

      • Michael Provatas

        Unfortunately I don’t remember using a specific tutorial. Just add “Quit all applications” and a couple of “Run AppleScript” with code you can google online to quit all applications you don’t need while djing. Then add “Launch Application” to run your software.

        Also, install “NoSleep”! This will prevent sleeping even if you accidentally close the lid.

    • Ben Partyterrorist

      I disable wifi and lan in the bios setup and set the windows (wifi-)network services to “startup manually”… worked good for me..

  • Tom Wenger

    remind me of one time i forgot the ac power for my macbook
    i did the whole party with my iphone and traktor DJ
    great tip !

  • Paul Hildenbrand

    Have an iPod running at all times during your sets. Create 30 minute, venue/theme specific sets geared towards the kind of gigs you play; funk, house, rock, new wave. Have the iPod always running on it’s own channel, that way if you have a computer crash or software glitch, all you have to do is pull up the fader and the music keeps going. Yes, the mix will most likely be jarring, but that beats silence by a mile!!! A 30 minute mix should give you plenty of time to re-start your laptop and run a quick check once back up. This method has worked for me. It has happened only twice (knock on wood). The first time was before I had a backup plan–SILENCE=DISASTER–the second time I pulled up the fader and just kept on rocking like nothing was wrong. The night went on with very few people knowing/caring a problem even happened…

    • skaines

      Glad to see I’m not the only one who employs this exact same technique in case something goes horribly wrong during your set. 🙂 Nothing is worse than silence if you crash or something gets unplugged during your set.

    • Galvanix

      This is the best, most obvious solution for this I’ve ever heard. I always just have a flash drive and some songs in mind that I could throw on, but it makes so much sense to just have a mix going.

      I have a lot of recorded live sets, so it’ll be pretty easy to put together some labeled emergency-mixes. Nice one!

    • Richard

      Thanks for the excellent tip Paul.
      I had a disaster once when I mapped the two CDJs to deck A in traktor.
      And since they were synched, which ever tracked I CDJ I paused, it would pause the other one too. I couldn’t even put in a USB on one CDJ to try and mix out.
      Ended up having to shut down and reboot everything. It’s amazing how long the silence seems to last when this happens.
      Thank god the rest of my set was epic and most people forgot about the stuff up. But this is such a useful and simple idea for getting out of a whole world of pain !!

      • SHIELDS

        I’ve had this happen too! Make sure audio is set to output and also on the mixer its open on the crossfader! This has screwed me and this is why I will never use traktor on cdj’s again.

  • Swier

    suger great post!

    2) Reset The Played State great Tip!

  • Cann Man

    well this might seem obvious but it has saved my set more times than I can remember.. especially if I’m bringing a lot of hardware, before I walk out the door I just do a mental checklist to make sure I’m not forgetting some cable or plug or whatever.. so I just walk myself through the setup.. plug in the plugbar, then the turntables, computer, rcas to wherever blah blah blah until I think about every detail of setup and make sure i have all the stuff… cuz lord knows I be forgetting stuff all the time, and the old ‘hey i cant play yet but im run to my house and ill be right back’ always sucks! last time i didnt do it before a gig i forgot the computer!

    • Tomislav Simi? ToS

      Forgot a whole PC once back at home. Had a friend run over there while I was setting up PA and stuff.

  • Rocco

    So easy just to bring a USB Pen Drive..and voila!

  • chris

    when your Controller or Laptop is crashing, you need an iPod, with some tracks – with correct bpm matches -. three to five tracks are mostly ok. That they matches as well! So you have these time to fix it. – keep calm and make a smile
    (check the time, that your Laptop needs to reboot)

    and when the complete Electrictiy of the Room is gone, you need a flashlight to turn the speakers of your iphone on 😉

  • RFDJ

    Also, run the optimization script by SmiTTTen (?) before a gig…

  • RodrigoSM.Br

    Fail to prepare and prepare to fail. Nice pointers. Just one thing: nerve racking? Not nerve wrecking?

    • YTee

      In this case – I think both work well 🙂

  • KIO

    Reading all the items from your pre-show prep list, I specifically agree with point 5), though I think it should be followed by point 6) Start Serato and and enjoy DJ-ing instead of fiddling with software settings. 🙂

  • Oddie O'Phyle

    good tips… most of these i do. although i do a weekly back-up of my user file (a habit I got into with live 6 as a windows user). My playlists are compiled from a master Prep. folder selected from my Beatport Music folder and dated as to produce .nml or .M3U for the radio stations logs. The one things that I’ve found to cut down pre-gig stress is a good bag. I use a 21″ Zebra case for my S4, but the real help comes from Mono Kondenser bag… “everything in it’s place”. I find that now, I rarely forget anything.

    • Kevin Schrader

      Those Mono bags are really good! I got “The Fader” and it’s awesome!