Preparing for any DJ gig: 9 tips from the DJTT community

No matter what size, type, or genre of performing DJ you may be, let’s agree on one thing we have in common – some kind of pre-gig prep.

So, we got curious – especially now that so many artists are returning to IRL shows and DJ booths for the first time post-lockdown. How long had it been since you’ve played in front of a crowd? When was the last time you touched a full mixer-and-multiple-CDJs-with-booth-sound system? For many, an entirely new level of post-pandemic anxiety (and “oh shit, I forgot how to do this!”) ensued.

So we asked our DJTT community what they always do to get ready to play a gig. And although every DJ obviously has their own unique routine, a few themes stood out. From technical tasks – loading USBs, checking gear, running through tracks – to making time for self-care and calming jitters, we found quite a few fun tips that may be worth considering how to integrate into your own pre-gig ritual.

#1: Do your venue homework.

Any gig deserves a bit of homework. What type of gig is it, and who’s booking you? What can you learn about the venue? For example: what’s their sound setup? How is their DJ booth situated compared to the crowd, and what type of DJ gear do they have? Who else is playing, and what type of music should you play?

#2: Gather your tunes, get familiar, & practice.

An obvious one: putting your music together is a key part of many artists’ pre-gig prep. There are a million different ways to do this, so find whatever process works best for you – over-preparing, under-preparing, throwing tracks into a folder on your USB and winging it, creating a set flow, or something else.

Get to know your tracks, and take the time to listen and remember which ones you love. Putting together ample music – i.e. always have more music than your set time allows, as a just in case – isn’t a bad idea, either.

#3: Gear check: do you have everything you need, and does it all work?

Make a list, check it twice – you know the drill. Make sure you have all of the gear you could possibly need – and backups, if you’ve got ’em, bag it up, and put it by the door. Headphones? Check. 1/8 to 1/4 adapter for said headphones? Right – because after all, it is often the smallest things that you forget the most easily.

#4: Confirm your USB works & grab a backup stick (or two), check your files, and get to your comfortable level of “prepared”.

There are few worse feelings than plugging your USB into a CDJ when you’re hopping on the decks and realizing that it’s not ready. Maybe your playlist didn’t transfer over, your cues didn’t save, or your files are corrupt – it happens to all of us at some point or another, but you can prepare in advance to try to prevent that from happening.

So, load your USB – and then load one or two more as backups. Plug it into gear in advance and make sure your tracks are there. Pay attention to the file types and what gear you’ll be playing on. And read on for more:

Lastly, of course – in case something still goes wrong, have a backup plan prepared.

#5: On the day of your gig, listen to something else.

No, really – take a break. Once you’re feeling ready and you know your tracks, step away from your playlist, your computer, and your genre as a whole for a bit. Take your mind off of the set list, and listen to a completely different type of music.

#6: Acknowledge the nerves if you have ’em. Treat yourself to your own version of self-care!

Walking on-stage in front of a crowd of (mostly) strangers can be – we know – intimidating. Pre-gig nerves, anxiety, and panic attacks are real for many of us.

Even the simplest things to take care of yourself can make an impact. Take, for example:

Beyond the basics, don’t be afraid to do something good for yourself beyond that – whatever your favorite things may be:

We also heard disco napping is a very popular choice:

#7: Time your departure with time to spare.

Make sure you give yourself enough time to setup and prep at the club – and to read the room (more on that below).

#8: Watch the crowd before you get on.

One of the longstanding ways to evaluate a DJ’s skill level is to see how well they handle a crowd. There’s a huge significance in the ability to read a room, play to it, and adjust accordingly – as well as start a vibe, build an energy, and tweak it if your room isn’t reacting the way you expected. Everywhere you go will have different crowds – cities, countries, and even just different nightclubs that bring an array of electric audiences – so don’t be afraid to get there early and observe.

#9: Do any final prep – technical or personal – to get comfortable before stepping into the booth.

Whether it’s setting up your gear and sound-checking, hanging out for a bit to get the lay of the venue and having a few drinks, or settling into the space with whatever you need, not needing to rush into the venue and planning your arrival so that you have enough time to feel ready can make a difference in your pre-set sanity.

The final say: do what you need to do ahead of time – then dive into the moment & go for it.

Here’s a great way to sum up one DJ’s ritual from start to finish. No matter what your personal flow may be, just remember: the DJ booth is your oyster, so have at it – and have fun.

Well there you have it, folks. We hope this gives you some new ideas, or at least something to laugh and resonate with. You can check out the full Facebook post on the DJTT page for more ideas, comments, and conversation as well.

So – what’d you think? What do you do to prep for a DJ gig? What do you agree with, and what doesn’t work for you? Sound off in the comments below.

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