6 Ways To Survive When DJing In Sports Bars

Dibril Cisse in headphones

Soccer and music definitely do mix, at least as far as French international Djibril Cissé is concerned.

Regular readers will know my views on bar-type gigs - for digital DJs, turning up with your kit in a backpack and playing in places that aren't nightclubs (such as sports bars, cool cafes etc) gives you valuable tune-time in public and accelerates your mastery of the art of DJing. Bar DJing is where many, many good DJs learn the ropes and you should definitely be doing it as often as you can.

However, consider this scenario: You turn up for your regular gig oblivious to the fact that there's a big game on tonight, then feel mighty uncomfortable not knowing what to do about whether you should be letting people watch the game, whether to put the music or the commentary on, and indeed whether you should be DJing at all. This is often made worse if the venue manager or owner isn't around to tell you what he or she wants you to do.

This is usually a problem because the venue owner hasn't thought it through completely, and still thinks you'll turn up and DJ, or alternatively wants you to DJ either side of the game and at intervals, but hasn't told you any of this. So how to prepare and be cool with DJing in sports venues? Here's some advice from my experience:

  1. Know in advance - Check the sporting calendar and talk through with your venue owner or manager which games are important, which ones he is going to (or can) show, and which are going to attract enough people for your DJing to halt while the game is on and the commentary volume goes up.
  2. Add to the atmosphere with some timely tune choices - pick music for the build-up and in the intervals/straight afterwards that reflects the mood of the venue, win, lose or draw - I'm not saying you have to bang out Queen's "We are the Champions" at full-time (although when the Spanish soccer team won Euro 2008, that's what the DJ did in the bar we were in... it was excellent, never seen such a celebration as the Spanish on that day...), but you're a DJ and you should know what tunes are going to work for your crowd, team, sport and occasion. Think it through beforehand. You could even have team anthems ready for touchdowns/goals etc. Do your bit to build the fun.
  3. Don't think every sports event will mean you're not DJing - If one fan from out of town wants to watch his team in an inconsequential mid-week, mid-season game, the venue owner may turn the channel on for him, but if your bar is full of people wanting a party, you'll of course be asked to play music anyway with the commentary turned well down. This is often the case in sports bars who hire DJs, so don't assume you're going to be trumped every time. Even when the crowd is 50/50, it could be you, it could be the sports...
  4. Be flexible - If it's the end of the season, the team on the screen needs to win and another team needs to lose for anything good to come of it, and after 20 minutes it's clear that' s not going to happening as things are going in the other direction at a rate of knots, everyone may well lose interest and drift out of the place... unless you can get the sports off the speakers and get the music on. Play it by ear, and be ready to be asked to start (or stop) playing at a moment's notice.
  5. Be nice - It's really disheartening when you've spent the week preparing your music and you forget it's an important game, or a load of fans turn up out of the blue and demand the sound up on the sports, taking you off DJ duty and wrecking your plans for the night's work. But your job is to make the venue owner's or manager's life easier, not spit your dummy out when things aren't going your way. Just take it on the chin. Playing in bars is great practice for DJs, but you're not always the centre of attention, so get used to it! Likewise if sports fans want to hear the commentary and your manager has asked you to play music, be diplomatic with them - picking fights is dumb and won't help your case for being re-booked.
  6. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em - Look, you probably love sports as much as you love DJing. Even if you don't, you can't do much about it if you're told to get off by the management and the football or whatever goes on. So grab a beer and get watching. It could be worse!

Me? I'm going to make a confession: I've actually cancelled my gig tonight (sorry, Javier) to go and watch England play the first game in the soccer World Cup. It only comes every 4 years and I can't miss it. I'm still a bit upset I won't be DJing though, but just this once, DJing has taken second place...

Have you got any tips for DJing when sports events are on? Got any nightmares or successes when DJing to rowdy sports crowds? Let us know below...

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  1. Sound advice there Phil.
    Shame about the game though!

  2. Phil Morse says:

    Shortly after writing this post, I came across this video, made me laugh: http://www.theonion.com/video/soccer-officially-announces-it-is-gay,17603/

  3. Very good advice, have had a DJ trying to do his thing at one of or sports bar, good tips on incorporating this into the sports atmosphere.

  4. DJ That Asshol says:

    Sports bars are perfect test market gigs, too. You can try out new songs and (in my experience) the bar staff/waitresses are a valuable resource as well. You just have to listen.

    If you put in enough practice, this also helps teach a DJ how to get away with playing incongruous/inappropriate music and get away with it (by finding things that dovetail it with other, more that-crowd-pleasing songs). This will also let you learn how to mix shit like Texas Country with House of Pain or Daft Punk.

  5. david -dj xl- says:

    i do a sports bar 3 times weekly. the key is not being "dj-snob guy". when i get there, there are normally 2-3 different sporting events on the tv and the jukebox playing random selections by the crowd already assembled. As i set up i take notice of what is being played because obviously people are enjoying the general feel of it. So don't go against the grain right off the bat. If classic rock is playing, do a classic rock selection or two and EASe into the vibe. aLWAYS BE WARY this is a bar, not a nightclub so most will not care for or be impressed with the 2012 electro remake of classic tunes. kEEP THE levels at a moderate level because these folks do talk to one another. You are there to help increase the average length of stay. hope this helps. in todays economy these bars are a cash-cow for dj's if you swallow your ego. more than half the night no one will dance but the head bobbing and toe tapping shows they appreciate. sorry to ramble but we all can't be David Guetta some of us are just trying to pay bills.

  6. i'll be doing my first sports bar gig this month...but here it really isn't that intense...just know the required Bar Songs. I am sure i will be able to get them groovin' and then pump it up the last 2 hours and then always good to close with a classic (closing time by SemiSonic).
    great advice though bro.

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