7 Big Mistakes I Made At My First DJ Gig (And Why It Was Still Great Fun)

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beginners dj mistakes first gig
Last updated 18 August, 2014

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Drinking Ladies
Don’t let drunk colleagues distract you, especially when it’s your first ever gig…
Pic: Telegraph

So I did it. I got and played my first gig. Many people will say that you never forget your first time. With everything that went wrong in my first gig, I can certainly say that’s a true statement!

So here, for the sake of helping others, are what I consider to be my seven big mistakes. I admit them here in the hope that bedroom DJs can learn from them, to hopefully make their first gigs a little kinder and gentler! At the end of the piece, I reveal how the gig turned out…

My seven mistakes…

1. I accepted the gig 24 hours before the event
The call came in just as I was about to head home. “Can you help DJ the company function tomorrow night?” With the acceptance of those words, things went steadily downhill.

First I had not practised in a couple of weeks. What I thought would be an hour’s worth of work moving from my home set-up to a live one took most of the night and I still didn’t get it all done. Instead of prepping specifically this gig, I spent a lot of time just trying to get things to work.

2. I used a laptop to DJ with that I’d never used before
At home, I have my Traktor Kontrol S4 connected to my iMac with most of my music residing on centralised NAS (network attached storage). The iMac has a ridiculous amount of desktop real estate. I can easily open all four decks in advance mode to see every option there is to see, still with plenty of room to comfortably browse and edit my songs.

My laptop, on the other hand, is an older HP laptop with 1280 x 720 resolution that can barely let me see two virtual decks. And editing is almost impossible on the laptop. Having never really practised on my live set-up, I might as well have been using someone else’s gear.

One of the things I am trying to do now is move everything to my live set-up! I want no surprises for my next engagement. What I do at home should be what I do when I’m out.

3. I expected my songs to come across with beatgrids intact
Number 2 would not have been a big deal if things worked the way I anticipated they would.

Beatgridding
There’s no point painstakingly beatgridding your music and then not checking the information has copied across correctly to your laptop before the gig… Pic: steven-james.com

In this case, as I keep all of my songs on my NAS it should have been a simple matter to just copy them over to an external hard drive and import them in. Unfortunately for me, not everything came across the way I hoped.

Many of the songs that I spent so much time beatgridding lost their cue points. Songs were not where I had been accustomed to seeing them.

In some cases, songs I know I have did not copy over, including some premixed material I was counting on to get me through the evening. Because enough material wasn’t ready, I had to analyse many of the songs just before mixing them in. That is not nearly as much fun as just working on your flow.

4. I neglected to consider the music the crowd would want
I did this set with one other person and we both like dance, urban, club, trance type music. At a corporate type function it turns out they want a wider selection of material. People asked for salsa, country, metal, 80s, pop and the list goes on. In some cases, I had a little bit of the requested style but just as things were starting to go, I would have to switch genres because I was out of that type of material. As I am hoping to do more of these kinds of things, I’m definitely going to work on creating playlists for unfamiliar genres.

5. I spent far too much time dealing with people
As I did this for work, I knew almost all of the 150 people or so that showed up; and it seemed that everyone wanted to talk, drink, make requests and comment in the booth while I was trying to work. This resulted in making some mistakes through lack of focus and concentration. Instead of having the next song cued up there were moments of panic as I realised the song was about to end. Other times, beat drops were not as in sync as I would have liked.

Time remaining
See that flashing red waveform and “2 seconds remaining”? That’s your cue to stop arguing with your boss about playing some Dire Straits and get another tune on!

Some people were just flat out rude. Some people were obnoxiously drunk. Other people tried to get me drunk while “working”. Many people could not easily handle the fact that I couldn’t play their favourite song or didn’t play more of their favourite type of music. Even my boss was little upset. And these were people I knew, worked with and liked! I can only imagine what things would have been like with people I didn’t know.

The next time, I will have my partner act as gatekeeper to make sure I can focus fully on what I’m doing instead of trying to be friendly and DJ at the same time. Some people socialise while making their food, for instance. I am not one of those people. As a newbie, are you?

6. We had no plan B in case of hardware failure
My partner had a Numark CDJ Mixdeck (built in CDJs and iPod insert) which failed about half way through the night. As my machine was plugged into his machine we were loath to shut it down in the middle of our set. This meant he could only use his iPod for DJing which became very limiting. You would think with two controllers we would be better prepared for something like this but we didn’t give much thought to our set-up.

7. I forgot my prepared material
I had over two hours of premixed material that did not make it as part of the trip. This material would have been extremely helpful in the beginning of my set, with nobody really listening, and as was dealing with my nerves.

In the comfort of my own home, with no one looking and nothing at stake, I can create remix masterpieces. When you are in a live venue, everything speeds up a hundredfold – especially when everything is different then what you normally use. I should have made sure this material was one of first things that got copied over.

So, was it a disaster then?

So with the lack of preparation, hardware failures, and drunk friends, you would think the whole night went down in flames, yes?

Actually, no – this was not the case! People still danced. More things worked than didn’t. While the mistakes were obvious to me, they were not obvious to the audience. DJing in front of a live audience was exhilarating – especially at the end of the night when the nerves completely went away and I found my flow.

While there were a few people that were unhappy, even more people came up to me afterwards to tell me how much fun they had. And if nothing else, I gained a tremendous amount of experience around what got people dancing and what drove them off of the floor.

And the best thing about messing so much up? Things can only get better! So my best advice to new DJs after completing my first gig: get out there and do it yourself!

• Tim Dorcas is a Digital DJ Tips reader and first-time digital DJ.

Have you made any of these mistakes? What did you learn from your first DJ gig? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments.