Guest post by DJ Sean Gallagher, who teaches how to DJ with his blog and training programme.
There is no better opportunity for a new or intermediate DJ than to DJ warm-up sets for a superstar celebrity DJ in town. Think about it: having your name of the poster with any celebrity DJ will get you noticed around your city. And any time a big DJ is in town, the other promoters and DJs will usually stop by to see the superstar DJ in action. The promoters and other DJs will see you in action too and this will almost definitely lead to more gigs if you do it right.
Why? Because excellent opening DJs are rare. They are therefore respected and usually find great success in their DJing careers. Some of the top professional DJs in the world were great opening DJs. That’s part of the reason why they got noticed and became superstars.
The challenge is that most DJs don’t know how to open properly for another DJ and as a result they miss a lot of opportunities for DJ gigs. So the big question is how do you properly open for a celebrity guest DJ?
Having become a bit of an opening specialist myself, here are my 10 secrets to being an awesome opening DJ:
1. Understand your role
Opening for another DJ is an art form. It’s a lot different than DJing at peak time when the party is going nuts.
Despite what you’ll find at most of your local clubs, the opening DJ’s purpose isn’t to get the dancefloor going off. The opening DJ’s role is to invite people into the room, make them feel comfortable and lure them onto the dancefloor just before the big DJ shows up.
I’ve seen it so many times! The opening DJ starts banging out peak-time tracks trying to get people to dance early on hours before the big-name DJ is set to come on. But he doesn’t realise three things:
- First, people don’t want to dance right away when they enter the venue. They want to take their time, chat with their friends, talk up a cute girl, have a few drinks, get into the groove and then get out on the dancefloor
- Second, people can’t dance forever. They get tired quickly. So if you bang it out early you won’t be able to keep them on the floor until the big DJ takes over
- Third, if you were a big DJ coming in to play peak time, you’d want to be able to pump up the crowd yourself. You don’t want a crowd that’s already peaked and tired. This is every big DJ’s nightmare: playing to a crowd that’s already danced like crazy. Why? Because they’re tired so they won’t respond to anything you play and that creates a weird energy in the room
So your job as an opening DJ isn’t to get people dancing like crazy, it’s to first get people tapping their feet by the bar. Then you want them nodding their heads and swaying a little. As the night gets busier a few brave souls will head out on the floor and dance.
As the night gets busier a few brave souls will head out on the floor…
And little by little you want to get more and more people out by building the energy in your music. By the time the big DJ comes on, everyone is on the dancefloor sort-of swaying, waiting for the track that will make everything explode. You literally warm up the energy in the room so that when the next DJ comes on he can spark the dancefloor off 100%.
2. Tone down the tempo
A song that is playing at a faster BPM (beats per minute) will always have more energy. So the easiest way to raise the energy of a room is to gradually bring the speed of your tracks up. You can’t do this if you start off out hammering your tracks at light-speed.
Ideally you want the energy to be high right before the big DJ is about to come on. This means that you need to start out playing your tracks with a slower BPM earlier on and push the BPMs up as you get closer to the next DJ arriving.
Think about it. If you enter into a club at eleven o’clock and the DJ is playing his tracks slower at 120BPM, when 12.30am rolls around and he’s playing his tracks at 124BPM the music will have a lot more energy to it.
When I open a house night, for example, I know that the next DJ will be playing his tracks 126 or maybe even 128BPM for peak time. So that means I want to get up to 125 or 126 at the end of my set. I’m on for two hours so I start out slow at 120ish and leave it there for the first half-hour. Then I gradually pick up the pace as the room fills up. This creates an awesome energy.
Look at it this way: If you had two DJs playing the exact same song at 125BPM at the end of their opening set, which song would have more energy? The DJ who started out at 125BPM and had kept that pace and energy for the full two-hour opening set? Or the DJ who started off way slower and built up the pace?
You don’t start out playing peak-time bombs from Steve Angello or Tiesto…
Of course, the answer is that the DJ who started off slower would have created more energy in the room because his track at 125BPM sounds so much faster and has so much more energy than the tracks he was playing an hour before! Don’t be that guy who bangs fast music to an empty dancefloor at the beginning of the night.
It may feel slow having your tracks pitched down, but it pays off later in the night.
3. Choose your style of music carefully
A important factor in opening up for a big DJ is the style of music you play. As I said, the goal of the opening DJ is to first have people tapping their feet at the bar and around the dancefloor. Then you want to get people swaying and nodding a little bit.
The best music to get people to sway and move towards the floor is by using more rhythmic, percussive, warm-sounding tracks. You don’t start out playing peak-time bombs from Steve Angello or Tiesto early on.
You want to play music that makes people feel like bobbing their heads and tapping their feet. Then you build it to more peak-time songs as you get closer to switching over to the bigger DJ.
4. Watch the room
When do you pick up the tempo or adjust the style of the music you’re playing as the night progresses? This all comes down to what the people in the room want: what the dancefloor wants.
Any monkey can play one song after another and beatmatch.
That’s, after all, what DJing is all about. Any monkey can play one song after another and beatmatch. But if you can choose the right song, at the right time to match the energy of the people in the room, you can create magic. That’s the art of DJing. No machine could ever do that. And it’s never more important than when warming up a room.
So make sure you lift your head up and start watching people if you don’t already. You’ll come unstuck as a warm-up guy otherwise.
5. Recognise the different phases of a night
When you start to watch people more, and in the specific way that all good DJs do, you’ll quickly realise that every night has distinct phases to it.
Early on, people will be hanging out by the bar having drinks and laughing with friends. Your goal now is to see what type of songs get them bobbing and tapping their feet. Try a few different types of songs and see what they react to. If they react to something more techy, keep playing that style. If they respond to a vocal, then make a note of that and react accordingly.
Then the night will reach a stage where there are people standing around the dancefloor, and more people will be watching you. The venue will be starting to fill up at a faster pace and you’ll even have a few blessed-souls taking to the dancefloor. Again, as you play different types of song, watch and notice what people react to. Notice how the songs you play affect the energy of the room.
Do people leave the dancefloor, or do they do the opposite and leave the bar to go dance? What types of people are dancing? Are people surrounding the floor just waiting for a few more people to dance so they won’t be the only one? What are the people at the bar doing? What are all of the girls doing?
Then as you get closer to peak-time the floor will be three-quarters full. Again, watch how the crowd reacts and play accordingly. See what types of songs fill the dancefloor more. By now you should know the crowd pretty well and you should have a good idea of the type of track you will need to drop just before the big-name celebrity DJ arrives to get the floor packed.
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