From The Forum: Your Song Choice & Set Programming Tips

Record box

We might not pack a real record box any more, but packing a virtual one can make set programming easier.

When it comes to programming a DJ set, my number one tip is to sort out a crate of music for the gig before you set off. In other words, do exactly what vinyl DJs used to do. Decide what's "going with you" and what isn't. This process will help you to focus on the night in advance, building your confidence in your tune selection. The old adage "less is more" definitely applies here: The fewer tunes you're looking through between selections when you're DJing, the easier it will be to pick a good next tune.

However, our readers jumped on the chance to add their tips when we discussed this over on the forum, so I reprint some of the best ideas below. Would be good to hear your tips too!

To get us going, Steelo says: "Don't play all your bangers at once. Start more mellow, tease the dancefloor with a few familiar samples but make them wait a bit. When you do drop something big, it will tear the roof off."

Speaking, it seems, from experience, actionPak says: "Always intersperse your set with some songs the crowd knows (ie, radio friendly, commercial remixes) or else they will all leave the dancefloor..."

"Never underestimate the 'power' of a mediocre track as an intro to one of your 'bangers'. In order to get the audience 'high' you first have to pick them up from 'low'," says Softcore.

Rodders warns: "Be prepared to change the direction of your mix if the audience seem so inclined, regardless of what genre was expected beforehand."

And Mike Stead advises: "No matter how many times the most drunk person in the venue asks you for the most mental tune in your collection at 10pm, do not bow to the pressure - you will have nowhere to go afterwards!"

What's your best programming or song choice tip? Can you recall a time when you've done a really good job of a set, or alternatively, when you've messed up? Please share in the comments.

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  1. In line with what Rodders was says about changing the direction of your set...Have a few "crossover tracks" up your sleeve that will allow you to make a smoother transition into another genre.

  2. It's good to have a track that will encourage patrons to leave in an orderly fashion at the end of the gig. Back in the day, we used to put Bonnie Tyler's "Lost in France" on last at pub nights. Not knocking the track, but a predominantly "rock" crowd had no way of dancing to it, so the landlord kept his licence.

  3. DiscoBeuys says:

    Don't be afraid of your own ideas. I love to put on a track with a long breakdown once the tension on the floor starts rising. This results in weirded out looks from the crowd and insecurity creeping in on my part. It's all worth it though once the bass kicks back in after 2 minutes or so and those looks turn to bliss.

  4. Less is more! Thats right! I always do a special crate for every event (almost). I pick out 8-10 hours of music in a virtual mapp so I never have to get that "dj brainfreeze" when U can´t think of ANYTHING to play 😉

  5. Do not play a tune just because a few people are pestering you for it especially if the time is not right,either play it later or not at all,also dont be afraid to tell someone you dont have a particular tune even if you do.In most cases the dj is there to please the masses not the few.

  6. When it comes to requests:

    "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.

    SPOCK, Star Trek

  7. I think the #1 rule is and will always be: know what type of crowd/party you are playing for. ask, ask, ask, the owners and managers to explain what they expect from you...what atmosphere do they want to create?....if you are given a night to do what ever you want then think something like "on what journey do I want to take the crowed tonight" etc, etc, etc....good luck!

    ps. "do exactly what vinyl DJs used to do?" hey Phil, Vinyl Djs still exist!

  8. 1. Programming/DJ calls for you to also add a third hat of mediator. People will request tracks that just don't fit but you need to assure them that you will keep them happy and dancing, even though you know you will never play that track.

    2. I keep a "MUST PLAY" crate that gets me out of a jam. The kind of songs that are timeless, every walk of life loves, and will get an immediate reaction to get up.

    3. You have to be able to surf the waves. What I means by that is adjust your set in real time. I always come prepared knowing what the gig calls for but in midst it changes ever so slightly. Some a "good" request can set you off in the right direction you never though about.

  9. Alex TC says:

    It´s all about rituals and the confidence they can inspire. I´ve found that some sort of "pre-programming" can have a positive effect on my DJing, whatever that is.

    Even if the plan gets thrown out the window completelly during the gig. Which is what usually happens, since it´s really hard to anticipate precisely what crowd, mood or atmosphere you´ll find, unless of course you´re the resident or something.

    Phil´s advice is classic, but I guess every DJ has his planning ideas and rituals, or ends up developing one (or more). Like him I do as I did in my vinyl days, but digital and CD allow for more music to be packed so I take advantage.

    Knowing your music is important and makes all difference too. I can tell when a DJ knows what he´s doing, how well he knows his music (or not). But having a pre-set "main list" as general guideline and maybe some records I love and I´m sure will work makes me feel calmer and more confident.

  10. I always make my lists in iTunes first. Also, I separate by genre's; 8os rap, 00s rock, etc.

  11. DJ Mikey says:

    Alittle new here, but I spend the whole day listening to the entire set. If I lose the feeling that I intend to deliver, it gets modified. Always trying to heighten the natural high.

  12. I think I'm one of those who need the advice. I get freezes almost every night. I think they aren't as bad as they feel. It's in the logic I'm playing and picking tracks, I do it just by instinct with pre-picked songs for different nights. I usually think more of the songs, how they match and work side by side, than what is actually happening on the dancefloor or tables.

    • Enjoy every second of it, mate. And if you´re paying attention to the right things, then be confident you´re in the right direction too.

      There´s no rushing, no shortcut to good DJing. Some get here faster, others take longer. But for everyone it´s not a smooth walk from bedroom to main room. Far, far from it in fact. It takes LOTS of practice, lots of mistakes of all kinds.

      But in all honesty, it´s a fantastic journey in all aspects. By the time we´re cool and confident enough to improvise on the scene, we look around and we "got there" without even noticing.

      Still, those are things you´ll be paying attention forever. Every true DJ does.

  13. I like using Beatunes to help get a few playlists started. Find a song I like then use the Matchlist function to find simar songs and it puts them in Camelot wheel order for good harmonic mixing. Hate all you want. It works well for me.

    • With you 100% with harmonic mixing and organising by key. I also use Phils' tip of using the stars to represent "intensity" of the track (chill = 1 , going off = 5) . For me the 2 work really well together.

  14. Lots of good discussion here... I would be curious if some of you would share some of your cross over songs or good combos of songs that are "sure fire" crowd getters.

    I'll share a couple of mine to get it started if possible.

    To go from a latin style into old school I use

    To go from a rock crowd (opening warm up stuff) to a more dance tip
    I came for dynamite - DJ Dumpz Mashup
    Dj Slink - Dirty Hands (ac/dc vs waka flaka)

    And then there are the ever popular transition tracks
    The one I use most often goes from 95 - 130 starting with Blackstreet - No Diggity and ending up with Taio Cruz - Dynamite

    If its cool, please share some of your "can't miss" tracks so we can compare notes.

    • The reason we avoid actual musical discussion here is that these things differ so much depending on where you are, that one man's crossover is completely irrelevant to a dJ elsewhere in the word. Grasping the principles is the important thing :)

  15. with ableton I also like to set up where I'd want to "loop out" if it's a trickier loop.

    Idk, I go from lower bpms to higher bpms, and yeah, definitely gotta mix in a few that you know the crowd will go ape for.

  16. Dirty Disco Soundsystem says:

    Late post this! We use vinyl AND digital. On diff nights and at the diff parties we run. Still some of us out here! It's all spinning...

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