Your Questions: What’s The Difference Between Lounge & Club DJing?

Palm Beach

The beach bar where I play every summer season, here in the south of Spain.

Digital DJ Tips reader Ben writes: "Hello Phil. I've noticed you frequently mention that you have a gig DJing at a beach bar, which I guess is akin to a lounge-type venue. I am getting on in years and moving past the club/rave scene, focusing more on my new family and career, so this sounds appealing to me. However, I can't seem to find much info on this type of gig. What can you tell me and your other readers about it in more detail? How long are your sets? What type of music do you play? What kind of crowd does this sort of gig draw? How does one go about finding a lounge event? I live in northern Ohio just off lake Erie so in the summer it is very beach oriented."

Digital DJ Tips says:

Lots of big questions there, I'll do my best to answer them as best I can without writing a book!

Firstly, it is very usual in my experience for DJs to "mature" into playing lounges, beach bars and so on - in my case, I did my 15 years on the club circuit which was plenty! While I won't turn down club gigs, it suits me to DJ in beach bars nowadays - better hours for a man with a young family (I play till sunset then head home, or out!), and I get to play exactly what I want (more on that in a second). Moreover, I actually started out playing in lounge bars, when I was "putting the hours in" before I was getting regular club gigs.

So to your questions. A typical lounge bar / beach bar DJ's set would be differentiated from a club set by the following:

DJ booth beach bar

DJing in beautiful settings has its own rewards - who wouldn't enjoy soundtracking a sunset like this?

  1. Longer set length - I play four to five hours, some play eight hours or more! It's usually only you DJing, so you need to get used to programming music over the longer term, and having lots of stamina too. I get them to feed me a large meal before I start!
  2. More musical variety - While obviously you can't bang out club screamers all the way through your set, what you can play is broad - indeed, it should be broad to keep people's interest. So I choose from slo-mo disco, funk, deep house, hip hop, soul, r'n'b, mellow dubstep, indie, folk rock, forgotten pop gems, reggae, ska, ambient, "chill out" - anything with a laid-back groove that can keep feet tapping and drinks being bought in a cool bar environment. And I choose places where nobody is going to tell me what to play - that's my number one rule and if it gets broken, I'm outta there
  3. A different type of programming - With a club set, people turn up, get drunk etc, start to dance, all dance, and all leave at the same time. Thus a club set has a very typical warm-up / peak / ending flow to it. With lounge DJing, people arrive and leave at different times. So your programming is more cyclical, and more fluid
  4. More inventive mixing - Here's where I love it. Taking all that music above, and applying the skills of "proper" DJing, is a source of endless fascination to me, and something digital has made much easier. Using key matching, clever loops, samples, effects and so on to go from forgotten Rolling Stones album tracks to dubby disco to reggae, and keeping the mixing intelligent and hopefully something people will approve of, is not easy to do and why good lounge DJs can be just as accomplished as good club DJs
  5. Excellent crowd intuition - I DJ in the best beach bar in my town. It's a big wooden building 20 yards from the sea, with its own beach. I look out over 50 sun loungers, a terrace and Africa on the horizon. Behind me is the bar and a seated restaurant area. Now, if a DJ can only decide how well their music is going down from the number of people dancing, I'd be permanently paranoid. People are more likely to slap sun cream on than hit the floor. So you learn to look for other signs - feet tapping, people pointing at the speakers and smiling, heads nodding - and of course it's lovely when people come over and complement your music, especially when they've been in the place for hours, often longer than they may have expected to be
  6. A need to firmly stake your right to be there - Sounds strange, but while in some ways bar DJing can be laid back (you don't have to fill and keep full a dancefloor), in others it can be really nerve-wracking. After all, if you go to a club, you expect there to be a DJ there. But it's often a surprise to people to see one in a beach bar. You have to look like you're meant to be there - even if it's just you, a little controller and a small bar table in the corner. That means playing music you love, enjoying it, dancing a little, smiling, and generally "leading the party". Just because people aren't dancing, it doesn't mean they're not looking to you to set a relaxed, fun mood not just in your music, but in the way you appear. A DJ is a natural focus in a venue, so you need to learn to look like you're loving being there at all points

Who goes to lounge gigs?

So what type of people does a gig like this pull? People like you! So you used to go clubbing, but now have a young family yet you miss decent music played by good DJs? Get yourself a gig playing what you're into right now, today, and you'll attract just those types of people.

Beach bar DJing

Often you're playing to people who didn't even know the venue had a DJ... these are your biggest challenge.

My crowds tend to be holidaymakers, families, cool bohemian types who've never quite grown up (good on ya!), large groups of clubbers getting ready for a big night out, and then "randoms" - people who are there anyway for food, the beach, a drink, to watch the (silent) sport on the TV behind the bar…

And it's these final people who I love to try and entertain the most - those who weren't expecting a DJ and who end up staying all night, congratulating you at the end for something they really enjoyed and weren't expecting to. That's where you earn your keep doing this kind of DJing, and that's where you'll always be better than a multiplay CD.

How to get a lounge/beach bar gig

Frequent the bars where you want to play. Learn about their clientele, and the music they have there already. Come up with an idea. Get to know the manager or owner and pitch it to them. Offer to do one-off nights when a DJ has been requested by a party, in order to show them what you can do. Treat it as a long game: I'm a professional DJ, but once I'd spotted the bar I wanted to DJ in, it still took me two years to get a regular gig there! I had to win their confidence first by doing all of the above.

Don't expect them to pay you big bucks either. Look around and do the maths: If you can get 50 people to buy an extra drink throughout your set, and maybe attract 20 more who wouldn't otherwise be there, is that worth a big DJ fee? Be realistic and flexible - where I play it is completely weather-dependent, so we sometimes call it off at the last minute, at others we're unexpectedly busy. My remuneration thus alters accordingly from nothing to better-than-expected!

But if you choose to play somewhere because you genuinely like it, and you've done all the above getting-to-know-them stuff beforehand, you'll usually never pay for a drink or food there, get great service no matter how busy they are, and get paid at least something to boot - so such gigs can be great. But you won't get rich from them.

For me? Playing a DJ set of the music I love once every couple of weeks frankly keeps me sane. And you can't put a price on that!

Do you pay a lounge, beach bar or other non-club type gig? Can you add to my words to help Ben to understand how to get started in this kind of DJing? Please share your thoughts in the comments...

Comments

  1. DJ Forced Hand says:

    I have to say “THEME” is very important for a lounge. If you’re DJing in Hawaii, you better have Hawaiian music playing most of the time. People want to hear the music they came to your town to hear. Also, “Theme music” might just as well be playing Big Band music at a Retro ’40s Lounge. You really ARE expected to play this music almost as if you were an iPod on Shuffle except YOU can read the crowd and play more music like what they’re enjoying. This is really a must because Lounge people are not there for you, they’re there for THEM.

  2. Brilliant Phil, and you’ve pretty much described my regular wine bar gig, and the reasons and method I used to get it. (Although you get a much better view than me). I found the venue at the start of the year and spent the next three months bugging the owner. I had a crew of local parents (I have kids too) all primed and ready to come along, and in the end I said to the owner that i’d told them all I was playing next week (i hadn’t) and he said, Oh Ok then. And i havnt looked back. I basically get paid (and free nosh and wine) to play music I’d be playing at home anyway. And you’re right, it’s less about the mix than the selection. And that’s what I really love, wandering through all the genres I love, turning the punters onto new music, or reminding them off stuff they’ve forgotten. I love it when someone wanders up with a smile on their face and tells me they havn’t heard this track for years. You’ve inspired me to go looking for a sunset gig, now that summer is coming around here in Australia.

  3. Manchester has everything but a beach bar ;)

  4. Like the person above said “Theme” I like to look around and think to myself does the music fit this atmosphere

  5. Unfortunately the place I live in is a dump and has a very small scene frequented only by beered up 18 year olds. People in my situation seem to say at home. That why I do a podcast so I can reach them in their cars, ipods, work, etc..

    Phil – you seem to have everything sorted!

    • Sounds like there’s an opportunity to get something going in your town, Rob!

    • Rob I live in a town that really had no true bar scene for DJs. It has taken the better part of a year and a half to change that around and I am glad that I have. More people come to enjoy new music being introduced to them by now 3 DJs (as I always intro’n new DJs. There is a big festival scene here and we collectively fill in the rest of the year. All that hard work has been worth it and has helped me create a good name and rep for myself.

      P.S- whats your podcast called? I’ll drop in for a listen.

  6. Thanks for the article Phil. I have been following you this year and wow! I am learning so much. I applied all I read here, coupled with my previous DJ experience, and guess what? I was approached by the manager of a wine bar /lounge here in Vancouver, Canada, to DJ next week while I was playing at a private event. They are looking for a couple of regulars to DJ there. Thankfully, they already heard me play, so I am not too concerned. I’m choosing to play the current music I love, which is a mix of deep, soulful and funky house. I will, when this gig becomes regular :), expand to downtempo… which will be a different way to mix for me. This venue is a very small venue, so I won’t know how house music will sound, but it won’t be going over 119 bpm anyway.

    I do have to admit. I use a Traktor S2 controller and sometimes, judging from pictures on facebook, I feel I should be showcasing a full pioneer set in order to be respected… event tho I know Traktor is Traktor regardless of how you control it.

    And I agree… I in my mid-thirties and this is perfect as I also have another job. They don’t want the same DJ there every Wednesday, but to rotate with other regular Djs. And, yes, get paid!! In all honesty, I would have done it for free!

    • Thanks for your story, and I wouldn’t worry about the gear thing – you’ll forget all about it half an hour into your gig! S2 is small, light, cheap and perfect for bars.

  7. One of my spots is a bar. Yet, not the typical bar. It’s also an art gallery. Also, my other spot is somewhat of a lounge. It’s an art gallery too. Usually, many patrons love it when I mix the classics with the current. In the clubs and other bars, folks mostly play current hits. In both of my spots, I usually play what I want. As for the people, I see a variety. I see some douche bags here and there. Yet, I don’t see them as much as you would see in a club. In my spots, folks aren’t as phony like you would see in a club. Many are down to earth people who just want to hear good music. In my spots, folks sometimes do dance. That’s why I got the gigs. Other times, they just drink and enjoy. Hope this somewhat helps.

  8. You know, I hear a lot of people saying they play “old stuff” and down tempo deep house or soul. I struggle to add this stuff to my library and play it out. I’m a big house fan, and grew up in the south where it’s all rock and roll.
    I’d love to expose myself to the soulful funkier side of music, but have zero idea what the classics are. I play a lot of Hookah Lounges and small bars. (3 times a week now)
    I’m looking to expand my tastes and feel this stuff would be perfect for the environment, top 40 has it’s place, and it’s not early in the night at a beach front lounge. Any help? :)

    • You could go to iTunes and search soul classics or funk classics – there will be plenty of compilations that come up from those searches. Track through and see if there’s anything you like, then see if there’s more from those artists and also check the ” people who bought those tunes also bought” section.

    • I’m with Bunyip. You’ll find loads on iTunes.

  9. Thedjprestige says:

    So much respect for you and this blog, said it before its a daily must read. Keep it up.

  10. Exactly the informations what I needed! I plan to start my “dj carreer” in a beach bar as I’m living in Thailand. I had few ideas, but now I have much more!
    Thanks!

  11. Great article. Good point about not putting a price on playing music that you love. Sometimes its just being able to enjoy your work. Getting rich at DJ’ing? Not so likely.

  12. Great review and a lot of information. I dj from about 12 years on different clubs in Albania. Now i want to jump on these chill out clubs or clubs that prepare people before they go to the all night long clubs. All these summer I’ve been preparing my playlist that consist on deep house, soulful house. What i thing is that there is a need to share our playlist so people can find the right tunes.
    You all rocks. :D

  13. Thank you very much for a very timely, relevant and highly informative article. I’ve recently returned to live in Jamaica from a 10 year stint in the UK. My genres of choice has always been jazz, nu jazz, lo-fi, broken beat, jazzy house, world music and all the wonderfully chilled fusions in between. I’m now looking at opportunities and options to establish a presence on the entertainment landscape. The article and comments have given me new impetus and provided me with more options that I had not considered. My biggest challenge is that the music I’ll be bringing to the table is on a whole new levelAnd music that might have never Ben played in a reggae/dancehall loving country. This is a challenge that I relish and I’ll give it a right go lol. I’ll keep you guys posted. Many thanks again for enlightening an old codger like me with quality blogs.

  14. Great post! I love DJ’ing altogether. But Lounge is my favorite.

  15. I can imagine. I’d love to sit out in the sun playing the music I love.

  16. Excellent post and comments Phil! (as usual ;-) I´d love to hear one of your sets too, and it seems that a lot of mates here are into cross-genre mixing and stuff. Pretty cool!

    I absolutely LOVE to lounge-and-bar DJ too. Of course I dig the extreme energy exchange of a full dancefloor locked on my groov. But it´s great to play the immense variety of music genres and styles that I like.

    I had to learn to perform at clubs under pressure, warming up to big name stars and all, but the freedom and creativity allowed by more relaxed ambients is extremely satisfying as well.

    Club DJing was never the main reason I became a DJ. I just love music, I love to discover new music, collect and curate music, and the pinnacle of that deep passion is to SHARE good music with people. So the more varied, colorful, rich that music can be, all the better!!!

    Cheers!

  17. wow this is a great topic and article. I am a ex club DJ now doing wedding. I would love to be a lounge DJ and never really realized the value and pros of it until reading this article.

    I am in a hawaii and you would think we have a lot of venues that would be similar to Phil’s venue but we don’t. Something i need to try and work on here.

  18. Brilliant article and wise advices. I have found lounge djing a pleasant experience but it was hard and would have found useful your tips.
    Regarding to exotic, organic… and weird lounge playlist, I would love to read about other digitaldjitips reader´ lists and share my own stuff . :)
    Please find the way, Phil.

  19. I have a question:
    I’ve been DJ’ing at a bar at weekends for a few years now on not so great money playing funky house, I have been also been DJ’ing midweek at a night club playing Disco&party classics for a little bit more money.. But now the club has asked me to become there in house Dj playing midweek and the weekends.. Should I give up DJ’ing in the pub and take the club job?

  20. I DJ 2 bars that are located right on the water, here in Rhode Island ( USA )

    The customers are laid back at both venues & tend to be high earners that own very large boats.

    I play a very varied set every time I am at these venues.

    Forgotten pop gems, to 50’s beach music to country.

    I have been at one venue for 12 years & this will be my last year at this venue as it has been sold.

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