Over To You: How Do DJ After An Indie Gig?

djing live

DJing in live venues before, during or after a band is a distinct skill apart from club DJing, but as always, doing your research is key to success.
Pic from: David Rusenko

Digital DJ Tips reader Larry writes: "I just got invited to play my second club gig at a new alternative coffee lounge/club. The club features live indie type bands from mountain music to avant-garde stuff. The owner asked me to do a two-hour set following the band. Really cool kinda alternative real band with electronic elements.

"The owner needs me to keep the dancefloor rocking after their set, until closing. I'm planning on a peak hour-type programming. He specifically said not to play to mainstream! Any suggestions on how to approach this gig?"

Digital DJ Tips says:

Firstly, go to the venue on a similar night. Or better, go on a few nights. What tunes (either on the jukebox, or by bands, or other DJs) work with their crowd? Get a feel for it - get some initial ideas this way rather than just guessing.

Next, know that keeping a dancefloor busy after a band is sometimes a tall order - don't be disheartened if you can't, and be ready with "plan B" music if they just want to hang and drink.

Finally, you're going to be led by the crowd, not the owner. I can pretty much assure you that if you keep things busy and the bar tills ringing, he won't criticise your music choice!

I actually used to do exactly this kind of gig myself and I loved the freedom it gave me, but I'm also interested to hear what our readers have to say, and to see if they can add to my advice.

So - over to you! Can you offer some more advice to Larry? Do you play before / during / after live bands? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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Comments

  1. I hate crap like this. The bar owner dictates what music should be played without realizing most paying patrons may want to hear exactly what you’re told not to play. Yet, I can understand the reason for avoiding mainstream music. Fear of douche bags and annoying hipsters. Recently, I played after three punk bands. I played across the board, from hip-hop to rock to disco. I even played ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” Rarely, did I play current hits. Folks loved it. With this, you can probably mix in groups like Hot Chip. I’m not familiar with the Indie scene much. Yet, this is what worked when I played after three punk bands.

  2. SpecializED says:

    Playing with bands can be fun or a nightmare! Sometimes bands have huge egos and don’t want to be out shined. Regardless the biggest thing is what is your roll as a DJ there? Sometimes your there for background music so the people don’t leave or get bored other (intermissions) times your there to work crowd into a frenzy. The best thing is that its your time to shine. This is the very moment where all ears are on you so hit em with your best set and leave em begging for more! Thats just my .02 cents

  3. well, when I go to these parties, a few days before, I talk to the owner about the types of music that I will playing. And always talk to the band days before, I don’t like to use the same songs that the band will play. I think boring repetitive music.

  4. The short answer is: know the scene and the music. The owner and most likely the patrons want something different than the mainstream, it is a more difficult gig than a mainstream venue if all you do is rely on top 40 lists and record pools and push buttons. But the fundamentals of getting a floor to dance have not changed. Seek the current hits from the patrons, particularly the women. Oh dear you’re gonna have to talk to women :-D Also find their sources, it is probably an artistic or muso community so dive into the culture, are there music blogs they all read? From there it’s arrangement, making sense of their music paying attention to BPM and harmonic fundamentals. Most else is superfluous.

  5. There was an article like this a few months ago for an Indie birthday party and I posted a whole setlist. I think the best option is to go to the venue on a similar night to see what other people do, it would also be nice to know what country the reader is in as that will effect the selection. Some stuff that is mainstream in one country wont be mainstream in another country. For example Best Coast would be known in Canada and the States but would be lesser known in Europe but in the UK and Ireland especially you would hear Arcade Fire on the radio in the middle of the day. If you play Arcade Fire – Wake up to a indie crowd in Ireland you would get a huge response usually. You can have allot of fun playing to an Indie crowd and even squeeze in some actual dance music if they seem up for it. For example Caribou – Sun (Bowski remix). When unsure about the crowd I would always have some crowd favorites good to go incase you start to loose the crowd, The cure / the smiths / james brown don’t be afraid to dig up some oldies for back up

  6. It’s cool, because there’s so many remixes, bootlegs, and mashups being done now. Following a live act may be tough, but if the bar wants nothing mainstream there’s a plethora of alt/indie remixes at various BPM’s for you to build up from.

  7. Personally I’d prep a bunch of indie and disco dance stuff, there’s also a lot of fun rock/punk redrums that are good to mix. I get a lot of managers saying the same stuff recently with the no “mainstream” content, so I try and listen but it’s not always the right place for using all unknown tracks.

  8. I once played after a band show at a big gig (3000+ ppl) and I sucked so badly that I left the decks after playing only 3 songs and clearing the dancefloor faster than the flick of a fader. Total nightmare.

    I had planned to start with some very energetic, upbeat, a peak-time music to keep the vibe and energy after then band, and actually discussed this with the promoters who insisted I started slowly and avoided anything heavy. I explained my reasoning for such approach but they made their point so I had to abide… big, big mistake.

    The agency I played for had ben paid already so I gave the promoters my “told you so” look, packed my records and took off, leaving the duties to the local heroes who only furthened the damage. It was just meant to be.

    Lesson lerned: I never, ever again followed the advices and requests of promoters. The true, professional ones don’t worry ‘cos they know their metle and do their homework for booking DJs, bands and their public. They trust the professionals and so should any DJ.

    I never engaged in such discussions anymore either, whe a promoter comes with these ideas and argumentations I just nod positively then go about my business, trusting my feeling and music selection. Be confident in yourself but also be conscious that anything can happen, so its important to do your stuff your way whatever happens. You’re the professional so its OK to take responsibility.

    Good luck!

    • Thanks for the story, Alex. It takes a true man to admit when they’ve messed up. :)

      • lol… Phil, I never counted but if I was to guess, I’d say I may have failed more than suceeded since I started playing back in ’86… or about the same. I HAVE to be in peace about it, or else I’d have dropped DJing long ago (can’t drop my love for music though). On the positive side, it made my skin thicker. And my successes bighter – or else I would never have been booked anymore! lol

  9. I dj wedding primarily and a lot of people don’t want top 40 at all. The key is to play great music from. All genres and be confident no matter what you do. If you are enjoying music then everyone else will feed off you!

  10. check out bands soundcloud or myspace etc… find out the kinda sound and play tunes around that style… also if they have electronic elements then play from bands that use the same kinda sounds. A set like this could really develop your sound. You could also maybe drop in some dance remixes of radiohead etc at end.

    The more prep you do the more confident you will be.

  11. The only thing I could add to what’s already been said is get ready to be extremely flexible in what you play.

    They’ve come for the band, not you. You’ve probably got a window of three songs at best to keep them hanging around after the show is over. Have a few sets ready to go depending on how the night goes.

    Really try to read the crowd and follow their hints. The band might be indie, but is the crowd?

    Look to see if the band pleased the crowd. Was their performance high energy or not? See if the crowd wants more of the same or not.

    If the band was weak, they may look to you to compensate for what they didn’t get. I had to follow a bad band once and keep the party from dying.

  12. Done hundreds of this kind of gigs, this is how I do.
    If the crowd is mixed (boys/girls), play for the ladies. If they are happy, the lads will stay no mather what.
    The most important rule in dj’ing: IF MAMA AINT HAPPY, NOBODY’S HAPPY!

    If the crowd are mostly male, I go for the beer drinking music, rather than dance music. If you’re a commercial dj (like me), the primal goal is to have a good crowd on the dancefloor but foremost, keep the bar busy.

    Play tunes that appeals to lots of people, but, without being cheesy. Never ever play cheesy tunes if it’s not a cheesy crowd (anniversary, wedding etc). Don’t panic if you lose the floor right after the band. Start in a medium pace, if you go full throttle and still lose the floor, it will be a lot harder to get them back. If everything goes to shit anyway, maby, just maby you’re just not a good enough dj ;-)

  13. Klaus Mogensen says:

    I’ve done this a few times (some times after being part of the band as well :), and it differs

    Did the crowd come for a bands original music, the normal response is to either go home or hit the bar afterwards. In that situation, the best thing you can do is keeping them in the bar, and then maybe later get them back on the dancefloor. You may even consider bringing down the volumne considerably right after the band, and then bring it back up later

    If it’s a copy band, it works better to continue the party. I’ve even done band-“mixes” where I start their first tune, and then the bands takes the song over, and mix into their last tune and continue their music style for a few songs

    Also, if it’s a copy band, get their set list, so you don’t accidently play “their” songs just before they go on stage to play the same ones :)

  14. DJ Dirty Dan 717 says:

    I work in a similar situation. Bar manager wants a veeeeery specific mix of music, staying away from pure EDM and anything too “Urban”. But some nights, that shit just doesn’t cut it. I’m getting requests (Yup, I have to play nice with that and it’s not all bad) for Drake, 2Chainz and all that shit. The crowd wants what the crowd wants so I push my luck every so often, I know I went to far when he starts walking over and I adjust for a few songs. Then I start jumping rope with that line again.

    Your job is make the people happy, keep that drink money flowing. Trust your instincts and hope they were right. That way when he reads you the riot act at the end of the night, you can ask him how the bar did that night. Some managers, while they are excellent at their job, MANAGING THE BAR, think they know everything including what the DJ should or shouldn’t be playing. As most of us in this situation know, rarely is that the case.

  15. You should listen to some of Aeroplane monthly mixes, their genre is electronic indie, play something like that and it’ll work all right. Or at least that’s what I think

  16. dj parabal says:

    Look into the band, get the playlist, and transition with one of their songs that they didn’t play. The venue does not make money from people dancing, it makes money from sales. The tough part, is that managers often have huge egos, and think that they know what works. You can’t make everyone happy at the same time, but if you are tuned in, and stay agile, you can make them all happy throughout the night.

  17. B.B. Koning says:

    I have not played a gig like this, but i have attended more than my share of them.

    As has been noted, if the band has a danceable feel to their music, or funky, then slipping that element in with other styles will generally work.

    An example: A band like of Montreal, who are experimental but also soulful and funky.

    The after and pre gig DJs have played everything from classic 80s anthems to old funk anthems to 90s rap, and it has gone over well almost every time.

    If they have any shows before you do the gig, pay attention to the kind of stuff that the house and the band put on the PA during the breaks.

    I would stay away from current top 40 stuff if at all possible. I get the impression that this might be a sort of Pitchfork Magazine type crowd (i.e. very indie).

    If they have electro influences, try and find the krautrock style dance stuff.

    Just my own thoughts based on what I’ve seen and enjoyed.

    Good luck. I imagine you have your finger on the pulse and will do well.

  18. Alan Aristondo says:

    Just last Saturday night I played after a live band.
    I was confident that this gig would be like all te others and I would have people dancing.
    Two things set me off:
    1)The band was so much louder than me.
    They were so loud MY ear drums were hurting(And I’m a Dj!). And when I would start and they would finish, my PA system would sound like nothing, almost embarrassingly.
    2)The crowds musical taste.
    I started with dance/top40 and that was a total flop, not one soul on the dance floor. But, I transitioned into similar music that the band was playing and boom every one came out.
    Overall, it was a learning experience. And fun.

  19. Arjay the DJ says:

    I’m no expert but as a fan of rock and house music, I like to mix both genre together in my set. I don’t think you can expect that type of crowd to appreciate a solid electro house set. If you’re worrying about mixing house with rock, there are a lot of rock songs that have 4-on-the-floor that you can use to have smooth transitions from track to track. In turn, try looking for house tracks that have guitar riffs or vocals which are similar to a rock song. Try Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Gossip, The White Stripes to name a few. Go see Ean Golden’s Midi Fighter Pro mix on Youtube so you can have an idea.

    Good luck! Let us know how it turns out.

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