3 Easy Ways To Avoid “Facebook Face” When DJing

Facebook music

Want to know how to make sure people don’t think you’re browsing on Facebook when you’re DJing with your laptop? Here’s how…

The most recent tirade against digital DJs “looking like they’re on Facebook” was in a video we republished a few weeks ago. But the truth is that it was just another example of a line of attack that’s been aimed at laptop DJs for a long time. (It has to be said that it normally comes from older DJs, and it normally includes something about “sync button cheats” too, but that’s all stuff for another time…).

The “Facebook Face” thing has obviously struck a chord with the Digital DJ Tips readership, though, as I’ve had a number of emails from people concerned not to appear this way when they’re spinning. So apart from putting your laptop to the side or having it set up so people can see you’re not on Facebook, here are a few tips from my experience that should help…

1. Know your music well

One of the big reasons people end up screen staring is that they don’t know their music well enough. Think about what you’re like on Beatport. You love it, yeah? I know I do. Hours spent listening to those previews, dicing the results, following your instincts as you burrow around for the hidden gems… you can lose yourself doing that stuff! Which is precisely what you don’t want to be doing when you’re actually performing…

DJing is no time to be scanning through vast lists of tunes you don’t know well. It’s an old comparison, but in the “vinyl” days, every new tune was an event in our lives, and those tunes simply didn’t make it into our collections without being “known” – listened to, mixed with, tested, evaluated and so on. If you don’t have the same relationship with every tune in your collection (because you buy too much, or you’ve stolen music by the bucketload, or you never listen to your collection), then fix it. Throw away the stuff you don’t like. Do the right thing and delete the illegal downloads. And damned well get to know the stuff that’s left!

The end result will be that when you hit the tunes lists in your DJ software in a performance situation, you’re looking along your “own” record shelf, not browsing in the whole store.

2. Organise your music well

Just knowing your music isn’t good enough, though. You need to be cleverer than that to avoid “Facebook Face”. Because here’s the thing: When I used to DJ several times a week holding down multiple residencies, I had (I am guessing) 5,000 records, and let me tell you: I knew those records well. But that doesn’t mean I used to take all 5,000 to every gig with me!

Can you imagine? I’ve actually seen this once: We asked a local maverick music making duo to play a back room at a party for us, and they had never DJed before: And they brought ALL of their records with them! It was like they were moving house or something: They had boxes and boxes behind them! Needless to say, their set was a shambles as they spent all their time crouching down flicking through sleeves.

Crates

The idea of taking all your music with you with a vinyl collection is ridiculous, so why should it be any different with digital?

No, what you simply must do is arrange your music for the night in question, – every single time you have a gig. In the old days that meant carefully packing a crate or two, thinking about the time of night you’re playing, covering “plan B” situations, always knowing that for every record you included, you had to leave one out. What you were left with was a tightly packed, well thought-out crate of music you knew really well. That hour or two of homework was necessary back then because of course you couldn’t take all of your music to every gig with you… and the trouble with digital is that DJs don’t have to do this any more.

So at best, nowadays you end up flicking through reams and reams of music, with that “Facebook Face” in full flow! Doesn’t matter that you know all that music well (if you’ve followed point 1) – you’re still guilty. And the solution is ridiculously simple: Just plan your DJ set a little. Make a crate with the tunes you think you’re going to want to play, and play from that. Drag them into a very rough order (beginning – middle – end of set). You don’t have to stick to it, but it’ll give you a start. This reduces further the work you have to do when you’re there… and it’s in no way “cheating”. In fact, it’s pretty much essential.

3. Look like you’re having fun in the meantime

Here’s a dirty little secret of DJing with record decks. Once you’ve got a great record collection, packed a wonderful crate for the night, and of course got the required skills to beatmatch and mix those tunes together well enough… the job is 90% done. Your biggest remaining task? To interact with the crowd, to “feel the music” so you make great choices from the narrow selection in front of you.

And here’s where another subtle “digital problem” rears its head. Unlike record decks (two spinning things, two mixer channels, some EQ and if you’re lucky a couple of effects), or CDJs (throw in a bit of looping too), digital’s possibilities are virtually endless. And this sometimes does something weird to DJs: It has them staring at their screen thinking they should be doing something when in fact there’s absolutely no need. You think you’re being a diligent DJ by trying to appear like you’re busy but you’re in fact looking at best uninterested… you’re inadvertently showing the crowd your “Facebook Face”.

It’s easy to overcomplicate DJing. Bottom line is that once you’ve done the above, it’s OK to dance in the DJ booth, smile, maybe listening a bit harder than most to make the odd EQ adjustments, and possibly throwing in the odd trick every now and then… but that’s all. What’s not OK is to have a default pose that is basically rigid, staring at the screen, transfixed as your mind tries to vaguely work out what you can (usually unnecessarily) do to “add” to the tune that’s playing.

Basically, you’re one of the crowd. And the more time you can find in your DJ set to act like that, the more you’re going to engage with them and deliver a great night… where nobody accuses you of being a “Facebook Face” DJ.

Finally…

My final bit of advice is not to get too hung up over this. Back in the old days the DJ was a geeky guy in the corner who played music. What you did really wasn’t that important other than do an amazing job of making the right stuff come out of the speakers. And believe me, despite the fact that I’ve highlighted some digital problems above, old-school DJs used to spend plenty of time crate-flicking (or CD wallet-watching) too. It’s something you tend to do more when you’re less experienced, and the only way to get that experience is to do it, so really don’t let it hold you back.

In this age of rock star, superstar, Jesus-pose DJs, it can be easy to think that your physical performance in the booth is everything, but that’s simply not true. The truth is that in 90% of situations, you’re still required to simply make the right stuff come out of the speakers above all else. If you can do that, and still manage to look like you’re having fun at least some of the time… that’s going to be enough. And if you follow these general guidelines, there’s no reason why you can’t do that. Enjoy!

Have you even been accused of updating Facebook when DJing? Have you ever, erm, done it? Do you think it even matters? Got any tips to add? Please do so in the comments.

Comments

  1. One very simple thing to add…. Make sure you got all the buttons you need, including the browsing, loading and pre-listening, on your controller!! Only touch your laptop in case of extreme need…

    • +1

      And actually the post’s advices are quite solid too!

    • Absolutely agree. If you can, use your controller to search, browse, pre-cue and effects. A good mapping is essential for this.

      Another obvious suggestion is try and get rid of the laptop! USB drives or cds mean you’re not looking at another screen, and are almost forced to interact with your equipment and the crowd

  2. Good post Phil!
    I constantly look and asses what the crowd is giving me once I mix one record to another. The ability to read the crowd is absolutely essential to DJ’s, starring at a computer screen the whole time doesn’t accomplish anything!

    • When I first read your comment, I thought you were saying that you look at the asses of the crowd. Sexy people dancing are always a good excuse to focus your gaze on the crowd and not your computer screen.

  3. These three tips have the added benefit of making you a better DJ overall.

  4. Phil, you are a true dj, congratulations for your good work in the site, keep it up

  5. I’m guilty of “Facebook Face”, but it’s usually because I would have been booked to play one type of sound (like deep house)…but 2-3 songs into my set it’s clear the crowd isn’t wanting this music at all. So I end up spending much time digging to look for tunes to save the night.

    • Jam-Master Jake says:

      Dude, I know the feeling. I’m a “multi-format” DJ who plays lots of Top-40 dance tunes, but also needs to know some country, rock, plenty of hip-hop/rap, oldies/classic rock/funk/disco, and some EDM genres (especially Dubstep) too. I’m trying to keep the floor packed busy, but rotate it regularly to keep people buying drinks. It doesn’t matter what I play, there’s always people who are upset with the choice of music, so I’m CONSTANTLY evaluating the “majority” of the crowd and trying to cater to them, while changing things up every so often. It is NOT hard to get sucked into “Facebook Face” when I’m trying to figure out a new track to smoothly mix in while I’m planning a few songs in advance.

      Playing in a bar has some real challenges, but I think the more I learn, the better of a DJ I will become in the long run.

  6. Hey Phil,
    as a dedicated reader of your site, i have to mention that it’s not realistic to get rid of all the illegal music downloads, as most great remixes and mashups are not even up for sale and created by the common dj’s like you and I. we’re be all playing regular versions of songs or the same shitty remixes posted with the original tracks, no unique abilty in our sets.
    just thought to bring it up.

    • Thats what can make your mixing unique, being creative with the originals and not someones else’s remix. but of cause some remixes make otherwise shitty songs danceable or cool.

    • Maybe what Phil meant by “illegal” is … illegal by law

      • Jam-Master Jake says:

        Phil is referring to stolen songs that you downloaded for free from the internet when you could have purchased them. There are a great deal of remixes that are NOT available for purchase. If you can’t buy them, but you can get your hands on them, I don’t consider that “illegally acquired music.” I always just email the remixer and ask them straight up how I can get my hands on their latest remix and tell them I haven’t been able to find it anywhere for purchase. I generally get an email response thanking me for my support and either a link to buy the song, or (more often than not) a copy of the track (in DJ quality) I’m looking for.

        Never hurts to ask…remixers love support too!

  7. I’ve never really had the Facebook Face.

    I always worry I’m not doing enough while DJing because I’m always raving behind the decks. Once had a flatmate walk in on me mixing at home, who then proceeded to tell me how embarrassing I looked dancing on my own!

    I always try and get a couple of mates up behind the decks with me as long as I’m on my own while DJing and they won’t get in the way. And they always get in the groove too!

  8. deejrocks says:

    ok, jere’s a way to avoid FB face and have fun at same time. Since i play parties a lot where they want to hear everything from top 40 to country western to latin, they seem to expect me to know all the dances. I took my cue from this and can now get out there and show them how to do cupid shuffle, boot scootin’ boogie, electric slide, etc. Working on the latin stuff too. Club DJs may think this is stupid, but you party DJs will get it.

    • Michael the Ark Dj says:

      I do this too. I look at dancing behind the decks is infectious to to your crowd. If people see you dancing then that wants to make them dance as well

  9. Good thing to do is to put some stickers on your keyborad (if you don’t have a midi controler) to find quickly the shortcut, without having to look the computer (just a quick look).

    For the song, from my experience, sometime I make a short selection of tracks (40 or 50 for an hour set) but sometime I just don’t know what I will play (I’m not focus on one genre, so it really depend on the people and the mood). For that moment, I don’t take all my mp3 collection, but just do a selection of it (a “all time selection”), class by genre, subgenre, and intensity (if it’s more for the begining or the middle of the night). And also I use colors to have a better view on the screen (I use a 12″ laptop) so I can find quickly what I want. I also try two think 2 song in advance, so when I go for searching a track I already know what track (or at least what kind of track) I will take.

    The tips about knowing your song is true, but when you can’t (like you just receive this huge track and want absolutly play it), it’s good to know how music works. For example in electro or dubstep, the structure are almost always the same, so it’s easier to anticipate breaks and other stuff (and with some practice you can listen and count how many mesure have been played).

  10. Hi –
    When playing parties with lots of different genres, I usually add my genre playlists in Traktors Favorites so i can choose between them using a dedicated knob on my controller or the F1-F10 on the keyboard. Browsing is a lot easier when you have a button for the only-browser-toggle function in Traktor, that turns back to the mixer view when you load a track to a deck. Bit tricky to map, but indeed very cool to use.
    All of the tipps above are very good advice, best still is to know your tracks, keep it simple and always keep the audience surprised.

  11. It’s easier said than done, but if you look like you’re having fun people will have fun!

    Mixing techniques, effects and the like will only get you so far but if you don’t dance, smile and catch people’s eyes, the audience will never become immersed in the moment.

  12. DJ SpecializED says:

    I shoot from the hip. I never have planned sets never know how crowd reacts. Have to change case by case. Facebook face is same as looking thru cd sleeves or albums. Same shit different media. I know what songs go well with each other so know your music but looking at the screen is a needed evil.

  13. Phil, #3!!! thank you for posting that one especially. I’ve seen a phenomenon similar in recording studios as with DJs:

    the fear of letting go of the knobs.

    When a band would listen to a mix, 90% of the recording engineers (the guys setting the levels, balance, eq settings to make sure all the instruments are placed in the mix correctly, a more involved version of what we do on the mixer) couldn’t keep their hands off the knobs and start tweaking something, which would change the mix and negate all the time spent critically listening to what was hopefully the final version (take 12).

    Some of my favorite DJs have been people who are having a blast cranking the music they are sharing with the crowd, rocking out like no one was watching and having the time of their lives. It’s very infectious and helps build the energy.

    that being said, it was very interesting to see how much time I spent watching my screen even though I had a setlist planned at my last gig! thank you for these reminders.

  14. Domicile says:

    I use to catch myself doing the facebook face a ton (or wave riding if you prefer). I’d be on a great set but wouldn’t know it because I wasn’t looking up enough or dancing around. I changed this by putting my laptop to my side instead of in front of me. Means I only look at it when I’m selecting a song or about to drop in the new track (I like to use cue points as phase markers). Other than that, I am dancing around, moving my hands to let people know the build-up/drop is coming, etc. I have a lot more fun now doing this and my sets, while never horrible before, have improved immensely.

    On the other point of feeling like you always have to be doing something, I know how that can be. Digital has made it very easy to select a song, stored cue points means I have jump in points/loops already good to go, and sync saves a ton of time so after I pick a song, I’m pretty much ready to mix in (and there could still be 3-4 minutes of the current song left). I got into the habit of always fiddling with the eq or filter or adding things in just to do something and all of sudden my mixes started to suffer. I had to tell myself that I can just enjoy the music and the crowd. They are there to dance, not to see me (for the most part) so that’s what I did and it’s been great. I’ve noticed, the more I’m moving around, dancing, lip syncing, putting my hands up, the more the crowd responds in turn.

  15. Phil, great advice regarding track selection.

    When it comes to mixing, my rule of thumb is to pick a view in traktor that hides most of what I can see and control on my twitch controller. I tend to use the “essential” view, which hides the mixer section (since obviously it’s on my controller!), the effects section (which is also mapped on my twitch), and the cue point buttons are also hidden (admittedly I do often look at the waveform in search of the corresponding cue point buttons, but that’s always brief, or other times I find them by ear). Also, when I really want to challenge myself, I try to mix in the “browser” mode while practicing, which when it comes to mixing REALLY challenges you to rely on your controller and keeps you from looking at the screen (since it won’t tell you much unless you’re trying to pick the next tune).

  16. Luke James Taylor says:

    Nice article Phil.

    Back in the old school days I remember many of the best and most popular DJs were quite shy and retiring. Dynamic musically yes but for the most part tucked away in a booth out of sight, crouching down crate digging or standing like a member of Kraftwerk maybe nodding their heads.

    Also ‘our thing’ was strictly an underground thing, a counter culture so the demeanor for many a DJ (even the most dynamic physically like the hip hop turntablists) was the serious ‘man at work’ frown or the gangsta screw face.

    Things have changed but I’m still more of a shy and retiring type with a “man at work” boat race.

    Give me a crows nest DJ booth so I can see the crowd but they can’t hassle me with requests or stick a camera in my face and I’m most happy then. Just concentrating on the tunes.

    Alas the DJ has become a focal point which is a tad awkward for the less extroverted personality. :)

  17. Luke James Taylor says:

    PS: At my current residency the booth is set into the bar so I have the bar staff and management over my shoulder and the punters bar propping watching my every move.

    I feel like a mouse in a lab being observed from every angle!!!!

  18. If you spend all of your time interacting or trying to interact with the crowd,when do you have the time to actually do what you’re supposed to be doing. A DJ who stares at a screen,is no different than a DJ who is digging around in his or her crates or taking the time to adjust his pitch or match beats or anything else. A few weeks ago,I was backstage with a certain female DJ who happens to be in high demand at the moment,and the whole experience made me want to vomit. She pre-selected twenty vinyls,and twenty more CD’s,and that’s what she played,period. She spent an hour and a half schmoozing and trying to look cute with her cigarette,trout pout and absurd leather get-up,and forgot about spontanaety and actually working. When I play,I want my music to intereact with the crowd,and if I’m doing a lot of looking when I play,it’s because my set isn’t pre-selected,and I’m looking for that joint that I feel would be best suited for that particular moment. Back in the day,you couldn’t even see the DJ in big clubs,so why this need for lots of interaction now? More time interacting equals less time working at the task at hand,and that to present good music. David Guetta was once a really good DJ. Now he’s a rich mediocre showman. The focus should always be the music and not the show,in my humble opinon.

  19. Great article Phil. Overall, I would agree. sadly though, the same thing that makes it possible for me to read this article, is the very same thing that hurts us DJs… the internet! It seems like nowadays with everyone spending so much time on YouTube, Pandora, etc, they have become conditioned to listening to the latest songs from every artist known or unknown. It has become harder to please a crowd if you’re recycling music that is older than a few months. Back in the days the DJ were the ones who went to the record store and had access to all of the new music. For most non djs, the only access to music was from the radio stations which kept only a few songs on rotation. Most non Djs would not care too much about new music nor would they hear it, because that would involve spending money at the record store. Today you can listen to everything for free via YouTube and other sites. So now, crowds at parties want to hear latest and greatest based on what they just heard on YouTube or somewhere else. They figure that if they heard it, surely you as a DJ must have heard it also. That alone makes it more difficult just play from a standard crate or two.

    • Luke James Taylor says:

      Very true, the trick is to be very selective about which venues you play at and tell the person who hires you that you do not take requests. That way there are no misunderstandings.

      It’s also worth nipping requests in the bud by having a sign saying “NO REQUESTS” in plain sight.

      I like to go and check out the venue to see what the crowd is like before I accept a gig there.

      If the resident DJs play top 40 and the crowd consists of lots of boisterous drunk females I will probably avoid it like the plague. The perfect recipe for non-stop requests for music I don’t like and hostile reactions when declined.

      Another type of venue I’m cautious about playing is the slick underground club where the residents play minimal tech as my sound is like Kryptonite to the ears of the minimal tech crowd.

      For me it’s all about knowing what works for me and being very prejudicial about who I play for ;)

  20. Lord pyro says:

    Great article!

    I work hard at not having FB face. I always try to focus in on someone and make sure I smile! I also have a Jack Knife folder of tunes that I know will work, that I love to play so if I’m lost I can go to. I don’t plan sets but I have what I call cells – 4 or more songs that go together. I know I can pick a cell and it would be awesome. This way I’m organized but not completely planning a set!

  21. Capillary says:

    My best tip is when setting up your laptop and stand put it off to the side of you rather than directly in front. It allows for you to glance at the screen while not making it your main focus.

  22. Chew gum while you are djing.

    This works to make it look like u are excited and makes u look less bored.

    I do this all the time especially since I dj several times a week and I have a day job. Sometimes u have to hide that your’e just tired not bored.

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