9 Tips For Harmony In The DJ Booth

DJ booth

Keeping things sweet in the DJ booth is not only good for the other DJs and the dancefloor, but for you too. Here are nine reasons why...

With any career, hobby, lifestyle or passion that involves other people, there's a high risk of conflict. Often, the thing that gets DJs in trouble is simply dealing with other DJs. It's important for your set, your event, your scene and your professional image to make sure and avoid as many of these conflicts as possible… and when they arise, to handle them in a mature and reasonable way.

To help avoid some of the mistakes that I've seen over the years, let's go over some of the basics of DJ etiquette. Here are my nine tips which can help you maintain harmony behind the booth.

1. Choose your set-up and tear-down times wisely

I always make my best attempt to set my gear up at a time that makes sense Showing up and playing on the club-installed rig is one thing, but for many, this is the era of BYOG (Bring Your Own Gear). Today's broad range of DJ hardware and approaches comes at a price: making it very easy to get in other people's way.

Do what you can to minimise this annoyance. Of course, every booth, DJ, and event is different. Typically, when following another DJ, I try to set up 15 before the start of my set. That way, it doesn't feel like I'm trying to rush them out of the booth. I typically say something like, "Hey, no rush, I'm just setting up now so that everything's ready for later. You're sounding great!" If it's a show that you're planning on attending all night anyway, it may make more sense to set up at the beginning of the night and tear down at the end (good for those promoter/DJs out there). But this comes with an obvious downside: your stuff might be in the way all night. So, choose this option wisely.

When another DJ is following me, I typically wait until after their first track or two is done playing before disconnecting everything. (I take the time to put away my headphones and such, but leave my laptop and gear connected for a few moments). That way, if the incoming DJ runs into a problem (sound not coming out of a particular channel, timecode issues, or what-have-you), your gear is still there. This will allow you to keep the music going by playing a few tracks or loops while he gets the issue sorted.

If you have to set up while someone is playing, do it very slowly. No yanking cables, jumping around, or reaching over the DJ's arms. Wait for opportunities and take them, slowly, with intent. When you're done, thank them for being patient. Which leads to my next point...

2. Communicate

As is the case with most human interactions, there are no shortage of problems or conflicts that could have been avoided if someone had just taken the time to communicate. When someone is coming on after me, I always try chat them up when I get a second (whether it's before or during my set) to get a feel for what they have in mind.

If I know they are planning on starting around 130 BPM and I've been playing at 118 all night, I'll start ramping the tempo up slowly to put myself a little closer to the end goal. This not only makes the incoming DJ more comfortable, but prevents a sudden jarring change for the dancefloor. If, however, he's planning on playing drum & bass and I've been playing deep house all night… I know that he's going to want to let my track run out instead of matching my tempo. But it might still make more sense to build the energy for him a bit.

The simple "no rush!" example given in the first point exemplifies good booth communication. If you just come in and start setting things up early without saying anything, they might get the idea that you're trying to push them out of the booth (or that you were mistaken on your start time). This is all made a non-issue by one or two quick sentences.

3. Know your set-up and think ahead

There's nothing more irritating than someone who barges in, sets up in a rush, and then has issues getting their own set-up to work for 30 minutes. I don't know how many times I've run into this with DVS users who still aren't quite sure how the signal routing in their Serato box works.

Serato box

Know inside out exactly how to wire in your Serato Scratch Live or Traktor Scratch audio interface; the booth is no place to be learning this stuff.

You should know your set-up inside and out, and how to quickly set it up and break it down. Practise it at home if you need to. And always come prepared with items that will make it easier to stay out of each other's way! For example, I always bring my own power strip with me and plug all my gear into it, regardless of the abundance of available plugs. This makes sure that all my stuff stays separate from everyone else's power wires, and minimises the chance of me unplugging someone else or getting tangled up. Other helpful items: long RCA cables, wire couplers, extension cords… anything that helps keep your stuff separate!

4. Don't argue

There's no use in getting all up-in-arms with a DJ who isn't cooperating. Of course, I say that a little communication goes a long way (especially if you're being particularly nice, helpful, and approachable yourself). But, it's only a matter of time before you run into the next DJ who just isn't very nice (or you happen to catch them in a bad mood).

There's only so much that you, as another DJ, can do to solve issues with equipment, time slot, or anything else. And getting into a heated argument in the booth does not reflect well on you, the other DJ, the staff, or the establishment… and it will have a detrimental effect on your dancefloor. If there are issues which cannot be quickly solved with a quick and polite conversation, take it to the promoter or manager that hired you. It's their job to sort out those problems.

5. Don't interrupt

Yes, communication is important, but it's effectiveness has a lot to do with when you try to communicate. Try not to bother the other DJ while he or she is transitioning, scratching, finger-drumming or doing any other kind of "active" DJ activity.

For example, perhaps you're getting ready to plug into the house mixer. You want to warn them rather than just reaching over them and getting in their way. Wait for an opportunity where, perhaps, they are looking for their next song or are just standing back for a moment and let them know. Say something like, "Hey, I need to plug into channel three on the mixer but I don't want to get in your way… just let me know when a good time is."

6. Leave plenty of time to swap over

I always make it a point to give a DJ that is following me ample time to make a decision on how he wants to start. If he's playing something fairly "compatible" with my outgoing track, he may want to mix into it… don't give them a 20-second outro to work with.

Additionally, when following another DJ, don't immediately kill their outgoing track as soon as you take over. This has happened to me on multiple occasions, and while I don't make a big deal out of it, it does bug me a bit. Sometimes a DJ is saving a particular track to end his set with. If he's trying to make his final statement as he's mixing out and you kill it in the first 16 bars, he might take it as a bit rude (even if you didn't mean for it to be). Let the track play out a bit.

7. No beer near the gear!

This rule has been around for ages, but is even more important in this day and age. With more and more people bringing their own pieces of gear into the DJ booth all the time, you're not just putting the house gear at risk… you're endangering the hardware people may have saved up for a long time to buy.

Beer DJ gear

This spells danger! Keep drinks and DJ gear well apart.

I often will have one or two beers when I'm playing, but I am always very conscious about where I place and hold it. Don't reach over the booth while holding it… take the time to take a step back. Keep any liquid somewhere that's apart from any electronics. This gesture may or may not go unnoticed, but one thing is certain… they will definitely notice when you place your drink dangerously close.

Take it from someone who had a glass of wine spilled in their brand new Kontrol S4 the first week he got it. Be mindful of your liquids!

8. Respect the timeslot

This one is simple and well known, but worth mentioning because it's probably the single most common starting point of problems between DJs. When your timeslot is up (provided that the next DJ is present and ready to continue), stop playing. Don't hog the decks. Once again, if there is a conflict regarding start and stop times, have the promoter or manager sort it.

9. Carry on and be professional

A big part of DJing that is sadly often neglected: the ability to persevere regardless of whatever the night brings. If you have equipment failure, a disrespectful DJ, an annoying patron, etc. keep your cool. People will remember how you handle a rough situation. Don't be a diva! There will be times where you have to deal with drunken and obnoxious members of the crowd. Be patient and courteous to them, even if they aren't doing the same. If you're not a "requests" DJ, politely let them know (or, sometimes, a polite "thumbs up and a smile" is enough to get you by).

The show must go on. Even if you're doing this as a hobby, treat it like a job. The more you maintain a professional image, the more people will want to work with you and the quality of your gigs will likely improve. If there's one thing that causes more problems than encroaching on other people's timeslots, it's the DJ's ego. Check it at the door, and you'll be much better off.

• David Michael is a DJ, producer, and owner/editor of PassionateDJ.com: a blog about how to become a better DJ through passion and purpose.

What's your top tip for keeping things sweet in the DJ booth? Have you been on the receiving end of some of these no-nos? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. Funny story on etiquette (well, funny now that it is in the past)...

    A few weeks ago we had a guy show up and manage to weasel his way into a short “guest set” (how that came to be is an even longer story – we’ll save it for another day). The following week he came back and I politely told him “sorry, no guest sets tonight, we’re running a special promotion.” The guy starts arguing that the owner told him to come in and play a 1.5 hour set this week because he was so popular last week. (As a side note, I know the owner well and we had a long conversation about this guy and how he wasn’t to play anymore after tricking his way into the booth the previous week.) I again politely say “sorry, no guest sets tonight.”

    Well the guy won’t get out of the booth, and starts pulling out his equipment. At this point I have to get a little more firm. He starts throwing out all this attitude about how I’m just threatened by him, and how the owner told him to play. At this point the doormen get involved. He is telling them the same thing – so one of them goes down to the office and asks the owner – comes back and tells the guy, the owner said no. He still keeps arguing with me – telling me I’m totally disrespecting him. I keep saying “I’m just trying to do my job and you refuse to get out of my way”.

    To keep this story from getting too long, it took about 15 minutes, but finally two doormen had to pull him out of the booth.

    So ya, communication is important. So is being on good terms with security. lol

    • Wow, that is completely insane!

      You definitely did the right thing by remaining calm and professional, though. It's a good idea to take the high road when it comes to this stuff, even when they are obviously way in the wrong.

      Hard to believe there are such strong-headed and delusional people out there, sometimes!

      • DJ_ForcedHand says:

        This is not the exception, there are many people out there who feel they are too important to follow the rules because they're a DJ now.

  2. Willem van der Marel says:

    Excellent post, as always. Common sense and being nice go a long way....

  3. Chuck "DJ Vintage" van Eekelen says:

    Is there a limit on how much you can post here? Just kidding.

    But one serious one that (unlike the first story) is still not funny to this day starts at the wedding of an ex-coworker of the owner of the mobile disco I was with. He couldn't be there himself, so I was up for the job. Nice old medieval castle (wooden floors ... pfff). No elevator and a very narrow winding staircase. And you know what flightcases don't really agree with ... you got it!

    When we set up (in accordance with the venue manager) the groom came, said we were in the wrong place and had the manager come back and tell us to setup in another corner of the room. Lot of fun that was, so much for being done on time.

    The night was supposedly a theme party and my colleague and I ended up being the only one dressed theme-appropriate.

    At this time I was already slightly aggrevated but still smiling (and looking ridiculous in my Dalton Brother's prison outfit). The bride and groom had provided an EXTENSIVE (and trust me when I say extensive I mean extensive) list of do's and dont's. The mother of the bride came up while the married couple were still receiving guests and shaking hands and ask me to play a particular song. Early evenining, nobody's dancing, the bride and groom shaking hands and the bride's mother requesting, what could go wrong. Well that the groom was at the DJ stand like 5 seconds later demanding what the H*LL I was playing. Told him a request from his mother-in-law. I was to stop it immediately. No playing it out, fade out and finish. I started playing some songs from their own DO list. Again he shows up. Stop this music immediately! HUH? Next thing he comes back and asks me "my best man is a well-known national radio DJ and would like to play for half an hour", would I be ok with that? Sure, by all means. The guy gets behind the decks, says three words, lots of "oh look, who is playing" and a full floor before he dropped his first track. He managed to play not half but a full hour, pull out three hours worth of CD's which were stack on my stand. He played EVERY SINGLE floorfiller imaginable, pretty much all tracks that were on my playlist for the night. Understandably he get the crowd going. He finishes and as I am ready to step back in (scratching my head about how to rework my playlist now), the groom steps up and introduces another "pro" DJ from the club scene. Do you mind ... at this point I am just about boiling. But hey, what to do. It's the customer AND he is a "friend" of our "boss". The guy starts doing his club thing for well over 45 minutes. At this time my light guy steps in and tells the DJ playing that he'd better get ready to keep playing til the end, because we (i.e. ME) are done. When he finished and left, the CD's the first DJ uses were still stack foot-high on the stand, so I had to clean up his crap before I could even start teardown.

    The best man/radio jock was one of the last to leave. When I was clearing cables I had to walk past him, I couldn't help myself and told him "nice set". When he smiled and said "oh, thank you", I added "would be a good idea to talk to the guy that is supposed to play the rest of the night and communicate a bit about who does what, but more important, clean up your mess when you are done, I am not your busboy". He looked a bit surprised about somebody telling him off. Guess most people just want to crawl up his, well you know.

    Needless to say that I have never been so happy to have all the gear in the truck again and be driving home.

    What a disastrous night. I swore that I would never let another DJ play while on a gig, unless it was communicated in advance and clearly communicated and agreed on what each one would do. And I never have again.


    • Yowza.

      I guess I can consider myself lucky for never having the experience of being ousted from my own DJ booth. That's got to be both humiliating and annoying.

      Makes you wonder why they even bothered to book you in the first place!

      • Chuck "DJ Vintage" van Eekelen says:

        Yeah, he should just have hired us to put up equipment and control the lighting. There were another 5 or 6 pro/semi-pro DJs in the house that night too. So no problem doing a 4-hour wedding gig.

    • jipbeats says:

      A. I'd love to know who the radio dj was!


      B. I hope you still got paid!

      • Chuck "DJ Vintage" van Eekelen says:

        A) Not telling, not relevant. If you're from Holland I guarantee you'd know him though.

        B) Yeah, we got paid what was owed, but the money was irrelevant too. I wouldn't have repeated the night if they'd paid me five times as much.


    • sammsousa says:

      damn weddings!!!!!! from what ive heard, i never really liked the ideia of djing at weddings! after reading this, i know that i wont be djing at any wedding!

      • I've never been interested in doing weddings, myself, but that's probably where the best money is (outside of semi-to-super-stardom)... and some people really enjoy it. But yeah, definitely comes with some hurdles! :)

      • Chuck "DJ Vintage" van Eekelen says:

        Some or fun, some are not so much fun, but the professional pride in getting the crowd to dance and enjoy themselves and have people come up to you before leaving and personally thanking you for a great evening (regular guests) and the bride and groom thanking you for finishing their special day with a great evening definitely makes up for a lot.

        And if you like a very broad variety of music, a wedding is probably the only place you can play that.


    • djrizki says:

      Was wondering if any of these DJ's (the radio DJ / Club DJ) both who plays with yur stuff, did they like said to you hey man whats up, where u usually spin at? ya know just nice chit chat ? Hell, i would, matter of fact i always do that cuz it hyped me up every time i met a new fellow DJ's, I be like whasssssss uppppp ?????

      • Chuck "DJ Vintage" van Eekelen says:

        Nope, totally ignored me. Nothing. Too busy with their own ego and exalted position of "special friend of the groom".

        I will always talk to another DJ in a polite and interested way. Sometimes a conversation starts, sometimes the other is stressed or focused or whatever and doesn't really want to talk. Then I leave them alone and wish them good luck and say goodbye.


    • Schrottrocker says:

      @Chuck: You should have checked where the hidden camera was installed and asked when you could see the whole thing on tv 😉

  4. djrizki says:

    Just want to add lil sumthing ...
    2. Communicate
    During communication stage, I always humble, chatty, and make sure I get his/her contact numbers, who knows next time, they take you along for their event/gig

    8. Respect the timeslot
    Sometimes, the event promoter assigned one guy by the DJ booth, to give the signal to the DJ, usually by raising his index finger, raising the "number 1" sign, meaning the DJ gots like 1 more song to mix before his session ended.

  5. " Even if you’re doing this as a hobby, treat it like a job. The more you maintain a professional image, the more people will want to work with you and the quality of your gigs will likely improve."

    Words of wisdom!!!

  6. I last week i went to play in a bar near my house.During the night a boy from the crowd went to touch the master of the mixer and i told to that person to do not touch again.He touch again and the owner of the bar saw and in the final of the set said it was my fault .How can i resolve issues like this one.

  7. Itsjustneon says:

    I know it's not DDJT but watch this!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8rzquAc4O0
    It's good!

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