9 Tips For Success At Your First DJ Gig

First DJ gig

Ready for your first show? Here’s some time-won tips to help you ensure it goes off without a hitch.

Your palms are sweating and your heart is racing. You could cut the nervous tension with a knife. The club is full of expectant people who all want to see what you can do. All eyes are on you as you step behind the decks and prepare to pull off what just a short while ago might have seemed impossible to you. It’s your first gig and as far as you’re concerned, everyone in the club is wondering the same thing: “Does this guy know what he’s doing?”

Preparing for your first gig is an activity you should not take lightly. Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes, and without a lot of practice your first gig will be average at best. At worst, it will be fraught with frustrating problem after frustrating problem. While it’s true that few gigs are totally problem-free, with a little preparation and thought, many of the big issues can be minimised or avoided all together. Here’s how to avoid some of the common mistakes DJs often make at their first gigs:

9 tips for first gig success

1. Take your time
Avoid taking on a last minute gig. Give yourself at least three days to practise and plan before playing a gig. Taking on a last minute gig does nothing but open up the door of frustration. Many inexperienced or novice DJs make the mistake of thinking that they need to take on any gig they’re offered, at any notice. This is not true and in fact, it pays to be selective. Take the gigs you know you can handle and decline the rest. After all, if you botch a gig, how will that help you land another in the future?

2. Use the tools you’re familiar with
Whether your friend has a faster laptop than you, or you just bought a new deck, switching up your tools at the last minute is a recipe for disaster. In order to avoid the confusion of new equipment, or the possibility that it won’t perform the way you’re used to, avoid using equipment you’re unfamiliar with at your first (or any) gig. Stick to the tools you know, even if they’re slower or less fancy.

3. Play to the crowd
If the only place you’re used to playing is your room, then you’re likely playing to an audience of one: Yourself. When playing your first gig for other people you need to keep in mind that their tastes, and your tastes, may not line up. Learning to listen to the criticism and suggestions of others without allowing them to derail you is one of the great skills of DJing. Might as well start learning it right from the off.

4. Never leave home without a plan B
As a budding DJ you probably haven’t had a whole lot of experience with hardware failures. Despite what some DJs will say, hardware failure can and will happen. Whether it’s a frayed cable or a crashed laptop it doesn’t matter: they both stop the music. You should always have a plan B in place in case your plan A stops working…

5. Show up early
The last thing you want to be doing before you step behind the decks is rushing around tying up last minute loose ends. It’s better to show up too early than too late. Give yourself time to set up, and run a thorough sound check. This will alert you to any problems and give you time to fix them before they affect the sound of your set.

6. Plan out your set
As a DJ you know it’s best to start strong and end strong, but many well-intentioned DJs will forget this in the heat of the moment. It’s best to plan out multiple solid playlists that you can switch to depending on your crowd. This will keep people dancing, and help lessen the nervousness of a first gig. Having pre-planned “mini-sets” like this is not cheating; slotting together pre-planned segments according to what the crowd reacts to is a time-honoured why of mixing planning with spontaneity.

7. Promote the gig
It’s not enough to assume that your family and friends will simply pack out a club. They may or may not, but truth be told you’ll probably want some strangers there too, and bringing a crowd is certainly one of the best ways to get booked again, like it or not. Friends and family may be flakier than you think, plus they’ll always give biased feedback. Plus, winning over a room of strangers is always more fulfilling than playing to the converted.

8. Make sure everything makes it to the gig
You probably have a lot of equipment, cables, accessories and the like. Create a log so you can make sure everything you need makes it to the gig and back home. It’s a good idea to pin a checklist to the back of door in your DJ room, or keep one on your phone, or tucked in your kit bag.

9. Bring a trusted sidekick
Having a person available to help you isn’t necessary, but it will make a world of a difference. During the course of a two-hour set it’s very likely that you’ll need to step out for a break or to use the restroom, and it’s good to have someone there who can watch your stuff and make sure everything keeps running smoothly. This person can also act as a liaison between you and the audience so that you can receive requests and suggestions without having to shift your focus from the decks to the audience.

Finally…

Whether you’ve already had a few shows under your belt or you’re preparing to play your first, these tips can be applied to help make the whole process more smooth and less nerve racking. Remember, practice makes perfect, and the only place to really practise DJing is in public, so don’t let any excuse get in the way of getting out there and getting some notches on your belt. Good luck!

• Greg Davis is passionate about DJing and producing. When he’s not writing about music, he assists at shows hosted by San Diego DJ & Video.

Has this inspired you to finally get out of the bedroom and find that first gig? Check out our How To Digital DJ Fast course, which is all about getting you ready for that first pùblic DJ set. And if you’re already gigging regularly, feel free to tell us what went right (and wrong!) at your early shows…

Comments

  1. Make sure your first track is good and that it is long enough to give you time to settle in.

    Don’t try to be clever by opening with scratching or cue point juggling. Keep it simple.

    • Yeah, that’s a great tip. Even have your first 3 tracks “ready”, mix practised and everything. Even top DJs do that stuff :)

      • Sinds a day or 2 I know I will be playing at a school festival with by friend (who I dj wiht, call it a dj duo).
        I fixed a spot of a 2 hour long set for 100+ people.

        I’m nerveous as hell but I am really looking out to it.

        These tips will help me thats for sure.

        coming monday it is my birthday and I will be the dj on my own party ;) en the rest of the week I will be practicing my skills.

        Again thank you for the tips.
        really helps me calm down for september

    • I really hated it if the DJ after me, just turn down the volume of my last song, and they opened it with some BS FX like 20th century Fox theme, or Jump Around first intro .. ya know the one that goes like Tettt tret tett tettt …

  2. Chuck "DJ" van Eekelen says:

    Great tips, as usual!

    As far as gear & music go, I’d opt for having a plan C too. Not only does gear break, but in accordance with Murphy’s Law, that is also the moment your plan B isn’t working as expected. I find it to give me great comfort to know that multiple things can go wrong and I can continue playing my gig.

    A possible tip to add might be: Smile and look confident! Even if you are in deep stress about something, don’t look like a frightened deer in a car’s headlights.

    And most importantly, ENJOY! You only get one first gig.

    Greetinx,
    C.

    • Practice the confidence and “stage presence”. Staring lost at your gear will translate poorly. Smiling, Dancing, and getting the crowd tuned on you will help them miss the little mistakes that seem huge to you.

  3. Good stuff…will spread on social media. :)

  4. And also, definitely make sure that you balance out tracks that the audience may not know with tracks they will. And try not to do gigs out of your genre comfort zone!

    • I second this. My first 3 gigs were all Deep/Tech House. I’m Trance/Prog or Glitch/Electro. I did fine but the unfamiliarity made the nerves worse, 2 hours sets only added to it. Next up a huge festival, my tune choice, but way more people.

  5. I love that you included the idea of mini-playlists. This has always been my biggest tip to any beginner.

  6. DJ STELCH says:

    Wow this is amazing, you couldn’t have said it any better. Well i’m yet to have my 1st gig but these tips am gona keep in Mind for Real…

    Thanx i really Appreciate..
    DJ STELCH from Lagos Nigeria!!

  7. DJ SpecializED says:

    Great tips. I find a couple of drinks relaxes me a bit. Dont get SLOSHED! moderation is key. You must be professional at the end of the day.

    • I say err on the side of caution. Let the owner/promoter see you drinking water or soda until your set is done. I bring large bottles of the brand the club sells. It will build confidence, promotion & better odds at a return. Once you are done, let your M8s pick up the first few rounds.

    • HankBizzle says:

      Lol, my first gig I turned up drunk and made so many rookie mistakes it was unbelievable!
      I forgot my own headphones and had to use a duff set the club had sitting around (bear in mind this was back in the days when all we had was Vinyl so headphones were a lot more essential than they are now!)!
      I had only ever DJ’d on my own gear so had literally no idea how to work their mixer, the cues and stuff were all totally different to what I was used to, I played half my first tune with the bass turned almost off!?!
      I totally got away with it and ended up with a residency there, (the engineer recorded my set and it was actually awesome! I hardly even remembered it!) WTF!?
      So I learned the hard way, although it turned out well lol.
      I would probably say, remember your headphones, get there very early to suss out their gear and DO NOT get drunk!!

  8. I would like to ask a completely neophyte question: When there is a DJ proceeding you, how do you seamlessly switch from that DJ’s set [ending] to yours?

  9. Axcénted says:

    Another excellent DDJT article. As a beginner, let me add some things I’ve learned after my first four gigs:

    #1 — Music = Having mini-playlists, as suggested above, is key but, inevitably, if you ride the vibe of the crowd and/or do requests, and jump around playlists, genres, tempos, and energy levels, you might find yourself needing songs to transition between these vibes and to steer back to what you feel would work best next. For this reason, I keep a also mini-playlists of specific transition or bridge songs that help me glide thru the gig as it evolves.

    #2 — Common Sense Stuff = (a) Be careful with what you drink and eat during the day of the gig; for ex., too much coffee or related drinks, or certain foods, might make you go to the restroom too often, or worse; (b) Make sure you bring your own water and maybe some food if the gig is long — but see letter (a) above again, and stay sober; and (c) Have business cards ready in case anyone becomes interested in hiring you in the future. Actually, depending on the type of gig, I also wear a t-shirt “uniform” I made with my DJ name right up front. It’s like an advertising billboard. ;-)

  10. If you are a living/bedroom DJ, try a site like http://www.mixlr.com. Invite your friends to tune in while you mix. It is great practice to playing live. As you gain in followers you will get more feedback. If they are chatting it up, you usually have the right vibe.

  11. Awesome tips right here. Another thing I would mention, Rob also noted this, is to make sure that you open with a great track that’ll really get everyone into it.

  12. Very useful tips indeed, i prefer to start with longer tracks and see how the people react to them.
    I also use the time between these lengthy tracks to fine-tune the EQ and take a quick walk around the room and check the sound quality.

  13. I’d like to add make sure you know how to set up all your gear and that everything has been tested at least once before!!

    my first ever “digital” gig (it was just laptop & VDJ for an hour or so) went wrong because one of the cheap phono cables i had bought from ebay has the red/white wrong way round at one end. I was using a splitter to provide essentially 2 left and 2 right phono outs (lefts being deck 1, rights being deck 2)

    having this wrong cable obviously made it a nightmare setting up, especially as i wasn’t the first DJ so was setting up while someone else was playing!

    that being said, i still buy the cheap 99p cables from ebay, and that brings me on to my second tip – at that price you’d be daft not to have spare cables! I never go to any gig (even if i’m using the house CDJs) without a couple spare leads plus adapters.

    well worth getting some cheap business cards too. you never know when someone will come up asking if you can do such-and-such a gig for them. plus if you make sure the back of them has blank space you can use the cards whenever someone asks for a track ID ;)

  14. i’m an 18 year old aspiring club dj and i’m trying to get my first gig, now in newcastle where i live there is a very varied response to new young djs depending on where you contact, now as a former rekordbox user converted to cds over this summer i would say i’m kind of between beginner/intermediate, i can use controllers with no struggle and i’m very confident with cdjs, i have dj’d at my college bar and a nightclub near there but they were both a performance “for college” as i am starting my second year on a dj course, what seems to be stopping me i think is not getting any real chance to show what i can do, outside of college i have no access to gear at home or anything due to money issues, so trying to get some exposure is really hard at this moment, can u please write an article based on these issues because i beleive i am not the only one with these problems starting out, many thank andy, aka panda

    • You said you already confident with CDJ’s and controller…
      Do you have a computer at home? Yes, good !
      All you need right now is that free Virtual DJ Home Edition, is all you need to practice sets at home

      • Mike Graham says:

        If you are unable to access equipment out of school because you haven’t much money I suggest using an OSC app on an apple or android device (If you already own an iPhone or an android phone or tablet) as a controller with free DJ software like mixx or a demo version of another software. If you already have a compatible device that is the cheapest way to practice at home

    • paul"dj delboy"delaney says:

      why dont you ask your college to lend you the equipment during the week so you can practice youe sets

  15. I only played once live in a club with 150 people but I used the equipment of the club, now the hired me for 2 gigs in a university with 600+ on the first one and 1000+ on the other, I am really nervous since I use only virtual dj and traktor and only my macbook air. Any tips? I am thinking ofp utting mainstream songs sometimes because is what people like and also a little hip hop even if I don’t like it a lot.

    • paul"dj delboy"delaney says:

      always be ready to diversify mate your forever learning in this game and plus you,ll have alot of fun doing it too

  16. paul"dj delboy"delaney says:

    great tips and ive done all those faults in the past but hey if you make a mistake learn from it and as oakenfold once told me if mess a mix up then just make sure that your next one blows the crowed out of the water after all us dj,s are human.ive loved every second of the past 25 years in this game and wouldnt change a thing,my advice is always take any critisium as constructive unless its from a prat that hasent got a clue and be true to yourself,work hard play the crowed and be an all round nice person,i hung my gloves up playin live sets aruond 5 years ago and stuck to playin my own radio shows,,but was always gettin asked to play gigs so last month i played for a very close friend at an event he was holding and god it felt so good to be back lifting so many people up that i accepted the offers of playin the gigs that i got offerd that day and will be playing plenty of live sets from now on and giving the radio a rest for a while….so you never know wots round the corner.dj,in mixin and producing is the best world to be living in always has been always will be,keep on rockin….and the best of luck to all you guys out there…paul”dj delboy delaney.

  17. paul"dj delboy"delaney says:

    is there any way i can subscribe to this site as i would like to see how many of the dj,s are getting along and offer any advice if needed?

  18. shaggy dupes says:

    here is the thing, your first gig shouldn’t be a club, it should be a ton of parties and you should work your way up. once you’ve earned ur stripes you should have a following which will come to hear you play at ur first club gig. it’ll losen the tension when u realize ur just playing a show for all u friends but in a different venue.

  19. make sure your ready to play your first gig, too many people get djing equipment and want to play out a week later. theres nothing wrong with spending a good 6 months to a year in your bedroom before you play out for the first time

  20. Hey everyone, I’m Jay and I’m 13 and I literally just started learning how to dj. I got my first controller today and in a couple of days I’m djing at a party for my school. Obviously there is a lot of pressure on me, so are there any other tips that you could give me? Anything will be appreciated :) also I have to learn to dj without headphones because something is wrong with my virtual dj and headphone volume control won’t work. Thanks in advance :)

    • You probably need a soundcard or some sort of splitter cable to hear your headphones and your laptop output ;)

    • Corey Haertel says:

      Hey Jay I am also 13 and have about 1 year of experience and was hoping to soon DJ middle school dances but if anyone has any tips i would greatly appreciate it. But how can i get local school principles to hire me. I feel like they wont hire me because of my age I am very responsible for my age but how can i get gigs? Thanks– Dj Corey

  21. I’ve been engineering and producing music for 10 years. But I’ve been in the EDM scene for a year now and have been DJing for 3-4 months via my Traktor S4 and am fortunate enough to be headlining my first club gig from 11pm-2am at a respectable club in a week so on Ladies night. I’m confident I will do very well as I picked up the aspect of DJing quickly but my only concern lies in beginning my set. I have the resident DJ opening from 10-11pm. Friends and fellow DJ’s tell me to plan the first few songs to play and I think this isn’t exactly a good idea because the vibe of the crowd may not necessarily be at the level I “planned” any suggestions? Should I stick to a preset beginning or go with the flow?

  22. If you’re first on in the main room – make sure you start on time! I know it sounds obvious but I made this mistake. It was my first time on a BIG system (the Unit in Sheffield) and I was nervous as hell. I’d spent weeks and weeks practicing my set, but no one had arrived yet to witness it!! I didn’t want to play my well-honed set until someone was there to appreciate it!!! …so I waited…only for the manager to go nuts at me and told me to start playing some f***ing music! Not a good start…:-)

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