We recently published an article highlighting ten mistakes beginner DJs make that pro DJs don’t.
It got a lot of interest from DJs who remember making those errors, and from newer DJs enjoying the discussion about why DJs make those mistakes, and how to avoid them themselves.
But another thing that came out of the community interaction around the article was a whole pile of other DJ errors that we hadn’t included in the first list.
So without further ado, here they are, with a collective “thanks” to our awesome community of students for suggesting these – you know who you are. If you’re just starting in this game, here is some solid gold advice from those who know how to succeed.
Watch the show
Prefer me to talk you through this? In this video, a recording of a live show from the Digital DJ Tips YouTube channel, I talk you through everything in this article, and we take questions from our community too on the subject.
10 More Beginner DJ Mistakes
1. Not knowing the music
Back in the day, every DJ knew their music inside out. You had to: there were no cue points, waveforms, sync buttons and so on – just lots of identical-looking pieces of black vinyl. Your job was to learn each of those records inside-out, so you could comfortably DJ with them.
Nowadays of course we have all those aids to help us, but there isn’t a single pro DJ who gets behind the decks for any important gig without an intimate knowledge of every single tune they are going to play. Only this kind of knowledge lets you play fluid, dynamic sets, navigating your collection to fit the party.
No short-cut here: Learn your music. Buy less of it in the first place. And before you hit the decks, make sure that every track in your collection holds no surprises for you.
2. Not mixing out of tracks that aren’t working
If a track isn’t working, the time to play something else is now. Yet beginner DJs often don’t make the bold decision to get something else on the decks immediately.
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It can be because they’ve rehearsed every transition, so this would break the rules and send them into uncharted territory, that they’re simply not ready for. Or it can be because they think, “Oh well, it’s clearing the dancefloor, but something else is coming along in a few minutes, so who cares?”
But if a track really is bombing, it should be mixed out right away. Setting cue points at good mix out points on tracks is a good way of prepping for this. Track not working? Hit the cue point to jump to a friendly-for-mixing section, and get something else on right away!
3. Not having a technical backup plan
What will you do if your laptop crashes? Or if somebody knocks out your USB drive from the kit, corrupting it? Or you’re DJing a mobile gig, and someone spills a drink on your controller?
Learn to DJ like the pros: The Complete DJ Course
Pro club DJs carry spare, “mirror image” laptops and/or spare USB drives. Pro mobile DJs always have back-up gear, just in case. For you, it could be just as simple as a pre-mixed 15 minute set, on your phone, ready to hit “play” on while you fix an error – but whatever it is, think it through, and have a practised plan.
Radio silence is never an option for pros, and shouldn’t be for you, either.
4. Not interacting with the crowd
Look, I totally get it. DJing can be bloody nerve-wracking, especially your first few gigs. You need to concentrate hard on everything: Choosing the next song and getting the mix right can take all of your effort and time. You can quite literally forget to smile, or even to look up. Frankly you may not feel like doing either, you’re so nervous!
But your job is to lead the party.That dancefloor wants to feel that you’re happy and in control. If you are, they’ll follow you. So you have to show them that you are – even if you feel anything but confident and in control inside! Just smiling and occasionally looking up, making eye contact with dancers, makes such a big difference.
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The good news is that if you “fake it” at the start of your set, usually soon enough you’ll feel much more in the zone, much more relaxed and able to genuinely interact with your crowd a little more. It comes easier to some than others – but it’s something pros have all mastered over the years, in ways that work for their personalities.
5. Partying too hard
In a way this is the opposite of the one above, but it can also be a reaction to the nerves (drinking too much, etc). But if you’re partying too hard, inevitably at some point your DJing will suffer. Some DJs say they have a “sweet spot” where it all comes together, but I don’t really believe that. I think that truly serious pro DJs save the partying until afterwards.
An extremely successful pro DJ friend of mine once said to me, “I’ve reached the stage of my career where I’m twice the age of those on the dancefloor. So I allow myself one bottle of beer at the start of the night, to help me get in the mood and feel a bit closer to the crowd – then that’s it, till the gig’s finished.”
I think that is about right.
6. Playing every request
Your job is to have the best music, and to know how to play it to take the people on your dancefloor to somewhere cool. If you end up playing every single request, you’re just a human jukebox. That’s not what a DJ is.
Try to remember, that requests are just that – requests! You don’t have to play them. Your job is to filter those requests through your DJ mind, and be firm enough to only play those that contribute to where you’re taking the party.
7. Never playing requests
Of course, DJ/producers, festival DJs, some club DJs and so on don’t ever play requests – that’s fine. But if you play bars, lounges, parties and especially mobile gigs, you absolutely need to listen to suggestions, because sometimes, someone will suggest exactly the right song, that can trigger a new mood, lease of life, or direction for the dancefloor, that you can then be grateful for as you build on it with your own choices.
Frankly, sometimes when you’re having a hard gig, requests can be godsends. Pro DJs know when to take requests seriously. (Hint: Requests from people who are actually dancing, especially girls, should be taken the most seriously.)
8. Not having emergency floor-fillers prepped
What are you going to do if nothing you try is working, nobody will dance? Pro DJs know what they’ll do. They have tracks that they simply know will work – “get out of jail” songs, if you like.
Of course, experience gives you these tracks, so as soon as you find the songs that, for your gigs and audiences, just always seem to do the trick, make sure you’re separating them off and keeping them ready for when you might need them.
9. Being too hard on yourself
Here are some home truths:
Most people really don’t notice your triumphs behind the decks. But most people don’t notice your mistakes, either.
Whether or not you have good gigs isn’t really in your control – there are too many other variables you have no control over that decide whether a night goes well or not. Nights you’re looking forward to may go badly, nights you’re dreading may fly.
Just when you think you’re on a roll, you’ll get dropped from a regular gig. At the end of a night where you think you’ve tanked, you’ll have a queue of people to tell you how much they’ve loved the gig.
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“Meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same,” said Rudyard Kipling. Or, as Woody Allen once said, “Showing up is 80 percent of life.”
Pro DJs aren’t so hard on themselves. They know it’s a long game. They dust themselves off and carry on, whatever has happened. As Pete Tong is famous for saying, “we continue…”.
10. Not being nice
Being nice to people won’t make you a good DJ – but very few successful DJs aren’t nice to everyone they meet.
The truth is that people give work to people they know and like, and word gets out as to how you behave. So if you’re doing anything other than being friendly to all, from cloakroom attendants to security staff to other DJs and promoters, your chances of ever making it to pro level, or even just to get regular, decent DJ bookings, are low.
And of course, if you start an event DJ business, just as with any business, then you need to treat your customers as the most important people in the world.
So leave the attitude at the door. Be humble, open, and friendly. It’s a trick all pro DJs figure out (if they need to at all) very early on.
Read this next: How Not To Behave In The DJ Booth: 3 DJ Etiquette Tips
So that’s it for Part Two of our list of mistakes new DJs sometimes make, that pro DJs don’t. If you’re a pro or an experienced DJ, I hope this list made you smile and had you nodding along in agreement. If you’re new to this, I hope these points guided you. Do check out the first part of this list, too – and remember to let us know what you think of these in the comments.