Whatever the DJ type, whatever the music, and whatever the crowd, every DJ has to deal with this simple question: Static or dynamic? Or in other words, should you plan your DJ set or not?
There are arguments for and against both approaches to DJing, so we’re going to split this topic into three separate posts. To start with, here are five circumstances when mapping out every mix and executing your set largely without deviation could be a wise idea.
1. When you’re playing a warm-up to a light or non-existent crowd – If you’re the first DJ, and you’ve got 15 new records that fit the style of the night and you want to hear them on a big system, why not play them all in a planned set? You get to “practise in public”, and you’re not hurting anyone.
2. When you’re out of your comfort zone – For instance because it’s one of your first gigs in public, you’re playing on strange equipment, or you’ve been booked to play a genre or party type you’re unfamiliar with. It’s always best to do it even though you’ve had to plan it, rather than not to do it at all, so you can learn from the experience.
My first public “mixed” DJ set was completely planned – I had a small card in my record bag with every mix mapped out on it, yet I still couldn’t stop shaking from beginning to end! My planning got me through it. That was the only time I had to do that, but I’m glad I did.
3. When you’re a known producer/DJ who’s expected to play a certain set – If you’re playing all or much of your own music or remixes, and that’s what the audience has come to hear you play, and you’ve got re-edits and exclusive versions of your music, you may choose to spend your set executing a carefully pre-planned musical order.
That frees you up to play with effects, EQs and so on while the music follows its pre-arranged pattern, so you’re still adding something new to the equation.
4. When you’re recording your set – If the venue wants you to do a live mix for promotional purposes, you may choose to carefully plan that mix before playing it “live”, to reduce the chance of silly errors. It can be nice to record a bona fide live performance so people who were there get exactly what they heard.
It’s like the difference between spoken and written speech – we make errors in our spoken speech all the time without worry, but when it’s written down for ever more, it pays to get it right.
Of course, it may be best to record a planned mix entirely at home, away from a live audience, but at the same time it can be nice to record a bona fide live performance so people who were there get exactly what they heard – even if you had to plan every second of it to get it 100% right!
5. When you’re playing back-to-back with another DJ – If you’re playing “three each” with another DJ or DJs, for instance, it makes sense to plan those little sets of music into coherent mini-mixes. After all, there’s a competition element here – if the other DJ or DJs have planned some great mini-mixes, maybe you should too. Of course, if you’re playing in a DMC-style battle, pre-planning is also a given.
So, that’s the argument for planning. Next week, we look at the other side , with 6 Reasons Why Not To Plan Your DJ Sets. The week after, we bring it all together with 7 Set-Planning Secrets That Pro DJs Know and Use.
Do you plan, or have you ever planned, your DJ sets? What was your experience when doing this? Please let us know your thoughts and views in the comments.
• Thanks to Enrique Gonzalez for the original question that inspired this piece over on our Facebook Discussion Board, and to Isaac B Tips Goldszerz, Rick Jones, Zachary Brown, Edwad Willey, Sam Lucas, Matt Scharbach and Brennan Lee Baker for their contributions to the debate.