Now that you’ve set up your promotion company and secured a venue for one or more nights, the important decision has come – the entertainment. In other words, the DJs and/or live acts you might want at your event.
It’s not just as simple as picking yourself and your buddies to play on the decks. Even if the crowd doesn’t care who the DJ is, the choices made in the entertainment line-up will still make or break any night. It doesn’t matter if it’s a trendy night at a posh lounge, or an underground rave.
Lining up a night
The best practice in lining up an evening is to have a proper opener, a headliner, and a closer. I won’t go deeply into what makes a proper opener, simply because it’s been said and done to death. There’s even an article here that can give you better perspective on when you’re seeking an opener. Regardless, it is highly important to not end up with some amateur playing peak time bangers at 9pm.
The headlining spot is the big one, and in many cases this is reserved for a more “known” act. This is the person many came out to hear, and even if he/she isn’t as talented as your other DJs, this person is basically being paid to bring you a crowd. When booking a headliner, you should think of this as an investment. How much do you have to invest, and how much return will you get for your investment?
So will the $5,000 DJ make you a profit in a venue that holds 500 people each hopefully paying $20 to enter? The name of the game is finding someone who is popular, can draw out a crowd, plays music that aligns with your goals for the event, is available, reliable, and who you can afford.
The actual process of booking a headliner can also get tricky if you’re trying to score a bigger name. Often times you’ll be dealing with their management, negotiating price, telling in detail what your event is as well as proving you can bring out a crowd for this headliner, and even dealing with transportation costs and any riders required, like having a specific set-up of gear. An example is they’ll want Pioneer CDJ-2000s and an Allen & Heath mixer when you only have a Vestax VCI-100. Always keep these possible new costs in mind when you’re going after bigger names.
More likely than not though, your headliners will really just be the bigger local names around your town. In this case it’ll really just be you emailing them off whatever contact information you have, setting up a deal, and making sure you have the gear he/she will need.
Now I mentioned a closer. It’s a DJ set that more or less does the opposite of an opener. While an opening DJ will gradually bring up the energy, a closer will be slowly winding it down.
Sometimes an event will have the headliner play till closing time with two opening DJs, but a better practice is to have a closing DJ. The biggest reason is as the night progresses, the crowd will get drunk, and sometimes even fights will break out for the most ridiculous of reasons.
Having a DJ wind down the crowd will ensure an orderly end of the night with patrons leaving in a good mood, as opposed to fired up. Plus this is a good opportunity for many up-and-coming DJs to gain more exposure with a packed room already made insane by your headliner.
How many acts?
We’ve all seen it… those events where 20 or 30 DJs were booked in one room for a seven-hour evening! I estimate each DJ getting roughly 15-20 minutes on the decks. It’s a terrible practice that rank amateurs still do. The idea is they hope each DJ will bring out a few people, thus filling their venue. The problem is most of those DJs might not show up with anyone but themselves (or not even show up), and the DJ line-up and music changes so quickly and often that the overall flow of the night is a mess. Not to mention how many times you’ll hear a popular tune played over and over again.
The best practice is at least two hours for the headliner, and one hour for each additional DJ. Sometimes a night will be longer, thus you can either give DJs more time, or bring out additional DJs. I personally think anything less than an hour is both a waste of the DJ’s time and an amateur move on your part. Some acts will not need as much time, like a turntablist, because they put on specialised performances. However, a normal DJ playing a set should get at least an hour, and each DJ should be able to work off one another, rather than abruptly stopping the music to start a new set.
If you have multiple rooms, then think bigger. Have the big name headliner in the main room, but perhaps have smaller popular locals headline the other rooms. Try also to diversify the music, so if you’re throwing a rave with three rooms, have one be a chill room with chillout DJs, one be the big room with your main headliner, and then have the third room be different. So if it’s dubstep in the main room you have house or trance in the other.
Why you should occasionally hang up the headphones
We’re all DJs here, and when we think about throwing a night and lining up entertainment, it’s easy to think “me!” when you want to set up your line-up. I’m not saying you should never play your own events, but you should be smart about where you place yourself and think again about your goals. Remember in part one I said you should never throw an event because you want a place to play at?
I’ve seen unknown guys throw their own events and place themselves as the headliner, wondering later why they failed. I have to be blunt, but if promoters aren’t booking you, and no-one knows who you are or is into your sound, then why would they come out if you’re headlining? This is even why many acts do better outside of their hometowns than within.
When throwing your own events, the event has to come first. You’re setting up an entertainment line-up that carries a vibe and a style. If you’re booking a great local dubstep / mashup act, then you playing dark trance might not go with that, even as an opener.
Play when you think it’s appropriate, but step away from the booth when you see yourself as a liability to the night as opposed to a benefit. Believe me, successful events will lead you to getting booked by other promoters, so don’t feel like you’re helping everyone else get famous but yourself.
You can’t always be the “good friend”
As a forewarning, when your colleagues all find out you’re throwing or promoting events, you’ll suddenly have a load of “new friends” instantly show up with CDs in their hands. I’ve had plenty of nights where it felt like it was only DJs with demos showing up.
I can’t blame them, since we did talk about networking in the past, but I will tell you as the promoter now that you can’t always be the “nice guy”, or the “good friend”. You have to always think of the event as a whole, and book the people who will bring professionalism and benefit to your efforts. This means the guy who plays insanely obscure music that chases normal people away just might not be the guy you want playing your event, even if he’s your friend.
Now if you want to get avant-garde, then go for it, but don’t feel like you owe anything to any friends of yours unless they’re helping you. If it’s the friend who’s designing your flyers for free, or promoting like crazy for you, or he had the hookup to get you a big headliner at a low price… yes, maybe you pay back the good karma, but the friends who just show up with demos? You have to sometimes say “no”. If they can’t bring you people, then see if they’ll work as an opener, or else just be honest. Don’t jeopardise your efforts to make everyone happy, especially if they only see your event as an open DJ booth and nothing more.
It’s showtime! We’re winding up to the event and giving a quick mention of promotion, but diving in deeply into running an event. I’ll tell you of all the factors that literally make event night into a work night, and what you should be doing before, during, and after.
Check out the other parts in this series:
- How To Promote Events & Throw Your Own Parties: Part 1
- How To Promote Events & Throw Your Own Parties: Part 2
- How To Promote Events & Throw Your Own Parties: Part 4
- How To Promote Events & Throw Your Own Parties: Part 5
- How To Promote Events & Throw Your Own Parties: Part 6
Have you ever had to book DJs for and balance the entertainment across a night? Have you fallen victim to the queues of “friends” wanting a piece of the action? What are your triumphs and nightmares when booking music? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!