When you DJ with a laptop, you’re using something that was intended to do many things for just one task, and a pretty extreme task at that. So it stands to reason that there are things you can do to ensure that your laptop fares as well as possible when DJing.
While the worst-case scenario is a crash or complete physical failure of some kind, there are other situations that are less severe that can nonetheless impair your experience and that of your audience. And as most of them are simple to put prepare for, we thought we’d give you a quick checklist.
Our tips for trouble-free laptop DJing
1. Reboot before every gig – Before you DJ, boot your laptop up cleanly. Starting with a fresh boot means the system is exactly how you intend it to be for DJing, and not only means it’ll run as smoothly as possible, but if something does go wrong, you at least know the position you started from
2. Only let your computer open what you need for DJing – If you have your computer set to open things like Skype, MSN, your calendar or email software and so on, then disable these when you’re DJing (or add a new computer user for DJing that you can choose on boot-up, where none of this startup software is specified). You don’t want other programs and background processes eating resources while you’re DJing. Same goes with automated anti-virus scans – turn them off
3. Keep your software up to date – but tread carefully – You should have your operating system updated when updates are available, and the same with your DJ software – but I advise waiting a little while before making major upgrades to either. Let other people be the “guinea pigs”, keep an eye on the forums, and when any teething problems have been ironed out with major new versions, that’s the time to grab them for yourself
4. Switch off aggressive auto-updating – Partly for the reason in 3 but also because auto-updating when set to its most eager not only alerts you that there’s an update available, but tells you you need to reboot… and sometimes helpfully informs you that it’s going to reboot for you in 20 minutes or something similar! You can usually get out of it, but do you really want a window flashing up telling you your computer is going to reboot in 20 minutes in the middle of a DJ set?
5. Set your laptop up above drinks level – A drink spilt into a laptop can not only halt the game today, but can also mean game over entirely, meaning an expensive replacement. My rule is simple: Always keep the laptop above drinks level. I rarely get angry when DJing, but if someone repeatedly tries to balance a drink on the same surface my equipment is on, I make an exception! A stand can help with this, but if not, choose a shelf or area where there’s no room for anything else – or put your own (non-liquid) stuff in all the spare space so nobody, including you, is tempted to balance a bottle or glass there
6. Don’t move your laptop while playing – The chances of you accidentally knocking one of the USBs, or jogging the battery, or moving the power cable, or pressing some random keyboard combination by mistake that shuts something down, are just too high. Get your laptop set up in a comfortable position for you before you start, (see point 5), and leave it there throughout your set
7. Stay offline when DJing – Switch that WiFi off. Don’t be tempted to go online. Or let’s put it another way: If you do go online and your computer crashes, don’t say we didn’t warn you. If you’ve turned your virus software off (see point 2), you don’t want to be on the internet anyway. Plus let’s be honest – DJing and checking your email, tweeting etc really don’t mix. Why not use your phone for that stuff if you really have to?
A mixture of know-how and common-sense can take the worry away, which means that while things are unlikely to go wrong anyway, at least this way you know you’ve done everything you can to minimise the risk.
That leaves you to get on with what you’re in this for in the first place – playing great music to people who’ve come to listen to it.
What do you do to try and ensure your laptop behaves when DJing? Got any horror stories of things going wrong that you could have avoided? Please feel free to share your advice and experiences in the comments.