7 Secrets For Choosing What To Play at Your Club Night

Phil Morse | Read time: 4 mins
club nights promoting
Last updated 26 November, 2017


Night club
Setting up a club night can be immensely satisfying, but if it’s to last, you need to think smart about your music policy.

Starting your own club night? One thing you’ll need to be smart about is your music policy. It’s imperative to have a consistent and distinctive music policy if you’re to run and DJ at your own successful music-led club event.

Whether your event is monthly or weekly, people need to get to know it for the kind of music it plays. Only then can you begin to flex your muscles as a DJ within that broad framework and begin to make a name for yourself.

So here are seven secrets of choosing a great music policy for your club night. You may not agree with them all, but the’ve all worked well at club nights I’ve been involved in and attended over the years.

1. Only play music you love

This is the big one. If you don’t love the music you’re playing, then why exactly are you doing it? I’ll tell you one thing for sure; you won’t have the staying power needed to get anywhere if you’re faking it. And why would you want to be known for playing music you don’t care about? Only play the music you love. It’s the only rule that you shouldn’t even consider breaking out of these.

2. Don’t tie your club to one genre

People don’t want to go out and party to the same kind of music all night. If they do, they don’t want to do it every week or even every month. Yeah, sure people might love dubstep, or house, or hip hop, or indie/dance, or pop, but ever thought they may like all of them? Ever thought they may want someone to show them something new rather than just give them what they think they want?

Nu disco indie
Nu disco and indie? Why not? The trick is to pick records within the genres you’re going to feature that hold together well.

While your music policy has to be coherent, that coherency shouldn’t be at the expense of diversity. Diversity keeps everyone interested, gives you a wider pool of tracks and scenes to pick from, and defines you as larger than just one scene or genre.

Think about have progression both over time (weeks, months) and throughout the night. Nothing wrong with deep house to progressive house to melodic trance to energetic drum & bass all in one night! I used to go to a US/UK house night (a long time ago) that always ended with 1/2 an hour of hip-hop, for instance.

Some nights deliberately play two types of music on one floor on rotation (half an hour of this, half an hour of that). Others have two rooms playing complementary styles (4/4 and breaks, for instance. Worked for my club, Tangled, for over a decade).

3. Explore how your and your DJ/promoter partners’ tastes work together

If you have DJ/promoter partners in your club night venture – and I sincerely hope you do, for your own sanity – then it gets interesting, as there’s more than one set of ideas involved. This is a good thing. Just like the best bands work well because of the frictions between their creative forces, it’s the same with clubs run by strong-willed DJs. The key is to find where your music tastes overlap, decide what you can cope with in each other where they don’t, and go from there.

4. Show, don’t tell

Your music mojo is coming together now! Your club’s own musical culture and personality are beginning to be formed by what you love, what you want to play, where your tastes overlap, and even the type of venue or acoustics.

All of this means that it is dangerous to start trying to tie down in words too much “what” type of music you play. Just go ahead and play it! Let your developing brand be the signifier for the music you play. Just “show” people by making sure your logo, design, mixtapes, guest DJ bookings, where you advertise and so on all appeal to your target audience, and let the club’s music take on a quality that is hard to pin down.

5. Develop club anthems by breaking new music

If you can hammer certain records to the point that your audience comes to expect them, even at the same rough time of the night, you add familiarity and further define your club away from any particular musical scene (especially if your “anthems” are in different genres). By mixing these club anthems with new music and not being scared to play them for months not weeks, you add familiarity to your club night while avoiding cheese or chart fodder.

6. Keep your bottle

It’s very easy with an empty dancefloor, an unconvinced manager and an early crowd who aren’t digging it to bottle ad play what they want (or at least what they’re asking for). Don’t. Early in your night’s life, and early in every night, the pressure is biggest to do this. Especially when people may walk in, look around, and demand their money back! But you need to give it time, and you need to hold your bottle with the music you’ve decided to play.

Of course, DJs must play to their crowds, but within the confines of what you are trying to do (I refer you back to point 1). However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t…

7. Change your music policy if it’s not working

You know when you eat in a brand-new restaurant, how awkward it sometimes feels? Ever noticed how new businesses (and venues, and relationships) have to find their feet, their soul (call it what you will)?

It’s the same with club nights. That magic interaction between audience, venue and DJs takes time to develop, and just because you know what you’re trying to do, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is going to work first time – or that you’re necessarily any good at it yet. So don’t be scared to have earnest meetings to discuss how your music went, and make changes where appropriate.

And when you decide to make changes, don’t wait to do it – do it decisively, as soon as you can. I repeat: Good club nights are made over time, and you need to be open to what worked and what didn’t after every event, agree on a way forward, and implement it.

Are you planning on launching a club night this year? How are you deciding on your music policy? Do you run a club night? How did you arrive at the music you now play? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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