Here’s a great story from forum member Redblock: “Three weekends ago I was lucky enough to be behind the decks and presiding over a real rager. It was small to be sure – a 50 person room at max – but I was set up on the same level as the defacto dancefloor, so I had punters surrounding me.
“People were going crazy, it was the type of night that seemed to be too small for the room it was in. In short, it was the type of party that I guess most DJs have wet dreams about!
“It was all going amazingly. I felt like the greatest DJ in the world – for about 30 minutes. Right up, in fact, until I dropped a huge tune, but a mix of it I hadn’t heard before (it was Dada Life’s ‘Kick Out the Epic Motherf**ker’). People who knew what it was got even more raucous. Even people who didn’t followed their lead. It was great for the first few minutes – until the breakdown hit, which in the mix I had was way too long. It just seemed to go on forever. ‘No problem,’ I thought, nervously watching the dancefloor get more and more irritated with me, ‘if the break is this long, then when the beat comes back, it’ll be huge, and everyone will go crazy again.'”
“How wrong I was. Even after the bass and drums hit again, I was looking at maybe a third of the people that I was playing for before. I had essentially killed the vibe with that 1:30 of music. I was beside myself. Absolutely stunned. So my question is: What on earth do you do to keep people interested during these huge breakdowns?”
Digital DJ Tips says:
It’s a great question. I am sure every DJ reading the above knows the exact feeling you speak of when you’re nervously watching the dancefloor in a big breakdown.
So here’s some ideas as to what you can do if you find yourself misjudging the floor and dropping an overlong breakdown that isn’t working:
- Use a cue point to get out of it – Ideally you’ll have pre-cuepointed your music, and already have a cue set right on the beat where the breakdown kicks back in. Just count to the beginning of the next eight-bar phrase and hit that cue. Bingo: Break shortened. Not pre-cued the track? Load another copy onto another deck, cue it up at the end of the break, and do the same thing. Some software lets you skip on exactly eight bars, which has the same effect of shortening the break (as the crowd won’t hear the jump usually), so if so, make sure you know how to engage this feature
- Drop the beat of the next tune over the breakdown – If a beatless breakdown is boring people, and you’ve already cued and tempoed-up a new song that starts with just a beat, drop that beat over the breakdown. It will be in time, and will give the crowd something to dance to. You could loop it too to stop anything happening bar the beat in the new song. You could get extra kudos by cutting it in and out, perhaps with a bit of echo, but this is all optional – the beat is the important thing. As the breakdown builds up, you can remove the “backup” beats from the mix, letting the breakdown take over
- Have an acappella loop ready – something beatgridded (so you can drop it in in time) and instantly recognisable. You know your crowd best, but Daft Punk’s “Harder Better Faster Louder”, for instance, dropped over a beatless, instrumental break will give your crowd something to sing along to, show you’re doing some “DJing”, and hopefully relieve the boredom. If the main song is instrumental even after the beat kicks back in, you could even leave it playing for a bit to add to the excitement
- Get excited yourself – You’re leading the party. People are looking to you for their cue about what to do next. If you’ve dropped a tune you’re not sure of, you’ve got to fake it that you are sure, that you know what’s coming, that this is all part of the plan, and that it’s OK for them to enjoy it too. It’s about persuasion. So clap, smile, act like there’s something massive seconds away that only you know about. Even if it seems to go on for an eternity…
- Use lighting and volume to accentuate the break – Leading on from the point above, to make it doubly sure that it looks like you know what you’re doing, accentuate the break by cutting the volume in half then slowly teasing the crowd by making it louder every eight beats, and by using the lighting (I am a fan of blacking out the room at the start of the break then bringing stuff back). You don’t need a lighting guy to do this; even at house parties you can send a friend to the light switch and blacken the room out!
You touch on a bigger point, though: Know your music. Big breakdowns are a gamble, but used correctly they can define a night. If you had dropped a breakdown every 20 minutes for the last two hours, each a little longer than the next, and the crowd had loved them more and more, that would have indicated to you that in this instance, your really long breakdown would probably have worked really well.
If the crowd just wanted to groove and weren’t in the mood to stand around Jesus posing, then you’d already have known that, because your shorter, less mission-critical breakdowns would have got an uninterested reaction, so you could have avoided breakdowns altogether and gone for a more intense, no-breaks period of DJing.
As always it’s as much art as science, and there are no definite rights and wrongs – but as you can see from some of the ideas above, mastery of your tools can make the difference between digging yourself out of a hole and getting stuck in it.
• Thanks to Fressure, Terry_42, 2SHAE and Hee Won Yung from the Digital DJ Tips forum who contributed some of the ideas above, over on the original forum post.
Can you sympathise with our reader? Have you found yourself in exactly this situation? How did you get out of it? Please share your thoughts in the comments.