Your Questions: What’s The Difference Between Lounge & Club DJing?

Last updated 6 April, 2018


Palm Beach
The beach bar where I play every summer season, here in the south of Spain.

Digital DJ Tips reader Ben writes: “Hello Phil. I’ve noticed you frequently mention that you have a gig DJing at a beach bar, which I guess is akin to a lounge-type venue. I am getting on in years and moving past the club/rave scene, focusing more on my new family and career, so this sounds appealing to me. However, I can’t seem to find much info on this type of gig. What can you tell me and your other readers about it in more detail? How long are your sets? What type of music do you play? What kind of crowd does this sort of gig draw? How does one go about finding a lounge event? I live in northern Ohio just off lake Erie so in the summer it is very beach oriented.”

Digital DJ Tips says:

Lots of big questions there, I’ll do my best to answer them as best I can without writing a book!

Firstly, it is very usual in my experience for DJs to “mature” into playing lounges, beach bars and so on – in my case, I did my 15 years on the club circuit which was plenty! While I won’t turn down club gigs, it suits me to DJ in beach bars nowadays – better hours for a man with a young family (I play till sunset then head home, or out!), and I get to play exactly what I want (more on that in a second). Moreover, I actually started out playing in lounge bars, when I was “putting the hours in” before I was getting regular club gigs.

So to your questions. A typical lounge bar / beach bar DJ’s set would be differentiated from a club set by the following:

DJ booth beach bar
DJing in beautiful settings has its own rewards – who wouldn’t enjoy soundtracking a sunset like this?
  1. Longer set length – I play four to five hours, some play eight hours or more! It’s usually only you DJing, so you need to get used to programming music over the longer term, and having lots of stamina too. I get them to feed me a large meal before I start!
  2. More musical variety – While obviously you can’t bang out club screamers all the way through your set, what you can play is broad – indeed, it should be broad to keep people’s interest. So I choose from slo-mo disco, funk, deep house, hip hop, soul, r’n’b, mellow dubstep, indie, folk rock, forgotten pop gems, reggae, ska, ambient, “chill out” – anything with a laid-back groove that can keep feet tapping and drinks being bought in a cool bar environment. And I choose places where nobody is going to tell me what to play – that’s my number one rule and if it gets broken, I’m outta there
  3. A different type of programming – With a club set, people turn up, get drunk etc, start to dance, all dance, and all leave at the same time. Thus a club set has a very typical warm-up / peak / ending flow to it. With lounge DJing, people arrive and leave at different times. So your programming is more cyclical, and more fluid
  4. More inventive mixing – Here’s where I love it. Taking all that music above, and applying the skills of “proper” DJing, is a source of endless fascination to me, and something digital has made much easier. Using key matching, clever loops, samples, effects and so on to go from forgotten Rolling Stones album tracks to dubby disco to reggae, and keeping the mixing intelligent and hopefully something people will approve of, is not easy to do and why good lounge DJs can be just as accomplished as good club DJs
  5. Excellent crowd intuition – I DJ in the best beach bar in my town. It’s a big wooden building 20 yards from the sea, with its own beach. I look out over 50 sun loungers, a terrace and Africa on the horizon. Behind me is the bar and a seated restaurant area. Now, if a DJ can only decide how well their music is going down from the number of people dancing, I’d be permanently paranoid. People are more likely to slap sun cream on than hit the floor. So you learn to look for other signs – feet tapping, people pointing at the speakers and smiling, heads nodding – and of course it’s lovely when people come over and complement your music, especially when they’ve been in the place for hours, often longer than they may have expected to be
  6. A need to firmly stake your right to be there – Sounds strange, but while in some ways bar DJing can be laid back (you don’t have to fill and keep full a dancefloor), in others it can be really nerve-wracking. After all, if you go to a club, you expect there to be a DJ there. But it’s often a surprise to people to see one in a beach bar. You have to look like you’re meant to be there – even if it’s just you, a little controller and a small bar table in the corner. That means playing music you love, enjoying it, dancing a little, smiling, and generally “leading the party”. Just because people aren’t dancing, it doesn’t mean they’re not looking to you to set a relaxed, fun mood not just in your music, but in the way you appear. A DJ is a natural focus in a venue, so you need to learn to look like you’re loving being there at all points

Who goes to lounge gigs?

So what type of people does a gig like this pull? People like you! So you used to go clubbing, but now have a young family yet you miss decent music played by good DJs? Get yourself a gig playing what you’re into right now, today, and you’ll attract just those types of people.

Beach bar DJing
Often you’re playing to people who didn’t even know the venue had a DJ… these are your biggest challenge.

My crowds tend to be holidaymakers, families, cool bohemian types who’ve never quite grown up (good on ya!), large groups of clubbers getting ready for a big night out, and then “randoms” – people who are there anyway for food, the beach, a drink, to watch the (silent) sport on the TV behind the bar…

And it’s these final people who I love to try and entertain the most – those who weren’t expecting a DJ and who end up staying all night, congratulating you at the end for something they really enjoyed and weren’t expecting to. That’s where you earn your keep doing this kind of DJing, and that’s where you’ll always be better than a multiplay CD.

How to get a lounge/beach bar gig

Frequent the bars where you want to play. Learn about their clientele, and the music they have there already. Come up with an idea. Get to know the manager or owner and pitch it to them. Offer to do one-off nights when a DJ has been requested by a party, in order to show them what you can do. Treat it as a long game: I’m a professional DJ, but once I’d spotted the bar I wanted to DJ in, it still took me two years to get a regular gig there! I had to win their confidence first by doing all of the above.

Don’t expect them to pay you big bucks either. Look around and do the maths: If you can get 50 people to buy an extra drink throughout your set, and maybe attract 20 more who wouldn’t otherwise be there, is that worth a big DJ fee? Be realistic and flexible – where I play it is completely weather-dependent, so we sometimes call it off at the last minute, at others we’re unexpectedly busy. My remuneration thus alters accordingly from nothing to better-than-expected!

But if you choose to play somewhere because you genuinely like it, and you’ve done all the above getting-to-know-them stuff beforehand, you’ll usually never pay for a drink or food there, get great service no matter how busy they are, and get paid at least something to boot – so such gigs can be great. But you won’t get rich from them.

For me? Playing a DJ set of the music I love once every couple of weeks frankly keeps me sane. And you can’t put a price on that!

Do you pay a lounge, beach bar or other non-club type gig? Can you add to my words to help Ben to understand how to get started in this kind of DJing? Please share your thoughts in the comments…

DJ Jazzy Jeff Course