With any career, hobby, lifestyle or passion that involves other people, there’s a high risk of conflict. Often, the thing that gets DJs in trouble is simply dealing with other DJs. It’s important for your set, your event, your scene and your professional image to make sure and avoid as many of these conflicts as possible… and when they arise, to handle them in a mature and reasonable way.
To help avoid some of the mistakes that I’ve seen over the years, let’s go over some of the basics of DJ etiquette. Here are my nine tips which can help you maintain harmony behind the booth.
1. Choose your set-up and tear-down times wisely
I always make my best attempt to set my gear up at a time that makes sense Showing up and playing on the club-installed rig is one thing, but for many, this is the era of BYOG (Bring Your Own Gear). Today’s broad range of DJ hardware and approaches comes at a price: making it very easy to get in other people’s way.
Do what you can to minimise this annoyance. Of course, every booth, DJ, and event is different. Typically, when following another DJ, I try to set up 15 before the start of my set. That way, it doesn’t feel like I’m trying to rush them out of the booth. I typically say something like, “Hey, no rush, I’m just setting up now so that everything’s ready for later. You’re sounding great!” If it’s a show that you’re planning on attending all night anyway, it may make more sense to set up at the beginning of the night and tear down at the end (good for those promoter/DJs out there). But this comes with an obvious downside: your stuff might be in the way all night. So, choose this option wisely.
When another DJ is following me, I typically wait until after their first track or two is done playing before disconnecting everything. (I take the time to put away my headphones and such, but leave my laptop and gear connected for a few moments). That way, if the incoming DJ runs into a problem (sound not coming out of a particular channel, timecode issues, or what-have-you), your gear is still there. This will allow you to keep the music going by playing a few tracks or loops while he gets the issue sorted.
If you have to set up while someone is playing, do it very slowly. No yanking cables, jumping around, or reaching over the DJ’s arms. Wait for opportunities and take them, slowly, with intent. When you’re done, thank them for being patient. Which leads to my next point…
As is the case with most human interactions, there are no shortage of problems or conflicts that could have been avoided if someone had just taken the time to communicate. When someone is coming on after me, I always try chat them up when I get a second (whether it’s before or during my set) to get a feel for what they have in mind.
If I know they are planning on starting around 130 BPM and I’ve been playing at 118 all night, I’ll start ramping the tempo up slowly to put myself a little closer to the end goal. This not only makes the incoming DJ more comfortable, but prevents a sudden jarring change for the dancefloor. If, however, he’s planning on playing drum & bass and I’ve been playing deep house all night… I know that he’s going to want to let my track run out instead of matching my tempo. But it might still make more sense to build the energy for him a bit.
The simple “no rush!” example given in the first point exemplifies good booth communication. If you just come in and start setting things up early without saying anything, they might get the idea that you’re trying to push them out of the booth (or that you were mistaken on your start time). This is all made a non-issue by one or two quick sentences.
3. Know your set-up and think ahead
There’s nothing more irritating than someone who barges in, sets up in a rush, and then has issues getting their own set-up to work for 30 minutes. I don’t know how many times I’ve run into this with DVS users who still aren’t quite sure how the signal routing in their Serato box works.
You should know your set-up inside and out, and how to quickly set it up and break it down. Practise it at home if you need to. And always come prepared with items that will make it easier to stay out of each other’s way! For example, I always bring my own power strip with me and plug all my gear into it, regardless of the abundance of available plugs. This makes sure that all my stuff stays separate from everyone else’s power wires, and minimises the chance of me unplugging someone else or getting tangled up. Other helpful items: long RCA cables, wire couplers, extension cords… anything that helps keep your stuff separate!
4. Don’t argue
There’s no use in getting all up-in-arms with a DJ who isn’t cooperating. Of course, I say that a little communication goes a long way (especially if you’re being particularly nice, helpful, and approachable yourself). But, it’s only a matter of time before you run into the next DJ who just isn’t very nice (or you happen to catch them in a bad mood).
There’s only so much that you, as another DJ, can do to solve issues with equipment, time slot, or anything else. And getting into a heated argument in the booth does not reflect well on you, the other DJ, the staff, or the establishment… and it will have a detrimental effect on your dancefloor. If there are issues which cannot be quickly solved with a quick and polite conversation, take it to the promoter or manager that hired you. It’s their job to sort out those problems.
5. Don’t interrupt
Yes, communication is important, but it’s effectiveness has a lot to do with when you try to communicate. Try not to bother the other DJ while he or she is transitioning, scratching, finger-drumming or doing any other kind of “active” DJ activity.
For example, perhaps you’re getting ready to plug into the house mixer. You want to warn them rather than just reaching over them and getting in their way. Wait for an opportunity where, perhaps, they are looking for their next song or are just standing back for a moment and let them know. Say something like, “Hey, I need to plug into channel three on the mixer but I don’t want to get in your way… just let me know when a good time is.”
6. Leave plenty of time to swap over
I always make it a point to give a DJ that is following me ample time to make a decision on how he wants to start. If he’s playing something fairly “compatible” with my outgoing track, he may want to mix into it… don’t give them a 20-second outro to work with.
Additionally, when following another DJ, don’t immediately kill their outgoing track as soon as you take over. This has happened to me on multiple occasions, and while I don’t make a big deal out of it, it does bug me a bit. Sometimes a DJ is saving a particular track to end his set with. If he’s trying to make his final statement as he’s mixing out and you kill it in the first 16 bars, he might take it as a bit rude (even if you didn’t mean for it to be). Let the track play out a bit.
7. No beer near the gear!
This rule has been around for ages, but is even more important in this day and age. With more and more people bringing their own pieces of gear into the DJ booth all the time, you’re not just putting the house gear at risk… you’re endangering the hardware people may have saved up for a long time to buy.
I often will have one or two beers when I’m playing, but I am always very conscious about where I place and hold it. Don’t reach over the booth while holding it… take the time to take a step back. Keep any liquid somewhere that’s apart from any electronics. This gesture may or may not go unnoticed, but one thing is certain… they will definitely notice when you place your drink dangerously close.
Take it from someone who had a glass of wine spilled in their brand new Kontrol S4 the first week he got it. Be mindful of your liquids!
8. Respect the timeslot
This one is simple and well known, but worth mentioning because it’s probably the single most common starting point of problems between DJs. When your timeslot is up (provided that the next DJ is present and ready to continue), stop playing. Don’t hog the decks. Once again, if there is a conflict regarding start and stop times, have the promoter or manager sort it.
9. Carry on and be professional
A big part of DJing that is sadly often neglected: the ability to persevere regardless of whatever the night brings. If you have equipment failure, a disrespectful DJ, an annoying patron, etc. keep your cool. People will remember how you handle a rough situation. Don’t be a diva! There will be times where you have to deal with drunken and obnoxious members of the crowd. Be patient and courteous to them, even if they aren’t doing the same. If you’re not a “requests” DJ, politely let them know (or, sometimes, a polite “thumbs up and a smile” is enough to get you by).
The show must go on. Even if you’re doing this as a hobby, treat it like a job. The more you maintain a professional image, the more people will want to work with you and the quality of your gigs will likely improve. If there’s one thing that causes more problems than encroaching on other people’s timeslots, it’s the DJ’s ego. Check it at the door, and you’ll be much better off.
• David Michael is a DJ, producer, and owner/editor of PassionateDJ.com: a blog about how to become a better DJ through passion and purpose.
What’s your top tip for keeping things sweet in the DJ booth? Have you been on the receiving end of some of these no-nos? Please share your thoughts in the comments.