My recent article on whether your gear is as important as you think it is got me thinking a little about the non-DJ tools that have helped me get gigs, create buzz, or just simplify the often chaotic process of being a DJ. After all, once you’ve got yourself a decent set-up, you’re going to need to think about what else you can do stay ahead of the pack. So, here’s a list of non-musical things that have come in handy at some point in my time as a DJ. I would humbly suggest that you might also find them useful.
1. A half-decent camera
Last year, a photographer friend of mine had an old camera that he wanted to sell. I’d been thinking about getting a camera anyway (because the one on my phone is so awful), so I decided to take it off his hands. It’s a decision I’ve never looked back on!
I took this photo myself, at about 4am, from behind the decks at a festival called Canelaparty in Malaga last year. It was the only photo I took in the whole night, after grabbing the camera from my kit bag without thinking much. It wasn’t until I looked back at the photo the next day that I realised how good it had turned out. I’ve used it for promo and it’s been my Facebook cover photo for a while where it’s racked up a lot of likes, and I can definitely think of two or three gigs I’ve got as a result of having it.
Of course, technically it’s not a well-taken photograph, and it may be worth hiring a photographer to take a few pictures that you know are going to look good for your press release and so on, but with today’s digital equipment, that’s not always necessary.
2. A smartphone
I reckon most digital DJs are probably tech-savvy enough to have an iPhone or something similar nowadays, but it’s worth stating that connectivity is incredibly important for a DJ, or for anyone else trying to run a small business. I’d say 90% of my communication with bars, clubs, and promoters is done via WhatsApp and Facebook, and being able to respond to messages more-or-less immediately makes it easier for everyone. Just remember to put it down when you’re behind the decks, or you’ll end up looking like will.i.am….
3. Party props
Okay, they’re slightly cheesy, but it’s an indisputable fact that slightly tipsy people love finger lights, beach inflatables, confetti, and fancy dress. And despite your feelings on Italo disco, you have to admit that this video from DJ duo Disco Bambinos – which features all of the above – looks like it was a fun night. And considering how many people in your audience are likely to have smartphones or cameras with them, creating photo opportunities is a great way of making sure people will remember your night.
Look on Amazon and you’re sure to be able to get this kind of stuff for cheap. A less cheesy option would be to make badges with your logo, which are a classy way of building recognition as well, especially if you can combine them with some kind of drinks offer.
4. Some lights and/or a smoke machine
OK, this sort of stuff is not cheap, but a DJ’s job is creating an atmosphere, and it’s amazing how effective even a small set of lights can be. Personally, I play a lot of small/medium sized bars that don’t have a lot in the way of disco lights, and being able to turn up and transform the venue into somewhere that looks exciting is a great way of making an impact on your punters. This is especially true if you’re playing somewhere that has a lot of regulars, because they’ll appreciate the difference from other nights out they’ve had at the same venue. People are going to notice some decent lights much more than they’ll notice if your controller is Pioneer or Numark!
A piece of advice here: subtlety is key. If you’re in a small venue, remember that a little lighting/smoke goes a long way. There’s nothing that looks more cheesy than a small, empty dancefloor lit up like a christmas tree. That’s why many small venues wait until the room is at least half-full before activating the disco lights. It’s worth it for the hands-in-the-air moment that turning on any kind of flashing light gives you! Don’t forget to check our guide to lighting for DJs, which is full of useful information for those considering adding lights to their set-up.
Finally, I’d like to add a gentle reminder that the chances are that eventually some vital part of your equipment will be taken from you by the cruel hand of fate. Let’s face it: drinks spill, hard drives fail, and USB sticks disappear at an alarming rate. There’s only so much you can do to prepare yourself for this kind of situation, but the security of having your music backed up on a USB stick/hard drive/good old fashioned CDs is a blessing. Buying a flight case may also be a worthy investment. Even something as simple and cheap as using a laptop stand might save your life in a spilled-drink situation. It’s better to be safe than sorry! Plus, Kensington lock cables give you peace of mind that your controller will still be there when you return from a quick nip to the toilet…
What unusual non-DJ equipment do you have in your arsenal? Is there anything that you’ve realised you can’t live without? And finally… what’s the best party prop you’ve ever seen a DJ use? Share your thoughts in the comments…