Everyone’s got to start somewhere. If you’re at the beginning of your DJ journey, you’re bound to commit errors that other more seasoned jocks have gone through and have corrected through experience and practice.
Here, we list six of the top errors new DJs make, and how they can be avoided.
6 Beginner Mistakes To Avoid
1. Sticking to a rigidly fixed set
There’s nothing wrong with taking time out to plan your DJ set beforehand, but don’t come to the gig playing everything in an exact sequence. While a lot of new festival DJs love pre-programming a set, it’s mostly because they’ve got massive LED walls with even more massive pyrotechnics and effects, and they need the show production to be as tight as possible. The magic of DJing involves creating moments on the spot between your music and your audience.
Do this instead: If you’re spinning at the bar down the road instead of headlining Tomorrowland, your best bet is to pack a crate or two and get better at reading the crowd. Crowd reading is an essential skill that will pay dividends later on, and it’s definitely an investment to keep getting better at it.
2. Dropping peak time bangers at opening
Dropping huge peak hour tunes during the opening slot is a common mistake among DJs, especially newer ones, but this is made even worse if there’s absolutely no one on the dancefloor just yet. This happens because some DJs feel that they’ve got to play high-energy tunes straight away lest the DJ after them drops them and steals their thunder – or as a panicky decision to try and get people to dance before they’re ready.
Do this instead: Know your role in a line-up. If you’re warm up, don’t play peak time. It’s fine to play something that’s higher energy than what is expected of an opening DJ, but keep in mind that your role is to set up the crowd and get the dancefloor to the point that it’s just about to explode, and then hand it over to your headliner. There’s nothing wrong with playing “second fiddle” this way. Always remember that the night is a combined effort, not a zero-sum game where the winner bags some imaginary “Best DJ Of The Night” medal.
3. Thinking that technical mixing beats song selection
Your crowd only cares about your mixing skills to a certain point – of course you wouldn’t want to be trainwrecking throughout your DJ set, but get them dancing, and that’s more than half the battle won.
Beatmatching is an essential part of DJing, but don’t always feel constrained by the need to beatmatch each and every song “just because you have to”. Ditto for harmonic mixing: there’s nothing more satisfying than a long blend between two (or three or four) tunes that are just locked into each other key-wise, but don’t let it get in the way of your music selection intuition. A sudden but well-timed cut to your next track could be the curveball you need when you feel that you want your dancefloor to snap out of a vibe (just don’t do it too often).
Do this instead: Read the crowd and trust your gut instead of mixing perfectly just to satisfy whatever expectations you may have of being a DJ. If you’re behind the decks playing music for people, you already are one.
4. Paying no attention to your crowd
Don’t DJ like you’re in your bedroom alone, lonely, and staring at your laptop screen and controller. Look up at your audience from time to time. Noticing your crowd and connecting with them is an important part of the performance aspect of DJing. You don’t have to double as a hype man to get the crowd pumped (that’s good fun too, if you are so inclined) – just acknowledging your crowd by looking up at them once in a while is a good start.
Do this instead: If you find yourself staring at your laptop screen for extended periods, get it out of the way. Try moving your laptop to your left or right instead of front and centre. I used to stare at my laptop the whole time while I was DJing, and it became a habit that I wanted to get rid of. By having my laptop to the side, I’d just glance at it for track selection, song progress, and maybe checking once in a while to see if my waveforms were lining up. Of course, the best way to avoid this altogether is to really spend time getting to know the songs that you’re playing instead of relying on a screen.
5. Giving in to every single request (even the ones that you hate)
Open format is cool, but if guests are asking for Abba after that dark Marcell Dettman techno banger, you’re not doing anyone a favour. You’re not a jukebox (or a Spotify playlist) – take requests, but police them against your style, taste, and what you think should be played.
Do this instead: Instead of collecting requests on wet napkins and trying to remember every drunk leaning over the booth and asking for a tune, create a playlist in your DJ software where you can store these requests. This works two ways – it lets you quickly glance at and arrange potential requests, plus if you don’t have a tune (or just really don’t want to play a particular song), you can just show the person asking for it that you don’t have it on your computer.
6. Refusing to play your early time slot because nobody’s there yet
If you’ve been given an opening set, you’ve got two jobs: to warm up the floor for when people show up, and to play music when it’s just you and the door man so people don’t think the staff is on a siesta. This will happen to you many times in your DJ career, whether you’ve been in the game for a year or 10, so suck it up and don’t be a prima donna.
Do this instead: Get clear on what kind of booking you’re getting yourself into. If you were promised a headline slot to a packed dancefloor and you’re given the 8pm dinner crowd, then obviously you’ve got a right to lock horns with the promoter. Clear communication between you and the events team would lead to less chances of this happening, so keep those e-mails / text messages handy. Otherwise, why not use the time to test out a few new tunes when there’s nobody to hear if they’re not as good as you thought they were?
Like any skill, you get better with DJing the more you do it. Experience is something that’s only bought with time, and you’re bound to make mistakes (which is fine), but you can get a headstart by avoiding these common errors. The point is that you get better by doing, and in this case, by doing in public – so get out there, get out there early, and learn from this stuff that others have learned the hard way…
What other errors do you see new DJs make? What’s one mistake you find yourself doing over and over? Share your thoughts with us below.