How Not To Be The DJ Everyone Hates

Last updated 23 March, 2018

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Angry Mob
Nobody wants to be booed off stage by an angry crowd. You can significantly reduce the chance of that happening to you by not doing the following things…

Just like in any other profession, as DJs we all have our own ways of doing things. Sometimes, we think that we are on track and doing everything right, until bam: Everything comes crashing down when someone important comes over and tells you that you are not doing your job well. It can cost you everything fro your residency down to slots at friends’ gigs if you don’t respect the rules.

In this article, we will show you some of the things that are complete no-nos for DJs looking to have a successful career in the public eye.

10 Things To Avoid

1. Playing for yourself, not the crowd

At a gig, you’re not DJing alone in your living room any more. That means reading your crowd instead of playing just for yourself.
At a gig, you’re not DJing alone in your living room anymore. That means reading your crowd instead of playing just for yourself.

At some point, everyone has been out dancing and the DJ just seems to be totally lost in himself and the music that, unsurprisingly, no one else is enjoying but him. He is in his own world and completely oblivious to what’s happening on the dancefloor. This kind of DJ has no place behind the decks in public; they shouldn’t really be calling themselves a DJ.

Do this instead: Remember why you are there, you are not in your bedroom any more. You have to constantly focus on your audience and give them what they want. The most important art of DJing is programming your set properly. Do this well and you can create some magical moments and memories.

2. Turning up late for your slot

If you turn up late, you are only going to cock up things for the event organisers and your peers and this will reflect badly upon you.
If you turn up late, you are only going to cock up things for the event organisers and your peers and this will reflect badly upon you.

Punctuality is important in every aspect of life. Genuine force majeure aside, there is very little excuse for being late. This is especially true in our game. If you are asked to play at 9pm on a Friday but you live an hour away and only finish work at 8pm, is it realistic to agree to that slot? You are making a rod for your own back unless you properly consider whether or not you can make it on time. You are also bringing a load of potential stress to your doorstep before you perform.

Do this instead: Carefully and honestly think about the logistics of getting to a gig and setting up ahead of your set time. Arrange to finish early, ask for a later slot or even say no, sorry, not this time. You might think that you need to take the gig but if you turn up late, you are only going to cock up things for the event organisers and your peers and this will reflect badly upon you.

3. Redlining the mixer

Unfortunately, this is a very common sight in DJ booths around the world.
Unfortunately, this is a very common sight in DJ booths around the world.

There isn’t much worse than being stood in the middle of the dancefloor, having your eardrums torn apart by an inconsiderate DJ redlining the mixer. It doesn’t make it OK that you saw some famous DJ doing it or because the guy before you was doing it. Carry on doing it and not only will you lose the crowd, you will be faced with an angry sound engineer come the end of your set. The result? It is unlikely that you will be asked back in a hurry.

Do this instead: Don’t be that DJ! Keep on top of the levels and if you are afraid that the sound is distorting, ask! The guys dancing will be able to tell you best if things are getting out of hand volume-wise. If you can’t ask, then get down there yourself and check.

4. Having too much to drink

drunk
There is nothing wrong with having a few drinks but please don’t end up like this chap.

Pretty much everyone else in the joint has had a few drinks and are dancing the night away, right? Difference is that they are having some down time, while you are at work. This is often forgotten by DJs. If you end up getting sloshed, your mixing abilities will wane faster than a child’s excitement after opening a pack of socks on Christmas Day. You won’t notice this though and will probably be unable to understand why you weren’t asked back after you “smashed it”.

Do this instead: There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a loosener or two, just make sure you stay hydrated and don’t go too far. Have your first beer when playing your first few tracks, not when you arrive or when setting up. The temptation to resist can be difficult but this will pay dividends as you keep better focus on your mixing and programming.

If people are insistent on buying you drinks, speak to the bartender beforehand and have him / her pour you shots of water from a special bottle. When you’ve finished your set, get yourself a drink and go and chat with the crowd, promoters or club staff. This is a good time to make friends.

5. Not acknowledging guests / other DJs

A "talk to the hand" attitude is never going to get you anywhere.
A “talk to the hand” attitude is never going to get you anywhere fast. It takes two seconds to say “hi!” and even less to give someone a nod.

So, you arrive at your gig on time, walk straight up to the booth, plug in and start playing. Then you finish your set and leave straight away without speaking to anyone. I’m sure that we have all seen this happen. DJing is a social line of work and it comes off awfully if you don’t pay your guests and peers the time of day. Sure, you need to be focussed on the job at hand, but it costs nothing to be polite.

Do this instead: Arrive at your gig ahead of time and go and speak to the person who booked you. If someone is playing before you, get to know them. You lose nothing here and stand to gain a friend with the same passion as yourself. This can all lead to more gigs and it generally promotes a good vibe around the booth. As we all know, networking is or paramount importance in the DJ game.

6. Playing bangers when opening

If you open well, this is the gift that you are able to pass onto the headliner and boy will they love you for it.
If you open well, this is the gift that you are able to pass onto the headliner and boy will they love you for it.

The excitement of wanting to play your favourite tracks is understandable. However, if you have been booked as the opening DJ, your job is to warm up the crowd for the headliner. This is so important and very often overlooked. You have to provide room for the headliner to work with; playing your peak time bangers at 10pm is not going to accomplish this. Think about it this way: If you were playing a 10-hour set, you aren’t going to start with these kind of tracks at 8pm – are you?

Do this instead: Plan your crates accordingly and be wary of volume levels and the tempo of your tracks. Take your time, the guys playing after you will appreciate it and you might even get a name for yourself as a good opening DJ. This is a valuable reputation to have in the DJ sphere and will boost your gig numbers dramatically. There will always be another time for you to slam out your bangers, especially so if you get this right.

7. Shameless self-promotion / not promoting events

If you fail to promote your night adequately, you could be faced with an empty dancefloor like this.
If you fail to promote your slot adequately, you could be faced with an empty dancefloor like this. You can’t just leave it up to the promoters.

Some DJs firmly believe that promotion is to be left to the promoters. Well, what a load of hogwash that is. It is just not fair on the promoters or even other DJs who have invited you to play if you don’t bring in some punters. This is a surefire way of not being asked back. It’s a two-way street.

Conversely, being invited somewhere and shamelessly promoting yourself with the aim of taking another DJs slot is indefensible. Even if you think they aren’t as good or whatever, this is not the way you go about proving that. This is the kind of behaviour that gets you blacklisted by other DJs.

Do this instead: Use every tool you have to let as many people as possible know about the gig. Even if you can only get five people to come along, that’s better than none. Any effort to boost the numbers of paying customers will not go unnoticed by the guys or girls who have invited you to play. Instead of trying to steal another’s place, make friends and keep being invited back. It isn’t worth causing needless aggro for a gig.

8. Eating into another DJ’s timeslot

"Hey man, I should have been on 10 minutes ago"
If you ever hear another DJ say: “Hey, come on man, I should have been on 10 minutes ago!”, then you need to put yourself in their shoes…

This one can sometimes tie in with punctuality. If you, for whatever reason started late (even if the guy before ate into your time) then that does not give you the right to eat into another DJ’s playing time. If your slot is up and the crowd is going wild, this does not give you a free pass to ignore the next DJ and carry on spinning. It just ends up messing up the schedule for everyone else and cause headaches for promoters.

Do this instead: You knew beforehand that you were to finish at 1am, so be ready to hand over to the next DJ at 1am. Plan your set accordingly. If the next DJ is delayed in starting then OK, play a little longer. Just make sure you communicate properly with them before putting an extra track on.

9. Flirting with the partners of the other DJs

Happy Couple Enjoying the Party
There are lots of reason why you might end up talking to other DJ’s other halves but attempting to prise them away shouldn’t be one of them.

So, you’ve just handed over the decks to the next DJ and you are at the bar getting a drink. You see a pretty girl or handsome guy and introduce yourself. They tell you that they are the partner of the DJ. Even a friendly joke between you could be misinterpreted from the booth as flirting. This is dangerous territory, as you don’t know how the DJ is going to react. Some people are laid back about this, others are consumed with jealousy and rage. Avoid the drama – it’s best not to risk it to avoid any problems.

Do this instead: There is nothing wrong with having an innocent chat and a laugh, but don’t try and leave with them. If you see a storm brewing, politely excuse yourself and find someone else to talk to. If there was any misunderstanding, be sure to apologise for it, that costs nothing.

10. Turning up without your DJ essentials

Don’t be that DJ who keeps forgetting to take along his headphones, USB stick, leads, and so on. Use a checklist (or Post-Its to remind yourself if needed!)

“I forgot my headphones, can I borrow yours?” – a phrase no DJ wants to hear from another. Sure, there is nothing wrong with helping each other out but what if the other DJ wants to go home? What if the headphones are their most prized possession and they don’t know you? It’s just not worth putting someone else in that situation. The fact of the matter is, you should always be as prepared as possible.

Do this instead: Make a checklist of things that you should have with you before you leave the house. Double check that any electronics or cables you might need are in working order. Everyone forgets things and sometimes things do “just break”. If you keep forgetting things though, people will notice the habit and it can be easily fixed with a simple checklist. An added bonus of doing this is that you are unlikely to forget to take things home by using the same checklist when you are packing up.

Finally…

It doesn’t require much effort to avoid doing the things we have listed here, yet many DJs manage to fall into some of these traps. Many of the points are about things that you should be paying attention to in all facets of life, not just when you DJ.

You don’t have to be an absolute people pleaser, but you also don’t want to be “that” DJ who no one wants to be on the same bill as because you’ve built a reputation for yourself as someone difficult to work with. Staying away from these 10 things is a good plan for making sure you’re not the DJ who everyone hates…

Have we missed anything off this list? What do you do when you encounter DJs doing these things? Have you been guilty of any of them in the past? Let us know in the comments below…

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