If you’ve been gigging for a while, you may have realised that pulling a crowd for your shows can be tough, especially if it’s in an unpopular venue that doesn’t get much foot traffic. After all, you can only ask so much of your friends and family (unless they own the place you’re spinning at!).
All DJs go through this stage. It’s perfectly fine to just leave things “as is” if you’re OK with playing to a bar that’s more empty than full. If you want to go to the next level in your career as a gigging DJ, you’ve got to get past this hump.
Here are ways you can create a memorable DJ performance that will make a lasting impression on your audience.
Four Tips For Memorable Shows
1. Give people a good reason to go
How do you get people interested in going to “yet another DJ gig”? You give them a good reason to. A good reason (or a good cause) is why people train for months to run large distances for charity. A good reason is also why people travel hundreds of kilometres to watch two people hold hands, look into each others’ eyes and say “I do” (regardless of whether they know them or not).
A good reason is the thing that catches people’s attention as they mindlessly scroll through their Facebook feeds. To get people interested in your gig, point out “why” they should go in the first place.
One of the biggest secrets to promoting gigs is that you’ve got to lay out the benefits to your attendees straight away. Most DJs are happy with just announcing the date, time and venue of their shows (“DJing this Friday at [insert dusty little pub down the corner] around 9pm. Show up if you’re not doing anything!”). This might work if you’re in a one-horse town, but if you’re in a busy city with hundreds of other events vying for attention from partygoers, you’ve got to do more than that.
Try this: You don’t have to “gig for a cause” or donate your fees to give people enough of a reason to go to your show. Always ask yourself “why would anyone want to come” – is it going to be your last gig for a while? Point that out in the invite. Will it be your “return to the decks” after a hiatus? Make sure your promotional material shows that. Will you be playing music that’s different to what you normally spin, or will you be performing live with another musician (as pictured above)? Make it the focal point of your gig marketing.
Always be explicit with “why” people should go in your promotions leading up to the gig. If you don’t know the answer to the “why”, then you haven’t thought of a good enough reason yet.
2. Prepare harder (and smarter) than you normally would
Now that you’ve hyped your show, people are going to arrive with expectations. Your job is to prepare harder, more thoroughly and more creatively leading up to the gig. If your past DJ sets involve you spinning with a playlist that you haven’t updated in months, it’s time to knuckle down and spend time working on your music. Don’t just work harder, work smarter too.
Try this: If you spend an hour tweaking your lists, double up on that (work harder) and try incorporating smart playlists in iTunes to speed up and help you get creative with your “crate digging” (work smarter). You can also try using apps like beaTunes to help you create playlists with parameters that you set – this could lead you to some song suggestions and combinations that you may not have thought of otherwise.
If you always turn up at shows with a DJ controller and laptop, why not take along a set of DJ lights (work harder) and even a pair of speakers? Anything that will make the place look “different” to regulars and your fans will register as adding something special to the evening. You can use your lighting package’s sound-to-light mode so you don’t have to do light adjustments manually (work smarter), and have a couple of friends / fans help you with packing up all your extra gear when the night ends (even smarter).
Generic advice is to work smarter, not harder. We say work harder and smarter.
3. Play out like it’s your last gig ever
It’s easy to dismiss a DJ gig, especially if it’s at the same spot for the same crowd for that last five years. Truth is, we all do this at one point or another simply because that’s how humans react to something that’s become a routine. Fight the urge to classify your next show as something rote – you may not notice it, but it comes across in the way that you act and the songs that you’re playing.
If you look like you don’t want to be there or you’re bored, people can pick that up a mile away. Follow up on your promise of giving them a good reason to be there by being enthusiastic about performing.
Try this: I did a back to back set over a decade back then with my DJ partner Joel. We DJed weekly at this bar near school (“Joey & Joel” was as creative as our DJ names got). I felt jaded that evening because I was so tired from class, and I felt like I just wanted to get the show over and done with. My partner, on the other hand, was as enthusiastic as ever and he played his heart out like he always did. His song selection and mixing were so on point that night that I secretly felt jealous as I trudged through our set with my uninspired mixing, waiting for it to end.
I was awoken by a 6am call. To this day, I can still clearly hear the voice on the other end of the line: “Patay na si Joel (Joel’s dead). He crashed his car on his way home.”
Since then, I come to every gig with an “LSS” mindset. LSS stands for “Last Set Syndrome”, and it’s where you play every show like it’s your last because it very well could be.
When I feel like I’m not in the mood to spin (it happens, I’m an ENFP), I think of Joel and think about how he left it all out on the dancefloor that evening.
4. End the night with a “sticky” memory
You’ve given people a reason to go and have followed through by showing them an amazing evening. A memorable show doesn’t end there – in fact, you now have a chance to kick things up a notch by doing something unexpected.
Most DJs are content to spin an incredible set and head home. Why not hang around with your audience for a round of drinks and selfies? Ask them to tag you in their photos with your Instagram or Twitter hashtag. Go chat with the bar patrons and ask for feedback. Basically, make your crowd feel that you appreciate them coming through for you. I have yet to find people who preferred a DJ who grimly walks towards the exit after a stellar performance.
This is where the “sticky” bit comes in – the more things you can leave with an audience (eg pictures, music, merchandise, good conversation) the more memorable you can become after a performance.
Try this: Record your set that night and upload it to Mixcloud right after you perform. You can then hand out little cards with a shortened link or QR code printed on them that point to your Mixcloud page. If you’re feeling extra generous (and have a couple of dollars to spend), hand out thumb drives with the mix to your VIPs to make them feel extra special. Basically, express gratitude in spades.
Creating a memorable DJ show doesn’t have to cost a lot, nor does it have to entail having an event production team backing you up. However, it does require more work and planning. After all, you’re setting yourself apart from every other DJ who’s content to just spin and head home. Sure, there will be gigs where you’ll have to make do without all the extra preparation / lighting / sound system and so on, but if you’re looking to make a splash, these are the four tips that you need to keep in mind.
Never forget: work harder and smarter; over-promise and over-deliver; and maintain an attitude of gratitude.
How do you create a memorable DJ gig experience for your audience? Any tips you’d like to share with us? Do so in the comments below.