How Not To Behave In The DJ Booth: 3 DJ Etiquette Tips

| Read time: 4 mins
Last updated 18 May, 2020

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I’ve been DJing since I was 18, and I’ve played in the UK, Spain, Germany and Italy. I even did a 30-minute set in New York last year thanks to some friends who kindly sorted me out a warm-up slot when I was on holiday. Over that time I have slowly realised the importance of DJ etiquette.

Looking back over that time, there are a few moments which have been acutely awkward, and there are few things I wish I had realised a little earlier on. Here are a few reflections on how to be a good DJ that go beyond the technical side of the art…

3 DJ Etiquette Tips

1. Remember that not everybody can party all the time

DJs, like rockstars, are generally expected to be the life and soul of the party. This is a stereotype from which we benefit greatly, and it’s almost entirely true: most of the DJs I’ve met have been cheerful, social, and always ready to party.

But when you’re the one in charge, or if you’re doing tech, administration, or logistics, or any other of the not-so-glamorous jobs that bring a party together, communicating with “the talent” can be a source of friction. A bit of DJ etiquette can go a long way in these situations.

During the first two years of my career, I distinctly remember wondering why bar managers were so consistently rude to me. I later realised it was because I generally insisted on being given a constant supply of rum and coke, for free, from the moment I arrived at the venue until the end of the night (I really miss those days).

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While it’s accepted that artists should be offered refreshment while they are working, it’s important to remember that others around you are professionals, and they’re working, and they won’t necessarily appreciate having some smart-ass “DJ” getting drunk for free before they start their two-hour set. This is especially true if they believe you are overpaid, and I have never met a bar manager who didn’t think the DJ was overpaid.

Later on in my career, there were actually a few occasions where I was the booker, sound tech, or stressed bar manager, forced to deal with impish DJs and their ridiculous requests (no, your friends can’t “help themselves to whatever they want” from the bar). When you’re in charge, it’s important to keep everyone happy, but it’s also important to keep everything in line. And yes, there were a few times where I lost my patience, even in a job which I (mostly) loved.

What’s the bottom line? Remember that you might be here to have fun, but many of those around you are here to work. And also, you are here to work.

DJ etiquette
Remember that you might be here to have fun, but many of those around you are here to work. And also, you are here to work…

2. Always be humble

I started DJing just before laptops became mainstream, but I used Ableton Live for edits and production, so when I started to see controller DJs popping up more and more, I wasn’t too surprised. I did notice, however, a lot of older DJs (and some of my own peers) getting very unhappy about ths new technology’s infiltration into the booth.

I distinctly remember being backstage at a night in Manchester, UK, watching a local DJ performing a drunken monologue about how laptop DJing didn’t really count. It was intensely awkward, watching how a younger female DJ was obliged to politely agree, despite the fact that her set was well-polished and went down well with the crowd.

I am sure that the guy wasn’t trying to make anyone feel bad, but there was definitely a lack of awareness of the wide variety of DJ styles, techniques, and genres that co-exist. It made him look like an angry old man.

Sometimes, some of the people you work with may be less experienced than you. They may use different equipment, or make more/less money than you, or be younger than you are. But they still deserve your respect. It’s the mark of a true professional: if you’re confident about what you do, you don’t need to belittle those around you.

3. Be prepared

Once you’ve done a few sets, you should be aware of the typical problems that you run into, and you should be prepared to deal with them. On a practical level, this means

  • Having all the cables you need and a few spares
  • Having an extension cable with enough sockets for all your DJ equipment
  • Carrying headphone adapters (enough to be able to lend one to another DJ if possible!)
  • Making sure you have USB sticks for CDJs in case you have a laptop failure
  • Making sure everything that has a battery is fully charged

But it also involves knowing your timetable, knowing where the venue is, knowing where your accommodation is, and having battery in your phone. No one who books you will ever remember you for your competence as a human being, or your ability to organise your life. But I know that the guy who booked me the night I forgot my USB sticks and had to go home and get them will never, ever, forget me. That’s a bad thing.

Finally…

So when it comes to DJ etiquette, respect for others, humility and compassion, as well as punctuality, organisation, and competence are great skills to have. And while my own experiences have proven that you can get pretty far in life even if you’re lacking some or all of them, I wish I had understood this a lot earlier on.

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When I am booking or organising club nights, the DJs I think of first are the ones with whom I have a good working relationship, and who I want to see again. So it’s worth reflecting on your attitude and making sure the people around you are happy.

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