What COVID-19 DJ Gigs Are Actually Like – And How to Play Them

Phil Morse | Read time: 4 mins
COVID-19
Last updated 2 October, 2020

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So it all seems to be settling down, globally, into the dreaded “new normal”.

A pattern of lockdowns being enforced, eased, enforced again. Local lockdowns to hit flare-up spots. Country lockdowns changing with medical advice, political willpower, and with the cold statistics of how the virus is spreading. Boris gets it, recovers. Trump gets it. On we go.

And if there’s a sense that we can’t all stay locked down, forever, equally there’s one of acceptance that the “new” normal will be anything but – and things will be this way for the foreseeable future. Nobody talks about “this will be all over by summer” (or Christmas, this year or next) any more.

And in all of this, gigs are coming back.

What it’s like out there, now

A recent post by one of our students in our StudentHub private Facebook Group asked what things were like around the world, and it elicited a fascinating range of responses.

So before we look at COVID-19 DJ gigs, and at how to approach them (assuming you even want to), let’s take a trip around the world, with real feedback form DJs playing gigs, now.

(This may help you if you feel the rest of the world is partying, and only your country, state or city is locked down. Accurate as of 1 October 2020…)

  • In England, it’s “background music” with no more than 15 people at a wedding, for example. In Scotland, though, you apparently can’t even have background music!
  • In the Netherlands, it’s a maximum of 30 people inside, all music must stop at 10pm – with more stringency threatened
  • In Jakarta, Indonesia, total lockdown – all clubs shut until further notice
  • In Canada, no more than 50 people, midnight closing – with stricter measures in Toronto, including no dancing
  • In Montana, USA, where COVID-19 has not hit hard, it’s 50-75% venue capacity, quieter music “recommended”, the face mask rule only enforced for staff
  • In Los Angeles all clubs and bars closed
  • In Australia, certain cities are in full lockdown, no dancing permitted anywhere
  • In Portugal, bars and clubs have to function as cafes – no dancing, tables on dancefloors, enforced social distancing. No alcohol consumption outside unless accompanied by a meal

We could go on, but you get the picture. This is global.

But of course it’s not only about laws being set from above – it is about how people feel on the street, too. Just because people can do something, it doesn’t mean they will.

If you fear the virus could seriously hurt you or your family, you won’t want to put them at unnecessary risk by doing things that may expose you or them to it. This is going to affect how popular DJ gigs are in the near future, and the moods of people at gigs.

Read this next: The Ultimate Guide To DJ Livestreaming In Lockdown

All of this means that things are very different for DJs right now, and will continue to be for a long time to come. There is no guarantee of a vaccine. We have no timeline for the way out of this. We’d better get used to it.

Advice for playing COVID-19 DJ gigs

We have talked already recently about things DJs can be doing AWAY from gigs (learning to livestream your sets, learning other new skills for when things return, and so on), But what about when you actually get a booking in these times?

From parsing what our students are telling us, it turns out that are five big general changes that DJs are facing, when they can actually get gigs, which seem to be remarkably consistent worldwide: Quieter music, reduced capacity, earlier closing, no dancing, and face masks.

So if you are lucky enough to get a gig this week, this month, this year, and you then move to thinking about how that gig will be, and how you may do the best job of it, let’s look at each of those in turn.

  1. You may be asked to play quieter music – So it’s important to play songs that work at a lower volume: Recognisable melodies, full instrumentation, vocals. Think radio, not club. Sub-bassline, stripped back, minimal house bangers do not really work at talking volume. Owners of “silent disco” equipment may see an opportunity here, too
  2. There may be reduced capacity – So you can’t expect the electric, heightened atmosphere only a packed club can deliver. You’ll need to start “reading the room” like a bar DJ, not a club DJ, and making people feel “all together” in other ways. Increased use of the microphone may be one of them
  3. Venues may close earlier – So it is more important than ever to get the programming right. To have a “beginning, middle and end” mentality for programming the entertainment. For the DJs on the night, if there are more than one, it’ll be important to get together and plan the night as a whole
  4. Dancing may not be allowed – Why not spin this into an opportunity, to play music that speaks to our times and to your people, but that maybe you wouldn’t play when there was the impetus to keep a dancefloor full? Again, bar DJs will know what I am talking about here. Also, greater use of visuals and visual components in your sets may help
  5. Face masks may be required – How about masquerade-style parties? Making a thing of it? Handing out branded or themed face masks at the door? From a DJing point of view, it’ll be difficult not being able to see people’s smiles. You’ll need to get better at reading different types of body language

The above advice works for all DJs, but event DJs – people who play weddings, birthdays and so on – have another huge issue to contend with: Unpredictability. Who is truly planning anything in these times? That includes the booking of DJs for events. Things are often changing daily.

You should consider adjusting your marketing and approach, to position yourself as a “last minute” operation, ready to react and be available at a day’s notice. Make sure all your potential clients know that.

Switch things up so you can get all the usual planning, agreeing and preparation done for an event in a week, not a month (or half a year or more, in the case of a wedding). It strikes me that being nimble will be a necessary quality for such DJs in these times.

Finally

We can glibly say that “we are all bedroom DJs now”, and of course that’s true to a large extent, but it will be the DJs who put real thought into how things will be soon and further into the future who will thrive.

This is our best stab at it for now – but what about you? Have you played any gigs recently? What were they like? What is lockdown like in your part of the world? What will you be changing or have you changed about the way you approach your DJing? I’d love you to share below.

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