Dreading Your Next Gig? Here’s What To Do…

Phil Morse | Read time: 4 mins
Anxiety Bad gigs dj gigs pre-gig nerves
Last updated 6 July, 2021

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DJing is great fun, and we’re lucky we get to do it – we can all agree on that, right? So why is it that sometimes, the very idea of playing the gig we’ve got lined up in the all-too-near future scares us stiff? Why do we feel like we’d literally do anything to get out of it?

In this article, I’ll unpick why we sometimes feel this way – and what to do about it.

Why do we dread gigs?

There are lots of reasons, and it pays at first to figure out which reason, or reasons, apply to you about whatever particular gig it is you’re dreading. It could be…

  • Normal “nerves” – Perfectly natural, understandable and common
  • First ever gig, or you don’t play very often – If you don’t do something all the time, again, it’s natural to be especially nervous building up to it
  • Not played in public for a long time – If you used to do this a lot, but haven’t for a long time, you may additionally be scared that “everything’s changed”, and you won’t fit in, or you’ll have the wrong music, or you’ll come across as too old…
  • Something about this particular gig you’re not happy with – It could be the venue itself that’s worrying you, or the crowd you think will be there, or the person who booked you…
  • DJ/promoter nerves – If you’re also organising the party, you’ve got a lot more stress, too, because not only do you have to keep up appearances behind the decks, but you’re responsible if nobody turns up…
Worried that no one will come to your DJ gig…yet also hoping they don’t show? Yeah, that’s anxiety talking, and it’s completely normal for DJs to feel it on occasion.

You certainly shouldn’t feel there’s something wrong with you for being nervous, but it does pay to figure out why, because then you can more effectively deal with it.

How to deal with it

So OK, dread, stress and worry before gigs is shockingly normal. But that won’t help us deal with it. These tactics, though, will:

  • Prepare your music – Twice the amount you think you’ll need is about right. This gives you the chance to think hard about each record, and what you’ll do for a plan B (and plan C)
  • Practise the skills – Have a “dry run” DJ set at home. If you need to use a mic, practice, and script anything you think you might have to say – record your results and listen back to build confidence
  • Visit the venue on a similar night, to get a feel for it – This can hugely alleviate your dread, because dread is often fear of the unknown, so make it known!
  • Ask the venue if you can visit out of hours – Then, you can familiarise yourself with the DJ booth/equipment and maybe even have a practice
  • If it’s a party, speak to the organiser – Clarify what they want for you, and must play/don’t play tunes, timings etc, and raise any concerns before the gig (eg what if the crowd wants different music to what you’ve been asked to play?)
  • Remember WHY you took the gig – For instance, “dreaded” corporate gigs may make you the money that funds your DJing, and allows you to play the gigs you really want to play for less…
  • Make it easy on yourself – Use kit checklists, leave plenty of time, always have the organiser’s phone number in case of delays, etc. Basically, being organised can reduce stress considerably
  • Smile and fake it! – This isn’t open heart surgery, nobody dies if you’re not 10/10. Keep cool and externally calm, execute your plan, and trust that it will be OK soon enough

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Honestly, in nine out of ten cases, if you do the above, you’ll find those dreaded gigs turn out to be OK – at worst. But what if they don’t?

My Jabez Clegg nightmare gig

I remember once I was asked to DJ a private party at a venue in my hometown of Manchester, England, called Jabez Clegg.

The venue owner asked me to do it, for someone who had booked a room. I knew nothing about the party, the organiser, how many people were coming – nothing.

It wasn’t even in the main room of the venue – it was in a sticky-floored, dull backroom. And I was tired, it was mid-week, and yes, I was dreading it. When I got there, the owner was nowhere to be seen, the bar staff knew nothing about what to expect, so I was totally in the dark.

My start time (9pm) arrived, I started playing – there was literally nobody there, which didn’t alleviate my nerves – or my tired feet. As the minutes dragged on and on, I was dreading the whole thing more and more. Then, by 10pm, I realised nobody was coming – and I lightened up totally. I’d just play till 11, tell everyone I was going home, and escape. I’d got out of it!

Only, at 10.45pm, people started drifting in. That’s when it got really mentally bad – I realised I’d actually have to do this gig I’d been dreading. So I played on as the place slowly filled up, putting on a brave face but feeling thoroughly sorry for myself.

For some reason, of all the gigs I’ve ever played before or since, that is the one that sticks in my mind as the worst as far as pure dread goes, and for no real reason.

Oh, and what’s funniest? By 11.30pm, the place had filled up, and I had a cracking night rocking the party till the venue shut at 2am!

Try to appear calm on the outside, regardless of how things are going, and you’ll have the dancefloor fooled. After a while, you may even start to have fun!

If it all turns out to be true? The gig was a pain…

The trick here is to learn from what happened. That way, you can avoid it happening again. So obviously, ask yourself what was so bad about the gig, and try to learn the lessons.

Specifically, you can:

  • Decide what you’re going to do if you’re offered this type of gig again in the future – Maybe the gigs you dread are always the ones your instinct tells you not to take, but you do anyway so as not to let anyone down. Maybe they’re the ones you do as favours when you really should ask for money. Maybe it’s always a particular venue. Rehearse in your head what you’ll say next time when asked, so you don’t fall into the same trap
  • Be realistic about “enjoyment vs money” – Remember, most people agree to work for money doing something they don’t enjoy; it’s called a job! What’s your price? For what amount of money would you put up with the things you can’t change about a type of gig that you dread? Set your amount, and if someone will pay it, great! Just go in with low expectations, and do the best you can. You may just enjoy it after all

Read this next: 7 Ways To Deal With Pressure Before DJing

Finally…

Do remember that as DJs, we grow by taking gigs outside of our comfort zones. By playing a gig in a genre we don’t know well (yet). By playing mobile if we usually play clubs. By playing bars if we have only played parties privately to that point. And so on.

Learn to play successful gigs: The Complete DJ Course

Also remember that a true pro puts in a good performance no matter how they’re feeling on the inside. People are probably expecting less from you than you are expecting from yourself anyway, and again, most “dread” really does pass quite quickly at the start of a gig.

And one final thing that is also perversely true about DJ gigs: Often, it’s the gigs you dread the most that turn out to be the best!

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