How To Handle Requests When DJing

Phil Morse | Read time: 6 mins
Dealing with requests dj gig tips dj requests
Last updated 15 November, 2021

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Requests are a part of the life of most working DJs. Love them or hate them, you’re going to get them.

So in this article, we’ll look at the etiquette around requests, how you should approach them, ways of dealing with requests efficiently, and how to actually play them once you’ve agreed to them. I’ll also give you whole bunch of general tips and advice to help you become a “request ninja”.

Should you take requests at all?

Of course, touring DJs, top-of-the-pack pro DJs, respected underground DJ/producers in clubs, and other “celebrity”-type DJs don’t play requests. But for everyone else, getting out of them is not so easy. And actually, a blanket “no to requests” policy is probably not a good idea for most DJs.

When you’re finding a gig a little difficult, actually sometimes requests can be useful – they may be genuinely great ideas! And often the people asking you to play certain tracks may not just be the public, but other local DJs or promoters, the venue owner or whoever – people it pays to stay “in with”, who could open doors for you and your career, and who also may just know what they’re talking about.

While we won’t advise letting the happy couple kick you off the decks, there’s something to be said for listening to their song requests..

Plus, fulfilling requests is something that’s simply expected for some types of gigs (especially mobile events – school dances, birthday parties, weddings etc).

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So no, you don’t always have to take requests (and remember, they’re just that – requests – not demands), but dismissing them out of hand is also usually not a good idea.

So if we know that, sometimes, we’re going to have to take requests when we’re DJing, how should we approach doing it? Let’s look first at how to physically take the requests – because actually, in this post-COVID age, maybe you don’t want a stream of people shouting in your face at close quarters all night long – before moving on to how to play them.

How to take requests

You can, of course, do what I just said – lean over, and get the person asking for the request to shout in your ear. If you do so, at least have a pen and paper to write down the request, so you don’t forget. But there are lots of other ways, too:

  • Have a pen and paper on a clipboard that you give to the person asking for the track – Hopefully if you’ve got it with lines/columns, they’ll neatly add the artist and title to your list
  • Hand your phone over and just say “write it down” – Quite a lot of DJs actually do this, although to my mind you’d have to be pretty trusting (I don’t think I would be…)
  • Have a whiteboard/marker, or blackboard and chalk on an easel – The latter can be quite cute at weddings
  • Ask people to text requests to your number – You can hand out business cards, which works as a marketing device too, or have your number pinned outside the booth
  • Get the venue owner to organise a mobile number on a cheap phone – The phone lives in the DJ booth to receive requests on, and it’s even possible to generate a QR code that can be put on posters around the venue for people to scan with their phones to text the number
  • Use an SMS request service, like Request Now – Request Now is a popular request service that gives a local number for people to text, and then all the requests come to a central dashboard. It has lots of other DJ-oriented features, and can be a great lead-gathering/promotion tool, so is well worth checking out (works best in the US)
  • Use a web-based request service – If you’re a Virtual DJ user, it has one built in, called “Ask the DJ”, or you could look at Instant DJ Requests, which operates in a similar way. People access a webpage to type in their requests, and you access a DJ’s version of the page to see them
If you’ve booked a high-stress gig, or feel extra worried about requests, bring along a friend to help out.

However you choose to run this, if you are the type of DJ who likes having somebody with you (maybe at more demanding gigs), you can train this person to handle requests on your behalf. It is definitely worth making sure they know how you want them to do it, though, so they don’t end up agreeing to you playing all sorts of stuff you’d rather not (or conversely, upsetting your customers).

Tips for playing requests

So you’ve accepted some requests – what now? Here are some pointers for how to play them:

  • Remember that you don’t have to play them immediately – Certainly, don’t change your mind about that transition you’re about to do, just because a request has come in. It’s fine to take your time and weave requests in where they make most sense
  • Consider having a separate playlist for requests – You can make this “on the fly”, or even just use your software or DJ system’s “prepare” function to gather up requests for easy programming
  • Don’t feel compelled to play them all – Even if you’ve said yes, it’s a party, not a court of law, and it’s absolutely fine to not get around to them all, so don’t beat yourself up about it if you promise things you don’t deliver
  • When it comes to “iffy” requests, hedge your bets – What if you have to play something you think will bomb, because the venue owner, bride etc has asked for it? In these circumstances, you could consider turning the mic on and name-checking the person who asked for it before you play it. This makes it clear it wasn’t your idea, and may make others think twice before requesting songs that may get their names read out shortly before the dancefloor empties…

Read this next: 4 Ways To Deal With Bad Song Requests From Clients

OK so that’s all fine if you’ve actually got the tracks, but what about when you haven’t? When you don’t have the song, but you need to play it for similar reasons as above, eg the person who booked you absolutely must have it played, you have a couple of options:

  • Use DJ software streaming – If you use DJ software (or Engine DJ-powered hardware), assuming available WiFi, you could use one of the built-in streaming services, ie TIDAL/Beatsource LINK/Beatport LINK/SoundCloud, to stream the song from the cloud
  • Use your phone or an iPad as an “extra deck” – This is a time-honoured technique often used by mobile DJs, where you use a streaming service app on your phone or tablet, which is plugged into a spare channel on your DJ gear via an audio cable/adaptor. You can’t beatmix easily this way, but it works – just avoid YouTube as the quality will probably be awful (plus it’s illegal)

DJ manufacturers have started to implement streaming capabilities into the hardware itself, as with the Numark Mixstream Pro console (which, by the way, makes fulfilling requests a breeze).

You should try not to do this unless strictly necessary, and you should try to listen through any track you use in this way first, before mixing it into your set – otherwise, you may have the wrong version, or there could be a technical issue with it, and you won’t know until its too late.

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More tips and ideas for handling requests

Try asking for requests BEFORE gigs. You can use your socials to ask your fans what they think you should be playing, and you should definitely ask for “must play” (and “don’t play”) lists from clients. Generally, the more “right” you get the music in advance, the fewer request you’re going to get.

As I said earlier, they’re requests, not demands, and there is definitely a hierarchy of people you should be listening closely to, and people you should ignore. At the risk of generalising, you should definitely prefer requests from people who are dancing, especially females. Conversely, it’s usually wise to ignore requests from nerdy blokes in band T-shirts who skulk up to you from the corners of the venue asking for obscure album tracks, just to impress their mates!

Always consider who’s making the request: Is it the group of girls getting everyone else onto the dancefloor, or the lone wolf in the corner asking to hear something obscure?

When it comes to tips, whether or not you can be “bought” is a personal decision (this seems to be more usual in the States than in Europe, for instance), but it can be a nice idea to have a tip jar for a local charity, and “charge per request”.

Read this next: 2 Simple Tricks To Keep Track Of Requests

Finally…

Request are – as we said at the start – part of DJing life. Do try and be wise to all the old tricks (“We’re going soon”, “It’s my friend’s birthday”, “If you play it, everyone will dance”…). Also, you really shouldn’t have to take abuse – so speak to the venue before you play about what to do if people are hassling you too much.

All that said, the golden rule is to always remain polite, respectful and diplomatic – white lies are better than refusals, even if you have no intention of playing tracks, and there’s absolutely no point getting wound up, no matter what the provocation.

I hope this article has given you some good ideas about handling requests better in your DJing – do let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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