You’re not a bad person. Of course you’re not. You want people to like you. And you want to succeed when you’re booked to DJ at your local club, bar, lounge etc. But DJing comes with immense and largely undocumented stresses and strains, and you’re often required to be close to saintly to get through difficult events without losing your composure. So based on decades of experience and of course sharing stories with our DJs and students, here is an up-to-date “DJ etiquette” guide.
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It covers how to behave as a DJ in public, what NOT to do (and why we sometimes fall into those traps), and I’ve also got a stupidly simple tip for you right at the end that – trust me – makes all the difference.
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This stuff is basic manners, but nonetheless many DJs get this wrong, and often it’s because they simply don’t realise the importance of some of these unspoken rules. Yet getting this right will lead to more gigs, because bookers will trust you, and other DJs will want to work with you – and as a bonus, (without getting too cheesy), practising some of these things will make you a better person as well as a better DJ. So let’s go…
10 Rules for Behaving Well As A DJ
1. Remember you’re working – You’ve got a job to do, as does everyone else – Sure, it’s a party, and sure, people will be drinking, letting their hair down, and probably at least some of them may behave a bit badly over the next few hours (I repeat: it’s a party). But to create an environment where that can happen safely and sustainably, week in, week out, the team has to be professional. That team includes you. Don’t forget you’re part of a staff that is required to do its job well and without unnecessary incident. YOU are not one of the party-goers.
2. That said, remember how lucky you are to be the one DJing – It’s the best job in the building, so be considerate of the door man, the toilet attendant, the bar staff, and so on. They all wish they knew how to DJ and could be in the position you’re in, being the one who’s leading the party from the front. Many of them may indeed be wannabe DJs (after all, one of the time-tested routes into becoming a resident DJ is working in any capacity at a venue). Don’t be arrogant or a prima donna.
3. Don’t let the stress show – You’re expected to be the “life and soul”, to be always smiling, enthusiastic and loving every second of your DJing. But as we all know, really it isn’t like that, at least, not all the time. We all get nervous, we have biblical crises of confidence, we seriously wonder sometimes how we’re going to get to the end of a set when things don’t feel good. In short, we are – each and every one of us – fully aware of how damned hard DJing can be. But here’s the thing: Everyone else doesn’t get that! So your job when you’re nervous, when you don’t want to talk to anyone, when your face falls…is to keep up the appearance. Nobody else needs to know how you’re feeling on the inside. Be cheerful, and you’ll look the part, and the rest will (usually) fall into place soon enough.
4. Be a saintly diplomat with requesters – We’ve written whole articles, had whole live shows, taught whole lessons on how to deal with every DJ’s favourite subject, dealing with requests. Just know that those lowly souls approaching you for requests don’t know any better, bless ’em, and your job is to manage them with grace (and yes, it’s hard). They really don’t mean any harm, they’re just trying to have a slightly better night, and believe it or not, their requests do matter to them. Develop your own techniques for dealing with these folk, but always, always, be polite and diplomatic. They’re paying your wages.
Read this next: How To Handle Requests When DJing
5. Be a “can do” person – Pack extras leads, headphone adaptors, antacids, painkillers, snack bars, bottles of water etc. Help your fellow DJs and they will never forget it. Dig the club out of a hole and the management will remember you forever. Be on the look out for things you can help with, and help without being asked. Being useful to the venue or your colleagues over and above your actual job of DJing is a mark of a DJ who probably gets lots of work and is very well liked. Be that DJ.
6. Remember, they’ve booked you, not your mates – You’re not Beyoncé, you don’t get to bring a private plane-load of hangers-on with you everywhere you DJ. Friends should pay, and they should stay out of the DJ booth. Sure, ask for reasonable perks (a paying guest list is usually available) but use your judgement, err on the side of caution, and don’t overstep the mark.
7. Be open-minded and humble to other DJs – Especially in this day and age, everyone’s different, the way we all DJ nowadays is super-varied. The truth is that with the right humble, open-minded attitude, there’s always something to learn. Try not to get defensive about “your” way (of DJing, of conducting yourself), and always try to to learn from others’ ways.
8. Get the basic professional stuff right – This should go without saying, but honestly… some DJs. Don’t be that DJ. Plan properly so you always arrive on time with everything you need, all your batteries charged, etc. Check and check again. Professionalism costs nothing. I’ve worked with so-called “superstar” DJs who turn up late, are arrogant, and don’t do a particularly good job. But only a few, and guess what? They fell by the wayside while their professional, friendly fellow DJs got all the work and had all the fun. Do the boring stuff, write it all down, check and double check, because this makes everyone else’s life smoother and really is noticed.
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9. Stick to your set times, and don’t pester other DJs while they’re playing – This means only arriving in the DJ booth a bit before your set, and leaving promptly afterwards (unless it’s OK with the other DJ that you stay). Remember, despite appearances (see point 3 above) they’re probably just as nervous inside as you are…make life easy for them by being there if they need you, but staying out of their way otherwise.
10. Save the battles till afterwards – Not happy with the way you’ve been treated? Got an issue with other DJs/something management has done, or anything else about an event? Sure it happens, sometimes quite a lot. But where possible, have these conversations after the gig. No solution? Don’t work with those people again. But arguing during an event is unprofessional…and as soon as you’ve cooled down, you may feel very differently…and be glad you waited.
Really it all boils down to this:
On a personal note (ie when it comes to “people skills”) as long as you remember to stay polite, humble, show respect for others, and “treat as you want to be treated”, you won’t go far wrong. You may have realised of course that this works for life as well as DJing. And on a professional note – being on time, organised and competent go a LONG way.
The truth is that “people only book DJs they know and like”. If people know they’re going to enjoy working with you, they’re far more likely to book you again, or ask for you by name – all of which opens doors for you.
Oh and lastly, I promised you a stupidly simple tip, and it’s this: remember names! This goes a LONG way (I write them down in my phone). Nothing sounds sweeter to someone than their own name. Remember names, and use them. So few DJs do this, that you’ll get plenty of wins on the board just for trying. Trust me, it works.