Over To You: How To Play Marathon DJ Sets

Phil Morse | Founder & Tutor
Read time: 2 mins
Last updated 5 April, 2018

Burning Man is a festival like no other – and our reader wants to know how best to approach playing DJ sets up to 16 hours long there… Pic: Snowbrains

Digital DJ Lab member Chris Marchant writes: “I’ve got something that’s been weighing on me since summer. How to prepare for marathon-length DJ sessions? I’ve been attending weekend-long parties, which I’ve played sets as long as 14 hours at a time, all three days.

“If that isn’t enough, this year I started attending Burning Man which is a week long. DJing for 12 to 16 hours a day for much of the week on an art car in the desert is tough stuff. It’s hard on the gear, and it’s hard on the body; and to be quite honest I feel like I’ve been falling a bit short where it regards stamina, and just keeping that energy level.

“Secondly, and this is the hard point for me, separating it into beginning, middle, and end is quite daunting when sets span this length of time. The sheer enormity of the set times makes it more difficult than anything I’ve faced so far. How do you tackle this sort of thing best?”

Digital DJ Tips says:

Well you’re asking the right man! Although I’ve never played 12 to 16 hour sets, I used to regularly play for eight hours from 10pm to 6am, but more to the point, I’ve run eight marathons, so I know a bit about stamina and energy levels too!

Firstly, this kind of thing isn’t sustainable. Treat these sets as things you build up to and recover from, from an energy point of view. Sleeping well, having water and food nearby, and being used to standing (I have a stand-up desk, if you have a “day job” in an office, that’s a good idea) all helps.

However, your biggest issue is structuring your set, it seems. The thing is, having a “beginning, middle and end” to a DJ set only makes sense if you have an audience that’s there for the beginning, middle and end, too. If your audience is more transitory, then you can treat your set as such. In this instance, let’s say the average person is going to be there hearing you play for five hours, you can divide a 15 hour set into three mini-sets, each with their own beginning middle and end.

That gives you a chance, for instance, to completely switch genres or tempos. Another way of looking at it is that should your set contain 50% “thriller” and 50% “filler”, try adding more “filler”, so you “deliver the goods”, but spread out over a longer time period. After all, you’re not the only one trying to conserve your energy.

I’d love to throw this one over to the audience, too, to see if anyone else plays marathon DJ sets, and has any tips to share.

So, have you ever played this length of time? What tips both for managing personal energy levels and, more importantly for Chris, for getting the music right, can you offer? Add your thoughts in the comments!

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