How To Behave At A Gig
Fatboy Slim got it right when he said, ‘A good DJ is always looking at the crowd, seeing what they’re like, seeing whether it’s working, communicating with them. Smiling at them. And a bad DJ is looking down at what they’re doing all the time and just doing their thing that they practised in their bedroom.’
In this book I’ve given you tips to be confident and perform solid, simple DJ mixes (so you’re not doing the ‘what I practised in my room’ bit too much) from a tightly chosen set of tunes (saving you looking down at your laptop all the time, panicking about what to play next). Don’t underestimate how these two tactics can alter how successful you are when you are actually playing.
But whether you succeed at any given DJ gig is affected by the way you behave long before you play your first tune. In order to do a great job of DJing, you need to have the management, staff and whoever booked you on your side, no matter how nervous or out of your depth you might be feeling. (There’s a whole chapter on dealing with DJ nerves after this one.) And doing so requires you to understand properly where you fit in with everyone else on the night.
What managers really want from DJs
A venue manager has a hard job. From managing his or her staff (many of whom will be on part-time or casual contracts and probably inexperienced) to dealing with stocking the drinks, to liaising with the door people, to handling the promoters or venue hirers, to taking responsibility for all the money coming over the bar, to ultimately being responsible for the happiness (and behaviour) of everyone in the venue, he or she has a lot to juggle. What they have zero time to do is worry about the music – at least, not in any sense that you or I would worry about the music. It doesn’t matter if that manager is the biggest music fan in the world, someone who may adore DJing and lives for music, on any given night working in their venue, they will probably notice what you’re doing a total of two times: once to say, ‘oK, music’s on, good’ and a couple of hours later to check it’s going oK. (‘Dancefloor busy or getting there? Can I see a few smiles? excellent. Now, on to…’)
So even if you’ve been diligent and checked the place out ahead of time, maybe even had a conversation about the music with the manager, on the night is not the time to do that unless they approach you to do so. If they do, listen and do what they say. Apart from that, do what you’ve been booked for. What the manager wants from you is to be reliable and professional. That’s it. Save the music chat, and understand you’re a small part of a much bigger machine.
How to get everyone else on your side
The bar staff, doormen, greeters and anyone else working at the venue the night you’re playing are your hidden army. They can make your night fun, or make you feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle. They are the people who will subtly help you to set the mood and tone for your crowd. Get them on your side, and your job is going to be much easier.
Here are some simple tips for doing just that – well, I say they’re simple, but the number of DJs who don’t do this stuff always baffles me:
Turn up on time
No DJ, no party. Footballers don’t turn up late for games. Applicants don’t turn up late for job interviews. You must never turn up anything other than bang on time for a DJ gig. The first person who will notice is the manager. Then everyone else will too. Not good.
Turn up alone
You have been hired to do a job. Not you and your posse of mates, or you and your girlfriend or boyfriend. You. Don’t ask for a free guest list, and don’t make the first impression any staff member has of you that of someone trying to herd a load of people unannounced into the venue. This is not oK. Turn up alone, and if you’ve pre-arranged for your posse to attend or been given an invited guest list, make sure they don’t all arrive with you.
Don’t throw any surprises with your appearance or hygiene. Arrive clean and tidy. You don’t need to be in a dinner jacket just because you’re playing a formal event (you’re the DJ, not one of the guests, although it doesn’t hurt to check), but whether it’s a cool club night, a street party, or your sister’s school prom, you need to give the impression that you’re professional and reliable.
When the now world-famous Haçienda nightclub in my home town of Manchester was on the up, it was looking for a new resident DJ. Good things were being said about the resident of a rival club across town, so the manager decided to give him a go.
Unfortunately, he turned up late and blind drunk. Needless to say, he didn’t get the job. A few months later, the fame of the place had risen to such heights that its DJs were invited to tour the USA and play amazing venues across the country, an experience that launched their careers into new waters. Yet this guy missed out, big time. So don’t be like him. Don’t turn up drunk. It never makes you a better DJ, whatever you might tell yourself.
Have you heard of the 7Ps, as used by the British Army and US Marine Corps? They go like this: ‘Proper Planning and Practice Prevents Piss Poor Performance’. Really, this whole book until this point has been designed to get you to this stage. luckily, you’re more ready than you think. You know the answers to most of the silly questions amateurs would ask. That said, if you’re not sure about something, don’t plough on – do ask! That’s what professionals do too.
Shake hands. Smile. look people in the eye. Ask names. Remember those names. Strike up conversations with the staff. Be easy to be around. Don’t discriminate – the bathroom attendant is one of the most important people to have onside at a gig (you definitely need priority there when nature calls in the middle of your set). Bar staff who you befriend when the venue is being set up will pass a drink to you over the heads of a six-deep crowd at the bar later on as you nip away from your gear, parched. Doormen you can call by name will help you deal with sticky situations with drunken customers should you ever need them.
Setting the tone
The overriding mission you have here is to set the tone, and do so early. Simply being nice will get all the important people on your side; the good vibes at any event spread out from the DJ, and you’ve just recruited yourself a small army of helpers. The bar staff will give you a thumbs up when you’re doing well, feeding back into your confidence. Get one or two of your new friends dancing behind the bar a bit and it will spread to your crowd, encouraging them to buy a second drink and settle in for the night. Smile and be friendly from the off before anyone is even in the venue, and you’ll naturally segue into continuing to do so as your dancefloor is filling.
You’ll be, to paraphrase Fatboy Slim from our intro, looking up, seeing what’s going on, smiling. You’ll be spreading the vibe. DJing, as we know, is about transfer of energy, and your attitude and demeanour from the off is where it starts. Get your DJ behaviour right, and you’re ready to play a great DJ set in public, perhaps for the first time. little things you do early on grow into bigger things later, like carefully tending the first flame of a fire that will eventually keep you warm for the whole night.
There’s just one slight issue that appears to affect every DJ I’ve ever known, myself included. let’s get it dealt with…