Setting Up In Public Venues
I’m sure you know that horrible feeling when you turn up for your first day at a new job and don’t know where to hang your coat or where the bathroom is. You need to ask someone to help you with all kinds of silly things as the day goes on – stuff you’ll be taking for granted soon enough, just like everyone else does. Your first DJ gig is going to be a bit like that, except you may not even be sure what questions to ask.
This chapter is designed to help you so you can look like – while you may not have DJed in that particular place before – you certainly know what you’re doing.
The first rule of playing in an unfamiliar venue is to visit it ahead of time if you possibly can. Whether it’s the bar on the corner of your street, your local church hall, or a full- blown nightclub, the manager will usually be more than happy to let you check out their gear, ask what’s required of you, and generally scout around the place a day or two before your actual gig date. Just make sure the manager, or someone who can answer your questions, is actually there on the date and time you choose to do this.
How to set up in a bar or lounge
This is many DJs’ first public gig: playing a set in a local bar, lounge or pub. Maybe you’ve managed to get yourself a week-night slot, you could be lucky enough to have got a weekend evening, or perhaps you’ve convinced a beach bar owner to let you play a sundowner set. Whatever, the bar gig is a tried and tested stepping stone to bigger things as well as a satisfying end in itself.
Generally, bar gigs are characterised by the venue having its own sound system, which is often simply the system it plays music through all week long. That could be the local radio station, a music video TV channel, or the owner’s iTunes or playlists from an online streaming station. Bars often don’t have their own DJ gear, or if they do, using it is optional, so it’s usually oK to turn up with your controller or other system.
If the bar staff are used to having DJs playing, they’ll know where they physically want to put you, and may even have a wall-mounted socket for you to plug your mixer or controller into that feeds back to their amplifiers. Some may have a long lead that you’re meant to plug into the back of your gear to get the audio to the venue’s amps. Power may be from a socket conveniently by the table they want you to set up on, or again they may have an extension lead they reel out to get sockets near to you.
Don’t rely on any of these things, though. Carry your own power extension leads and multi-adapters, and every type of audio cable you can think of, including long ones, of the right type to fit into the back of your DJ controller or mixer. Also, consider how you’re going to raise your gear to standing height – stooping over a low table for any length of time will give you backache. (A beer crate with a black sheet thrown over it to make it look neat is a good raiser. Carry that black sheet with you.)
Finally, know ahead of time whether you’ll need a monitor speaker, and if so, how you’ll plug that in. In bars, often you can set up near to one of the bar speakers, which is fine, but other times this isn’t possible. You may end up away from the music, your nearest speaker pointing in the opposite direction to you. DJing without being able to hear your own music properly is not fun and makes beatmixing harder because of the few extra milliseconds it takes for the sound to reach you from a speaker across the other side of the room. Some bar DJs carry a single powered speaker with them to plug into the booth or second master output of their DJ mixer or controller to use for this purpose.
How to set up in a club
Unlike bars, clubs of course have sound systems, lights, and a DJ area as standard. They also usually have their own gear, although this isn’t always set up for you (increasingly nowadays venue owners understand DJs often bring at least some gear, so they will have their own stuff set up to your specifications on your arrival). You need to know if you’re expected to use their gear or if it’s oK to bring your own, which varies venue to venue, and country to country. Clubs generally have a monitor speaker or speakers, though, which will be plugged in and ready to go once you’re all wired up.
Once you’re clear ahead of time about these things, on arrival your job is to set up any gear you’ll be using and plug it into the venue’s existing system. If its gear is permanently set up and you’re plugging in a DJ controller, you’ll be looking for a spare channel on the mixer. Make sure it is turned down before you plug in your stuff for a test.
One of the problems with club gigs nowadays, especially if you’re not the only DJ, is everyone has their own gear, which can make DJ booths precarious places at DJ switchover time. The golden rules are to talk to the DJ you’re taking over from, although no more than necessary, and try to get around the back of the club mixer to plug in as efficiently and unobtrusively as you can no more than ten minutes before the end of the previous DJ’s set. Digital vinyl systems present a particular problem because you often need to unplug the venue’s CD players or record decks to plug your DVS box in, so again, being courteous, considerate and communicative is important.
Better venues have a sound technician on hand to help with all of this stuff, which is a godsend because that person will know everything inside out. In that case, your job is simply to find them and do exactly what they say. They will expect you to let them do the setting up, so don’t try and do any of it yourself. Conversely, often there’s nobody at a venue when you arrive who knows anything at all about setting up the DJ, so you may be scouting around for where to turn absolutely everything on yourself if you’re not careful. Again, knowing this in advance is invaluable, so do visit ahead of time if you can.
How to set up as a mobile DJ
Unlike either of the above scenarios, as a mobile DJ, you are expected to bring absolutely everything you need with you. If DJing in a bar is like a night away in a basic hotel, and a club gigs is like staying in a four or five star hotel, mobile DJing is like wild camping. If you haven’t brought what you need along, or you don’t know how to set it all up yourself, you’re probably going to have to live without it.
One thing that most venues have is power, but let’s assume you’re playing somewhere where you can’t plug in. As you’re carrying your own DJ gear, amplifiers, speakers and lights, you’ll need enough cables and sockets to get all of this plugged in, but don’t assume there will be a socket near to you, so take heavy duty extension cables that can handle the power requirements of your amps at full swing. Make sure you uncoil them fully even if you don’t need their full length (not doing so can cause them to get hot and even trip out when you turn the volume up).
Remember to bring a DJ table or equipment stand, a facade to hide your cables and connectors once set up, heavy duty tape to secure any cables you need to run across the floor, and stands for your PA speakers to get them to audience head height (and any safety attachments to stop them toppling over). Many occasional mobile DJs hire this stuff gig-by-gig rather than owning it. If you choose to do so, make sure you set it all up and see it working at the hire company, and ask any questions about it all there. even better, hire from a company who will bring and set it up at the venue for you and take it away afterwards.
Unlike with bar and club DJing, where someone else has got the evening’s entertainment covered to a varying degree (there’s always another DJ hanging around if you mess up, or the staff can stick a CD on), mobile DJs can make or break the whole event, and the amount of equipment you need to bring adds extra responsibility to you personally. All of this makes mobile DJing harder to wing. If you want to do this type of DJing seriously, definitely enquire about and get the right performance licence for your country to let you play venues where there’s no public music licence, and also ensure you have bought proper public liability and insurance cover. Many countries have at least one mobile DJ association that can help you with this, and much more.