Things To Take With You
Packing your bag for a DJ set is a little like packing your bag for a business trip or holiday. Despite all your planning, you will almost definitely find yourself pausing momentarily at the door and running through a mental checklist (‘wallet, tickets, phone…’) designed to reassure you that even if you’ve forgotten everything else, you have the essentials.
When it comes to leaving the house to head off to a DJ gig, what you take with you will depend very much on the type of DJing you’re doing and what the venue is expecting from you, but it helps to divide your mental checklist up into ‘gear, music, other stuff’.
That’s how we’ll run through what to take with you in this chapter.
Forgetting an essential piece of DJ gear is embarrassing, and worse, it often means you won’t be able to play. I started off my DJ career playing mobile shows where I was expected to provide everything from the lights to the PA system to the table to set it all up on. Years later, I remember turning up at my first club-style gig thinking how amazing it was that everything would be provided for me, only to realise that this didn’t go as far as headphones (for hygiene and personal preference reasons, a DJ always takes his or her headphones along). Ditto your laptop and laptop stand if your DJing involves playing from a computer – nobody provides computer equipment in DJ booths.
As far as the rest goes, though, the best bet is to visit the venue or at least speak to the manager to check. Most permanent venues where DJs play regularly will already have a DJ set-up: usually a couple of DJ CD players and a mixer, possibly a microphone, and definitely a PA system. Whether or not you decide to take any gear of your own (the DJ controller you’re used to playing on, a digital vinyl system, record decks, extra control units) will depend upon how comfortable you are using the venue’s gear, the quality of its gear, how long you’ll be playing for, and what’s expected of you.
Some venue managers dislike DJs bringing controllers with them and expect them to play on the already installed gear (although DVS systems are generally tolerated), others won’t even set up their existing gear unless you ask them to. Some have state-of-the art fully networked pro DJ systems where you plug a single music USB stick in and it all comes to life like a flight deck, others may have a couple of battered old CD players and a mixer that hardly works. The manager may tell you they’ve got record decks, but you turn up to find they’re buried under a pile of coats in the corner, minus cartridges and needles.
Of course, if you are heading out as a mobile DJ then you are still expected to bring absolutely everything, and don’t even expect there to be a power socket near to where you have to set up. From lights to leads to equipment stands to a nice, neat and professional looking facade to tidy your set-up into once it’s all rigged, you’re a one-man band. But even if you’re of the ‘have headphones and USB stick, will travel’ flavour of DJ, it’s always a good idea to take a few spare leads so you can jump in and save the day if something’s not working properly. Various audio cables, a spare USB lead if you’re a laptop DJ, and a spare headphones adaptor won’t take up much space in your bag, and one day you’ll be glad you brought them along.
Always protect your gear on the move. Hard flight cases are the ultimate in protection, although softer backpacks, trolleys and shoulder bags provide enough protection in most cases, and are much easier to carry around or smuggle into cabin luggage with you if you’re flying. (If you’re going for specialist DJ ones, consider plain packs rather than those that scream, ‘Highly valuable DJ gear inside’.)
A separate case for your headphones is a good idea (they don’t like being sat on). It’s the knobs and faders that nearly always get damaged first on DJ gear, especially in soft cases, so you can buy hard acrylic covers that fit snugly over the faceplates of most modern gear, and they’re well worth the small extra spend. (They keep the dust off the gear at home when you’re not using it, too.)
The big thing to remember about your music is to bring a back-up music source with you, and have a plan as to how you’ll get that music playing if disaster strikes. Whether it’s nothing more than a few songs on USB or CD to get you past a laptop crash or a whole spare laptop (a common thing among pro DJs), the point is that you must be able to keep the music going come what may, and that means a back-up music source.
Many DJs have music on their smartphones and a simple lead that lets them plug their phone into a spare channel on the club’s mixer, making it simple to hit play on a music or DJ app on their phones, throw up a mixer fader, and keep the party going through a laptop reboot. If you’ll be DJing from a laptop, this is probably the simplest fallback because you already have your phone on you, so it’s just a case of plugging it in before you start.
Most of this is common sense, but if you read the following list and get just one ‘a-ha!’ moment, it’ll be worth the time spent. So: spare shirt and towel (if you’re the type that gets hot and sweaty under the lights); something to eat (hungry DJs are irritable DJs, and a bag of sweets keeps forever); your business cards or other promotional material; a pen and something to write on; sunglasses (if playing a beach set or all the way through to dawn); any medications you take; ID (especially if you’re young-looking and playing in a club); and that trio of wallet, tickets and phone that started this chapter. Scribble it all down on a checklist. Pin it to your door. Run through it on the way out.
Next step: arriving at the venue and setting up. The next chapter will make sure you know exactly what you’re doing when you get there.