What does it take to become a top DJ? Well, there’s the obvious stuff like being able to execute a banging performance, the talent, the skill, improvisation, innovation and engagement with the scene but, you’ll certainly need to avoid mistakes that could knock you back along the way.
Mistakes do happen and that’s a part of learning BUT you can always limit them and refine yourself to become less mistake-prone. The more you avoid, the quicker you’ll progress!
Mistakes come in many different forms, read on the find out the worst DJ mistakes and ways to avoid them!
1. Not Knowing How to Use Your Equipment
Whether you’re bringing your own equipment or are using the venue’s or another DJ’s equipment, you need to know it inside out before you arrive and start your set! You can’t start asking tons of questions just as you’re ready to roll before your set. As soon as the DJ before you finishes their set, it’s your time.
It’s incredibly important to know what you’re doing on a technical level. Audio equipment is tricky, sensitive and complicated, and it might not always be easy to know the technical ins and outs of what you’ll be using, especially if you’re using a club setup, but find out what the equipment is and do your homework!
Also, it goes without saying that you’ll need to know how to use your own stuff but go the extra mile to understand what to do if there’s a problem. What will you do if your laptop crashes? What if a channel cuts out? What if things sound distorted and horrible? Obviously, sometimes it’ll be out of your hands but it’s best to brush up on whatever you can when it comes to troubleshooting.
This is especially important if you’re bringing a custom setup with you – don’t make it a hassle to plug in and run on the in-house system.
- If you’re using USBs, bring two. Always keep a backup. You might lose it, or it might break, overheat or just stop working mid-set for any random reason! If you have a backup, you’re all good – it’s as simple as that.
- Always make sure your laptop is charged and bring a charger just in case. There’s nothing worse than realizing your MacBook has just 25% left for a 2-hour set!
- Check if the venue has a laptop stand. You won’t be able to prop your laptop up on books, or a box, you’ll need a proper stand that fits into the setup.
- Vinyl mixers – bring your own needles and cartridges! Some DJs (as some of you may already know) are pretty sceptical about letting others use their needles so bring your own!
- It’s great if you can bring your own backup cables. RCAs and power cables don’t take up much room and you’ll be a hero if they’re needed at some point in the night.
- Stock up on random helpful ‘bits’. Always bring a kit including anything random you thin might come in handy – electrical tape, headphone adapters, slipmats, bottles of water, sweets and candy, torches, etc, etc.
Avoid Red Lining
If there’s one thing which is sure to get an angry sound technician shouting in your ear then it’s redlining your equipment!
Watch your mixer channel lights, there are two meters you can push into the red, your channel meters and your master meters. Never push them too high – if they’re in the red then check the following:
- Your channel gains
- Your master output volume
- Your EQ pots – too much bass can push the levels up significantly
2. Neglecting DJ Etiquette
As a DJ, you don’t have free reign over the venue and equipment, unless you’re really well known or famous of course! Still, always be mindful of yourself and others.
- Avoid drinking too much before your set, if you’re too drunk to perform then you’ll be in trouble! Obviously, a couple of drinks might ease your nerves and give you some much-needed courage but never push it. You might feel awesome but your mix may not match up to that!
- Don’t refuse early slots. If you’re asked to play any set, be grateful. If you snub an early slot then that might be it – you may never be asked by that promotor or organizer again. There’s nothing wrong with early slots and they’re great for practising!
- Interact with the audience. Join them whilst other DJs play, socialise and have fun! If you make friends and contacts then not only will people support your set, it could lead to new and exciting opportunities. Never leave early after an early slot, stay and support the other performers! Solidarity with the scene is incredibly important. Stay till the bitter end and dance!
- Be helpful. If people need a hand then help them. Just because you’re a DJ doesn’t mean you can’t get your hands dirty lifting speakers in and out of vans, plugging in cables, testing equipment and generally being on hand to assist others, especially if they’re less experienced than you.
3. Not Being Mindful of Your Performance
As a DJ, you will be defined by your set. People will see your face, hear your mixing and if they don’t already know, they’ll put two and two together to work out who you are. Therefore, your performances virtually make you as a DJ – they will define you.
Never neglect your main duty: mixing.
So, in light of this, focus your efforts on your mix. This is the most important thing you’ll do all night. Nail your mix and you’ll nail the night. It’s as simple as that. If, however, you turn up poorly prepared, unpractised and generally rough around the edges then your performance will undermine you and it might negatively impact your future chances.
- Choose your genre and mix carefully for the event. There’s no good in playing hard techno at a house gig, or drum and bass at a hip hop night. This is obvious enough but you may be presented with a set and not even asked about what you’re likely to play. Do your research and make sure your set aligns to the night and its theme. It’s not about fading totally unseen into the background, it’s about keeping continuity with the night and its image
- Keep your mixes fresh. If you’ve been playing for a while then avoid performing the same sets. Even if you just alter a couple of tunes, people will eventually realize the bulk of your set has remained unchanged. Yes, it’s great to keep some signature drops or transitions in your mix but overall, you need to keep your music fresh.
- Keep on top of your genre. If you’re not a real enthusiast of the music you play then you should be! You need to know the latest tracks, the tracks which people love, those which are guaranteed to get the crowd going, etc. Also, learn what tracks are overplayed, the kind of tracks people have heard way too many times! Be mindful and aware of your genre!
4. Not Maintaining Your Identity
As a DJ, you’ll have an identity. Many make the mistake of neglecting this aspect of being a DJ – you are essentially a music performer after all. It depends on how serious you are and your ambitions but try and bear in mind that you are responsible for your identity.
People will get to know your DJ ‘self’ as what you play and your music. Your social media identity will tie into this too, keep things consistent and even throughout.
- Choose a DJ name and stick to it. It might take you ages to think of a DJ name but it’s incredibly important to find one you’re totally comfortable with. When someone asks for your DJ name, you’ll need to be absolutely confident about telling them what it is. Obviously, your DJ name will depend on so many variables but put every effort into thinking of something which is likely to stick!
- Engage with social media. Social media means a lot in this day and age. Put effort into your accounts, you might have several including Instagram, Facebook and SoundCloud – keep them consistent and up to date. Also, post regularly, answer questions, interact with other DJs and promoters, etc – keep engaged with the DJ and music social ecosystem!
- Support others. Never miss an opportunity to support other DJs and fans, listeners, etc, both online and in person. Talk to people, ask questions, hear their ideas, thoughts and opinions. This relates to other points – never make the mistake of not engaging with the DJ ecosystem.
5. Technical Mixing Mistakes to Avoid
So what about the actual mix itself? As mentioned, it is the most important bit. There are a few technical mistakes to totally avoid:
- Failing to beat-match properly. Beat-matching is the cornerstone of mixing so this one should be obvious but, if you’re put under pressure then you might be tempted to be less careful about proper beat-matching. As a rule of thumb, never introduce a tune without triple checking it’s totally in time. If you need more time to match it then don’t rush, it’s better to be patient and get it totally right than botch the mix in a hurry!
- Mixing out of key. Be aware of key changes in your music. Two tunes playing with horribly clashing keys or melodies will sound pretty awful, potentially ruining your mix. Also, these sort of mistakes can be very obvious to the crowd! To avoid this, simply practice your set and stick to your playlist. Make sure songs work melodically – using the Camelot Wheel by Mixed in Key can help you considerably here.
- Misreading your audience. If you have a super-hard set packed with powerful drops and transitions then that’s awesome, just bear in mind that it might not fit the vibe at 9 PM as the club doors just begin to open. Plan your mix for your slot – it’s as important as planning your genre for the night you’re performing at. Also, try and research the music which is playing before or after you. If it’s heavy and fast then try and match the upbeat vibe, if it’s downbeat and mellow then tone down your set to match the energy levels.
- Not timing your set. Always time your sets to make sure you don’t run out of tunes. Also, if your set relies on a dramatic finish then make sure you can actually fit this in to avoid being cut off. Keep tabs on the time as you go and make sure you’re running to the clock, you won’t always be afforded an extra 5 minutes for those last two important tracks.
- Not watching your levels. When it’s dark behind the decks it can become easy to miss things. For example, you might accidentally leave an EQ turned up, or turned down when you drop a tune. You might accidentally forget the crossfader, forget the position of your channel faders or turn up the wrong fader, press the wrong button, etc. Practice makes perfect here (and a light behind the decks always helps), but always remain vigilant and check your mix regularly through headphones and through your monitor speakers.
The good news is that you’re very unlikely to make all of these mistakes and you may never make any! Especially now you’ve read this!
However, always keep a level head and don’t beat yourself up if something does go wrong. It happens to everyone and most of the time, it won’t be a big deal. There will always be new opportunities and chances to practice and refine yourself and your performances. You can’t expect to walk into every gig and execute it with absolute perfection.
Avoiding mistakes will help you progress but it’s unrealistic to reach perfection immediately. A final mistake you can make is putting too much pressure on yourself – be realistic but be dedicated and remain ambitious and driven.