Creating a Successful DJ Set

Putting together a killer set isn't just about having the skills to mix tracks together. Your ability to showcase music that people respond positively to and putting songs together in a way that keeps the energy pumping at events is what you should be aiming for.

Let's start off by saying there is absolutely nothing wrong with planning a set. There is a stigma associated with this and isn't warranted. We don't mean pressing play on a pre-recorded set, we mean setting out your playlist and cue points before you play so you can plan creative transitions. If you know the venue and event you will be playing at and you know what the crowd usually wants, there's nothing wrong with doing this. It is also good to be flexible and be prepared to change a few tracks, especially if the previous DJ has just played some of the songs you had planned to play or the atmosphere is different to what you expected. Here are some tips for creating a great DJ set:

  • Do your research. When you are booked to play at any event you should know what the expectations of the promoter are, what the crowd enjoy and what other DJs play that the crowd responds to. Once you are confident you know this, you can start selecting your tracks.
  • Do you want to be predictable? Does the crowd want a music lesson or are they simply happy to hear what they know? I find a good balance of well known and lesser known tracks is effective.
  • Get inspiration. Listen to the sets of your favourite DJs and pay attention to the flow of their set and how they execute transitions.
  • Take the crowd on a journey. Depending on what your set time is, you might want to start off slow and end big.
  • Maintain the element of surprise. A lot of popular DJs tend to drop unexpected tracks and transitions that make the crowd go wild. Be careful though, don't just drop Celine Dion for the sake of trolling the crowd. You want to be absolutely sure people are going to love the surprise.
  • Use a variety of mixing styles. Try not to take the easy way out and continuously use the breakdown of each song to transition. Replace drops, layer verses and if you use outros, make sure you are layering vocals or other instruments over the top or it tends to sound like you missed the cue of your next song. Don't ever let the song play out.
  • Don't force tracks together if they don't sound right. It's like trying to squeeze a square block into a circle - if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. You don't necessarily need to be proficient in your knowledge of keys, but if you find you're getting stuck on a certain song and being driven mad trying every other track in your library to mix out of it, find the key of the song and match it with another of a complimentary key. Check out Mixed In Key for more info.
  • Maintain high standards for yourself. Make sure you nail your transitions. Press record while practicing your set and listen back to identify areas of improvement.
  • Be prepared. If you are playing at a more relaxed venue such as a bar or a pub, you'd simply prepare large playlists of different genres based on the music brief given by the venue. Be prepared for anything in this situation and make sure you have enough music. There's nothing worse than rocking up to a gig strapped with all the latest Beatport singles when all the crowd wants to hear is 90s RNB.

The above points are just a few tips to get you started. If you have any advice or questions, we'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

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