How to prepare for a DJ gig

I have played many DJ gigs over the years, and I noticed that I developed a couple of routines that make the evening as great as possible for me, the audience and the host. I would like to share my routines here, and I would love to have feedback on what you other DJs do.

Two weeks before the gig

I have found it important to talk in detail with the host/booker a few weeks before the gig. At this point, the host probably has a pretty good idea of what the event should be like.

If I am booked for a club event, I usually get booked for a particular sound (e.g., Mashups or Electro Swing). I really like playing club events since the guests usually come for that sound and they don’t expect me to be a jukebox. However, it’s good to have some info about the club, the expected audience, previous similar parties and the other DJs that are playing there. That helps me get an idea on what to prepare and what to expect.

If I am booked private party, I usually ask a lot of questions about the location, the guests and the host’s taste in music. It really sucks to appear at a party and find out that the sound you wanted to play is completely not what the guests want to hear. It helps to ask for a short list of tracks/songs (about 10) that the host wants to hear at the party. It’s usually easy to extrapolate from that. I should also mention that I don’t do a lot of private parties (birthday parties, weddings etc.) any more since I feel there are better DJs for that, but I still do this occasionally for people I know. I always check if I can actually play the sound they want to hear before accepting though.

In any case, it’s absolutely crucial to ask about the equipment and the location. What equipment do I have to bring and what will be there? Do they have a decent mixer or should I bring my own? Will there be enough space to set up laptop and controller? Do they have turntables? Some of those questions can be confusing for non-technical people, but I have learned that I really have to go into detail here to avoid unexpected problems.

Two days before the gig

We are living in the age of digital DJing, so in theory I could always bring (almost) my entire music collection along for a gig.

However, I have learned that it really makes sense to dig through my collection a few days before the gig and create a couple of playlists. In a way, this is similar to packing your record case in the age of vinyl records. This forces me to think about my selection before the evening, and I think I play better sets if I don’t have to start digging my collection at the party.

In addition, I usually pack a couple of vinyl records. I don’t buy a lot of vinyl any more, but I do have a couple of gems that aren’t available in digital formats.

There are a couple of other things that go into my DJ bag:

  • Headphones (Shure SRH750 DJ)
  • MIDI controller (Numark Total Control)
  • Audio Interface (Numark DJ io)
  • MacBook Pro
  • Laptop stand
  • Microphone (you never know…)
  • Power strip
  • Cables
I usually bring a small selection of cables (RCA, line, XLR) to make sure I will have the adapters I need. It’s also very useful to have long cables – you can never be sure how the exact setup will be.

Two hours before the gig

I try to make the day of the gig itself a rather relaxed day. I want to enjoy the party and celebrate together with the people, and it really helps if I am in a good mood then, too.

It’s important for me to get enough sleep before a gig, have my stuff packed and figured out how to get to the party.

I always try to be there somewhat early, about 1-2 hours. This has both practical and emotional reasons: The practical reason is that I always need some time to say hello to everybody, set up my stuff and get ready to play.

The emotional reason is that I like to have some time for myself before the gig. I love to spend some time alone before playing, and I have developed a little ritual for that: I try to find a quiet spot not too far away from the party location. I have a drink, preferably an energy drink. I just listen to the sounds of the surroundings and slowly get into the mood to play.

Then I am ready.

About marvis (209 Articles)
Marvis is the founder of Sweet Headache. He lives in Cologne (Germany) and has been a music nerd for a long, long time.

3 Comments on How to prepare for a DJ gig

  1. Good article, but there’s one thing I would like to highlight: If you’re a digital DJ that uses a netbook, for God’s sake, take vinyl and/or CDs too. There’s nothing worse than the netbook dying for whatever reason and the DJ just standing there trying to fix it, with no music playing at all. In the same vein, vinyl DJs should bring CDs and vice-versa. There’s always a chance something breaks, or isn’t there when you thought it would.

  2. I agree that it can be very embarrassing if your equipment fails, but that’s true for about any piece of equipment. Turntables and CD players can fail, too. Especially club equipment that is used every night is often more unreliable than my own digital equipment.

    I have seen turntable needles break and CD players not accepting CDs a few minutes before a gig – my laptop has never failed me so far.

    In theory, you could bring all types of media to a gig to prevent that risk, but you wouldn’t be able to play the set that you had intended to play anyway. I assume that it’s usually better if one of the other DJs takes over for a DJ with broken equipment in such a case.

  3. Therefor i’ve always a mix with me on CD and as mp3 on my iPhone that kicks in with the first beat. You never know if you will need it šŸ˜‰

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