In part one of this feature we will be taking a look at the importance of set prep. For some gigs this is something that may not be so important. More experienced DJs who are familiar with their tunes will not require much planning before gigs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t do any. The first thing to do is look at the big picture before getting straight into the detail of track selection and order and this involves answering questions about the gig as a whole, such as who are the audience and how long is the set?
Let be honest, few things are as fun as jumping on the decks without a care in the world and playing some of your favourite tracks off the cuff. However sometimes you may find yourself in a situation where a little bit of prep may go a long way.
How you go about your preparation really comes down to the equipment you will be using, and it can involve as little as choosing the records you want to play in advance to fully harmonically programming a set with loops, transitions and effects.
Over the next few weeks we will be dropping hot tips from our up and coming DJ Masterclass, from choosing the right equipment for your set-up to choosing the right tracks for you podcast. With the likes of the incredibly useful RecordBox these days, prep can be extremely quick. This doesn’t always result to a quality set, however. With DJ technology advancing a rate that leaves most veteran spinners left behind with the tech they learnt on, we are going to take the tips on this feature back to fundamentals - i.e. tips that are going to be useful no matter what your choice of equipment.
Today we will be seeing what questions you should ask about your upcoming set to discover what, if any prep should be carried out.
Is the Set Live or Recorded?
Are you playing out at a gig in front of a crowd or on the radio? Or are you recording a podcast or mix to be played on the radio? This will normally decide how much prep you need to do, as something that is to be uploaded as a recorded podcast is the equivalent of writing a message rather than speaking it - it is permanent and therefore worth perfect before recording the “final draft”. Playing live, although perfection in mixing and beat matching is something desired by all DJs, small mistakes in a live DJ performance are forgettable. They only happened that one time and so long as the crowd remain the moment and the DJ recovers, all is forgiven.
From an artists point of view, however, this is not so easy to accept when it comes to mistakes whilst recording a podcast to be played (hopefully) over and over again around the world. It is only natural to want to make this as perfect as possible, and therefore prep is key to alleviating what can be an excruciatingly annoying task.
So by asking this question we know how much time in advance we need to begin our prep work. For example , if it is to be released as a podcast you might want to be starting earlier as you need to give time for mess ups whilst recording. This happens. And it is painful. But a right of passage none the less to creating a prefect podcast!
How long is the set?
This is probably the most important detail you need to be aware of. It ultimately means “how many tunes do I need?” This is something I have been working out for a long time and it really comes down to your mixing style and the genre of music you are playing. If you prefer to mix long and slow, bring the new track in with about 2 minute or so to go of the current track, then I find 13-14 tracks per hour of set time is what is needed. I would also normally throw in a few more for good measure if I was playing a set, rather than recording a mix as things can go wrong in terms of set times and last minute decisions to play something else.
Things get a little more complicated the looser set time details become. Playing B2B for example with someone you haven't played with before would require a much broader choice of records to allow you to follow the other DJs tracks up.
Who are you playing to?
Who is the Audience? Is it to a local crowd of familiar fans? Or is the crowd outside of your familiarity? Will you have to adapt your usual style somewhat to create accessibility to a different crowd? Depending on how much you value and commit to one particular “sound” you may not be willing to give too much leeway here, which is perfectly fine so long as you are not playing gabba at an event you were expected to play RnB at.
Of course, we all find ourselves being offered gigs that are perhaps not right for the sound we are looking to establish ourselves in. It is fine to reject gigs that will force you too far out of your own comfort zone.
It is however always good to spread your fingers into different pies when it comes to your listening, collecting and playing as a DJ, as ultimately it will only serve to give you more versatility in the long run.
These are just a few important questions that any DJ needs to ask before he takes to the decks of an important gig. There may be further questions depending on the likes of equipments used by the DJ but fundamentally these 3 questions should be answered as it will give a lot more of an understanding to how best to approach the preparation process.
If you are interested in learning how to DJ or simply improving your current abilities behind the decks then feel free to check out what courses we have on offer at our Manchester based studio.
Next time in Part 2 we will take a deeper look into tune selection, whilst analysing each to create a sense of journey when putting them together.