How to DJ your first set without knowing how
I was asked to DJ a one-hour set, though I had no previous DJ experience. I didn’t know how to beatmatch, transition smoothly, use Ableton or Traktor, and neither do you. You just have to be comfortable with being a laptop DJ.
- Know your audience
- I had never been to the venue and from what the outside looked like, I figured inside was a bunch of dusty overweight 30-year-olds with massive facial hair. I took a weekday evening trip over and had a beer inside, scoping out the clientele. I learned that from the balcony dj booth (!), I’d be playing for an affluent, educated set of 20- and 30-somethings that weren’t necessarily music nerds, but seemed receptive to different sounds.
- Determine the theme
- I thought about what music has moving me lately. While I wanted to do an all out electro-rock-dance-indie set with jams like Wolfmother’s “Woman (MSTRKRFT Remix)” and Madonna’s “Hung Up (Diplo Remix)”, I instead took influence from the very summery flavors of Nickodemus and Captain Planet.
- Select your songs
- I went through my entire music collection picking out the best tunes that fit the afrobeat/tropicalia/soul/funk vibe. If your audience won’t be earnestly dancing, don’t pick vocal-heavy tunes. Keep a mental picture of the venue inside your head as you listen to your potentials.
- Narrow down your picks
- After my first sweep, I ended up with 60 tracks, clocking in at 3.75 hours–far more than the one hour I was given. Toss anything that will garner significantly more or less attention than the rest of your set. I had to let go of some classics like Barrett Strong’s 1962 hit “Money”.
- Cut it down to size
- After tossing half my selections, I still had nearly an extra hour of music. Time for the surgery. I went in using audio editing software (CoolEdit and Audacity work) and cut out extra pieces: extra repetitive choruses, needless verses, instrumental solos. I wanted to keep the song lengths between 2 and 4.5 minutes to keep the energy level moving. [As this takes a bit of know-how and technique, this step is completely optional.]
- Put them in order
- I used Traktor to help identify the BPM of all the tracks. If you don’t have any audio software, just manually gauge the energy level on a scale of 50-150 for an approximation. My set started with my lowest BPM (79) and gradually worked its way up (with a few tweaks) to finish with my quickest song (126bpm).
- Configure your crossfade
- Using winamp? I suggest the SqrSoft crossfade plugin. Using iTunes? Even easier; if you left the default settings, your crossfade is already working, though you may want to tweak it in Preferences.
- Play it!
- Run through it at least once, in its entirety. Watch your levels, some songs are louder than others. iTunes has a fix for this called ‘Sound Check’; try it. Write on a notecard which songs have levels that stick out so you can tweak ’em with your mixer. Otherwise, you’re ready to go!
Well it’s about time for a finished product!
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