Taking Care of Your Event DJs

During a changeover at DJam this year, there was a funny moment where the incoming DJ hadn’t realised that there was a second lead all ready for him to plug into his laptop – and the outgoing DJ (myself) hadn’t realised this – and had neglected to tell him. Result – the last song of my set finished, and I expected him to start playing immediately. Meanwhile, while he was waiting for the chance to swap leads over and plug in to the mixer… which led to a brief moment of confusion. I hate to have long periods of silence in the middle of a dance event, so I quickly put on a followup, and we fixed the problem – so no big deal, but completely unnecessary. A little communication would have avoided the problem.

This was all the more embarrassing, because I was the DJ coordinator, and a part of that role is to make sure such things don’t happen. Mea culpa.

Anyway – where I’m going with this is that an event can live or die by its music, and in consequence, you need good DJs to make that happen. Having been on both sides of the fence, as DJ and as an organiser, I have a few observations on how one can make life a lot easier for a DJ, and give them the environment they need to do a good job. Sometimes these are easy, sometimes venue-related or restrictions can make them impossible to provide, but I feel it’s a good idea to cater for as many of these as one reasonably can.

  1. Provide space. It’s nice to be able to breathe – not to feel squashed in while DJing. I’ve working in spaces before where I had to balance the laptop on a mixing desk to actually work – no room to deploy the separate trackpad which I normally use. Even more importantly, we need space to handle changeovers – an incoming DJ needs to be able to set up, plug in, and prepare for their set while the outgoing DJ is still playing. We can adapt to many things, but if enough table / desk / podium space is a possibility, it never hurts to provide it. A good view of the dancefloor is needed too – this sounds like a no-brainer, but I have before now been placed in a position where I could not see the dancers. Now that’s one I never want to do again.
  2. Provide more than one lead. I have lost count of the times that I’ve turned up to play a set, and found that I’m plugging into a mixing desk the size of New South Wales, with only. one. available. lead. So instead of setting up, plugging in, arranging the moment with the outgoing DJ, and hitting play at the appropriate moment, we have to coordinate something where the first DJ finishes, you drop the volume on the mixer, unplug, plug in again, raise the volume… all while trying to make things seamless. We’re not club DJs, with all the expensive whizbangs and gizmos, but another £3.00 lead isn’t a huge investment, and it’s peanuts compared to the rest of the sound equipment. Oh – and make sure that everyone concerned knows about the extra leads (or that they’re clearly labelled) See above.
  3. Give your guest DJs decent length time slots. Being invited to guest DJ at an event, turning up after a two hour drive, and finding you now have a half hour slot… cut down to 15 minutes after the band started late… is not quite as exciting as it sounds. Overall, I enjoyed the dancing, but if there’s to be a next time, I’ll be a little more specific in what I want out of it. Different DJs have different preferences, but personally, I like to do at least an hour. Ninety minutes is even better, while forty five minutes just is only just enough to get my teeth into.
  4. Provide a DJ schedule. I failed at this one last weekend (yes, I have an excuse lined up, but that’s not the point), and I think that both I and the DJs suffered a little because of it. I’ve been to events where the DJ schedule was worked out on a day-to-day basis, and to events where the whole schedule was worked out and communicated in advance, and I’ve organised both kinds… and I prefer the latter – I know when I’m on duty, when I can relax, when I have to do any preparation and so on. From an organiser’s point of view, if you provide the schedule in advance, the DJs can feed back and say what they are happy with, whether they want any changes, and then you can relax a little knowing that everyone knows when are where they are needed. Having experienced both ways of working, as both DJ and coordinator, in both cases I vastly preferred the latter method.
  5. Keep on top of the schedule. At one event, I witnessed the band finish on time (amazing, I know) – and the competitions were the next thing on the schedule. However – the organisers weren’t ready for the comps, and no-one had thought to organise DJ cover, so no-one was ready to play. Result – a long drawn out silence, with a bunch of dancers wondering what was going on, until someone who was not supposed to DJ at that point jumped in to fill the gap. You need a DJ coordinator who is aware of developments, and able to find someone – or step in themselves when needed.

As I’ve said – not all of these are possible – sometimes the venue is very restrictive on where you can place a venue, bands, performances or competitions might start late or overrun (that one’s almost traditional), and sometimes your spare leads might mysteriously disappear – but where it can be done, I believe that it should be.

5 Comments

  1. One thing to add: Introduce your DJ´s to whoever is the sound guy at the event, if there is such a person. I don´t know how many times I have been running around trying to find somebody who can tell me where to plug in, what leads not to unplug, turn up/down the master volume in the sound booth etc.
    And as a DJ, buy lots and lots of different leads and bring them with you. Again, having turned up to various events with just a standard mini-jack and then only having some bizarre 1950´s XLR-whatever plug to plug into….Now I have just about any lead imaginable with me to any event, including extension leads for when the organizers only have provided a 30 cm cable, putting me somewhere on the floor in the corner behind the bands flight cases 🙂

    Feb 6th, 2012
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    • Andy said:

      Agreed on all counts. In actual fact, as I wrote this post, I was planning a followup which reversed the perspectives – so it’ll more of a guide for DJs attending events, and your second point will fit right in with that article. When I get around to writing it.

      Feb 8th, 2012
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  2. dogpossum said:

    This is a useful piece, Andy. I’ve always thought I was needlessly obsessive about little details, but I’ve slowly been convinced that the little details, which aren’t that difficult to fix, are the things that make for good work places for DJs, and good dancing for dancers. It just tends to take a fairly long and comprehensive list to cover them all. I always feel a bit embarrassed passing that list along to organisers, but covering all these things always seems to make just enough difference that DJs can really enjoy their sets and do their very best work.
    I think the two cords thing is surprisingly important. And having enough room. I’ve done so many sets where my laptop has been balanced on top of a turntable or carefully placed folder on top of a speaker. Having room to move just makes the whole thing so much easier (and safer!)

    I reckon all these things are perhaps the best argument for having a DJ coordinate the DJs at your event.

    Feb 9th, 2012
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  3. Kenny said:

    Excellent post. Also, here’s two other items from recent experiences. 1. Provide that schedule at least one week in advance. 2. Don’t make your DJs pay for the dances they will be djing at.

    Feb 10th, 2012
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