When you are DJing in your bedroom, everything is perfect. Your turntables are set at the right height, your monitors are crisp, there are no drunk girls running up to the DJ booth requesting Britney Spears, and every cord/adaptor/powerpack is at your fingertips. When you venture out, unless you are a headliner at Berghain, chances are you will be faced with a dizzying array of frustrating problems that will arise while attempting to replicate your best bedroom set at your local dive. The following is 25 tips for surviving even the worst DJ booths at the most raucous party spots in your town.
1. Expect the unexpected, and ARRIVE EARLY. Most problems with the house gear, or drink tickets can be sorted in a half hour before go time. This is also a great way to keep your stress level down.
2. Your gear is perfectly level at home, but all too often you encounter WOBBLY EQUIPMENT. A cardboard beer coaster folded in two or three makes for the perfect shim.
3. If your needles are transmitting a signal, you might have DIRTY CONTACTS. You can use a pencil eraser to clean the tonearm and headshell contacts in a pinch. Just borrow a #2 pencil from your favorite cocktail waitress.
4. Been DJing for hours and need a BATHROOM BREAK? Having a selection of extra long songs or even one of your DJ mixes on hand, can buy you some valuable time to relieve yourself.
5. Most bar and club owners who build the DJ booth are not DJs, and unfortunately they rarely consult with a DJ when building them. As a result, you find yourself in a TINY DJ BOOTH with no space for your laptop or effects controller. Carry around a collapsible laptop stand with you, and turn the turntables 90 degrees with the tonearms at the top “battle style” to save space. It may be just what you need to avoid claustrophobia while working.
6. Part of the fun of being a DJ is the attention you get, but there is nothing worse than a DRUNK PERSON hovering by your laptop or the turntables. Too many great pieces of gear have been ruined by a splash of alcohol. Girltalk wraps his laptop in saran wrap for the sweat and potential beer spills. If you are using a macbook, you can get a rubberized keyboard cover by KB Covers with shortcuts to your favorite software on the keys and kill two birds with one stone.
7. How many of us hate REQUESTS? If there is music you don’t want to play, make sure you don’t own it. We all have a few hundred tracks on a hard drive we don’t like that our cousin gave us. Just purge them from your drive, and you will never have to lie.
8. Sometimes having one of your favorite tracks on a piece of WARPED VINYL can be a killjoy. Don’t toss it, just turn a heavy glass tumbler upside down on top of the record to flatten it out and stop the needle from wave riding. It looks cool too.
9. When the club speakers aren’t balanced, or there is NO MONITOR to speak of, it can be tough to mix. You can mix in your headphones using the PGM dial or slider. It will allow you to hear what the crowd is, on top of your cue record.
10. Ideally turntables are isolated from the dancefloor so the vibrations don’t transmit into the tonearm and make your needles jump. When you need to ISOLATE THE TURNTABLES, you can set the tables onto doubled up bar towels for cushion and/or tape a penny to the top of your headshells to keep the needle on the record. Be careful not to overweight it, you can wear out your needles and cue burn your records.
11. If you RUN OUT OF TIME ON A SONG, there are a few options. With vinyl emulation software you can jump back to a breakdown as long as you do it in time, or live loop at the tail end of the track so you have a continuous beat to mix out of. When all else fails, perform a standard fade like your iPod would. All are preferable to a train wreck or an abrupt stop in the music.
12. FORGOT YOUR MIC at home? You can plug your headphones into the mic jack on the mixer in a pinch. The sound isn’t always the best, but it might do the trick if you just need to make a quick shout out or let someone know that the left their lights on in the parking lot.
13. At home you rub your turntables with a diaper, but amateur DJs notoriously abuse house gear and bar owners refuse to service them. More often than not, you are left with one good and ONE BAD TURNTABLE. Keep a backup of songs on your phone or iPod to plug into an open channel on the mixer to DJ along with the good turntable. If you are using Serato, use the Input Reverse function to mix with one turntable. It could save your night!
14. If the club has turntables, they must have slip mats right? Not necessarily. Always bring a pair with you, but if you are caught WITHOUT SLIPMATS you can make some with a couple of paper towels in the shape of a cross, or cut a 12″ circle of plastic from a record sleeve. Butter.
15. When you have DRY SKIN it can be difficult to grip the records, but licking your fingers can be particularly unsanitary, especially when you are sharing the decks. Get a fingertip moistener, regularly used by cashiers and bank tellers, to give you the missing traction.
16. For digital DJs, the occasional EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE CRASH happens. This may seem like a no brainer, but keep a mirrored backup of your music library and crates in your bag and you won’t miss a beat. It can’t hurt to use a “rugged” type drive as well, dropping a drive while packing up drunk is all-too-common.
17. We want to play what we want, not A REQUEST. However, you may be able to satisfy a punter while maintaining your artistic integrity by playing a remix. They hear enough of the original track to be satisfied, and you keep the style in line with your set.
18. Having a successful good event is not just about playing great music and getting people dancing, it’s also about securing the next gig. No doubt your bartender will be filling your drink ticket orders all night, so TIP YOUR BARTENDER at the close of the night. It shows respect, and he/she will be more inclined to vouch for your at the next staff meeting (that you weren’t invited to) when they start axing DJs that aren’t cutting it.
19. People looking to hire a DJ for a private party don’t crack open the Yellow Pages, they talk to the DJ spinning at their local hangout. If you want to be in the running for a big pay day, CARRY YOUR CARD OR DEMO to pass along to a potential client.
20. It’s a good idea to find out what equipment the club is packing before you show up. If you call up and they don’t know what they have, chances are you will be faced with SUBSTANDARD EQUIPMENT the night of your event. It’s often a good idea to at least bring your own mixer to cut down surprises.
21. When your needles aren’t tracking, it’s probably GRIME ON THE STYLUS. If you don’t have a needle cleaning kit, for a quick fix you can clean them by carefully rubbing the tips of the pair together.
22. When working a spot that is too cheap to spring for a DJ bar tab, a savvy DJ will KEEP A FLASK of his favorite poison in his gig bag. It’s rare for the doorman to frisk the DJ, but party at your own risk. Those that don’t get caught, will save a pretty penny.
23. Separating yourself from the crowd is important to establishing your own identity as a DJ, if you want to STAND OUT. Make sure to dress the part, whatever your style. Most importantly, be consistent. It’s the only way to build a brand.
24. So you have potential drink spills covered with a keyboard cover, but the couple making out in front of the booth continues to wrack the shoddy structure. If you can’t make them move, or you are a romantic at heart, you can set your virtual deck to internal mode after each mix so a jumping needle won’t ruin your set.
25. Following another DJ with a seamless blend will keep the crowd moving, but you won’t stir things up. MAKE AN ENTRANCE at the start of your set. Turn off the turntable and let the other DJs track wind down. Start your set with a banger, or a well rehearsed scratch to bring the drama. DJing is a performance, show a little flare.