How To DJ A House Party? (+Valuable Tips)

When you first think about it DJing at a house party might sound like a pretty easy job. After all why couldn’t you do what you always do when you put your Spotify playlist on a Bluetooth speaker and just let it play until someone else takes control?

Well, if someone asks you to dj at a house party you probably will be the only person responsible for the music playing. This means that you’ll have to prepare an adequate party playlist, learn how to move between the songs in appropriate way and that you will most probably have to manage people requests during the party.

If you have either direct or indirect experience with other kinds of DJ gigs (you’ve played at a wedding, in the club or you’ve simply watched some DJ sets on Youtube) you probably realize that every situation calls for slightly different song selection, mixing techniques and each situation demands it’s own specific approach – a house party is one of those situations which will largely differ from every other situation that a DJ may find himself in.

  1. What kind of songs should I prepare?
  2. How many tracks do I need for my DJ set?
  3. Should I only play popular music at a house party?
  4. What if I don’t have a DJ controller yet?
  5. Can I mix music on my smartphone or a tablet?
  6. How to manage song requests?
  7. Can I DJ with the Spotify app?

What kind of songs should I prepare?

Generally speaking you will base your song selection on two factors: what is currently popular in the country you’re performing in and what is popular among the group that you anticipate to be your audience.

When you search for popular songs the best practice is to look at the top 10/top 50 charts in the local radio stations that are popular in the country you’re gonna be performing in. That way you won’t omit some really popular and well known songs that aren’t present for example in current world track popularity charts (that you should also explore for building your playlist).

What kind of music should you prepare?
What kind of music should you prepare? | Photo by: Ivan Dorofeev

When it comes to songs popular among the “party group” – so the people you’re gonna be playing for, it’s often not possible to assume their musical tastes when you don’t know the people directly. If you do however you might remember some songs that are popular in the group – those might be old hits or some less known songs popular in social media at the time – almost everything goes. This method of assumption is generally not perfect – while doing that you might find some songs that your closest friends enjoy but other people invited might not share their tastes.

When preparing music you should look mostly at the group’s averaged demographic and age. Then you might do some basic assumptions based on that and start building your playlist.

How many tracks do I need for my DJ set?

As a rule of thumb regarding house parties, you should have around 1000 tracks at hand to have a general comfort of choice during your mix. Yes, that seems to be a lot, but this will give you comfort of choice during your performance. If you have somewhere near 500 tracks you know well you might also get away with that.

Technically you might also be fine with 200 tracks but remember that it’s best to have broad choice – keep in mind you won’t be playing every single track from your library during the party – you will be choosing and picking specific tracks based on what’s happening around you and how the party goes.

There is a neat way to approximate how the number of songs that you predict are going to be played translates to the hours of music you have at hand.

Assuming that an average length of a track’s radio edit is around 3 minutes, club mixes are around 4 minutes in length excluding the track’s intro and outro, and not every song will be played in it’s entirety we can safely assume that an average single track will be playing for around 3 minutes in total. Our last assumption will be that you will most probably be playing about 75% of your library at most during the party.

Therefore ([number of songs*0.75] * 3)/60 ≈ approximate duration of playback in hours

Example: You have 50 songs, then: ([50*0.75]*3)/60 = 1.875h approximately 1.9h of continuous playback.

This definitely wouldn’t be enough for the whole night and you would have expand your playlist further. It would be great to go for at least around 30 hours of different genres of music for full flexibility – so somewhere near 800 tracks that you know.

Keep in mind that this is merely a rough approximation and in practice the numbers may vary.

If you’re using streaming services / record pools then you have access to almost unlimited track library at hand, however keep in mind that only the songs you know well should count towards the number of songs in your actual library as those are the tracks that you will be choosing from.

Should I only play popular music at a house party?

While it’s obviously beneficial to play tracks that are well known by a majority of the people at the party you will also need to prepare tracks that are going to be played between the hits and popular songs. Those “filler” tracks generally can also contain music that you enjoy – a good balance between “filler” tracks and popular dancey hits is one of the keys to a great party.

So besides popular tracks you will also have to prepare some “filler” tracks that are going to be playing between the “top 10 hits” and possibly requests. The filler tracks can be almost anything you want them to be as long as they are somewhat good for swaying around, dancing or jumping around to. House music often works best in this case but you can also use indie pop, all kinds and genres of EDM, older popular songs and so on. As long as it appeals the party-goers tastes it’s acceptable.

If you already know your way around a DJ controller you might find our article on Pop Music Mixing Tips And Tricks useful!

What if I don’t have a DJ controller yet?

No worries, the thing is I bet most of the people reading this article simply want to lead a house party and be confident about the music they’re playing and the majority of you don’t own a controller yet.

When DJing at your first house party the most important things will be the music selection and the speaker to supply the music to all the party-goers.

Make sure that in the place you’re going to be playing at there is a decent sound system (usually a home cinema, radio set or even a good quality loud bluetooth speaker will be enough).

Moreover ensure that you will be able to connect your smartphone, tablet or a laptop to the audio devices at the place and that you have the right cables to do so.

Can I mix music on my smartphone or a tablet?

Absolutely! In fact noone will really expect you to bring some sophisticated equipment with you. People will just want to hear the music they know, chat, dance around and enjoy their time and you are there to prove that you are capable of delivering the most appropriate tracks in a simple manner.

While it might seem counter intuitive for some, mixing on a smartphone, laptop or a tablet with a DJ app or software without any additional accessories is way harder than doing so on proper, only seemingly complicated DJ equipment. On a mobile device you won’t have access to headphone monitoring, physical equalizer controls and reliable track position controls which are in most cases essential for uninterrupted playback, smooth professional mix, beatmatching and track blending.

Do not worry however, using a DJing app or a simple music player will be all good as long as you know your way around the particular app and have the right music. I can’t really stress this enough but the track selection is one of the most important tasks of any DJ and key to a good performance in any environment.

To really sum it up mixing on a smartphone isn’t really reliable or convenient and you are missing out on many core features that “real” DJs have access to. If you are slowly getting into djing you should definitely consider getting a controller as early as you can! This way a whole new world will open up to you and you will be able to learn to mix tracks and perform with ease.

We have an extensive article about DJ gear for beginners – feel free to check it out here: What Equipment Do You Need To DJ?

How to manage song requests?

Throughout the party you will most likely encounter many people that will come to you with one particular reason in mind – to encourage you to play their favourite songs or other songs of their choice.

Here is how to manage song requests as a DJ.
Here is how to manage song requests as a DJ. | Photo by: Romina veliz

Whether you are a professional DJ or a beginner, managing crowd requests is always a seemingly difficult matter. At many times there will be situations where you will have to delay or decline a request altogether, and both the further decisions connected with that and the crowd reactions will be the things you will have to learn to deal with.

In general there are a few tips that are pretty useful when managing any musical requests at any party or gig:

  1. Remember that if you are in any way chosen as a person responsible for the music you are in most cases the only person that decides what is to be played. If you feel that a certain request will ruin the party mood or is not a good choice for the moment you have the right to act on that feeling.
  2. Alongside with no. 1 always remember that you are there for the people so you should balance out what do you personally think would be best and what do people want in your track selection process.
  3. Remember that you can always delay the requests – it’s up to you if you want to play the requested track immediately, after next two tracks or in half an hour.
  4. When you don’t know a requested song (and you are able to play it) try to listen to it either in your headphones (if you mix using a DJ controller) or on your second mobile device (if you have extra device at hand and play the tracks from another one) to decide whether or not the track is good for the particular moment.
  5. If you aren’t using streaming services or record pools and you are just playing back the files from your hard drive or smartphone there is no shame in saying “I don’t have this one.” Consider however to expand your library with streaming services or music pools for more flexibility while performing.

There are many other helpful tips regarding song requests applicable for all skill levels including useful things to respond with to the people with when you want to delay their request, making a request list prior to the party and so on. Those aren’t covered in this article.

All in all in terms of a house party generally you should be prepared for an overwhelming wave of requests – well knowing all this I hope you won’t be that overwhelmed – if you want just try and play requested songs that make sense in the particular context or that the majority of people want and when you want to deny a request try simply saying “I don’t have this one”, “We’re gonna search for this one later” or “Maybe later”. It probably won’t break anyone’s heart and a wrongly timed or selected track might be a real party killer in some cases. Managing requests is certainly one of the things that you learn with experience.

Can I DJ with the Spotify app?

You can always play the tracks straight from the Spotify app, however while track playback on small private parties legally is a bit in the “grey area”, commercial use of the Spotify app or playing tracks from Spotify app in “public places” directly violate the official Spotify terms of service and thus are prohibited.

If you are are wondering if you can make use of the Spotify app during a house party the direct anwser is: when you are playing music directly from the Spotify app at a small, private house party and you are not being paid for it then you are probably fine. Mind that it’s still technically a “grey area” as playing the songs for a private circle of friends might still be considered public playback by some.

For more info regarding this topic check out our extensive article: Can You DJ With Spotify?

Another thing to keep in mind is while playing music straight from a streaming app might seem easy and effortless it is also probably the most limiting way of “mixing” – in fact you won’t be able to do much besides choosing the right tracks and possibly using the auto-crossfade function which will try to automatically blend two consecutive tracks together to avoid silence in between them (you can turn that on inside the settings menu).

While the choice of the tracks is still one of the most important tasks of a DJ, “Mixing” with streaming apps is in general risky in eyes of the law and technically unreliable.

Although Spotify recently moved out from the DJing world by prohibiting the use of their library in DJ software, there are some apps that can still legally make use of their music library. You can for example check out the Pacemaker app project that mixes tunes from your Spotify playlist for you (for now available only for Apple devices).

Your music streaming alternatives are also Tidal and Soundcloud that at this moment benefit from more friendly ToS and are actually built in in some DJ apps out there.

Watch the people!

After a few glances on the “dancefloor” you will be able to assess the general mood of the room – whether the people are dancing or not, are there many people near you or are they all in the next room talking etc. Watch and try to understand how does the music you’re playing affect the situation – there isn’t really a cheat code or a secret formula that will help you with reading the crowd – this is also one of the situations in which you should trust your inner feelings and your crowd reading skills are bound to improve with time and experience.

Have fun! – seriously!

You’re gonna say: Hey, that’s not really a useful tip for performing well! Well actually it is – when you’re having fun dancing around, moving to the music and having a great time altogether all the people will get hyped alongside with you. At every gig – small or large, people tend to gaze at the DJ from time to time (after all usually DJs are located in an easily visible highlighted spot) and they subconsciously associate the DJ’s persona with the general mood at the party. Even when you aren’t exactly a party monster try to act cheerfully and just enjoy the music while passively passing the good vibe to all the people. It really works wonders!

With these tips you'll be able to DJ an unforgettable house party in no time!
With these tips you’ll be able to DJ an unforgettable house party in no time! | Photo by: Ramille Soares

Best of luck! Remember that house parties in general aren’t meant to be taken that seriously in terms of technical mixing or professional performances. Think about the music choice, fill in the gaps in your library beforehand, get a controller of some kind, DJ App or software and rock on!

Main photo by: Jacob Bentzinger

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