How To Prepare For Your First DJ Gig? – A Vital Checklist

Preparing for your first DJ gig sometimes might be very stressful. If you don’t have much experience yet, you need to carefully brace yourself for many expected and unexpected predicaments. We’ve put together a helpful first gig checklist that will make your preparations easier. Read on!

  1. Know the DJ equipment you’ll be playing on
  2. Note the differences in audio monitoring
  3. Bring a backup USB drive
  4. Organize your tracks properly
  5. Watch the people
  6. Practice beforehand, the “Mini-mix” approach
  7. Make yourself familiar with the place first
  8. Don’t overuse audio FX
  9. Show up early
  10. Be prepared for making mistakes

1. Know the DJ equipment you’ll be playing on

Before any kind of gig you have to consult with the venue about the kind of equipment you plan to use and what do you expect to already be there when you arrive (power cord extensions, number of outlets etc.).

Usually this is done with an aid of a short document called a DJ rider, but realistically, often you will settle those things simply by contacting the venue manager, many times via a regular phone call. Most things depend on the venue but the responsibility to communicate your needs is on your side.

What Is A DJ Rider? (Technical Rider Prep Guide)

In some of the larger venues and clubs there is a possibility that there will already be a set of equipment present for you to use (for example a CDJ setup owned or rented for a long term by the venue), in most other cases however you will be expected to bring your own DJ controller or provide another kind of setup that will allow you to carry on with your work. Be sure that you know how all this works at your specific venue beforehand!

In many professional environments such as bigger clubs and music festivals all the gear information is shared with the use of a short document called a DJ rider or a technical rider.
In many professional environments such as bigger clubs and music festivals all the gear information is shared with the use of a short document called a DJ rider or a technical rider.

Don’t stress it if you don’t have a higher-end DJ controller yet. In many bars or pubs you can see laptop-only DJs and DJs performing using controllers like the now ancient Numark DJ2GO. In most cases they are able to provide hours of great music to people without worrying about gear they were using.

This is often the case with rock bars or pubs. In terms of house-parties, weddings or proms, most of the time people don’t care what you are doing in your DJ booth, they simply just care about the music.

In bigger venues and clubs though you may be expected to have at least an entry-level DJ controller on you. Read more about laptop-only DJing here:

Can I DJ With Just A Laptop? – Do You Really Need A DJ Controller?

2. Note the differences in audio monitoring

In cramped club environments or in large event halls there are bound to be some sound issues or better said venue-specific audio characteristics that you’ll have to be aware of and which may confuse you at first.

If you’re used to mixing at home with your headphones or monitor speakers you will probably be surprised on how different the sound works in different kind of venues.

Be prepared for certain troubles with audio monitoring at the beginning, as you will have to get used to the sound characteristics of both the PA and monitor systems and the room or hall itself. The audio you will hear from the PA system can often come off muddy in smaller rooms and in some cases can even be slightly delayed because of the way the sound is spreading in the room.

-> How to DJ: Masterclass – Everything you need to know to become a performing DJ! <-

In both cases learning to mix using your headphones only is your best bet. Referring solely to your headphone audio output will be always a better option in terms of timing or sound clarity. But don’t forget to watch your audio levels.

Sound characteristics of tight club spaces might be difficult to deal with at first.
Sound characteristics of tight club spaces may be difficult to deal with at first. | Photo: Redd

At most times you will have to turn your headphone or monitor levels way up compared to the levels used during bedroom mixes. Just be sure not to damage your hearing while doing so.

Remember to mind your overall audio levels too, it’s always better to hear “Hey, turn it up!” rather than “Turn it down a bit, would ya?”.

3. Bring a backup USB drive

Assuming you’re not playing from CD’s, vinyl records, or you don’t have your whole library stored on your laptop’s hard drive, you will most probably have an USB drive with all your music on it with you.

These things easily and often get lost, rarely they get damaged, less often they get stolen. Despite the rarity of those events, it’s always a good idea to bring a backup USB drive with the exact copy of the data on your original USB stick.

It never hurts to have a backup USB stick with your tracks on you! | Photo: Sara Kurfeß
It never hurts to have a backup USB stick with your tracks on you! | Photo: Sara Kurfeß

When doing that be sure that you store the backup USB device in a different place from the original one. This will minimalize the risk of losing both of your storage devices at the same time.

The very same backup rule should be also applied to small audio cables and adapters. Not only you can lose, damage or forget to bring some of these, but many times over at small venues trivial things such as audio adapters may simply be missing.

4. Organize your tracks properly

This is probably one of the most important points in this list. Organizing your tracks is vital to a efficient, smooth and well thought out performance, and you should start preparing your playlists at least a week before your event.

Perhaps the most important part of a successful gig is proper music library preparation!
Perhaps the most important part of a successful gig is proper music library preparation!

We’ve put together a detailed insightful article about organizing and managing your audio files library and your crates and playlists in your DJ software. Give it a read and you won’t regret it!

How To Organize Your Tracks/Songs – DJ Playlists Guide

If you organize your tracks in a right way and sort them into meaningful playlists you won’t have much trouble building your tracklist on the fly or choosing a next track to play. Trust us on this one!

5. Watch the people

In a sense the people’s reactions are the only thing that serves you as true feedback and tells you how well you’re really doing. The non-obvious thing here is that there is no magical formula for reading the crowd, and yet it is one of the most important skills a DJ should possess.

Whether or not you know some things about psychology or have some technical knowledge in terms of human behavior in crowds in general, after some time you will be able to easily tell if what you’re doing influences the crowd in some way, what are the signs that what you’re doing is good, and if your actions and chosen tracks are being appreciated by your audience.

Watching the people will give you insight on if what you're doing is working out!
Watching the people can give you insight on the quality of your performance! | Photo: Alexander Popov

For a first time, a good advice would be to simply go with your gut feelings and force yourself to often shift your focus from your decks to the people. For starters, try and look at one chosen person on the dancefloor at some point and see if they are enjoying themselves. After glancing at few randomly chosen people you will be able to get a better image on what is happening on the dancefloor or in the room in general.

After learning how the crowd reacts to certain things and how you should react to that you will be much more efficient in terms of choosing tracks to play. The best way to learn that is through experience.

6. Practice beforehand, the “Mini-mix” approach

While you certainly shouldn’t prepare and memorize the whole DJ set and the blindly reenact the carefully planned and track sequence during the event, you can easily practice transitions, sudden track changes, beatmatching on random tracks from your library in a similar tempo range at home.

You can also prepare so-called “mini-mixes” – sequences of 2-3 tracks in a similar feel with more complex transitions between them that you’ll practice a few times. Those can be really useful for beginners.

Those “mini-mixes” used at the right time can not only be a useful asset when you run out of ideas and want to slow things down, but also a great confidence booster, as you have the track transitions already prepared and rehearsed.

Just remember to be ready to jump off from the “mini-mix” train when the situation calls for it. Always be mindful that the tracklist during your live performance should be flexible and should depend on the situation on the dancefloor.

There are of course some exceptions when you have to strictly follow your pre-planned track list – for instance performance mixes.

7. Make yourself familiar with the place first

Visit the venue before your gig. This will make you much more confident when you get to the place in the day of the actual event.

If it’s a club, It’s always a good idea to spend one evening there a few days prior to your performance, if it’s any other kind of a venue such as a reception hall, in most cases you can easily request to visit it before your gig.

If you can, it's good to visit the place you'll be performing at, a few days prior to your gig. | Photo: Markus Winkler
If you can, it’s good to visit the place you’ll be performing at, a few days prior to your gig. | Photo: Markus Winkler

This again will make you way less nervous and way more confident as you will approach the place with the “I’ve been here before and I know this place already” mentality in the day of your gig. Many people overlook this little tip and it can give you a nice confidence boost. It can also uncover some technical difficulties that you would be unaware of, if you’d jumped straight into the venue on the day of your performance.

8. Don’t overuse audio FX

I know that this probably has been said over and over again in many of the DJing communities but: don’t butcher the tracks with too much unnecessary audio FX. There are really no strict rules here, just keep this general rule in mind and you will be fine.

Be especially careful with overusing loop rolls and hi-pass/low-pass filter as those effects usually being easily accessible from most DJ controllers and player tend to be most prone to excessive use.

9. Show up early

Give yourself some time to prepare. If it’s possible it would be ideal to arrive approximately one hour before your planned gig, set everything up and do the initial sound-check. This will give you time to solve technical problems that may arise during the initial setup.

Keep in mind that many times over in club environments another DJ will be mixing before you. In that case it’s still a good idea to arrive at least half an hour before your set to mitigate the risk of getting late or jumping straight to the decks which can make you way more nervous than you should be.

Get there early and give yourself time for preparation and sound-check. | Photo: Joppe Spaa
Get there early and give yourself time for preparation and sound-check. | Photo: Joppe Spaa

It’s also important not to compare yourself to the people who were playing before you or might be performing after you. After all at the end of the day you should be having fun whilst doing your job and you should be focused solely on providing the people at the venue with good music. Do it as best as you can a hundred times over and you will grow in no time!

10. Be prepared for mistakes

Everybody makes mistakes, seriously, and you are not the first one to stop the wrong deck and have the whole club go silent for the awkward 10 seconds.

Those things can and will happen, especially when you perform in a new unknown environment for the first time. There are only two ways to avoid making too much mistakes – either learning from others, or learning from your own experience. Don’t let a few unavoidable mess-ups drag you down!

About learning from other people’s mistakes; we have a great article on some of the most common beginner level DJ mistakes – check it out so you can try and avoid them during your first gig!

The Big 10 – Top Most Common DJ Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

Good luck and rock on!

[Article thumbnail photos: Pavel Pjatakov, Sammy Williams, Antoine J.]

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