Artist Advice: Etiquette For Opening DJs

Being an opening DJ is a tough gig. The crowd doesn't really care about you and your crate is limited. However, it is an opportunity to show just how skilled a DJ you are and experiment with your selections.
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We started the discussion about etiquette for being an opening musical act with bands. Now it is time to turn our focus to what opening DJs need to adhere to when performing their craft. Many of the rules that apply to bands also apply to DJs, but there are some stark differences. Your environment will be a bit different from concert venues to clubs, but always be flexible in your set times, keeping set up to a minimum and making sure to be on time are all constants. Now it is time to dive into what to do as a DJ when being the warm up act.

1. Warm Up The Crowd:

Unlike a warm up band, which is there to showcase their music, a warm up DJ is there to set the table for the night. A band should also try and create an atmosphere that gets the crowd into the night, but they are there to play their set with very few limitations musically. A DJ needs to be more flexible to the situation and adapt to the type of crowd and headlining DJ. It is your job to get the crowd warm, make sure people are on the dancefloor and the place is buzzing. There should be a sense of excitement for the headliner, but also a sense of enjoyment from the music you are playing. Invite people into the night with some slower records, while also mixing in some more leftfield tracks to try and pique the interest of some. Use it as a time to experiment.

2. Don’t Play Bangers:

Don’t play big records in your set. Don’t just pick out the top tracks of the moment and then play them to warm up the crowd. You may think that this is your shot to make an impression and really get the crowd to like you, but don’t do that. Dig deeper and get tracks that will surprise the crowd and lull them into the night. Build the set as you would hope a good DJ would, creating an inviting vibe for everyone on the dancefloor to lose themselves. Don’t put people to sleep with your selections, going with 16-minute ambient records or pure drone music warming for a hard-hitting techno DJ, but also read the room, know your headliner’s discography and find a rhythm. Even if some people in the crowd seem like they want bangers because they came from a pre-game and are all hyped up, show some restraint and continue to build your set.

3. Don’t Upstage The Headliner:

Your job isn’t to be the highlight of the night. Your job is to set the table so the headliner can crush it. This means trying any stage antics like jumping on the decks or hand motions on stage to try and get the crowd’s attention like the wave or a sit down. Don’t play music that is more energetic than them or get on the microphone demanding for more energy from the crowd. In general, just stay off the microphone. Most people there won’t care about you, so they won’t whoop and holler for your attempts to get noise.

4. Don’t Play The Headliner’s Music:

This is an obvious one, but is something that warm-up DJs mess up too much. Don’t play the headliners music. Don’t play a remix, a bootleg or anything that has to do with their music. If they have a label, veer away from music on it. That is their own discography and they will likely play it. You aren’t doing it as recognition of their greatness, but instead confusing the crowd, throwing off the main DJ and pissing them off. You will get an angry tweet and likely never be able to open for that DJ ever again.

5. Don’t Redline:

This is another simple one, but don’t redline the mixer and play too loud. There is the facetious saying, “if you aren’t redlining, you aren’t headlining” – well you aren’t headlining, so you sure as hell shouldn’t be redlining. If the headliner wants to destroy eardrums in the club and push the volume to the brink, then they can. You can’t. There should be that extra level of energy AND volume when the headliner comes on.

6. You Can Play Your Own Music, But It Has To Fit Your Role & Vibe:

Playing your own music is ok, but it has to fit the gig. If you produce as well, then your music would be a factor in the booking decision, but if you have some variety and have done remixes for pop stars or artists outside of your normal genre range, avoid them if they don’t fit the vibe of the night. Don’t force your music into your set just to try and showcase it. Your warm-up can be a chance to get weird, but do it in the right directions.

7. Be Mindful Of Venue, Vibe & Gig:

When you get the gig, do some research on the venue, the types of people it books and how it positions itself in the nightlife business. Does it support certain social causes? What types of party crews run through there? Make sure to hit the dancefloor there a few times because you won’t truly know how to make that crowd work if you haven’t been in it yourself. Know everything you can on the headliner, what makes them tick and what crowds they draw. See if you can find out what types of warm-ups they like and use that as one piece of information in your overall strategy for the night. Take the gig seriously and it will show. Prepare well, come with the right music and understand the vibe you need to set.

8. Don’t Force Yourself Or Your Demos On Headliner:

The DJ you are opening for may be in the midst of a heavy touring schedule. They might be coming straight to the club from the airport or from their hotel, which they were only there briefly to drop off their stuff. They may be exhausted and have little patience for a local warm-up DJ trying to chat about clubbing or festival gigs or DJ gossip. If you get to the topic of your music and they ask about it, offer to send them something. Some DJs are turning against having people give them physical USBs of music, but have one on hand in case. If a connection is made, don’t just talk to the DJ, but also to a tour manager as well who may remember you a little better. If there is no time, leave them be, say hello, tell them what you need to about the booth and then stick around for their set.

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