This post may contain affiliate links. See our disclosure for more info.
DJ nights are great fillers for bars and venues in between their bigger shows. Although some people in the industry loathe them ("start a real band!" they'll say), they are an integral component to building a solid music scene in a city.
I started Get Sad Y'all, our emo night, from scratch with no true experience. Been at it for over two years now and it's fair to say it's been fairly successful. I've learned a ton over that time and have dumped my thoughts in the post below to hopefully help out anyone looking to start their own DJ event.
Let's hop to it.
Before you can start a DJ night, you need somewhere to host it. Maybe you want to try it at a friend's house to work out the kinks or maybe you want to jump into the fire like I did; either way, you'll need to line up a venue.
Since my experience is in public events, let's run through that process. Look into local bars and music venues in your area. Think small - it's more difficult to pack a 100 person room than you'd think. Additionally, think about the vibe of the establishment. Find a place that would be a good fit for the genre of your event - probably a poor idea to try an 80s night out at a country bar.
Once you find a couple that might work, hit up their website/social media and look for a booking contact. This info is typically found on the Contact Us page on their site or in the About section on Facebook.
Tip: I prefer to dig until I find an actual email instead of a contact form as I've had much better luck getting a response when I'm sure it's going directly to a human being.
Shoot an email to a couple talent buyers explaining what you're trying to do. Treat it like equal parts job interview and sales pitch: you're trying to convince someone you don't know to risk losing money on you and your event. Be honest and respectful, and provide as much as information about your potential event as possible. NEVER promise anything you can't deliver on - you're not bringing out 500 people the first time.
Hopefully the first person you email gives you the go-ahead (I got lucky, thanks John), but if not, keep reaching out to people and don't get discouraged. This industry is mostly people telling you "no" for whatever reason, but all you need is one "yes."
Now that you've got a venue secured, you need to think about what equipment you're going to use onstage.
Sure, for something like this, you could plug your phone into an aux cable and hit shuffle play on a Spotify playlist. If you're doing this at a house party, by all means go for it. Probably not gonna fly at a venue though.
So that means you'll need to get some gear to look more professional. If you're unsure what to get, the setup I use for Get Sad Y'all is fairly inexpensive, reliable, and a good place to start. It includes:
- Macbook Pro from like 2013
- Djay Pro 2
- Pioneer DDJ-SB2 DJ Controller (discontinued, so here's the SB3)
- A laptop stand
- RCA cable
- Male to Female Audio Stereo Adapter
- 2x Direct Injection (DI) Boxes (optional)
The DI boxes are optional because most venues have them onsite - I've only run into one that didn't - but everything else is imperative for a successful setup, including the gd RCA cable. Forgot one once in Wilmington and the sound guy had to use an AV cable from a N64. And then our friends in Empty put a whole in the wall and temporarily broke a stage light with a headbutt. Fun night, love those dudes.
Alright, you've got a venue, you're got some gear, now it's time to answer the most important question: what music should I play?
Hopefully, you've made the decision to start this event because you're passionate about the genre you've chosen and this step will be fairly easy. For example, I've been an emo kid for the majority of my life, so picking songs for the first Get Sad Y'all was TOO easy - I think I had 10 hours of music on the initial playlist.
The key in picking music is to trend towards the popular tracks. These are the songs that will hit the most people and get the crowd into your set. If you want to play some deep cuts, that's cool and honestly I'd encourage it, but always sandwich them between popular songs to not kill the vibe completely.
I run across this issue a ton with our guests, especially ones who haven't done an emo night before, where they send their playlist and it's 85% first-wave emo (Promise Ring, American Football, Braid, etc). This is dope and these tracks should definitely be recognized, but scatter them in there between your Fall Out Boy and Panic songs - thanks again to Justin and Josh from Motion City Soundtrack for mastering this method last year.
Once you think you've got the music squared away, dump it all in a playlist and listen, listen, listen. Tweak the order and tracks until you get a nice flow then practice going through the playlist on your DJ setup.
I can't stress this part enough: P R A C T I C E, especially if you've never been on a stage before. You'll want to have this down pat so you can just do your thing the night of the event and focus on other issues, like trying not to stress vomit or whatever.
If you do your event multiple times, this section will be second nature - I'm not sure the last time I actually planned out a set - but for the first one, control it as much as you can beforehand.
I like to create a nice vibe in the room so when people walk into the venue, they know that they're at a Get Sad Y'all event. Balloons, lights, a banner onstage, our logo on the tablecloth, things like that. People remember the environment and they also provide a nice photo op to build your presence on socials.
For your first event, don't break the bank. I think for our first one all we had was a few balloons, guitar picks with emo Sir Walter on them, and a setlist that I threw out at the end of the night (wonder if anyone has that still); it doesn't have to be much to make an impact.
Just hit up the dollar store and grab a few things that fit the vibe of your event to enhance the experience.
Gonna be lame and make you come back for that guide tomorrow. It deserves its own post!
You've made it to the day of the show. Congrats on not dying from stress!
I can't tell you how to act onstage - figure that out in the planning stages to, again, fit whatever vibe you're going for - but I can tell you how to act.
- Get there early.
- Stay on schedule.
- Be respectful to the venue staff.
- Follow the sound engineer's instructions and guidance.
- Stay as calm and relaxed as you possible can.
- Don't sweat the little things.
- Put on the same show regardless of how many people are in the room.
But most importantly, have fun and kill it up there.
Give people a night they'll remember.
Photo by Kevin DeJong.