You know that feeling: It’s been an hour since you started DJing, and you still feel rusty and awkward, like you haven’t found your groove yet. Or maybe you’re left scratching your head as you unplug your headphones and step out of the DJ box because it seemed like you weren’t connecting with your crowd, no matter how hard you tried to make musical contact with the dancefloor. You sigh and say to yourself: “Yup, it’s one of those nights.”
However bad you think it was, here’s the good news: ALL DJs experience “off nights” and bad sets, from the newest of the newbies to the biggest festival headliners. They are a fact of DJ life – the more you gig, the more likely you are to come across technical issues that muck up your performance, difficult crowds that seem unresponsive, or performances where you just aren’t “feeling it”.
Was it really that bad?
The more accomplished you are, the more likely you are to feel like some gigs “sucked”, even though they were quite decent from an audience’s perspective. Why is that? This is something I call the “High Performer Paradox”. The High Performer Paradox is a condition where the better and more accomplished you are as a DJ, the more you notice little errors that you’ve made, the majority of which aren’t noticed by anyone else but you.
This is because you’ve been gigging for a while now, and your standards for DJing and live performance have elevated from when you were just starting out. It’s not a bad thing, but it pays to be aware of this phenomenon.
Perhaps it was a transition that didn’t go as planned because you missed your cue, or you dropped a radio edit instead of a club mix. Whatever it is, all these little errors add up, and there is a tendency for us to be extra hard on ourselves at the end of a gig. You beat yourself up, and this can be damaging to your confidence and your DJing if you don’t keep it in check.
No matter how bad your set was, here are some tips to get you back on your feet.
3 Tips To Get Back On Track
1. Gather feedback from people you value
If you’ve had a particularly bad evening, chances are at least one (usually inebriated) person has come up to you to express his or her disdain for your performance. Maybe the other DJs in the bar or club shook their heads or laughed at you while you train-wrecked a mix that you felt pressured into doing.
Whatever it is, take all of these with a grain of salt – people can be unusually mean when telling you off at a gig. Instead of listening to some drunk patrons or anonymous keyboard warriors on Facebook / Twitter, get feedback from someone you trust who was there – it could be the promoter who you know will give you an honest evaluation of your performance, or maybe a close friend who knows your style of DJing well. The key is to get an honest, objective piece of information that you can use to get better.
The feedback will be more valuable coming from these people than from a bunch of punters who flipped you the bird because you didn’t play their request. Never listen to haters, ever.
2. Recreate the “off” moments and work them out
If you’re getting sleepless nights thinking about that awkward transition that you made, muster up the courage to fire up your DJ software and try to recreate it in the privacy of your bedroom. Being behind the decks often places us under a microscope – we’re hyper-alert to things that we do that may or may not even be perceived by the crowd, and doing it in a safe space lets you hear things from a different, more objective point of view.
Maybe you messed up your playlists and couldn’t find a track that you needed to drop at the right time. Work out whether or not your music management and playlist habits are still serving you, or if they’re just making it tougher for you to locate the songs you actually want to play.
Often, it won’t be that bad, and even if it was cringe-worthy, learn what went wrong and work out how to do it better next time by practicing it until you get it right. This is also known as deliberate practice. DJing is fun, but real practice, as in the type that helps you grow, isn’t – it involves scrutinizing your technique based on the feedback you received, and then knuckling down to work out exactly how to improve. This is a big secret of all top performers, and it’s the only way forward, especially if you’ve found yourself plateauing in terms of DJ technique.
3. Accept it and move on with some key learnings
Now that you’ve asked for feedback and made it a point to get better through deliberate practice, it’s time to let that bad gig go. Replaying the scene over and over in your head leads to unhealthy ruminating that will eat you up over time – I know this because I used to be that way with just about any sort of negative comment or insult that was thrown at me during a gig. It got so bad that there are days where I’d stay in bed just thinking about them. Trust me, it’s never worth your time or mental effort.
Besides, it may have been awful, but it rarely ever is as terrible as you think. The most crucial thing here is that you learned what was wrong and why it was bad to begin with, and you’ve taken action to improve.
The biggest DJs have all experienced messing up at least once (this is why “DJ fails” are so popular), but even the worst of technical guffaws haven’t done much to tarnish their brands: think about David Guetta, Steve Aoki, and Calvin Harris. They’re still raking it in and working harder than 99% of all DJs out there who have had a laugh at their expense at one point or another.
No matter how big your audience gets and no matter how many rave reviews you receive, a DJ performance will never go 100% according to plan. That’s why you’ve got to respect the act and art of DJing – half-decent gigs can sometimes turn out to be all-out ragers, and the most important performance of your life that you’ve worked so hard for can turn out to be a dud.
This is what makes DJing such a complex, delicate, and unpredictable endeavor that is worth pursuing, as opposed to the “press play and wave your hands in the air” oversimplification that critics make it out to be. Regardless of the outcome, you should always prepare for every gig you play at. This is what separates professionals from amateurs.
If you’re reading this after you’ve just played the worst set of your life, hold your head high: DJing is risky. Sharing your music with others and putting yourself out there is a brave thing to do. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back on it.
What was the worst DJ gig you played? Have you ever played a “bad” DJ gig where the only person who thought it went south was you? Share your stories with us below.