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Notes For New DJs

August 9, 2012

I’m often asked to give some tips to new DJs, and in previous notes I’ve gone into a lot of detail on how to use Blip.fm and Grooveshark.com.

Having recently had to learn to DJ on a cell-phone with no Flash Player, though, I’ve had to simplify my DJ technique – and discovered to my amazement that it actually works more simply and is a lot more versatile.

That makes it the ideal way for a new DJ to start, with as little tech stuff as possible to get in your way.

That’s not to say that Blip and Grooveshark don’t have a lot of uses. They do – but for convenience and ease I think this beats them.

So, let’s rock ‘n roll…

1. Decide on what you want to play.

Often the decision will be made for you – in most occasions you’ll be invited to DJ for, the organizers will have picked the theme already.

If it’s something you know a lot of songs about, that’s great, but it’s very likely that you’ll often find it won’t be – themes are often chosen precisely because they are unusual, and often the most challenging part of a DJ’s job is to find some music that fits in with them.

Fortunately, a DJ has an ally that the audience won’t think of – Google.

2. Do a search under “Top *theme* songs”. You’ll see a choice of collections related to your theme. Right-click on a few of them and choose Open In New Tab (or whatever equivalent wording your browser may use). Look at the first one and see which songs particularly interest you.

3. Copy each title and artist you’re interested in and paste it into a document or text editor (I use Open Office, but any one you like will do just fine).

4. Now open another browser window and go to http://tinysong.com. It’s as well to keep your search responses pages open while you’re using tinysong, as some of your choices may not be available and you may need to pick some more.

5. Copy and paste one of your song choices, along with the artist’s name – it doesn’t really matter which order you put them in – & click on Search or just press Enter. In a few seconds you should see a page with your chosen song on it.

You may see several possible links to it – often they’re the same one sourced through different search engines, but sometimes they are genuinely different versions.

See which, if any, looks more suited to your needs – you may prefer a live version to a studio version or vice versa, for example, or you might like a particular remix or a digitally remastered one. If the artist or genre is known for explicit lyrics and you don’t feel they are suitable, look for a link that says Radio Edit or Single Version – that will have a version that’s not embarrassing to play.

6. Click on the Preview button to the left of your chosen track name and listen to a bit of the track. If it’s not the version you want, click it again to stop it and move on to the next one.

When you find a version you like, click the Preview button again to stop it (otherwise a few moments later you’re going to be playing two versions of the track at once and you won’t be able to stop the Preview without back-tracking – which as by then you’ll need the info on the next page is time-consuming and annoying, and a mistake I’ve made too many times to count!).

7. Now click the Share button at the right hand side of the track name. In the page that comes up, click Copy To Clipboard – the link in smaller print underneath the main one.

DON’T click the main one first. It’s the natural thing to do, but once it takes you to the Grooveshark page it’s again an annoying wait to backtrack to collect your tinysong link.

8. Next, click the main link. It will probably take several seconds for the Grooveshark page to load and start to play the song – over a whole set these delays really add up, so when you’re starting out you need to allow yourself plenty of time to prepare your set.

When your track starts to play, take a look at the timer at the bottom of the screen. If it’s around 3-4 minutes, that’s great. If it’s around 5 it’s a good plan not to schedule it next to another long track, and if it’s much more than that it’s probably a good idea to go back to tinysong and try another version.

9. When you’ve got the version that you want, paste your tinysong link from your clipboard into your text file beside the song and artist names, and make a note of the time the track lasts.

Often you won’t need that, but it only takes a moment and it may affect the running order – for example, if you want to save a specially appropriate song till last and it takes 4 minutes, it’s no use starting it with just 2 minutes of your set left to run.

Also, you need to be quite sure you have enough material, and some songs actually don’t last as long as you imagine.

I work on an average of 3 mins for each song, but although that in theory means I want 20 songs for each hour set, I like to have a good few in reserve – you never know when the next DJ might be delayed or not be able to turn up at all (equipment failures can pick some seriously bad moments to occur!), and sometimes a track that played just fine when you listed it has gone unavailable by the time you post its link.

10. When you’ve got all the tracks you need listed in your text file, it’s time to start to plan your running order.

Choose your two strongest tracks to start and finish with, then organize the rest in any order that you like – though unless it’s meant to be a gentle and reflective set it’s usually best not to play too many slow or quiet ones together.

11. Decide on how you want to introduce them.

The style you use is absolutely up to you. Some DJs like to say something like, “Now playing – *song*, by *artist*” – others like to say something individual.

The important thing is to use a style you’re comfortable with. The style doesn’t matter in the slightest – the sincerity does. The audience will realize in a heartbeat if you’re not comfortable with what you’re doing – & they won’t be, either.

You can play it safe, or cut loose & have some fun – as long as you use a style that’s authentic to YOU, that’s all that matters.

If you want to say something original, you might want to write yourself a script the first few times you DJ. If so, put your comments beside your song link, test the whole thing in your Twitter “Compose tweet” box & if it turns out to be too long (including hashtag), adjust it till it fits.

DON’T be tempted to take the “Shorten link?” option – seeing tinysong in your tweet will show the audience you’re sending them a music link. Trust me on this – no matter how many times they’re told that you’re the DJ, there WILL be folks out there who’ll think you’re trying to spam them otherwise!!

Replace the original in your text file with the new version and save it ready to tweet during your set. You can always ad-lib if a better comment strikes you, but if it doesn’t you’ve got one to hand.

If you don’t want, or need, to use a script, that’s fine. First time I DJ’d I used a script. Second time I started with a script and ad-libbed from half-way through. Third time I didn’t bother with a script, nor have I since.

Again, it all comes down to what you’re comfortable with – but if you have the slightest doubt of being able to ad-lib your way through a whole set successfully, play safe and write yourself some intros in advance. You can always ignore them and ad-lib if the mood takes you.

12 If you’re DJ’ing for a fundraiser, tweet the link within the first 5 minutes of your set, then around 20, 40 and 55 minutes into it.

The exact times don’t matter, but make sure you don’t do it immediately after the previous DJ or immediately before the next one.

If someone else, eg a barktender, tweets the charity link you can RT it, but don’t bombard the audience with it – you might be surprised how quickly people tune stuff out! (Just ask yourself how many times you really NOTICE the TV commercials…)

If possible, have an extra account ready to use if you land up in Twitmo. Most of us do at some point, and it’s vitally important that you have a way to carry on.

To stay out of Twitmo, try to keep off Twitter for at least an hour (preferably two) before your DJ set.

If you’re using an app that lets you have a lot of Twitter windows open, close as many of them as you can, and if possible, use pretty nearly ANYTHING except the Twitter API – it has a seriously low Twitmo thresh-hold.

If you plan to DJ regularly, set up a spreadsheet including song name, artist, song length, genre, decade and “suitable for” columns – that way you’ll have material available for pretty much any occasion anyone can throw at you, and you can plan your set with a click on the Sort command.

Always, though, check your links are current before you start – they aren’t going to give you a heads-up when they go unavailable. You don’t need play them all the way through to check they’re OK – if they start to play, they’re fine.

Don’t worry if you get stage-fright – most of us do. It’s just adrenalin building up, ready to power your performance. If it bothers you, do something to relax. Deep breathing is particularly good, or you might like to do some stretching exercises. I like to play a couple of songs just for myself, and without tweeting them, of course, before I start.

If you’re aware of the possibility of stage-fright, you’ll handle it just fine – it’s when you don’t expect it and it strikes that it can catch you off your guard and give you a seriously unpleasant experience.

Above all else, have fun – the audience won’t enjoy it unless YOU do! Go with the energy of the music, & let it flow through you and inspire you to entertain the audience – remember, the artists that you’re playing have already done the hard work, & all YOU have to do is to present their work to an audience that’s hungry to be entertained.

Put your heart and love of music into playing to them, and you’ll be a great DJ.

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From → Shayna's Diary

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