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Building Your First DJ Set: What I wish I Knew Before

So, you've decided to start DJing and got booked for your first show -- now what? Let's start off with song selection. This is going to take a lot of trial and error as you find your style, which will come with practice. DJing in front of people is a very different and stimulating experience compared to DJing in your bedroom, because so much of DJing is feeling the energy in the room and reading people. In the beginning, go with the songs that make you personally dance or feel good. It can be helpful as a beginner to start with songs in a similar tempo (bpm) or genre, but it's not necessary. When I started, I was all over the map with genre (still am) and found that to be my personal style, but that doesn't have to be yours. Whatever makes you feel good, it's an individual preference.

While there are a ton of free or cheap songs out there, the quality isn't always going to be the same on high quality speakers as it will be on your computer at home. If you have a little bit of money to invest, I recommend buying songs from places that will provide WAV formats, so you can ensure lasting quality with your music. While the difference may be subtle, I have noticed a significant change in how people feel and move to the music when the quality is there.

Additionally, if you are booked for an hour long set, depending on how fast you mix, I recommend having at least double or triple the amount of music for the time you're booked for. So, for an hour set, I'll prepare two to three hours of music and even more if the vibe fits -- always prepare way more than you think you need, because if the next DJ is late or doesn't show up, you'll need to step up and keep playing. It's a really uncomfortable situation if you don't have enough music that fits the vibe of the space you're playing, so prepare for anything and everything.

This brings me to my next point, go in to every show with this mindset of... anything that can go wrong will go wrong. It sounds bleak, but trust me, it will save you a lot of pain and allow you to remain calm in a stressful situation. I remember my very first show, I turned my laptop on, plugged my controller in (before I used CDJs) and pressed play, and then....silence. Nothing was working on my controller! I was in panic. I ended up DJing straight from the laptop to the best of my ability. Looking back, that was the greatest learning experience to kick off my career and certainly not the last.

USBs fail, power turns off, you run out of music, the songs are all corrupt, the music isn't playing, you didn't export with the right software, or you didn't bring the right tunes for the situation or expect to play that long...these things all happen. Expect it. Things will fail. So, what can you do to prepare? Bring at least 3 USBs, have backups of EVERYTHING on a separate hard drive, bring your laptop even if you aren't using it (for a quick last minute export), have every genre of music just in case, come prepared with several hours worth of music, and don't be afraid to hop on the mic to work the crowd in an emergency to play it off. Learn from my mistakes. The reality is, nobody cares about it as much as you will -- so, if any of these things do happen, just shrug it off and move on. It's all good and for the most part, everyone is pretty supportive.

Now, in terms of mixing, if I'm sticking to one genre, I'll mix everything by key. You can arrange it so this happens either on your software or on the CDJs display for each playlist. However, typically, my preference is to mix multiple genres, so I'll arrange my playlist by bpm. I start with the lowest and move up to the highest, so the set ends at the highest point and takes people on a journey, while still maintaining the key by ear, or sometimes I'll find songs to wordplay with (I'll make a video about this very soon). I also set up cue points for fast mixing, allowing me to get more creative on the fly. I set cues points up at fun vocal parts or at a breakdown or buildup, so I can transition a bit smoother, which is essential, especially for multi-genre mixing.

Regardless of the songs you choose or your style, the point is just to have fun and relax. Remember why you're doing it in the first place and acknowledge that everyone is just there to have a good time. So don't take yourself too seriously. You'll find your flow and style as time goes on, just stick to it and don't be afraid to play around.

If you have any questions or comments to add, please feel free to reach out! Thanks so much for reading! Much love, Cyncron

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