What to do Before Your First Gig

Congratulations, if you are reading this, you are most likely about to go into your first performance. If not, you are doing the right thing and preparing. I am going to assume you can string together a good mix (otherwise maybe consider waiting to perform). Here are a few steps that will really get you pumped up and ready to play in front of people for the first time.

1. Practice a Set

I know there is a lot of debate over whether you should have a pre-practised set. One the one hand, you know exactly what is going to work, on the other, you have no impulse or response to the crowd. My advice is don't play a pre-made set.

However, you should make a few practice sets as preparation. This will show you what songs are really tight together. You don't need to follow the set that you've prepared but bear in mind the chunks and sequences within it that do work.

For my first gig, I had a set in mind and started with it. This was good. I started with some fairly advanced mashups and mixing that I was very comfortable with. It meant the opening few songs were very tight and it engaged the crowd. 

The trick is knowing when to remove the leash and just go with the flow. You may see the dance floor getting more packed and "skip" further into the pre-made set-list. This is not a problem. It is essential to know what works with the crowd. 

Don't shape the crowd to the set, shape the set to the crowd. It's easier for you to change the stage of energy you are at than trying to force a different energy level on over 100 people.

2. Get Pumped Up

Before the gig, shower and make yourself look nice. There is no reason to go out feeling insecure. If you feel you look good, you'll feel good. The trick is to feel as cool as you are. You are a DJ, whatever your peers think of you in school/college or whatever, you will be cool tonight. You are the person on the decks rocking the place out. If anyone has said anything to put you off, fuck them! Let your set define you. Insecurities are abolished once you have a full dance-floor anyway, so why start your night with them.

Have a song reserved for you. Just you. Listen to it before you go out and get yourself pumped. If you have energy on stage, your mixing will be positively affected and so will the crowd's. Especially if you are in a prominent place to be seen, you should bounce up and down. Always have one more energy level over the crowd. They will dig it.

Nerves are good. That uncomfortable feeling in your stomach is great. It really drives you. The biggest buzz is after you have mixed in your first few songs and the stomach feeling is replaced by energy and comfort. Your nerves will rapidly switch to adrenaline and you will love it so long as you embrace them.

If you are the warm-up DJ you have an easy job as you need to get people on the floor, just play some good tunes. If you are on after, there is a crowd waiting for you that is already pumped up.

A good way to get yourself pumped up to their energy level is to be in the crowd before your set. You can gauge the energy and at the same time absorb it as well. If it is a smaller gig, your presence on the dancefloor may entice more people to join it meaning a bigger crowd when you start off.

3. Acknowledge the Crowd

You don't need to run on and Jesus pose but look about and see who's there. The dance-floor may need filling and you'll look like a knob, but you shouldn't be engrossed in your decks or laptop. It is essential that you practice this beforehand. The whole reason laptops are shunned, even to this day, is because of the vacant laptop face that many DJs take on. 

Look at the crowd, smile at them and show them that you are there for them. Practice beat-matching without the screen in your face, it will make you a better DJ too!

4. Before You Hit the Stage/Booth, Relax!

You are now about to fulfil your dream and all the hard work. You just have one job now and that is to rock. Forget the ticket sales issues, forget the set times changing and just DJ. Your worries will just set you back and there is no use worrying when you have to mix. Do what you are there to do your thing. The only two things that exist in your set are the crowd and your songs. Any logistical issues are dropped and forgotten.

This is your first gig, make it a good one. Bear in mind that the crowd rarely knows of the issues regarding the night and as long as the music continues, all is well.

If you are old enough to drink, go for something light and have half before your set. Don't get drunk. Don't even get tipsy. Just let yourself relax and know once you get started the rest of the drink is there. I still to this day don't really drink when I play as I feel it messes with my timing and reactions. Having said that, do what you need but don't ruin your set by being unable to play.

With the exception of maybe caffeine and nicotine, save drugs for after the set. That's what after parties are for, if you are so inclined. Mild stimulating things like caffeine and nicotine will allow you to relax and focus prior and into your set so an energy drink or cigarette/vape (only if you need to, to avoid starting a new habit) will help.

5. Backups

You should expect a fault. It happens to all DJs. Load your laptop well in advance and get your software running. Have a backup music source if something goes wrong. Maybe even have a few 15 minute mixes at different energy levels to fall back on. Hopefully there will be a CDJ or something where you can have it loaded either on USB, SD card, or CD.

Don't worry about it being pre-mixed as you have a bigger issue to fix, the main thing is that the music keeps playing to your standard.

You of course don't have to let the mix run it's full course once the issues are resolved, you can mix out of it at any point once you are back in the game but bear in mind that it will not be sync'able or visually beat-matchable on your laptop.

Practice beat-matching out of a pre-made mix just in case.

This is by far one of the most inspiring videos that has helped me as a DJ. Everyone fucks up, even the legends. Watch how well Skrillex deals with it and moves on. If you can resolve an issue, keeping your cool, you have just made the night more interesting. I bet his crowd danced harder than they would have done had he not made that mistake.

DJs are also human, they mess up too. But DJs are cool humans and so we deal with them well and continue to rock the night.

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