How To Perform A Warm Up DJ Set
How To Perform A Warm Up DJ Set
So you're a new DJ and getting your first DJ gigs. Perhaps you've completed our courses and will perform your first DJ gig with our alumni community? Maybe you're a DJ somewhere in the world and wondering, how do you warm up? New DJs will often have to start with the warm-up slot or the grave-yard slot. The warm-up slot is arguably one of the most important sets in the entire event so getting it right is crucial.
What is a warm-up DJ set?
The warm-up DJ set is simply the start of the event, where you go from an empty dancefloor to a slight more full dancefloor. You'll often start by DJing to an empty room and then as things get busier the music gets more energetic, often faster and sometimes heavier depending on the type of event. A warm up DJ is the DJ who is tasked with setting the mood, slowly bringing up the energy so that the main DJs and the headline DJs can perform a peak-time set.
What is a peak-time DJ set?
A peak time DJ set is simply the DJ set that covers the busiest hours of the event. This is when the dancefloor is at its busiest and the energy is at its highest. The headline DJ will often take this set time.
What is a grave-yard DJ set?
The grave-yard shift or the closing slot is the last DJ set of the night. Depending on the event this might mean that the dancefloor slowly empties out, but not always. Some venues will stay busy until the end. This can often be the worst set of the night or in some cases the best, it just depends!
Why There is Beauty in Being a Warm Up DJ
The warm-up DJ set is an art and should be treated with the respect and care of any other time slot - including the headliner’s. This respect should be held by both the person organising the event, and the person playing it. Many DJs feel annoyed when they get stuck playing early time slots. We’re here to tell you why this is a silver lining to this.
A skilled warm-up DJ who is able to efficiently read the room, channel the needs of the promoter, the audience and the DJs that follow them is hugely valuable. So why are people so averse to this role, and what prevents them from fully enjoying it? Here are some common concerns that perhaps we can solve:
“There are fewer people to play to”
Most nights start out empty or slow at the beginning, and build towards an eventual climax. But you know what’s cool about playing to the “early birds”? Those people are down to party. They got there early, either because they love the music that much, or they are willing to provide that level of support. Take some time to appreciate people who have a similar passion for the music as you do. Make the effort to wave, make eye contact, maybe even talk to them in between tracks. Who knows who could be watching - you could be creating new networking opportunities for yourself just by doing this. Top Tip - Have some business cards to hand out.
“Early gigs don’t pay well”
Despite what you’ve heard, it’s extremely difficult to find well paid gigs unless you’ve a) bagged a regular and possibly exclusive residency in a big club with lots of attendees b) you’ve secured a partnership with a bigger headliner and are supporting them in their tour as their opener c) you’re a successful promoter who opens at their own events. If you’re looking to ‘come up’ as a DJ it’s good to look at gigs not just as a source of income but an incredible marketing opportunity - a chance to really sell yourself.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. While it is possible for you to nail down “just the right gig” and to impress “just the right person”, this is not a common or likely route to success in the industry these days. The trick is not to finally impress the right person, but to impress people so often that you’re hard to miss. If you want to turn this lifestyle into a lucrative opportunity, you’re going to need groundwork first.. and that groundwork usually consists of proving yourself to professionals who are trying to build their community while treating this thing like a business. Either that, or you’d better churn out a hit record.
“It’s hard to get people and friends out early”
It’s reasonable to have a few people that are down to support what you are about and what you do… but it’s not reasonable to expect your 20 closest friends to go clubbing every weekend. It’s just not scalable. If your goal is to grow your DJ career, you will need to realise that it’s not about spamming your friends and family to come to all of your events, and worrying what the scene can do for you, but what you can do for the scene. Maybe that means doing grunt work for other promoters, or helping a venue head up a street team. The value that you provide to others in your network by doing this will not go unnoticed. Instead, what you’ll find is that a lot more people are suddenly willing to support you, when you’ve been bending over backwards to support them. This can do wonders for those early time slots.
Focus on being the best warm-up/guest/resident DJ you can be, and take advantage of the experience it provides. Don’t be afraid to invite friends, post your latest event on Instagram etc. but keep it reasonable.
“The music I play is too hard/fast for an opening slot”
As tempting as it might be, early gigs are not simply a place for you to plan out an hour or two of your favourite bangers, and fade them into each other like a robot. It’s a time for you to explore. Experiment with reading your crowd. Dip your feet into a new genre that you’ve been exploring. Take it as an opportunity to spread your wings a little bit. Curate a DJ set that is really inspirational and interesting, show off your selector skills! If you're playing very early then not every track has to be geared toward dancing, you can play tracks that are also amazing the listen to within the atmosphere of a club. Think outside to the box and don't reach for the Beatport top 100! Try digging deeper for your warm-up tracks.
Know who your headliner is, and try to have an idea of what they play. You are setting them up, not trying to outshine them. Look them up the night before on SoundCloud or YouTube if necessary. It’s worth it to do a few minutes of research in order to properly ease into your venue’s peak hour. And you might find that doing this a few times has actually increased your versatility, and therefore value, as a DJ. Remember you should never play the headliners own tracks or remixes.
If you are dead-set in your sound, and are unwilling to bend here and there to find common ground, your best bet is to be much choosier about the gigs you play. Sometimes, less is more. Playing 12 sets a year that fit your sound is probably better than playing 100 that don’t!
“I get stuck playing the warm-up slots”
If you’re one of those DJs who end up consistently landing the warm-up slots for regular club nights, isn’t it indicative of your reliability and professionalism as a DJ? Chances are that people keep on booking you because you’re actually good at what you do. They know you can be relied on, that you won’t play music that’s inappropriate to the time/place, and that you are easy enough to get along with. There’s an art to being the opener, which you are now mastering. Don’t forget to let that enjoyment show on your face! People will pick up on this energy and feed off it, especially when drinks start to flow.
If you're getting stuck doing this slot just learn how to leverage the booking, learn how to say 'yes,but' Then make sure that if you agree to a warmup at the next event you are playing peak time.
The truth of the matter is that overnight success rarely happens. Those are just the stories we hear about and sensationalise most often. You’re much better off putting your time and energy into the slow burn that is craftsmanship. The DJs that do this will be the ones that get ahead. Make yourself useful, do your best, and don’t give up. The worst case scenario is that you will enjoy the climb.
Article written by Jamie Platt and Edited by Buster Bennett from London Sound Academy