West Coast Swing DJ 101 – OMG You Got Your First Gig!
By DJ Mineh Ishida
You’re a new west coast swing DJ, and you’ve just landed your first opportunity to play at a dance. Here are some tips to help you get an invitation to come back to play again!
Before the big day
Be Prepared. Make sure you know how to use your DJ software. Being able to start and stop the music without a problem, transition between songs, find requests, and track your BPM are essential to doing a good job. If you can’t do these things, practice before the night of the event and make sure you’re comfortable with your software. Also know your sound setup. If you’re using an external sound card, learn how to set it up with your DJ software. If you have access to the space where you are playing, make sure you can hook up to their system, and that you have the right cables to do so.
Build a backup playlist on your phone or ipod in case something goes wrong with your computer.
Find out beforehand what kind of music they typically play by asking the usual DJ, or local dance instructors and event planners. Every community has their own style.
Organize your west coast swing music on your computer in a way that makes sense and allows you to quickly find the songs you need. We will be writing more on this at a future date.
Your first gig is not the time to impress everyone with how unique your music set is. Show them that you understand the audience. Show them that you can play the west coast swing music they’re used to dancing to. You can add your own style into the set, but a good rule of thumb is 3-4 songs they know to 1 new one. Also, don’t drastically change the style of the night. If they play a blues heavy set, do the same. If they prefer R&B and Soul, follow suit. Keep the tempos in the range they’re used to, and the songs similar.
People are very resistant to change, and if you make too dramatic of a shift all at once, even if you played a great set, people may not recognize that.
The Big Day
Show up early and make sure you’re ready to go in advance. If you can, soundcheck before the attendees arrive. If there is a class, ask the instructor if they will need any particular music to teach to. If they don’t need a particular song, ask them what tempo and style of music they would prefer.
Find the event director/planner, and thank them for the opportunity to play. If you’re playing with another DJ that night, introduce yourself and offer some sort of respect for their experience… something along the lines of: “Hi, I’m _______ I’m going to be DJing with you tonight. I’d love it if you could share any experience you have with me!” A little humilty and respect go a long way.
At the end of the night, Pack up your gear, and once you’re done doing so, ask if there is anything else you can do. Thank the event planner again. Also ask for feedback. Take it graciously and LISTEN. The best way to improve is to learn to play what the audience wants.
Best of luck on your first gig!