The question of choosing the next track to play may actually be more important than it seems. The thing is, it’s pretty much equal to “How to be a good DJ” – because DJing is all about the programming, i.e. choosing the right record for this exact moment.
Programming is what makes DJing an art form, and that’s something that you are only going to learn by playing out. As you subconsciously catalog the crowd’s reactions to each track, you become better and better in using music to evoke certain moods, trigger memories or associations in your listeners.
Actually, thinking of tracks in terms of moods helps greatly in choosing the next tune to play. Ask yourself these questions: What is the tune’s energy level? And, what feelings does it create – in others, not just you? Then try to decide how appropriate it would be for right now.
For tracks to go well together, it helps for them to be compatible musically. Consider things like tempo, genre, style (dubby, vocal, melodic, instrumental and so on), as well as track structure. How compatible would those be to the rest of your set? And if you’re bringing in a change, what point are you trying to make?
The third thing to consider, and also the most underestimated in my opinion, is the song’s lyrics. You can really make a statement by choosing a record with the right meaning, and I encourage you to at least be aware of what the song you’re putting on next is about.
I’ve talked about tactics until now, but you should always keep your strategy in mind, too. The records you play should not only fit the present moment, but also be a deliberate step in the direction that you want to take your DJ set as a whole.
So as you are evaluating the next tune, try to think about where it will take the floor – musically; emotionally; in terms of the energy level – and what options you will have once there. Are you heating up the dancefloor in preparation for your peaktime tunes? Or has the night reached its cool-off phase already?
Your next tune is a step in the direction that you want to take the night in, so always treat it as such.
How do you go about choosing the next tune to play? Any dos or don’ts to share? Join the discussion in the comments section below.
JM has played open-air gigs, shared the stage with the likes of ATB and had mix albums released commercially. He has been teaching DJing since 2008.
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