I'm sure you've heard this before; a couple of times from me at least, but the sad truth for all amateur DJ's worldwide is that DJ-ing is more than beat-matching the bangers until the club is empty. It seems easy when you see an A-list DJ with a 45 minute set of all their hits, but there is some back story to that. The guy who gets paid in the tens of thousands of whatever non-inflated currency they prefer has already gotten the grunt work out of the way. That person already spent hours on end in the studio making the hits and their sets are probably rehearsed to exhaustion so that every part of the show is A-list. Kind of you get what you pay for type of deal. No one wants to pay $100 to see Lil Xan freestyle and screw up because of a lack of preparation. I got a little side-tracked here so here goes my point: people attending that type of show go there to see said artist play his own tracks/give them the performance of a lifetime.
You can't say the same thing about DJ Average Joe, currently resident DJ in every club you never heard of. People attending "their shows" are not actually there for a show.
*Insert grasshopper dead silence*
Quick stats I totally just made up:
75% of the people in that room are present either due to a positive past experience of a friend they are being accompanied by or because that new sweet two shots for the price of one - let's bounce when we get buzzed type of deal.
50% of the people in that room completely zoned out from the music, do not care and do not want to know who's playing- it might as well be Spotify.
30% of the people in that room are there to hook up. No shame in that either.
20% of the people in that room are there for a show and tune in to the show and DO NOT get fooled by the small number. Italian science (80-20 rule) says that this small group will most likely decide how successful your performance was. They are the ones bringing the others (scattered within inaccurate statistics) to the dance floor. Quick tip: Impress them!
Taking that into account we reach the main point I am trying to make here: Crowd reading is the skill that if you decide to boost will lead you to the most important skill in DJ-ing. As my all time favorite show 'How I Met Your Mother' would sell this: Buckle up kids, it's gonna be a long story.
Notice that sad attempt at a joke that was the empty club referenced before? There is no shame in playing that. Not all gigs should be with a crowd. Hear me out here. In my early days as a DJ I used to play this small hell-hole the owner considered a club. Growing up, there were a few DJ's who started their careers in said venue. As you would expect, when they moved on to bigger and better venues, the crowd they raised followed them. I learned in that moment that no matter how nice your venue might be aesthetically, the people in it make it what it is. I was therefore slightly late to the party and the only DJ playing for the 4-5 daily clients who probably shouldn't have been there in the first place; clients who were looking for the party that used to be there a year ago anyway. I decided to do something about it: bring in whoever walks past me when I'd take a smoke break in front of the club and test out every single genre in my library. Then I realized: the music I was playing initially was a knockoff of the party that used to be there, and no new potential clients were into that anymore. There was already a big movement behind DnB that was taking place in bigger venues, so if anyone wanted that type of party, they would have a huge event every two weeks to attend and take it out of their system.
I struck success one day at the end of the school year. A bunch of Junior year kids came to the club looking for cheap booze and the ability to disappear for a few seconds in the basement that they called a club. I started playing some local trap, it was popping at that moment, and the crowd absolutely loved it. Moved on to some classic hip hop bangers that usually work for a semi drunk crowd. Whipped out the P.I.M.P. , The Sound of The Police etc... They ended up not being actual Hip Hop fans so I lost them all upstairs at the bar. I was however lucky. One chick asked if she could charge her phone in the DJ booth, the place was pretty sketchy to leave your phone around so I agreed. More so, she seemed particularly popular in that huge group so I knew that if she is having a good time, a few people around her will give it a go, and so on. Plugging her phone in, I saw what her music player paused when they came in the club: Steve Aoki's Boneless. From that moment on, I carried what was supposed to be a 30 minute last drink session to a full 8 hour party with EDM bangers and trap monsters, this way generating MY OWN event.
I hope this long story caters to the point I am trying to make here: flawless DJ-ing is a perk when you present yourself to professionals, other DJ's or promoters. In the club it matters more what music selection you have, what comes where, in what order and matching the vibe of the song to that of the crowd.
*it gets better*
So, how do you crowd-read? I wish it was simple, or that there was even a decent standardized answer to that. Truth is it's all about homework. What kind of music do they usually play in that club? What is the area's preferred genre? Based on the club's hours; when should you stop warming up and bringing in the bangers? This information you can get from resident DJ's in the area, bartenders, club owners etc. Do not shy away from asking. If you've never played there, no-one expects you to know that venue's pace. After you've figured out your basics and generally what kind of music you'll be playing, you need to figure out the loop. Your 20% will be on the dance floor, but they will also want to go grab drinks, or a smoke. Guess what, it's packed so there's a line. That means your dance floor will oscillate from full to scattered every 10-15 minutes. Based on that pace you can gain control. The music you play controls the energy in the room; Sustain the energy with 30 seconds to a minute at a time of banging drops then switch to known vocals from hits, intros or simple beats so people do not only "2-3 FUCKING JUMP" but actually have a rhythm. Do not get them tired at 9 P.M. - that never ends well.
Also, it is very important to stay with the times. Nowadays people can decide what the next hit will be 25 minutes before they walk in the venue. Chances are they will lose their shit if you play a track they just discovered that day. For those of you who want the red and blue costume with the fancy "S" on it, be the trendsetter. Spend more time finding the tracks before they become hits. Sometimes you just hear a track and you know that shit's about to pop, so what better moment to play it than now?
Last but not least I would like to leave you all on this: The key to a successful night is reading the room and acting accordingly. If you were a chef you wouldn't give a double cheeseburger to a vegan, would you?