In this article, I want to talk about some of the ways you can overcome that inner pressure that we DJ’s have a tendency to put on ourselves. Being nervous before a big DJ Gig is a natural thing, and is something that we have to learn to embrace. However, how can we control it to the extent that it does not overshadow our performance or even make us panic on stage? As a DJ myself for over 9 years, I can tell you that I used to be perhaps one of the most anxious, introverted and nervous DJ's around. Although it sounds completely biased; I had big issues with putting pressure on myself before a DJ set.
I wanted everything to be perfect for the most part, and most of the time it was far from perfect or satisfactory, with so much internal pressure to play a great set. Therefore learning what worked and what didn’t work was a process I had to master if I was to be any good at being a confident DJ performer. Here are some of the things that helped me overcome my nerves as a DJ.
Know your music
A big thing to overcome any fear and doubt is to get a good idea of what you are going to play. I’m not saying rehearse the perfect set, but acquire yourself and become more comfortable with how you are going to utilize your best music that you feel is going to work in your DJ set. A confident DJ knows their music and has an understanding of how it will impact an audience, whether they have seen the music played out before in clubs, or have watched it via a DJ’s set uploaded to YouTube.
I myself, when I look back, have found that confidence within yourself comes from simply knowing that your music will be good enough to do the job on the night; it’s something you as a DJ will find out for yourself over time.
Visualize a positive outcome
It may sound a little silly, but it works. If it works for the world’s top performing athletes like Tiger Woods or Roger Federer to improve their performance before a big game, it will do the same for a DJ. The mind is a powerful thing, and focusing on a positive outcome will do more good for you than just focusing on what could go wrong. Getting the right result can come from good preparation both physically and mentally. It has helped me calm my nerves and made me more confident going into the clubs and seeing the night as a success and the crowd loving my DJ set. I highly recommend it.
Getting used to the nightclub and the people
Most of my nervousness came from social anxiety as well as putting pressure on myself before the gigs. What I found helped was loosening up by getting used to my surroundings and meeting people, and getting an understanding of what they would expect to hear on the night from the DJ's, as I ask questions. A promoter also likes a social DJ that meets and greets people, as it will put you in the good books with them. Also get used to the sound system and how the music sounds in the club, it’s a completely different ball game from playing in your bedroom to playing in the clubs, and it can be overwhelming at first.
So, by watching other DJ's and how they are playing before you, it can really put things in perspective as to where you can take your set. This, in turn, will help the night run more smoothly if you can learn to play to your time slot.
Relax and have a drink, but do not get drunk
I have found personally that a couple of beers before a big set has helped calm my nerves and stopped me from over analyzing how I think my set should go. Just make sure that you stop at a couple and do not get too stupid, I have done that before and made a complete idiot out of myself which could have cost me more opportunities.
Play every gig as if it’s your last
You will always have nerves and excitement no matter how experienced you are, and that's normal. However, there is a great sense of pleasure derived from going out there and almost not caring about the outcome. What I mean by that is simply playing this DJ Gig as if it is your last. If you knew that it was your last gig you wouldn’t care as to what would happen, this changes your mindset into making it more fun rather than taking it too seriously. I used to take it way too seriously, and when I did it was not as enjoyable for me. I know it sounds funny, but try not to expect too much from yourself and learn to care less.
Being a DJ is meant to be a fun experience, and what can spoil that is not only yourself but the politics of the music industry. You could play the perfect set (in your opinion) and it could rock the crowd, however, next time a promoter could book another DJ due to the fact that they have a bigger following or even suck up to the promoter because they want your gig or are friends with that promoter. These things happen, and my point is that you have to learn not to care or it will drain you and the music industry will eventually get the better of you.
Accept that things can go wrong
One of the biggest things that I learned is that there is no such thing as the perfect DJ set. You can do everything in your power to study the crowd weeks beforehand, you can practice and rehearse every night before that big show, but sometimes things can just be out of your control. For instance, on some occasions, the crowd can just not be up for it, or just cannot get into the music. This could come down to the previous DJ stuffing things up by not playing to his or her time slot, which would then lead to killing the vibe and you having to play a completely different set in order to compensate and reinvigorate the crowd.
The sound system or DJ equipment can fail and have issues, forcing you to get angry and frustrated at the situation, which then has a tendency for you to lose focus and stop having fun when playing. You could also stop the music by pressing the cue button because you have lost your train of thought or even have been distracted by a drunken patron jumping around the decks and putting you off.
Now here comes the boring (but necessary) advice. Learn to accept it, because all of the above and more will happen to you if you choose to have a long-standing DJ career playing gigs each week, it’s inevitable and it can suck at times. It’s part of the process of becoming a great DJ that can handle things when the crap hits the fan, and eventually, you will learn to laugh it off.