Know Your Role: The Challenges & Perks of Being the Opening DJ

While every aspiring DJ dreams of being that headlining guy (or girl) in the big room, no one really thinks about, or realizes, how cool it is to play the opening slot. Don’t get me wrong, it is great to play to a packed room full of people ready to party at peak hour. But let’s be honest, it’s also very easy to do that. By that time the booze are flowing, the lights are down, and you can almost play damn near anything at that point and get a decent response out of ‘em.

Being a DJ of the People

Contrary to popular belief, the art and craft of DJing isn’t just about playing the most current chart topper or hottest hits out at the moment, anyone can do that. When opening you have a chance to dive in to a much wider variety of music that you might not necessarily play, or even get to play, if you only headline and play peak hour. With myself personally, opening is sometimes a much more fun experience than playing the peak hour time slot. When you’re a working class DJ, you’re there for the people not yourself. You’re there to play for them and make them happy.

Well, if you get to play the opening slot you can still somewhat play for yourself! Yes, I call this my personal hour. The first hour where I get to drop songs that I like and want to hear. The art of being an opening DJ is an art that is slowly fading away, and many newer DJs don’t think about it much because they haven’t had the experience. It’s that time where you can drop something that people love but might have forgotten about, or maybe would have never thought to check out in this fast-paced world of disposable digital music.

Respect the Headliner

And how can an opening DJ make or break a night? Not just for the crowd, but for the headliner, who is the person most of the people are coming to see? I recently had the opening DJ before my set drop every single current hot club banger out before I went on. She didn’t understand why the club wasn’t popping when she was doing such a great job. She couldn’t figure it out. And meanwhile she was trying (intentionally or not)  to hang the headliner out to dry. If you play every current hot banger before the headliner what’s left for the headliner to do?

There are a lot reasons why this doesn’t work. When a venue opens it is usually not crowded for the first few hours. Yes, there may be people there but it’s not packed out just yet. The people there are usually getting their first drinks and starting their night off. They aren’t there to let loose on the dance floor the very second they walk in. Unfortunately, a lot of club patrons at the current social climate of clubbing aren’t even there to dance at all. This is part of the reason why clubs like Output in Williamsburg in NYC are banning cell phones. Sad I know, but welcome to 2014.

With that in mind, if you kick things off at 10 pm, you may drop something that’s a current hit with very little to zero response. Yeah you’ll see a handful of ladies or even a few guys shaking around to it, but they’re usually still standing at the bar or they don’t bother to leave the table they are at. Whereas if you drop that same song to a packed house, the floor is already filled and people are loose at that point, have a few drinks in ‘em, and have no problem hitting the floor or showing their admiration for the song. Sometimes it’s great to hold back as long as you possibly can from the hits, as the crowd will appreciate them that much more when they are finally played.

Set the Tone and Take Chances

The opening DJ’s job is just as important, if not more important than the headliner. You’re there to create a mood and set the tone. A perfect opener can have everyone happy and on the floor with NO current hits or bangers. True story. As I said before it’s easy as pie to have everyone feeling you for playing hits, but can you get them to love you for not playing hits? I challenge you to challenge yourself. There’s literally millions of songs out there. There’s absolutely no reason at all why any DJ has to play the same exact songs as every other DJ. If you do, then what makes you any different from the next DJ? Nothing. Dare to be different. Dare to explore. Dare to take chances. Learn how to warm that room right up and get it ripe for the headliner to come on and smash it. Then your job is done. The crowd will love you, the headliner will appreciate you and your peers will respect you.

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