Know Your Role: The Headliner

Everyone wants to be a headliner. Why not? They get paid the most, everyone is there for you, your face is plastered on flyers and ads, your name coming through the speakers in radio spots. It’s a true rock star lifestyle. A very fun and rewarding position once you’ve made it there.

So, what exactly is your job as a headlining DJ? Entertainment, pure and simple. Yes, music matters in the year 2014, but you best believe your stage show, lights, pyrotechnics and confetti cannons do, too. I’m obviously speaking about big room DJs. Any headliner who shows up with pyrotechnics to a small bar might not ever be allowed to come back again! Let’s be honest, in this digital age technology levels the playing field and makes all DJs equal selection wise. You don’t have to dig or hustle to find that hot white label joint no one else has. You can Google it and with a couple clicks, you’ve got the catalog it took old school DJs a lot of years, and more dollars to build.

Personality & Performance

Steve Aoki doing Steve Aoki. Photo Credit: Drew Ressler/

So what can you do that will make you stand out from the next ten DJs? It comes down to your personality and performance. While many “true school” DJs mock a DJ like Steve Aoki’s show, as he’s bouncing off trampolines and throwing cakes around, when he should obviously be too busy actually DJing, it’s all part of his “show,” and a whole lot of people remember it, talk about it and want to see it again and again. He attracts large crowds that love it. Like it or not, that sets him apart from other DJs and that is his thing.

I don’t necessarily believe a DJ should have any gimmicks besides playing great music, educating the crowd, rocking the party and being technically perfect. That’s what makes a great DJ in my book. Now, if you add to all those things to an accompanying killer light show, scantily-clad dancers and confetti cannons? That would be an amazing and untouchable performance worthy of the price of admission. Doesn’t hurt if you can produce as well, have a current hit record in rotation, or can incorporate some live production into your set.

People love a show and love to be entertained. As a DJ, and especially as a headlining one, you are there strictly to entertain the crowd. What’s great about being the headliner is the energy is usually already high in the room in anticipation of you hitting the decks. Once you step up you can almost get away with anything at that point and it will be OK.

So You Think You’re Ready for The Top Spot?

I remember doing a show with DJ A.M. (R.I.P), and when he stepped up to play the crowd starting going wild the second they saw him. The opening DJ said “I’ve thrown on a CD so we can switch out computers smoothly.” DJ A.M. replied “No, that’s OK,” and simply yanked the USB cable out of the other DJ’s laptop! The music cut off abruptly to dead silence. The crowd cheered enthusiastically as they knew what was coming next. My point is, that if ANY other DJ besides the headliner would’ve pulled that stunt, the crowd would stop in their tracks and started booing in complete and utter disgust. Don’t believe me? Try it and see.

So remember: your job as a headliner is to entertain. Not prove how technically perfect you are, not to prove how good your taste in music is (although it’s real nice if both those things are true), but to entertain.


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