I remember when I first started DJing, I got nervous DJing in front of friends let alone DJing in front of a crowd in a bar or a club. DJing is supposed to be fun and having performance anxiety can just get in the way.
So I’ve pulled together some great ways to combat nerves before performing in front of a crowd. Some of which I use regularly for DJing / performing and also for every day life situations.
How to reduce nerves before DJing?
- Planning your music set list
- Create backups of your music
- Practice your mixing skills
- Know your music inside out
- Knowledge of venue equipment
- Visualise a successful performance
- Focus on the present moment
- Accept your nerves & accept failure
- Use breathing techniques
- Body language
- Avoid substances.
Getting nervous before and during a DJ performance is an experience a lot of DJs have had. Fortunately there are lots of techniques that can help overcome nerves from a practical and psychological point of view.
1) Planning your music set list
Knowing your audience ahead of your gig is so important. This will give you such a sense of direction with what music to collate together. When DJing at a festival, club or a bar, go out of your way to understand other record labels, DJs and past sets that might be featured on YouTube.
If you’re DJing a different type of venue, such as a party, wedding or corporate gig, then it’s definitely worth getting a list of music from the main event organiser. Either way, getting a list of all the tracks that you’re going to play will put your mind at ease.
DJ software, such as Serato, is a great way to bucket all your set lists into separate libraries and folders ready for your performance. Equally if your DJing with CDs or Vinyls then get them all in one place ready to mix your heart out. I can’t highlight enough how planning and preparing your music really helps curb performance anxiety, it really helps you be less nervous by being more organised.
2) Create backups of your music
Preparation is key. Issues with technology is almost inevitable, especially if you’re DJing a lot and getting to know the different DJ equipment out there at venues.
Having your music library stored on your laptop is ok. If there were problems with your laptop then I’d suggest having a couple of backup USB sticks with your music library on there.
The Pioneer XDJ-700 and seemingly many other turntables, CDJs, DJ controllers allow for USB sticks to be plugged into directly as an audio source. This is an amazing feature in my opinion.
As the famous old quote says “By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail”. I’m not saying you’re going to fail, more like being prepared provides you with a fail safe. Take some of the stress off by getting prepared.
“By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail”
3) Practice your mixing skills
Knowing your craft might sound like an obvious thing to state, but the more you practice the more natural your skills will be.
Technology of DJ equipment is constantly evolving, allowing DJs the opportunity to add in extra FX, samples, loops etc. The era of the DJing with an aspect of performance is certainly arrived more so than just traditional vinyl turntable mixing.
The more you practice a certain technique, such as looping a specific track or sample, the more your subconscious mind will absorb it. It’s a bit like driving a car or riding a bike, it will come so naturally to you after a while.
4) Know your music inside out
Getting to know your music inside out really will set you apart. It’s the intricate aspects of songs that help you know when and where in the track you can start mixing another song into it. Especially important if you need to mix in another track at a few points later on within a music track.
I go out of my way to listen to my tracks, new releases in my genre and really focus on being an expert of that music style.
DJ software is actually amazing for this. Setting ‘Cue points‘ can help you prepare your songs and get ready for any gig, ready to smash through song after song. Cue points aid your mixing and help you to mix more seamlessly and therefore taking off any stress of not know where to start beat matching another track.
DJ software visualises the audio and cue points really well. Which in my opinion is a good backup, but is not necessarily a substitute for knowing your tracks by ear.
5) Knowledge of venue equipment
If possible visit the venue before a gig or communicate with the event organiser to get a clear understanding of the equipment that’s being used.
Especially if you’re new to DJing in front of audiences, this can give you piece of mind and maybe even allow you the chance to practice on a particular mixer or CDJ.
Even if you don’t have the DJ equipment, such as Pioneer CDJs, in your own personal setup, then try to find a studio that has them. There are a few studios in the UK that you can rent for an hour or two to practice mixing (even record your mixes too).
Generally speaking these types of studios have decent club standard equipment, so it’s a quick and inexpensive way to get to know club DJ equipment.
6) Visualise a successful performance
Morning visualisation and visualisation right before falling asleep are great times of the day to reinforce positive feelings and outcomes. The brain doesn’t know the difference between a past memory and a future visualisation.
Use this tip to help you. In the times of the day described above,
- visualise a positive outcome of yourself DJing,
- within that picture try to feel the emotions of when you’re DJing.
The result: your brain will start to accept that this is how the scenario is going to happen. Therefore thinking about an excited and less stressed emotion will help support being less nervous.
The idea behind this technique is to visualise an outcome of you DJing and performing to the best of your ability, appearing confident and many other positive outcomes.
The emotions part is particularly helpful for me as I feel like it rewires my thinking to be positive by default and way less nervous.
7) Focus on the present moment
I know from experience, it can be hard to allow your mind to be in the present moment. Especially when your body might be kicking out a fight or flight response hormone making you super nervous.
Focus on the tasks at hand (present moment). When you catch yourself thinking about a “potential failure” (future) or something negative, focus on pulling your attention back to what you need to.
I allow myself to think back to the goal and visualisation of what I want to achieve in my DJ set. This allows every fibre of my very being to do everything within my power and control to crack on and deliver the best DJ set of my life.
8) Accept your nerves & accept failure
Another useful technique I use for DJing and everyday life situations is to not keep the hand break on your feelings of nervousness, it will simply make it worse. Instead I focus on acceptance. Accepting that I am nervous in a performance environment gives me the opportunity to use that nervous energy and rewire my mind to think that it’s a good thing and that it’s a reminder that I love performing.
So for example, the last time I felt super nervous before performing in front of a crowd, I simply allowed the nerves to happen. Then I told myself I love this feeling of nerves and oddly enough when I say that, I smile and then I feel more happy. The knock on effect of this allows the nerves to dissipate allowing me to focus on having fun.
Perspective! It’s really key to understand that when you get nerves and feelings of butterflies in your belly, it’s because your care. You care about your craft and how you perform, and after all it’s about getting the crowd to enjoy themselves at the end of the day.
Let it be that nerves are a sign of a good thing and that you care. Make peace with that and really enjoy yourself. After all, DJing as a career is an absolutely amazing job (there are certainly worse jobs out there in the world).
Things go wrong, it happens. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure as a person and a DJ, it just means something outside your control went wrong. It’s how you deal with the negative situation that helps you get over it. Accept failure, it happens to all DJs out there, even people like David Guetta.
9) Use breathing techniques
Technique number 1. There’s a breathing technique I found on YouTube not so long ago called “Box breathing” technique. Simply put, the technique is used like so:
- 4 count breathe in,
- 4 counts hold,
- 4 counts release the breath,
- 4 counts hold,
Do this for maybe 10 rounds. I find it really works for me as it improves the amount of oxygen in the body, therefore reducing stress hormones making me less nervous. Also because you’re holding the breath it feels like you’re in control of the breathing, giving a sense of calm.
Ok, technique number 2. Hold your hand close to your belly, try to breathe in really fast but pushing your belly out allowing to fill your lungs as much as possible. The aim is to get your belly to reach your hand.
After the sharp breath in, hold the breath for 5 seconds, then slowly release. The result is similar to the first technique, it pulls in as much oxygen into the body allowing feelings of nervousness to be curbed. Give it a try!
10) Body language
Your body language can really dictate and support how you feel emotionally.
For example if your slouched over with your head down, you’re more likely to be feeling grim and negative. Pulling back your shoulders, standing upright will allow the opposite feelings to happen, you’ll feel way more confident and fluid in your movements. The end result will give you a sense of much less nervousness and much more positivity and an uplifting feeling that you can smash your DJ set to pieces.
As mentioned previously, allow yourself the technique of being in the present moment and aware of your body language. You’ll more likely enjoy yourself, show your audience that you’re having fun and are confident.
Also, dance to the beat, get into the flow of things, your mixing will be more natural and it will put a smile on your face.
11) Avoid substances
Alcohol and drugs is something that you can’t depend on. A beer here and there is great (everything in moderation), but getting too drunk can lead to making mistakes and look unprofessional (you do you want get booked as a DJ again right?).
Don’t ruin your DJing career and your health by taking external substances to reduce your nerves, in the long term it’s not worth it. For a short term fix, you’ll more than likely regret it in the long term.
Caffeine is a stimulant and can cause a massive spike in feeling nerves, especially for when having to speak in public or sometimes when DJing too. On days that I know I’m going to be performing I really go out of my way to not drink a coffee or a caffeine based drink. It’s a simple hack to do, but in all honesty it really does help to soften the intensity of feeling nervous. A little bit of will power can go a long way.