Top 20 Tips for DJ Etiquette


When you first think about becoming a DJ, you might think that it’s all fun and games. You get to crank up the tunes with some incredible music and wow the crowds. While being a DJ is a lot of fun, it’s a lot of hard work, too. One area you never want to slack on is etiquette. But how can you know the rules for DJ etiquette if no one tells you?

For the most part, DJ etiquette is something that is learned. Expert DJs know exactly what to do — and more importantly, what not to do. These etiquette rules have gone unwritten — until now. We are breaking down the top 20 etiquette tips every DJ should know. These tips will allow for a smoother, more successful experience as a top-notch DJ.

Top 20 Tips for DJ Etiquette

You might be surprised to hear that there are at least 20 important DJ etiquette tips and tricks to learn. The good news, there’s nothing exceptionally odd or difficult on this list. These tips are things that most people might consider being etiquette before even reading them. Let’s take a closer look.

Never Set Your Equipment During Someone Else’s Set

One thing you never want to do is start setting up your DJing gear and DVS sound card while another DJ is finishing up their set. This is one of the most disrespectful things another DJ could possibly do to the other. If you’re one of “those DJs” that step on other people’s toes during their set, you will be known as a disrespectful DJ in the industry. 

Now, DJs also know that sometimes this is completely unavoidable. But DJs know when it’s acceptable and when it is not. If it is a situation where you have to set up during another DJs set, then make sure you wait until the last minute and be as respectful and quiet as possible. This will help to relieve some would-be tension and nerves.

It doesn’t hurt to thank the other DJ for their patience, too. This shows courteous behavior that other DJs will truly appreciate.

It’s also important to know when and how to blend out of the DJ that is playing. Sometimes, there will be a break for soundcheck. Other times, there won’t. In an instant when there is no soundcheck, the best option is to bring a 20-minute mix CD that will allow you to blend out from the DJ — just make sure not to start until that DJ has exited.

Be Available

We can’t stress this enough — you need to be available at all times. There are plenty of times when you are going to be called on the spot for a gig that’s happening that night. It may even be a call from a club owner who wants to meet up in the next hour. Whatever the call may be, you need to be ready to drop everything and head to the location, mixing, or no mixing.

To put it simply, if you’re not available, they will hang up and probably never call back. That is the harsh reality. People want someone who is available and can fit their needs now. If you can’t do it, someone else will. Don’t be afraid to take early time slots, either.

Limit Your Drinking and Don’t Expect Drinks

A lot of DJs expect drinks when they are DJing. That is not entirely unheard of. In fact, plenty of clubs will offer the DJ a few drinks per set. Of course, you shouldn’t expect too many. While every club will have a set limit on free drinks, most are not going to offer more than 3 or 4. After all, they don’t want you to end up sloppy or hurt while on the job.

Aside from not expecting excessive free drinks, you should avoid drinking too much altogether. Remember — DJing is your job. During your set, you’re doing a job. Getting wasted during your set is not only going to be unprofessional but who knows what could happen. You may end up falling over and breaking your equipment.

I’ve seen one DJ play a set where he was wasted and mixed in the same house track twice so the same track was playing for about 10 minutes. It’s likely the DJ was on more than just alcohol.

Remember — DJing is your job!

It’s always recommended to avoid drinking alcohol, especially during your first few gigs. You’re likely going to be nervous and you want to start with your best foot forward. Getting plastered is not going to get you very far in the industry. As you become more confident, a couple of drinks throughout the night are a-okay.

Read my article here about 11 Ways to Curb DJing Nerves: Conquering Stage Fright, this will help you get around having to drink booze to curb your nerves.

Know the Rules for Opening for Another DJ

There are several key rules that are necessary to follow when you are opening for another DJ. Some of these include:

  • Don’t rock the floor. When you are the opener, your job is to warm up the room — not overthrow it with heavy beats and sounds. This is known as “over-rocking” and it is incredibly disrespectful to the DJ who is following. Remember — you are trying to make the headlining DJ look good, not yourself.
  • Keep it low. This is especially important if there aren’t too many people on the floor yet. Start off with a lower volume. This will not only help you to avoid “rocking the floor” but will also encourage people to enter the floor.
  • End with a longer song. One of the worst things you could do is leave the headlining DJ with a few short minutes to mix. You want to make sure he has plenty of time to mix it up and get accommodated with the booth. The longer the better — shoot for 5+ minutes.
  • Leave the booth — unless you are invited to stay. When you are done opening for the DJ, it’s best to leave the booth. Of course, this changes if you were invited to stay and join in on the booth party.
  • Clean up after yourself. This is a must when opening, headlining or closing. You never want to leave a mess in the booth for another DJ to clean up. No one will ever want to work with you again. 

Know the Rules for Coming on After Another DJ

By now we know that you should never set up your DJ equipment while another DJ is still working on his set. But there are a few other must-know rules that you should adhere to when entering the booth after another DJ:

  • Don’t come in too early. Around 10 minutes before your scheduled DJ slot is a good time to enter the booth. Never enter with less than 5 minutes, though, as that can cause havoc and chaos.
  • Introduce yourself. Always introduce yourself to the DJ. Let them know that you’re the DJ up next and also tell him (politely) how much more minutes are left in his set.
  • Don’t argue over start times. If you and the other DJ can’t agree on your start time, it’s best to dismiss yourself and find the promoter or manager. He will be able to straighten out the timing conflict.
  • Tell him when you are ready to start. Don’t expect the other DJ to know when you are ready to start your set. Also, don’t stand over his shoulder waiting for him to finish. Instead, man up and let the other DJ know that you’re ready to take over the mixer.
  • Feel out the crowd before you start. Pay attention to the DJ and the crowd. What is he mixing? How is the crowd responding to it? By watching the other DJ for a few minutes you can get a good sense of what to play.

Know the Rules for Song Requests

As a DJ, you are going to get song requests. It should be an expected part of the job. But you need to know how to handle them with the right etiquette. Here are a few tips:

  • Always be friendly. The friendlier you are, the happier the crowd will be. The happy guests are also likely to talk to the staff about your awesome behavior. This opens up the opportunity for you to be asked back.
  • Keep in mind that you don’t have to play the requested song. If you have 100 requests, you simply can’t play them all. In fact, you don’t have to play any requested songs if you do not want to. Instead, use the song as insight on what the crowd is interested in and play similar music.
  • Write down requested songs. If you are going to accept requests, write them down. Otherwise, it will be almost impossible to remember all of the different tunes that are requested.

Drop Demos Off in Person

One of the most unprofessional things a DJ can do is send their demo through the mail or email. Club owners will almost always toss your demo in the trash. Instead, show some respect for yourself and the music and meet with the club owner in person. This shows that you are confident and have proper etiquette, which is something club owners are seeking.

Never Expect Instant Payment

One thing that might shake up a new DJ is when they get paid. While some gigs might be able to play you the second that you’re finished with your set, others might take a bit longer. That’s because club owners have several other people to pay before the DJ. Be patient. Don’t expect anything instantaneously.

Change the Music When Asked

It’s okay to be a bit bothered when someone asks you to change the music. It shows that the club owner or crowd is not enjoying it. They understand that can be hurtful, but the only thing you can do is change the music.

After all, you want everyone to have a good time. Don’t take it personally. Be open to criticism and be versatile and you can expect more gigs.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Friendly

Some people might think that it is unprofessional to get friendly with the owner. And while that might be true in certain businesses and scenarios, the same is not true for DJing.

It’s perfectly fine — and recommended — to be friends with the bar or club owner. In this industry, it’s all about who you know. Show them there’s more to you than just the DJing.

It’s Acceptable to be Paid for Song Requests

Some guests will want to slip you some cash when requesting a song. Perhaps they think they will hear their song sooner. Maybe they are simply being courteous. Whatever the reasoning behind the money might be, you need to play the song.

If you don’t play the song, then they can ask for their money back — and you will have to give it to them if you’re practicing DJ etiquette. 

Make a Personal “Zone”

Drunken guests or ravers might get too close to your gear or end up setting their drinks on your mixer. To avoid these unwanted situations, simply make a personal “zone” that people are not allowed to enter.

If they do end up entering and they become hostile about leaving, do not try to handle the situation on your own. Get the security guard immediately.

Be Respectful — Especially of Women

There is a stigma about some DJs that they are sleazy and end up trying to hit on women all night. You do not want to be “that type” of DJ. Instead, show respect to all of the guests.

Do not try and hit on women or make suggestive or disrespectful remarks to them. That is one quick way to get a horrible reputation. 

Be Respectful to Other DJs — Always

You are always going to run into other DJs that are more or less professional or experienced than you. You are always going to see another DJ make a lot more money than you or a lot less.

Whatever the situation may be, it is important to always respect other DJs you come across. This will give you a great name in the industry and may encourage other, less respectful DJs to turn over a new leaf.

ALWAYS Be Prepared

This truly cannot be stressed enough. There is nothing more unprofessional than a DJ who is not prepared for his set.

That being said, you should always be prepared, not only for your set but for potential problems that you find yourself commonly running into. Here are a few great tips on how to stay prepared:

  • Make sure you have all of your equipment. This includes small cables, extension cables, and headphone adapters. Also make a list so you’re super prepared.
  • Don’t forget the USB sticks for CDJs. These can be used in case your laptop shuts down. Always have backup USB sticks as a fail safe.
  • Don’t forget about the battery. Bring all of the necessary equipment for keeping your battery fully charged to avoid disaster.
  • Know the location and your time slot. Never be late.

Be Careful When Using a Club’s Equipment

Some clubs will offer the DJ to use their DJing equipment. This is especially handy for those who do not own their own equipment yet. But you need to be extremely careful while using it.

If you treat their equipment horribly, then you won’t be invited back. Plus, you will have a reputation as being disrespectful with a lack of etiquette — that’s a big no-no!

Dance

Now, this one is purely etiquette for the crowd. Nobody wants to see their DJ simply standing around.

It’s awkward and can put a damper on the crowd. Instead, don’t be afraid to enjoy yourself and get into it! The crowd will enjoy it and you will be able to relax and be a much better DJ.

Fix Red Lights Immediately

If you see a red light on the mixer, you need to fix it immediately. When red lights are left unnoticed and not taken care of, they can cause damage to extremely expensive equipment such as the amplifiers and speakers.

Red lights also cause an undesirable distorted sound that the crowd will hate. That being said, pay attention to the mixer and fix red lights immediately. If you don’t the sound engineer can shut you off and ruin your set entirely.

Read more here about how to control clipping on DJ mixers.

Learn to Use the EQ

No EQ = no great mixing. If you don’t know how to use the EQ on the mixer, do it now before everyone can’t stand you as a DJ.

Smooth mixing and blending between tracks can really help the flow of your DJ sets. Your audience will likely get more of a buzz and get their groove on when dancing to your DJ set.

Switch It Up

When it comes to your music, there are two things to consider — the crowd and the genre.

You need to change up the genre during your set to keep the crowd interested. At the same time, you also want to read the crowd. This will allow you to keep them engaged and excited with your tunes. 

Final Thoughts

Knowing these top 20 tips for DJing etiquette can help you be more successful as a DJ while also allowing you to gain respect in the industry.

The most important things to remember are that you never want to set your equipment up during someone else’s set, always be available, and don’t overdo it with the drinks. Be respectful of other DJs and patrons and you will do just fine.

Related Questions

What is b2b DJ?

B2B means Back-to-back DJing, which consists of two DJs working together on the decks mixing together. DJ sets can last 60 to 120 minutes long.

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