Dj Pedro Acevedo (Dj Pace)


How a DJ Choose What To Play Next.

So you know your music inside out, you’ve spent time making it easy to search by adding all the right metadata to your files, you’ve made playlists, and you’ve researched the crowd. You’re as prepared as you can be. You’ve stacked the cards in your favour. But now it’s crunch time.

Let’s talk about how to make those all-important choices in the moment about what you should be playing next.

Reading the crowd

You probably hear DJs talking a lot about “reading the crowd”, but it’s not a very helpful thing to be told to do, is it? Exactly how are you meant to “read the crowd”?

In truth, knowing what a crowd wants takes experience, but bear in mind that watching your crowd carefully and always thinking about what might work for them is something you should be doing at all times as a DJ. The good news is that regardless of how fine-tuned your crowd-reading skills are, what is in this article will help you to make considerably better song choices anyway.

Tip: I often leave the DJ booth and go and stand in the crowd and ask myself: “What would I want to hear right now?” It can be a good way of getting yourself back on the crowd’s wavelength if you think you’ve lost them a bit.

What normally works

We don’t have to over-complicate this, so first, I’m going to list the things that, 80% of the time, will lead to you choosing an awesome song to play next. Afterwards, I’ll list lots of other ideas for those times when you’re still not sure.

  • Trust your instinct – Don’t overthink this! You probably already have a great idea of what to play next. So whatever you’re thinking, try that first. It’s probably the right choice
  • Play something you know goes well next (because you’ve practised it, or done it before) – Could be from your mini playlists, could be from one of your mix practice recordings, could be a mix you did at the same venue the week before… just go with what you know works
  • Play something where elements in each track match – Could be two tracks with a similar rhythm, similar instrument (pianos, saxophone), similar vocals (type, or the lyrics), or a particular sound or sample. Again, your mini-playlists should already contain tracks you’ve already spotted that are like this
  • Play something of a similar BPM, genre or key – Or, indeed, all three. Tracks that are similar will keep the vibe going on the dancefloor and move you smoothly to your next transition choice
  • Alternate between vocals and instrumentals – If you’re playing an instrumental, play a vocal, or vice versa. Vocals appeal to crowds in different ways than instrumentals, so play both
  • Alternate between known and not so well-known tracks – Stay on the same vibe, but play something more well-known, or less famous. Again, crowds often like to hear a mixture of stuff they know and don’t
  • Play a track by the same remixer, but by a different artist or vocalist – This can keep the vibe going, but introduce variety, especially when you tie it in with the previous point. Conversely, you could play a different remix of the same artist (or even the same track)
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