The art of the opening DJ

Just passing along an excellent article on the art of being an opening DJ. Like most other DJs I have had my share of time spent opening a night for other DJs. Sometimes you feel torn between wanting to show what you can do and playing what is appropriate for that time slot.

When I moved to SF I had been a DJ for 5 years. I had played any number of gigs both small and large and I had established myself in Seattle. Moving to a new city required patience. Lots and lots of patience.

When I did get a gig often it was a warm-up slot. My philosophy is always to play appropriate for the time and environment. Maybe 10pm with only a few people on the dancefloor isn't the best time to prove I can play all my hard driving breaks. Not that I'm perfect. There were times for sure I played where I cringed after seeing the dancefloor clear.

I bided my time. Eventually after putting out a series of DJ mixes and playing some house parties that went over well (does anyone remember the afterparty at Ron Nike's house where I played and then Lee Coombs came on afterwards?) I started getting opportunities to play prime time slots.

The bottom line is look at your watch, look at the environment you're in and take in the mood of your crowd.

I once watched Josh Wink pull a reset at a party in Whistler that perfectly demonstrated how a DJ should NOT warm up a crowd. The DJ before was playing big breaks and hardly anyone was dancing. There was no warmth to the music, nothing to draw you in. Just big loud brash beats. Wink pulled it back and started playing music that had a little more melody and hooks to it. Within 15 minutes he had people's attention. At the 30 minute mark people started dancing in earnest. At the hour mark the party was going off.

What do I remember about that night? #1 that the DJ before him completely ignored the room and didn't do his job #2 Josh Wink was a stud that night for exactly the opposite reason. He gauged the room correctly and pulled everybody in and got them going. It was a shame that the crowd wasn't already warmed up though.

Check out the article

On the road to Burning Man

Getting ready for Burning Man is always a bit of a trip for me. Sharon and I like to eat well on the playa so this year we prepped some home made chili, a couple Thai meals, 4 crates of mangos, etc. I even vacuum sealed a couple of what I hope will still be delicious slices of Escape From NY pizza. Gathering our camp supplies is not too difficult at this point, but we like to add creative flare every year. This year I took on a DIY project to create some decorative solar lights.

The real difficult part of prepping for Burning Man is getting music ready. This year I revamped my system which was not working well anymore. My old system relied on me having a giant book of CDs and having a really good idea of what is on every CD in that book. This system fails when you have about 124 CDs while in the middle of a desert riding around in a bumpy bus while flames blast out all around you.

So this year I looked over all my music from the past year and rated every song I purchased. Only 4 & 5 star songs along with a handful of 3 star songs make it to the Burning Man playlist. I now have the added benefit of creating smartlists in iTunes (even though I despise using it) where I can group together my best electro breakbeat tunes or if I’m playing a funk set I could look just at my funk music or also group in my funky breakbeat or my hip-hop flavored breakbeat.

It’s still a work in progress and I’m still looking at having to burn CDs for a few hours and print out labels but this year I feel like I know my music inside and out. That is a great place to be when you’re sleep deprived and coasting along on fumes at the end of the week.

Along with my schedule posted on the front page if you want to find me you can always look for the Space Cowboys Unimog. It looks something like this (6 year old’s Lego rendition).

Pasted Graphic

Music Philosophy

I discuss my philosophy on DJing and how it’s changed over time from starting out in Seattle to moving to San Francisco. Becoming immersed in Burning Man culture and what the future holds. Read More...