As a DJ your job is to play music, but it’s a lot more than that. In particular, you have to be able to read a crowd. If you jump up and just play whatever song you feel like playing, there’s a good chance it’s not going to go well. It doesn’t matter how much the crowd is already dancing the night away. If you take to the DJ Booth and play the wrong music, you can completely clear a room.
Just because you’ve spent time planning a set, doesn’t mean that’s what you should continue to stick to on the night. If your audience isn’t vibing with what you’ve put together, you have to know how to act quickly and change things up!
So in this article, we’re going to cover how to read a crowd as a DJ, and what happens if you don’t!
Have the right balance
So you might be thinking, should you always play what the crowd wants? Absolutely not! Someone’s always going to want you to play Gimme Gimme by ABBA and for good reason, it’s a classic. But it doesn’t always make sense to play it at a particular time. In saying that, if you find you’re constantly being requested a similar genre. You might be able to slightly shift the way your set is going to adhere to the tastes of the crowd.
Even if you’re playing the same local club every week, for whatever reason, the vibe is constantly changing. What the crowd wants one week might not be the same as what they want the next. But if you learn to get the right balance you should be able to keep to your style while keeping the crowd happy. That’s assuming you’re playing the right venue or club night to begin with. But that’s a whole ‘nother article in itself!
What do you look for?
It goes without saying, you want the crowd dancing. But, it’s not always as easy as that. If you’re the headliner, it might be so. But if you’re the opening act, you really have to work to get the crowd on your side. In that case, you’re going to have the time you need to adjust your playing style and find out what works. At the end of the day, it definitely comes down to that gut feeling, but there are some things to look out for.
If the dance floor is filled with girls dancing, it’s definitely a good sign so keep doing what you’re doing. If people are nodding their heads, tapping their feet and generally looking happy; that’s also a sign the crowd are digging what you’re playing if it’s early on in the night. But if you’re the headliner and that’s the reaction you’re getting, I would be trying to do a little more to get them up and about!
Another great sign that you’re on the right track is if people are generally moving towards the dance floor. Even if it’s a subconscious thing, it means people are feeling your music and starting to respond.
There are also a number of other factors besides the music that can impact the crowd on a night. Whether it’s a sound and lighting issue, or even something as simple as drinks being too overpriced. These factors might not be your fault, but it pays to be able to spot when something goes amiss on the night.
Have more than enough music
It might be obvious, but you want to bring a good selection of music with you to your gig. The last thing you want to do is roll up to the club with a small sample of music and no idea what the crowd is looking for. Obviously it depends on the type of gig you’re playing as well as to what kind of music you prepare in the first place. You’ll find clubs will be a lot more open to playing tracks that noones heard before. But if you’re a Mobile DJ at a wedding or small party, the classics are going to be what brings the crowd.
Take advantage of the technology as well. In 2021, there’s no reason you can’t take a hard drive absolutely packed with songs giving you enough variety to cover every scenario. Unless you’re specifically a Vinyl DJ, we now have the luxury of not having to lug around hundreds of kilos of records. So use it to your advantage!
Finally, the best thing you can do before you hop on stage for your gig is to be prepared. Take these next few tips on board and make sure you’re as prepared as you can be to read the crowd and get it right from the get go!
Arrive Early – If it’s possible, and especially if you haven’t played the room before, make sure you get there early. Spend some time in the room you’ll be playing in before you start. This allows you to really get a feel for the crowd while you’re amongst it. Sniff out what they’re vibing and what they’re not, so you know what to avoid.
Watch & Listen – You’ve arrived early, so now it’s time to spend that time reading the signs of the crowd and the venue. As much as it’s probably tempting you to spend the next 30 minutes at the bar!
Speak to the promoter/Other DJs – Whether it’s the guy running the night, or the local DJs who’ve played there before. It definitely can’t hurt to get some insight and help prime you before you hit the stage.
Interact with the crowd
Yes, this article is about reading the crowd. But you also need to realise there’s a good chance the crowd are reading you too. Nobody wants to see a lackidasical DJ standing there with only eyes on the mixer, no emotion, no dancing, and no interacting with the crowd. This alone has the potential to massively rub off on your crowd, even if you’re playing good music.
If you have the opportunity to speak on the mic, use that to your advantage. But if you don’t, or you just don’t feel comfortable screaming to the audience, you can definitely interact in other ways. Whether it’s as simple as jumping up and down, throwing your hands in the air at the drop, smiling, and so forth. If you’re full of energy and happy to be there, there’s a good chance it can rub off on the crowd too!
What Happens If You Can’t Read The Crowd?
If you’re straight-up failing to grasp what the crowd’s looking for and playing the same tunes that just aren’t hitting the mark, people will leave. If it’s a club, they’ll flee to another room, or even leave the venue, and you really can’t afford that if you plan on securing another gig any time soon.
But what if you’re just not getting the emotion, reaction, or dancing that you expected. Why? What if you’ve changed things up, tested different songs, and you’re still not getting a good vibe?
Sometimes, crowds can really just be that boring. If you’ve tried everything, sometimes you just have to accept that it is what it is. Maybe the venue is a more relaxed sit-down vibe rather than one that packs a dance floor every night. But once your set is over, it might be a good idea to have a chat with the owners or bar staff to see if it’s normal. That way you can have that reassurance that you didn’t do anything wrong. And if it’s not normal, well, then you might have to work on reading the crowd a little more, and that’s okay too!
There you have it! Just a few tips and tricks you can use and take with you to your next set to help you read the crowd a bit better! Hopefully this article will leave you more mindful of the crowd and help you take your sets to the next level!