Do DJs do anything on stage during their live shows?

Photo by Hoach Le Dinh

The sight of tens of thousands reacting in rhythm to your music is awe-inspiring and may motivate you to become a DJ yourself. Nothing out of the ordinary needs to be done but to get crowds of people dancing to the beat of your rhythms.

DJs select the right songs to play for their crowd, and carefully blend the songs together by matching the beats per minute and blending the different songs’ beats.

When we look at a DJ in front of a huge crowd, they often seem to be messing with knobs and buttons on their equipment. They may be moving in time to the music with the crowd. But what DJs are actually doing is more technical than you think.

DJs provide Energy

The first time I went to a party with a live DJ, I didn’t know what the DJ was actually doing. To me, it seemed like all the music could have been planned out in a playlist. The songs blended nicely together, but couldn’t someone have made the music setlist at home, pressed play, and simply enjoyed the party like everyone else?

Little did I know, during a party, rave, EDM show or any other even with a live DJ, they are actively engaging with the crowd. A good DJ can make all the difference in the world.

A crowd may seem like they love a DJ’s taste in music. In reality, the DJ is paying attention to their audience and playing the music that the audience reacts the most to.

Mixing Tracks

The ability to mix tracks and seamlessly intersect songs together is crucial. To do this, DJs match the beats per minute, or the speed, of two different songs, while fading them into each other. There are a lot of different ways to do this.

Some DJs have software with all the possible songs they might play on the software. They use the software to blend the songs together.

A DJ may also use software to isolate vocals or backing tracks from songs. They then mix the vocals or backing tracks between different songs to make live mash-ups and unique song combinations. This way, every time you go to an event with this DJ, you’ll have a different musical experience.

Step Sequencing

Some DJs use a step sequencing machine, which is also called a step sequencer. A step sequencer records, or sequences, a beat or a part of a song. That beat can then be replayed at any speed to match other songs.

Before their set, a DJ will “step sequence” different parts of different songs. Then they have the ability to mix them together in any order when they are on stage in front of a crowd.

DJs can also use DJ controllers and CD decks, which are combinations of step sequencers and DJ software.

Get Invited to all Kinds of Events 

DJs perform at many different types of events, from small private parties to large festivals. DJs need to adapt to each of these situations to provide the best show possible and keep everyone entertained.

You may be familiar with DJs like David Guetta, Calvin Harris, DeadMau5 and Martin Garrix. These guys only perform for huge festivals, concerts, and headlining tours. DJs at this level often play a mix of their own songs and other popular music that their crowd will recognize.

DJs also get hired by businesses for corporate functions. These types of events can include store openings, marketing stunts, and corporate parties.

DJs can often find themselves DJing at private parties, such as weddings, graduation parties, and holiday celebrations too!

In every one of these situations, DJs need to be prepared with plenty of music mixes that the crowd will love and dance to. They need to be in touch with the music taste of the age group and type of people who will be at the event. This knowledge will help them perform a great live set.

Reading a Crowd’s Energy

Not only do DJs need to know what kind of music their crowd will like, but they also need to pay attention to the crowd’s energy. When a DJ does this, they will know when to drop beats, play songs, or slightly change the genre of music.

Maybe the crowd starts losing energy during one song, and the DJ needs to quickly and slyly transition the song to a different one.

A DJ who is great at reading their audience’s energy will help create a night to remember. They will play the music that resonates with everyone in attendance.

DJs interact with their crowd

DJs interact with their crowd to help pump them up. Even though the music they are playing is pre-recorded, it is exhilarating to be at an event where a DJ is present and knows what they’re doing. When a DJ interacts with their audience, it provides an extra jolt of energy to the audience.

Techniques for DJs to ENgage with their Audience

  • Use the microphone: DJs can get on their mic to talk to the audience. We all know the classic phrase “are you having a good time? I can’t hear you!”
  • Call and response: Just like legendary singers Freddy Mercury and Beyonce, DJs can engage in a fun call and response with their crowd in a lull between two songs.
  • Ask for song requests digitally: DJs can ask their audience to contribute to the setlist. They can make polls, ask for tweets, DMs, or comments on any social media. Not only does this connect the crowd and the DJ, but it adds to the excitement of a live DJ set.
  • Don’t be lifeless: Whether it be fist pumps in the air or jumping up and down with everyone else, the crowd will feed off of the DJ’s enthusiasm.

Pre-recording Sets

We’ve talked extensively about how important it is to be able to mix music live and pay attention to a crowd. At a certain level, it may sometimes be impossible for a DJ to do this.

DJ megastars who perform at festivals or on their own tours often combine their setlist with stunning pyrotechnics and other visual effects. These effects can take a lot of planning. Because the visual effects need to be planned in advance, the setlist sometimes needs to be planned in advance, too.

Luckily, DJs on this level usually have years and sometimes decades of experience working with a crowd, and know exactly what songs to play ahead of time. In this situation, it is more important than ever for a DJ to know how to interact with their crowd. 

Thanks to new technology, sometimes DJs can still mix a live set complete with visual effects. They may work with a VJ, also known as a video jockey. A VJ is someone who can skillfully mix live visuals that correspond with the music playing.

What do Radio DJs do during their live sets?

Radio DJs need a lot of the same skills as other types of DJs. They mix songs live and need to be in touch with their audience, even if the audience is on the other side of the radio.

To interact with a radio audience, taking song requests is a priority, and will keep your audience tuned in.

To interact with your audience you can also host things like competitions and quizzes. Even though your listeners can’t see you or be in the radio studio with you, they’ll feel they’re part of the show.

Have DJs always done the same things during live shows?

The term “disk jockey” has been traced back to the 1930s, when it was just used to describe a personality on the radio who took requests and selected music to play for the radio audience.

Since then, the concept of being a DJ has evolved to not only play music on the radio, but also for concerts and events. Over time, DJ technology has grown to expand the role of a DJ.

And not too long ago, Live DJs would mix songs with vinyl records using classic turntables. To this day, there are DJs who are able to mix music live with this method, and it’s a worthwhile pursuit to learn when you’re getting into the scene.

Being a DJ is an incredibly fun and rewarding career. While it may look simple – pressing a few buttons and letting your equipment do the rest – great DJs take things a step further and mix live music, interact with the audience, and work hard to make sure everyone has a great time. The harder you work, the more opportunities that open up.

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