The Importance of Learning How to Read the Floor as an Event DJ

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( — July 17, 2019) — What’s the most important tool for a successful DJ? Whether you have years or experience or are new to the music industry, a successful DJ utilizes a combination of high-tech tools, live set experience, in-depth music knowledge, and the act of reading and reacting to a live audience to rise above the rest. 

For live DJs, it’s not enough to only have the technical skills and latest DJ equipment to succeed, you also need the hands-on experience of working live sets to really understand your audience. This can only come from feeling the intricacies of crowd, responding directly to it and then facing the results. Today, we talked to Sawyer the DJ of Moonlight Mobile DJ to discuss some lessons in how to learn the important skill of reading the floor as an event DJ and then responding to your audience for memorable and crowd-pleasing results.

Do Research

First, it’s important to research and understand the event venue you are playing before your big night. If you haven’t played it before, it’s important to visit the venue before you are schedule to DJ there, so you can experience it in person and get a better understanding of the crowd’s expectations and how the crowd can differ on alternate nights and at different times throughout the night. If you can’t visit a venue in person, you can do research by looking at its advertisements and fliers, website and social media channels, reading online reviews, and asking colleagues and friends who have played there about their experiences. 

Consider questions like: 

  • Where is the venue located/what are its main competitors?
  • What type of crowd will the venue attract on a night like the one I am playing? 
  • What is the crowd looking for (drinking, socializing, dancing, etc.)?
  • What is the peak time for the crowd and when do people start arriving and leaving? 

Learning more about a venue before you play it can help you understand the crowd, get a better feeling of what type of experience they are looking for, and prepare your set beforehand. But this isn’t the only important piece of reading an audience.

Arrive Early

In addition to pre-event research, DJs should arrive early to get a feel for that night’s crowd. There’s no better way to learn about an audience than experiencing it firsthand, including how the crowd is reacting to the performers before you. Even if you are the first DJ of the night, you can learn more about an audience from what music a venue is playing before the live acts begin. 

Ask the event manager, club owner, booker or venue staff for their thoughts about the crowd or past live DJ events. Sawyer the DJ recommends asking yourself: are guests lining the dance floor ready to begin dancing, or are they lining the bar or sitting at tables or bar chairs, talking together? These pre-event interactions can help you understand more about what the crowd will expect from your set.

Build Up

Once you begin your set, you can shift your main focus to those patrons on the dance floor who you are there to engage and entertain. They are the customers who will help get others out on the dance floor, and work with you to build the venue’s atmosphere throughout the night. If your set includes a mix of music styles, note which tracks cause the best reaction from your dancers and the crowd directly surrounding the dance floor and interacting with them, and return to that style throughout the set, especially if other songs don’t have the same response. 

If you begin and people don’t start dancing immediately, you need to up your game to enhance them to the dance floor. One reason could be that you just started the set too high-paced and if you reduce the intensity of the music, dancers will be more comfortable starting out and enticing others to join them later. 

It can be hard to not get right to the major big anthems of your preferred genre quickly to get the party started. But, it’s important to not “show your hand” too soon. Instead, Sawyer the DJ recommends that you work to entice the crowd with a variety of types of music and energy levels, building them up to the night’s main climax. You don’t want to tire out your crowd to soon and lose them before the night really begins.

Interact with the Crowd

How you interact with the crowd can have a huge effect on the success of your set as well. You need to showcase the energy level that you’re looking for in the crowd and show your dancers you’re enjoying the night as much as they are. To do this, ensure you are making eye contact with key dancers to encourage them, and clap and dance along to the music. 

It can be hard to look away from the high-tech equipment we use to create live dance mixes, but not interacting with your crowd can really put a damper on their energy level. Your dancers want to interact with you as much as the music, so make sure you get your head up and show them you’re paying attention to the crowd. 

To make this easier to accomplish during a live set, especially if you are new to DJing or have new equipment, you need to master your set and your tech tools before the live event, so that you can look up and engage with the crowd as much as possible. Being able to find your controls by touch without looking down is a key skill in successfully reading and responding to your audience during live sets. Organizing your tracks in advance so you know what’s coming up and can react to your crowd as needed will also help your live show. 

Another way to engage directly with the crowd is to ask for music requests. This will give you more insight into the type of music the crowd wants to hear and help you to engage one on one with dancers in the crowd. While you don’t have to accept each request, Moonlight Mobile DJ highlights the importance of being polite in your response to each requester. 

If at a time during the night you lose the dance floor – by changing the style of music or adding in a specific audience request – or transitioning too quickly or too different a piece of music – note the effect and try to minimize it in the future. Learning from your mistakes is one of the best ways to improve your live sets and gain experience in reading and responding to an audience. If your audience seems tired, reduce the intensity of the mix for a few songs to give them time to relax and get a second wind, moving back up in intensity to the final peak of the evening. 

If you keep watching the crowd and responding to their needs, you will keep improving and working towards a mastery of reading and responding to an event crowd. Sawyer the DJ wants you to remember that every experience helps you learn more about the cause and effect of reacting to a crowd!