There’s nothing shameful or disgraceful about opening up a party for someone else. I’ve done it many times, and to this day still do it. In fact, I’ve opened for people who have since opened for me. If you’re booked to open and you agree to play the gig, you’re now part of a verbal and legally binding contract (at least in the state of NY) and you need to know your role in the party. First off, always remember that you’re not useless. It’s up to you to set the vibe. Your opening ability foreshadows the strength of the party and is a pivotal role in keeping early-arriving guests in the venue; they’re the ones texting their friends, telling them where they’re partying tonight and what’s on their agenda.
So whether you’ve never spun a party before, or you keep on getting offered opening gigs, and especially if you think you don’t know what you’re doing, or even if you think you know what you’re doing, let this little article be your guide.
Part 1. Setting up
The set-up portion is important. As much as you think you’re the man right now, you’re replaceable. Easily replaceable. It’s likely you were booked by a promoter, the main DJ, or by the venue and unless you’re a blood relative or a smoking hot girl wearing next to nothing in the booth, there’s a shitload of people out there just like you. With that said, be respectful to the people that work at the venue, and the equipment you’re provided with. Since people skills possibly got you to where you are now, we’ll skip the first part. Here’s how to be respectful with equipment during the set-up process:
- Know what you’re doing. If you don’t know, ask for the venue’s sound guy or someone who knows where to plug shit, and what the buttons and switches do. They will help. That is part of their job.
- Don’t unplug more shit then you have to. If you need one channel for your DJ controller, don’t go unplugging everything in the back and creating a jigsaw puzzle of wires. “I love playing with wires for 20 minutes before my gig,” said no DJ ever.
- For Pete’s sake, check your levels. Don’t redline when there’s a total of 4 people at the bar. Walk around the club while playing a track if you have to, just play at a volume reasonable enough for the crowd that’s present. If you don’t know the proper level, refer to number 1.
Part 2. The music
Aha. I bet you were waiting for this part of the article. Let’s get right to it, shall we?
- If there’s 20 people in the entire venue and you’re playing “Epic” by Sandro Silva & Quintino or “Levels” by Avicii, you have a serious problem. Also if you don’t know the song, you may also have a problem.
- When there’s a small crowd there, chances are they’re just trying to slowly get into the mood of the party. By “get into the mood of the party,” I mean they’re slowly trying to get drunk enough to enjoy what you’re playing. Not that they think it sucks and they need to be intoxicated to enjoy it, but that’s just what people do. At this point, you should start off with some loungy house, possibly some deep house; something relaxing that will make people bob their head a little. Again, nothing too crazy.
- Let’s say for instance your opening gig is from 10:30pm – 1am. It’s likely that a nice amount of people will show up from 11:30-12 and it will peak at about 12:30. From 11:30 on, it’s time to party. You want to keep nonvocal and unknown/obscure music to a minimum. People at the party want to know the shit they’re hearing. Don’t go batshit crazy and play Skrillex and Knife Party tracks in hope of a mosh pit forming either. Keep it known and popular.
- Gradually increase master volume and levels as you see fit without blowing out the speakers. The noise versus music level should be appropriate. Use your own ear or ask a sound tech or a manager if you’re not sure. One of the worst things is when people are easily heard talking versus the music. Alternatively, another horrible situation is when you’re responsible for blowing the speakers. The night is basically over once that happens. Don’t let it happen to you. Use your ears and your judgment.
- When it comes to taking requests, NEVER feel obligated to play what a guest asks of you. I’m aware that she’s the birthday girl and wants to hear her jam. If you can play it and you as a DJ find it to be feasible, go right ahead. Appealing to the female patrons is usually preferred. However if she keeps annoying you while being rude and disrespectful, feel free to tell her off politely. Avoid calling her a “C” word. The best solution is usually to tell her you’ll try to include her request if its possible.
- 5b. If a manager or a head promoter requests a type of music, it’s probably best you accommodate that request. Why? Well for one, they have a say in whether or not you return there. Second, it’s likely they know what they’re talking about. If there’s a large party from Colombia and they want to hear every Shakira song ever, do it. It will only do you good.
- 5c. I’m sure you have friends that came to party with you as well. They’re also prone to blow up your SMS inbox with their own requests, like that Armin Van Buuren track you two listened to on that drive to Miami. All I can tell you in this case is: Use your head.
Part 3. Finishing up
- So, it’s about that time. The next DJ is getting his song selection ready, your time is running out, and the club is ever so poppin’. Not to fear, all good things must end. Follow this procedure to ensure that it ends well. Ask the next guy what he’s gonna play and what genre/BPM he prefers you to finish off with. Be friendly and try to accommodate. Making friends is never a bad thing.
- When you’re finally finished and you’re unplugging all your equipment and wires, be as careful, meticulous and wary of all of your surroundings. In fact, remember when you had to walk into your girlfriend’s house so quietly to avoid her parents catching you doing dirty things to their daughter? That careful and then some. If you unplug the wrong shit and the speakers go silent, you’re gonna be the one to blame. That’s bad, and you should feel bad. Don’t let it happen.
- Use your people skills to talk to whoever you need to talk to for whatever reason, and have a great night.
…and that’s about it.
With all that said, you should have a general understanding of what an opener does and should do. Don’t worry about anything else other than the music. Keep the place bumping, don’t mess up too hard, and just have a good time doing what you love doing.