DJ Tip: Keep Calm and Play

This is a DJ tip I found out early on, that taught me how to keep calm to perform well and play a good set.

The first time you play for a public

So you think you are ready to perform in front of a public, and you have a great music selection.
You’ve learned the art of beat-matching, or you use the sync function (no judgment, whatever works and keeps the flow).
Then you get your first gig and feel over the moon with happiness about it. Only to find out something you did not expect – you are dreading to perform in front of people.
The more you think about it, the more you can feel the sweat rolling freely down your forehead.
That’s when you might start doubting if this is for you, or if there’s anything wrong with you. And if you decide that you really want to play DJ sets, you might quickly want to find out what you can do to change this feeling.
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there, at one time or another. Actually, more often than not is likely to be the norm.

My own experience of DJ chills

I started playing in 2001, three months after I had been practicing at home. The idea was to learn how to DJ as I played, or hands-on. It seemed like the perfect way to develop my skills.
The only thing was that, after my first performances, I seriously doubted I could handle the nerve-wracking feeling I had each time before playing.
Don’t get me wrong, I always loved playing. Whenever I begin a set, it’s like an automatic pilot switches on, and things just roll. But back then, it was hard to deal with my thoughts right until the moment when I pressed the “play” button on the CDJ.
So, I started asking friends who were also DJs, some who I respected a lot because they played for such a long time. I would ask them “do you feel nervous before playing?” And everyone would answer with “yes”, or “it’s part of it”. That’s when I realized that I was not alone and my feelings were completely normal. 

Finding a solution

Still, I wanted to find a way to deal with it.
One day, talking to a friend, he told me about a good book that he read about this, called The Inner Game of Music, by Barry Green and Timothy Gallway. He offered to lend me the book, and I read it from cover to cover.
The Inner Game of Music was a game-changer. It follows a technique developed for tennis players and later implemented for musicians. It has been written with orchestra musicians in mind, but who is to say what type of musician can benefit from the ideas in the book. I found out that it helped me a huge deal as a DJ.

Stay in the moment

The main point of this book for me is to do all you can to stay in the moment. You can practice this at the gig, or on the days preceding it. This can be days or weeks, depending on how much your brain likes to worry. The best is to avoid thinking a lot about your upcoming gig or to dwell on it. By all means, prepare your set, but don’t spend any overtime worrying about it.
Every time you catch yourself worrying about it, find something happening right here and now and put your attention to it. For example, if you are at the event you are about to perform, pay attention to the music being played, the decoration, the visuals, and the people. You get the idea.
If you are thinking about the gig long before the party has started and are still worried about it, just say to yourself: I will deal with it when I’m there. This can keep you in check. That’s what I did. I would say to myself: I will deal with it when it happens.
So stay in the moment. Stay present. Stay in the now.
Music can only happen in the now, not before or after.

Keep calm and play

You can plan the technique and the music content, but the reaction of the public you can only imagine, and nothing is certain. Often things go according to plan, but not always. One thing is sure: when the music is on, that’s when you will know.
Then do your best to stay focused, prepare your stuff, and have fun. Know that, even if you do feel nervous, it’s part of it. Some people call it nervousness, others call it excitement.
And as long as you are well prepared when you press that play button at the start of your set, you will switch on the auto-pilot mode. Everything will just flow, and the rest will be history.