DJ Tip: How to read the public and pick the best music

This DJ tip about how to read the public and pick the best music is a set of ideas you can use to increase your connection with the public. How you can create the perfect atmosphere for the conditions happening during your set to match the vibe from the crowd.

Getting in touch with the vibe

Have you ever thought about what makes a good set? If you are a DJ, for sure you’ve had experiences when everything goes well, while at other times, not so much. The trick is to find out what can make the difference.

When you have a good connection with your public through music, it can feel transcendent. I call it the “bubble” – or a space that’s self-contained and you can almost touch. A space where your musical taste and the taste of the public get connected, blending your energy with their energy, and of course, the music. Whenever this happens, it feels like time has stopped and that moment is going to last forever. 
But how to recreate the “bubble” every time?

Creating the music “bubble”

Many things are important in a set, but it has been said that music choice is the most important. You can keep mixing, adding effects, and tweaking the heck out of it, but in essence, the underlying beat is what is pulling it all along.
So a good skill that is essential for every DJ, is to be able to read the public and know what works for them. In this way, you can pick the best music that suits the moment.

Which tracks will you select?

Chances are that you have already developed a music style for which you are known. This is why you have been booked in the first place and the reason why people come to hear you play. Your best bet then is to stick to your vibe and do your thing.
Still, I bet that, if you look into your signature music style and vibe, you can find many directions that you can go. Different sub-styles in your collection can cause a different reaction in the public. Some may work and others may not exactly meet your expectations. That’s where a few tweaks can do just the trick.

My 4 main points to pick the best music

  1. First of all, prepare your set. I don’t mean to have it all written down and follow a list track by track. Although everyone is different and if that’s what works for you, go for it. My approach is to listen to my favourite and latest tracks a few hours before the performance, to have an idea of what fits more or less in the style of music I am booked for. This is how I get myself in the zone, check the possibilities, and get a general idea of the directions I can go.
  2. During your set, feel your energy and see if the track you are playing makes you dance. If it is not grooving you, the chance is that people are not going to dance that much on it either.
  3. Keep an eye on the people on the dancefloor. How are they moving and how is their body language? When there is a good vibe going, you will see people smiling, and their movements can become wider and more regular, following the rhythm. If you’ve got that, then you know you've hit the spot! Keep checking people’s reactions, body language, and faces, and you will know if your set is working out on the dancefloor.
  4. If you don’t feel like people are following you, then it’s time to try something else. Another track or another vibe. I don’t hesitate to remove a track sooner if it’s not having the effect I originally intended. Music, dancing, and people are interacting continuously. Maybe what you thought would work 5 minutes ago doesn’t work anymore. Stick to the moment.

Extra points to keep in mind

It goes without saying – while still saying it anyway – to keep in mind the location, type of festival or party, the wishes of the organizer, your time slot, and even the weather conditions. Depending on the type of event, you might go for a different style. You're not going to play Progressive Psytrance for a Forest Psy dancefloor. Or Techno at a Drum & Bass party.
Also, try as much as possible to follow the guidelines and wishes of the organizer. They have a good idea of the style of music they want for their event and the time slot you're playing. Maybe you’ve already been informed about a specific style or vibe that they want. If they don’t say anything, then probably they’ve booked you exactly for your signature sound. You can ask them about it if you wanna be sure.
It’s also a good idea to check in advance the musicians playing before and after you, so you can see what fits well in between. This is not a must, especially when people may be there exactly for your vibe and not for how you adapt to others. But if you are a super versatile DJ who can play in any slot, it doesn’t hurt to get an idea of what’s going on before and after you.

Too cold or too hot to dance?

Your time slot also hints that you will be most likely playing night music in the night and day music during the day. Or slower music at the start and faster music later on. Or whatever fits the flow of the event.
A sudden change in music style and speed can jolt the dancefloor. I’ve seen super-fast artists playing after super-slow ones. This caused an exodus on the dancefloor, like birds migrating south in the winter.
And that takes me to the seasons. The summer specifically. The best time when most festivals happen because it’s hot. Or not.
In Europe, festivals can be very cold and rainy even in the summer. It’s never a guarantee, so it’s good to adapt. If it’s too hot, better avoid playing ultra-fast. If it’s cold, raise those BPMs because people need to warm up! Of course, this depends on the music style. For example, in a Hitech party the music won’t be slow, so just do your thing.

Wrapping up

In essence, music is a combo of the track you play, your energy, and the energy of the public. Make sure that you and your public are having fun and you’ve got a winning recipe.
Ultimately nothing is written in stone. It’s good to do your preparation, but music is always in the present. And so are the things you can do, also in the present. They happen there and then, just as music is blasting from the speakers and people are dancing to it.
So follow your feeling. Feel your vibe and the vibe of the people. Pay attention to them and how they look. Are they enjoying as much as you are, and you’ve got it all going and flowing? Then keep that beat rolling!