Where the angels go, trouble follows. And where I go, trouble, mayhem and mischief follow. When I started in this business, I only wanted to learn about deep beats, sexy mixes and (of course) chicks. But the longer I play, the more I learn and the better I become. DJing live is ultimately about giving your fans their money's worth. And to do that, you have to know your equipment and, most important, keep your energy high and your wits about you.
Being a touring DJ is exciting and dynamic, full of exotic places, hot clubs and memorable performances. But beyond the glitz, you have to maintain your success. That means being a consummate professional: showing up to gigs, flights and interviews on time and maintaining constant contact with your team (manager, booking agents, promoters and so forth). Being a DJ is definitely fun and games, but it's also real work. And if you're going to do it, you'd better be able to do it right. The more you know, the more trouble you can cause — and that is when the real fun begins.
SET UP FOR SUCCESS
Out on the road, things aren't always going to go your way, and you have to be able to adapt, make changes and hold your own on the technical side. Take, for example, the night I walked into a club (which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty) and found that the entire system needed to be rewired, with only three hours to spare. The turntables were sitting out on bass speakers, the feedback was out of control, and wires were everywhere. The only way I could play was to completely rework and rewire the entire system. As the old adage goes, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. So know how to set up, even if someone else is supposed to set up for you.
First thing first: Isolate the turntables. This is so very important! You have to steady the tables so that they don't move around when you play. In this instance, I used stacked cinder blocks followed by Sonex Foam under the tables to prevent vibrations and feedback. Once you have that set, connect the tables to the mixer; I prefer the Allen & Heath Xone:92 or the Pioneer DJM-600. I'm also partial to Technics 1200s turntables (on phono 2 and 3) and my Pioneer CDJ-1000s (on line 1 and 4).
These systems can be set up to your preference, but what works best for me is to have my turntables and mixer in front of me and my CD players on the right side, in an L shape. Make sure your DJ mixer feeds into the house board and that the XLR cables (anything 10 feet or more should be XLR) plug into the line input. Next, check to ensure that the channel trims are set correctly. The pan pots should be left and right, and all EQs should be set flat. If the main board has a compressor, have the soundperson bypass it, or it may corrupt your sound.
In an elevation setup, have the bass speakers on the floor and your mids right above the bass; place your highs a little above ear level. Monitors should have separate amplifiers — I recommend Crown, QSC or Crest — and they should always have their own EQs, separate from the main system, in order to bring the bass down and minimize distortion.
Start with a record or CD that you know well so that you can check your system's performance. Walk the room as if you were playing that very moment, and make your adjustments accordingly. Ask how loudly you can play and then go through a test. (Note: The best way to EQ the room is when people are there.) And don't forget to carry a set of RCA cables and extension cords with you on the road. You never know when you're going to need them, and they have saved the night for me on more than one occasion.
KEEP IT TOGETHER
Finally, know that it's all going to fall apart at some point, and you are going to have to fake your way through. On New Year's Eve 2002, I was slated to follow Paul Oakenfold at Spundae in Los Angeles, and everything that could go wrong did. But you have to know how to pull yourself out of these situations! With a crowd of 20,000 demanding one hell of a set from every performer that night, I was unable to get into the booth early and set up. In an effort to buy myself some time, I burst onto the stage with the Spundae dancers, and all 20,000 people, thinking it was part of my performance, lost their minds.
I stepped up to the tables — the bass was thumping, the snare was snapping, the beat was starting to switch — and then: The turntable tonearm broke down. The malfunctioning tonearm would not allow me to reweight the table, and with every passing second, the use declined and the record sound scratched. I was about to ruin my set one record in! Scrambling for a CD, I switched to my CDJs and attempted to blend the sounds. Jumping, laughing and squealing with delight, I threw up my arms and flashed my pearly whites to the crowd. I then spun around and screamed to my tech team, “Change that fucking turntable!” My guys scrambled behind the scenes, and I did my best Ashlee Simpson hoedown for the crowd. In the end, no one was the wiser, and a good night was had by all.
My advice for situations such as these is very technical, very professional and highly scientific: Do not panic! Smile big, throw on a raging tune, and never let 'em see you sweat. That's what being a performer is all about.
Special thanks to Andrea Eppolito for helping with this column.