Hitting the road for a DJ tour in support of your album seems simple enough: Just book the dates, pack a bag, grab your tracks and get on the plane — right? Not so fast! Once you get to the first venue, you'll discover that the DJ booth is full of unique and unexpected “features.” And with that discovery comes the realization that every club and every DJ booth are different. Still, when you arrive at those unfamiliar venues, you'll be expected to perform better than you do at your residency back home (even if that happens to be your bedroom). Not to worry: We have some handy-dandy experience-based tips for you.
GET A FEEL FOR THE ROOM
People who design nightclubs don't necessarily think about logistics when they decide that a good place for the DJ booth is 20 feet above the bar. You really know they're not thinking about logistics when you discover that the only way into the booth is straight up a steel ladder with 40 pounds of records in tow.
When you do finally arrive in the booth, before you mix your first track, turn down the monitors all the way and get a feel for the overall room dynamics. In medium- to large-size rooms, there will be a delay effect (which is most noticeable upon silencing the monitors). Hear it? Just let your brain become familiar with it for a few seconds. We're not saying don't use your monitors, but it will help your mixing immensely if you know what kind of acoustic circumstances you're dealing with. Now, have a sip of whatever alcoholic beverage the promoter has given you, and move on to the next challenge.
UNFAMILIAR MIXER 101
Getting used to an unfamiliar mixer is something that every DJ has to do at one time or another. After you've been slaving away in your bedroom for months, perfecting your finger-flick crossfader moves and high-speed fader gates, you get to the venue's booth and — hey, what's that black thing with all of the knobs and no faders? Meet the rotary club mixer. It will sometimes be installed with an expander module containing a crossfader and some other features, but you might run into a situation in which all you have are those knobs to mix with.
To deal with knobs or other strange controls that make you feel like you're in an alien starship, first take a moment to stroke your chin and panic internally. Heart rate up and guts gone to mush? Good. Just pretend that sheen of perspiration on your forehead is from the hot and sweaty club. If you have anything left of that alcoholic beverage handy, drink some of it. (If not, request another.)
After you're done panicking, relax and find your basic reference points. First of all, what source is on what channel and what's turned up? Make sure that the source you want to cue is turned down, and put on your record or CD. Now, find your headphone and booth levels. Half an inch left on the last DJ's record? Plenty of time. Try to get some sound in your headphones. On lots of knob mixers, you'll only be able to hear one channel at a time. What's that you say? You've been cheating and mixing in your headphones? Well, you're about to break a bad habit really quickly. Ultimately, mixing with your monitor 100 percent on one side and your cue source 100 percent on the other side (headphones) is much easier and will give you more control of your mix, but there can be a steep learning curve if you've been mushing up the signals in your headphones. If you're having trouble, ignore your instincts and turn your headphone level down. It will be easier to mix if you're paying more attention to the track that's already playing.
Now, about those knobs: The linear increase in amplitude will give you a gradual fade-in and tons of control. Just keep twisting!
SWINGING DECKS ARE FUN
Clubs are loud, and these loud sound waves tend to cause everything inside the club to vibrate more than a personal massager set on high. (Have you ever set your cocktail on top of a bass speaker only to find it on the floor moments later?) Because of this, club owners have devised many clever ways to keep these sound-damaging vibrations off of the turntables. So if you encounter booth gear hanging from the ceiling with cables or turntables set on wobbly, trampolinelike surfaces, don't freak. Those contraptions are keeping all of that vicious feedback at bay.
Sure, freely swinging decks or turntables that behave like bobble heads are strange at first, but you'll get used to them. Just don't make any sudden movements, and you'll be fine. In fact, they seem to encourage smoother, more relaxed technique, which is great for any out-of-town DJs who may find themselves a little anxious in front of that massive new audience.
Lots of DJs are kind-of-nerdy guys and gals who love music and technology. They don't necessarily know what to do when a DJ-loving girl in short shorts and a halter top or a sweaty, waxed club stud somehow gets into the DJ booth and starts doing the lambada on them while they are trying to beat-mix. How to deal? The first strategy is to put on your best beat-mixing concentration face, even if you are dead in the middle of an 11-minute prog tune. Ignore the intruder politely. If this doesn't work, distract him or her. Give the fan something to look at and play with, like a record sleeve or somebody's hat. This will probably fascinate the person and buy you some time. If this fails, enlist the promoter's help. Wait, it's his girlfriend? Okay, you're just screwed.
Jondi & Spesh's new album, The Answer (Spundae, 2004), is available now.