Swing DJ’ing is different from DJ’ing House music for example. Neither do we have to mix the songs nor do we have to scratch. Nevertheless it’s much more than just running a playlist!
I often get asked for tips about Swing DJ‘ing. So I have put together this list of 14 tips to become a (better) Swing DJ in a more or less random order.
Do it as much as possible: CDs, radio, internet radio, live concerts. Get a feeling for the music. Which songs make you dance? Why?
2. Know your music library
Build up your library steadily and in small steps. Avoid getting large amount of songs in one go. You rather have only 300-500 different songs in your library and you deeply know them. That means being aware of tempo, rhythm and style (lindy hop, balboa, charleston), mood (light, driving, bluesy) and so on.
3. Learn about Jazz/Swing History
Have at least basic knowledge about the history, there are great sources out there to learn from. It helps you distinguishing between different styles, knowing the main musicians of the era, and eventually building up your library.
4. Play SWING
Maybe that sounds weird, of course a Swing DJ should play Swing. Well, I attend a lot of Swing events and sometimes I’m really wondering if some DJs even know what Swing is. It doesn’t matter if the song is an old or a new one, but please play Swing music! If you are a beginner: check out my series Song of the Week to get an idea.
5. Feel the crowd!
Where is the comfort zone of the dancers? In which mood are they tonight: high energetic or more laid back? Watch who is dancing. Can you attract the advanced dancers as well?
6. Challenge the dancers
This is very important to me. As a DJ I’m responsible for the dancers. In beginner classes you usually don’t learn to dance to faster music. So, where else beginner dancers learn it? You got it, on the social dancefloor. So give them a chance, challenge them (not overwhelm!) and play faster songs even if it’s at the upper end of the comfort zone. It was too fast? Don’t worry. Play a safe winner to bring them back on the dance floor.
7. Don’t DJ and dance
Take it seriously and don’t dance and DJ at the same time. One song inbetween, why not, but be focused. Nothing sucks more than a DJ who is the only one dancing because he’s lost his crowd. No kidding, it happens!
8. No prepared set lists
Never ever prepare a whole set list and just play it! You won’t be able to react to the dancers. Feel the crowd and build your set on-the-go!
9. Only play music you like
That was the main reason why I started DJing. I rarely heard my favourite music on the dance floor. It’s as easy as that, only play Swing music you like and your set becomes much more personal. BUT keep in mind, it’s about the dancers, not about you.
10. Find your style
This is related to the point above. Why having different DJs when everybody is playing the same stuff. It’s boring! Dig for the gems and surprise the crowd!
11. Have safe winners prepared
Some tunes are just awesome and fill the dance floor immediately. Keep some of these songs prepared and play them when you start your set, the energy falls or when the song before was too fast.
12. Know the technical equipment
Have an idea how a PA or mixer works. Why not asking a professional sound engineer or tour technician for help? I once had a private workshop with a sound technician in the afternoon. It was great!
13. Bring your own cable kit
Especially when you don’t know the venue, make sure to bring your own cables and adapters, and don’t forget your headphones. I usually have a kit with me that includes: high quality cables in two lenghts with golden plated jacks, 3 different adapters, an external sound card and my DJ headphones.
14. Interact with other Swing DJs
Join communities such as swingdjs.com etc. and discuss about music, skills and technical equipment. Learn from the more experienced DJs in your local scene. Don’t hesitate to ask for advice. Most of them are more than happy to give you some tips.
Do you like this list?
Did I forget something to mention? Please leave a comment!