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3 best practices on how to read a crowd like a pro DJ

A Seattle DJ Tacoma DJ Wedding DJ Corporate Event DJ Nightclub DJ Thoughts

Knowing how to read a crowd is essential to DJing. Trust me, I am a DJ gear head and mix junkie, but I understand the importance of knowing how to read a crowd. Now, remember this: If you want to know how to read a crowd, but only want to play the music you like while you DJ, then I feel that you should re-evaluate your approach to DJing!

There are three things you must do if you want to know how to read a crowd:

  • Understand That It’s Not About You (Listen To The Crowd!)

  • Envision The Crowd As A Whole

  • Balance The Mixing/Beatmatching With What The Crowd Needs

So lets get started!

1. Understand That It’s Not About You (Listen To The Crowd!)

See this picture? This is a common conception people have about DJs. In fact, this is a common conception DJs have about DJs. However, if you want to read a crowd properly, you first have to understand that it’s not about you. Well, unless you’re a superstar DJ who plays their own music then it is about you… But for the majority of wedding DJs, club DJs, house party DJs, etc., you are playing for the crowd. With this being said, that if you want to know how to read a crowd, you must first have the want to listen to the crowd.

OK, I know that sounds like some theoretical/philosophical bull crap, but really it is true. If you’re DJing a party and you’re not willing to listen to a crowd and play music they love, but only want to play music you like, then you will have a difficult time when you try to read a crowd. In fact, you’re going to have a difficult time being a successful DJ – unless of course you’re only playing gigs for a specific genre (trance, dubstep, house), or you’re a superstar DJ, then it isn’t as crucial (but still relevant).

When you’re a wedding DJ, club DJ, house party DJ, etc., your job is to make sure the crowd is having a good time and enjoying their time at the club, bar, venue, party, etc. This means playing music that they want to hear. The majority of patrons at these parties will be interested in hearing the music that is popular on the radio or internet at the time. This music is known as Top 40s.

Playing music at these events isn’t difficult, you just need to play what is popular. The more popular the music, the better the chance the patrons know it. If people know the music, they can relate to it. If they can relate to it, then they’ll like it. If they like it, they’ll dance to it. If they’re dancing, then you’re doing your job correctly. If you do your job correctly, you get paid more and become more popular If you get paid more and become more popular, you increase your chances of rocking out to the super clubs and living your DJ dreams! That’s why knowing how to read a crowd like a pro DJ is so important.

PRO TIP: If you’re DJing a party and someone asks you to play a popular song like the female is doing to the DJ above (and it isn’t something like the barney theme song, Job For A Cowboy, or Nickelback), then play it! That patron is helping YOU. They are essentially telling you this. “All of my friends and I want to listen to a song and so they got me to come to you to tell you what we want to hear. If you play it then we’ll dance. If we dance, then more people will probably dance because they see us dancing. If that chain reaction keeps happening, then the dance floor will be packed!” That is why taking good song requests are crucial when DJing.

2. Envision The Crowd As A Whole

So now that you understand why it is important to listen to the crowd (and patrons), I am going to show you some tips and hints you can look for when you are reading a crowd. Next time you DJ, I want you to try to envision the crowd as a whole – an organism. If you see that organism moving rapidly, then you’re doing a good job… If you see that organism hiding around the edges of the club, then you better re-evaluate your music selection. You want to draw that organism out into the center of the dance floor. Here are those tops to help get that organism energized and moving:

Girls Dancing: If the girls are dancing, then the whole club will be happy. Why do you think that clubs let ladies in free all night? It’s because they understand that if ladies are there, then men will automatically flock. Same goes for the dance floor. If the ladies are on the dance floor, then the men will come to the dance floor in hopes to dance with the females. Keep this in mind the next time a female patron comes up and asks you to play a song for her and her friends – it just might be the kick you need to pack that dance floor!

Foot tapping, dancing (obviously), smiles, fist pumps, head bobbing, and no sneers: When you are reading a crowd, look out for these actions among the crowd. This will give you an indication whether the crowd is loving what you’re playing or not. If you don’t see this, experiment with some more popular music. This is the surest way to get the highest response from the largest percentage of people at the club. Remember: the more popular the music, the better the percentage of people who will dance to it!

A Move To The Dance Floor: If you see that organism (the crowd as a whole) slowly sludging its way to the dance floor as the night progresses, then you’re doing well. Know that people won’t be going their hardest at 10PM when the club opens! 12PM-1PM is the peak hour, so if your organism is creeping on the dance floor at 10PM you’re well on your way for a successful night. Keep drawing them onto the dance floor by increasing the energy of the mix with more and more powerful songs as the night rolls on.

Use these tips and techniques when you read a crowd. It will help you distinguish and target just how well you DJing is aligning with the crowd.

3. Balance The Mixing/Beatmatching With What The Crowd Needs

PRO TIP: Quality of music selection, first. Quality of transitions, second.

One time I was at a club as I going to see one of my DJ acquaintances perform. He is pretty popular around campus (University of Michigan), so I thought I would see how he well he would read a crowd and pump up that crowd, all while creating a seamless mix. He did all of those things great, EXCEPT the last one – mixing. However, it didn’t matter, he was still a good DJ. Here’s why… Honestly, I was speechless after the first “mix” he did. It sounded bumpy, awkward, and dry. Excuse me, but it was horrible. However, he was a pro at reading a crowd and playing the music the people wanted to hear. In return the people were going WILD! Not to mention he was getting paid well (and again, didn’t even know how to beat match).

Now here’s where it gets interesting…

After about an hour of me hearing him trainwreck his transitions from popular song to popular song (and yes, the crowd continued to build energy), I was told that another DJ was about to go on for an hour set to give my DJ friend a break. I was excited to hear this DJ play and when he finally started DJing, his mixes were awesome! In fact, he was PRO at mixing, however, his skills for reading a crowd were not so good. Also, he was playing music deeper trance/progressive house music no one knew, and thus that no one liked – except for me No one was feeling the music and the dance floor started to DIE. That organism started to crawl back in the shadows and outskirts of the club. Sure I liked the music, maybe a few others in the club did as well, but I was in the DJ booth, and only having three other people on the dance floor who loved the music (or were too intoxicated to care either way) isn’t a good way to keep your job as a DJ. Within a few minutes, the dance floor had quickly died. It was bad.PRO TIP: When you play music that no one knows and/or likes, like this DJ was doing, no one will dance (well, maybe a few, but mostly no one).

But his mixing was SPOT ON … So? … Good beatmatcher? Well, yes … But good DJ? Hmm… Unfortunately, I would have to say no. Anyways, this DJ kept mixing for about an hour or so and the energy in the room had dropped to excruciatingly low levels… so much so that I could feel the awkwardness in the room slap me in the face every time I heard the beat hit (trance/progressive house is around 130-140 BPM (Beats Per Minute))… so yeah, 140 slaps of awkward a minute … now that’s AWKWARD. So again, this DJ could mix, but he could not read a crowd – one of the main fundamentals of DJing.

When that DJ finally ended his set and my DJ friend came back on, you can only guess what happened. My DJ friend started to train wreck his transitions from popular song to popular song, but even still the transitions were no good, the energy levels started to pick back up!

The organism started to come out of its shell and cover the dance floor. People started dancing again, everyone was having a good time again, world peace was achieved!!! … OK not that last bit was a joke… The point is this: even though my DJ friend couldn’t mix, the place was bumpin’ because he knew how to read a crowd!!!

PRO TIP: Read a crowd by listening to the crowd, and the dance floor will be packed. Even if you cannot beatmatch to save your life.

In conclusion, “The people make the party”, as my another one of my DJ buddies always used to say, so play the music THE PEOPLE want to hear! It’s really that simple to read a crowd. Also, realize that practicing in your bedroom until everything is 100% perfect won’t get everything you need to be a pro DJ. Knowing how to read a crowd is more important. So always keep this in mind when you are DJing and when you try to read a crowd next time (which you will perfect!). Knowing how to read a crowd correctly is ESSENTIAL. What are your thoughts on thisreading the crowd comes first, and beatmatching comes second? Shoot me an email, I want to hear!

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