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Building an Atmosphere in an Opening DJ Set

DJ Experience, News | Sep 16, 2016   

Building an Atmosphere in an Opening DJ Set

While many people in the crowd show up specifically to see the headliner, the opening DJ bears the responsibility of building a foundation for the evening. Experts agree that the opening DJ has a much more difficult job than the headliner. They have to plan their sets according to the style of the mainstream artist, while at the same time carefully selecting music that the star would never play in their show. No matter what they spin, someone will probably say it was a banger. Oftentimes they work for a tiny portion of what the promoter is paying the other DJ.

Nonetheless a good opening set can mean the difference between an average night or a legendary night. Keep reading for our tips on perfecting the opening set.

Creating an Opening Crescendo


Sometimes opening DJs see the gig as an opportunity to show off what they’ve got, and make the mistake of going too big, too fast. Think of a club night as a crescendo, or a progressive increase in force or intensity. As you can see from the chart above, every party starts out slow and the energy gradually climbs. Ideally the climax of the event happens around the time that the headliner gets on stage. 

When someone walks into the club they are probably clear headed and sober. They don’t start dancing right away. Usually people buy a drink at the bar and then mill around talking to each other until that moment when they start to feel the music. A good opening DJ has their finger on the pulse of the crowd from the moment they walk in until the transition into the main act’s set. They should progressively build energy on the dance floor while at the same time inspiring people to buy drinks at the bar.

Have an Extensive Music Library


Professionals consider it a major faux pas to play any track produced by the headliner. And you probably want to avoid anything they are affiliated with as well. In Las Vegas a general rule of thumb is not to play any new music from the last two years. Just don’t play any “bangers” because if you do, the headliner might tweet about what a huge douchebag you are.

The opening DJ should have an extensive music library to draw upon in order to be ready for any occasion. The object is to adapt the set to the style of the evening. The audience can tell when the opening DJ knows their stuff and plays a fluid set of good music.

It seems like a daunting task but a real DJ puts music together aesthetically through intuition and practice. Or just play it safe with the best of the ’90s and 2000s.

Winding Down with Closing Sets


Occasionally, the night might call for an after hours or closing DJ. You could go a number of routes with this depending on your style and goals for the evening. You could steadily bring down the beats-per-minute until everyone feels sleepy enough to go home. Or play a little R&B and soul that emboldens them to get to know one another. Try not to play any songs they already spun earlier in the evening.

Many professional DJs actually prefer the opening set because it presents a greater challenge. They don’t have to stay up too late, and get a chance to network, and watch the headlining act perform. For the reasons discussed previously it takes a lot of skill and effort to open for a concert at a music venue or nightclub.

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Also Read: The DJ Hustle: Getting Booked

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One thought on “Building an Atmosphere in an Opening DJ Set

  1. I am in California and very rarely do I find the larger dance clubs closing at 2am these days. Nowadays the majority of the large dance clubs stop serving alcohol at 2am (1:40 or 1:45 last call) but they stay open until 4am. At around 2am they temporarily close the bars and the bar-backs gather up all cups, glasses, bottles etc (even your water and Gatorade must go). Once they ensure that any receptacles that could possibly hold some alcohol have all been scooped up, they open the bar and continue to serve water, soda coffee and Gatorade until 4am. This has turned out to be a win win for everyone. Drunks are not being shoved out to the street and their cars….the crowd gets two more hours to dance and the owner gets two hours where most people are now purchasing the holy grail of all holy grails for club owners…the $5 bottle of water which only cost the club 25 cents each because of the bulk deal they have going with the distributor. If you are spinning at a club that still closes at 2am I am a bit surprised that the owner hasn’t caught on to the 2am to 4am world of greed and treasure (for him or her of course).

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