How to be a professional DJ

What Makes A Good DJ


Most London bars and nightclubs have their resident DJs playing. There is a likely chance the resident DJs will have been playing at the venue for a good number of months or years and understand the general type of clientele that parties at that particular venue. Many London DJs work together by recommending their fellow associate DJs to their resident venues. Rarely do you find London bars and nightclubs hiring random DJs here and there. If a venue does hire a new DJ on the off chance then the bar managers, promoters or head of events will brief them on what music is to be played well in advance of the evening.

London crowds have a particular way of partying. Our experience of all night clubs going from A-list to Hoxton to the small not so well known venues is that international remixes aggressive hyped tracks “generally” do not work. The Fatman scoops, Lil Jon US hypes versions of original songs made by US DJs given on DJ websites do not work in London (other than Be Faithful). The crowds want to hear the originals, some mash ups do work but a whole set of Vegas R&B and house would not fit in. The DJs need to know when to cherry pick the mash ups.

Scratching is another topic. There are so many different types of parties and the DJs (if they can) need to know if the crowd is a crowd that will appreciate scratches. Places like Fabric, the Jazz Café and many of the A-list nightclubs fly in international DJs who are known to be the best DJs in the world. To all the DJs reading this, we’re not saying you can’t scratch in a nightclub because you are not them but if a DJ has the ability to flare, transform, crab and can indeed perform turntabilism and then is asked to play at a City of London bar then those intense tricks and scratches most likely won’t be needed for the city crowd. We even sent DJs to a very big chain of bars and they asked for no scratching as they know their clientele just want the songs to be played and nothing fancy or flaring.

We have hundreds of DJ applications daily and when we speak to the DJs looking for work we interview them and find out. Some DJ’s have played in huge nightclubs in the world and we’ve asked them do you have such songs as CeCe Peniston – Finally? No, Oasis – Wonderwall? No?  We can’t send a DJ who doesn’t have the selection to play for a hen night or a pop night. Is a DJ who’s amazing at Hip Hop scratching necessarily needed in an A-list EDM or Afro house London nightclub?

What is expected of a DJ. Upon the basics of being on time to the London bar or nightclub, being well dressed and professional is that they have the right selections of the songs to cater for the venues they are specialised in. In all honesty, some DJ’s can kill the night and end up making customers leave which could cost the London bars and nightclubs potentially thousands as well tarnish a the reputation they’ve spend up building over the years with the right DJs.

DJ’s need to know the mentality of London party crowds, they need to know how to transition and mix numerous genres of music at open format venues similarly if the venue has a set music policy. If the London bar or nightclub is known to have a international clientele then they need to know exactly what that crowd wants. London party crowds can vary substantially in large venues, the DJs need to know how to mix, clean seamlessly, not like a robot, alternate genres, mix quickly but not too quick that they just cut off every song so shortly. The London DJs need to know if scratching is appropriate and also if one direction is appropriate.

There are many demands on DJs in London, some people say it is an overpaid profession, some say it is not a “real job”, the real fact of the matter. For a good DJ in London they already know what is expected of them before they enter the venue. Not all DJs are paid well by venues in comparison to what they do, they have a task not to make people leave and keep them in. For what they are paid, they could make the difference of a few thousands pounds to the bar spend and they can make a whole difference to the general morale of you and your guests (which that itself if priceless).

The main thing in order to understand how to be a professional DJ for London events you will need to know how to make all types of ages, genders and races all gel together with music.

HOW TO BE A PROFESSIONAL DJ Understanding the crowd

The main difference between a wedding DJ and nightclub DJ is understanding the crowd and how to cater for it. We’ve mentioned that DJing has so many varying degrees from basic fade in fade out to power party rocking sets. Yes, there are nightclub DJs who play weddings and they will understand at the same time there maybe a nightclub DJ who may playing a mobile disco type of wedding for the first time so the set will be of a very different style to their nightclub set. Weddings in London have changed from the traditional mobile DJ style sets, some weddings go as far as to even throw a party similar to a nightclub. So lets break it down.

Respecting the equipment

A nightclub will most likely have a pair of CDJ’s (sometimes 4 CDJs), some have turntables or a combination of all of them accompanies by a mixer as an in house sound system. We recommend that you use the in house system as whoever installed the sound system built it to use with the corresponding sound settings of that mixer. You’d be quite surprised how many DJs would want to bring their controllers and place over that sound system  – we’d highly suggest not doing this. A good nightclub DJ will know that a proper nightclub has a proper install, usually pioneer mixers or Allen and heath and the sound quality is run and balanced well through these type of mixers. By plugging in a controller (which if cheaper models) which tend to have a lower quality sound output is not a good move and in fact quite disrespectful to the venue. A good nightclub DJ would always use the in house system, over their controller.

An experienced DJ will know if playing a feature set at a nightclub especially high end to contact the venue, find out what equipment they have and use theirs. High end nightclubs would not take well to a DJ arriving to the venue with a £500 controller and plonking it over their £7000 nexus set up, the venue managers will most likely not ask you back. If you are not ready to play on professional systems, will all due respect you may not be ready to play in nightclubs. All experienced professional DJs know industry standard equipment. We recommend that you hire studio time with these set ups to be acquainted with so that you can respect the venues use of equipment.

Understanding the master volumes by having a conversation with management before. Many DJs are not aware that many pioneers have different output switches on the back and that can determine whether you crank the master volume all the way up to maximum or if the sound install has been set to high meaning that highest level could be 10 o’ clock on the mixer. In whatever situation do not drive the volumes, most venues have a compressor and this make the sound come out even worse. It’s been a thing since the beginning of DJing yet some DJs do not learn. Do not drive the venues sound systems into reds regardless if the sound is low. If the nightclub has an in house AV engineer on site a good DJ will always communicate with them on the best levels.

Music FILE FORMATs Management

The library management USBS’s CDJ’s / MP3 on Serato Traktor RecordBox. We were initially going to omit youtube rips text as we thought it was a given. However, just to remind you again playing youtube rips is a bad idea! altogether, those 128kb files will with no hesitation SOUND AWFUL on a main-room nightclub sound system – DON’T DO IT. If you want know how to be a professional DJ – this is mandatory.

A good nightclub DJ will always play 320kbps at least 256kbps if worst comes if it is a regular small nightclub on a mediocre system. If one has the space on their devices… they opt to play WAV which is the best but also has it’s drawbacks on slower loading. 

If you are booked to play your own produced music that you have produced the a we’d recommend playing the WAV file versions.

Laptop sets where the DJs use the main source of music channelled from an external hardrive, yes we’ve seen this a few times with some DJs out and about. A professional DJ will know not to play a set off a laptop with their main music library channelled via a usb cable (even if it is a mains powered USB). By all means keep a back of music on usb, but using your USB hard drive as main source is a 100% definite nono. You are gambling and playing with fire, the external USB library source has an incredibly high rate of crashing. Please the internal storage off your device hard drive, it is stable and powered substantially better than an external device. 

Is the dJ UP TO date with new & old music

Most DJs never plan full sets song by song on what they will play next (unless a short main festival headliner) as crowds change very moment at nightclubs as well as most parties and events. A good nightclub DJ will always have a set or referral crate folders which is usually a guideline to fit in with the music styles of which the crowds at the venues expect to hear, they will bounce between those crates so create a few crates for different nightclubs with varying music poilices.

Keeping up to date with music (this includes new and old). A good nightclub DJ will always keep up to date and that will include removing older stuff that is dated and no longer has an impact. There are some one hit wonders that people no longer want to hear. We will take the open format nightclub DJ as an example here; back in 2005 The Black Eyed Peas had a hit song “Don’t Phunk With My Heart” and Pussycat Dolls had the single “Don’t Cha”. Most DJs (who play this genre of music) would know that out of those two songs there would be a crowd response of very good/ good and the other one zero. That’s right the Black Eyed Peas song does not really work in today’s crowds and therefore most DJs wouldn’t play this song in today’s nightclubs. By deleting and keeping one version of an outdated song is recommended. 

There is no point typing in a song on a laptop or in a crate on USB and seeing a few versions of the same song because when playing a nightclub styled set the DJ needs to be fast. The eye and brain need to focus immediately on the song once it’s typed or scrolled to and not see multiple versions of the same song therefore taking more time to filter with the eye. The DJ’s need access to it immediately and load it asap and as we all know with DJing there is no time to waste reading unnecessary files. Filter out the unnecessary outdated versions of Quikhitters to make quick music sourcing as quick as possible. Keep to the one old version (that may be requested on a private event on scarce basis) and an added bonus of this, it will also add more storage to devices.

Regarding the popular song in this case: Pussycat dolls, a good nightclub will have Original, Extended, Quickhitter, Transition, Clean Dirty to cater for the situation. As we are on the topic of nightclub DJ, the Quickhitter and transition versions of songs will be used for the set as generally fast paced mixing in nightclub sets.

To read more about new and old music DJs see this article.


A mark of a good DJ regardless of whether it is a nightclub, private or corporate event is understanding basic etiquette. Basic etiquette is a culture of speech, common courtesy, neat appearance, and control over your emotion. This is extremely important, even one may think he / she is there just to play music it is not only that. A good nightclub DJ will know how to dress for the type of nightclub whether boujis or underground and how to behave with management, bar staff and even security.

Some nightclubs have themes; for example; if when a table orders a particular bottle a particular song must be played. Some nightclubs have dancers and may want you to introduce the dancers on the microphone and hope with hyping the crowd. Along with that hosting you do, they may want you to speak in accordance to the clientele the venue brings in whether upmarket therefore polite non explicit language. In the opposite end of scenes some venue owners if an urban hiphop night may be concerned with exact language (as long as not aimed at offending or insulting the guests).

In most circumstances it is advised to not bring large groups of friends to hang about with you at the DJ booth and not drink or pay to party. Invite guests if they are genuinely there to contribute to the party and the venue whether having an area or a table. Do not start walking out of the DJ booth with long songs playing to go outside and speak to the management at the door. Allow your guests to liaise few days or at latest hours before the evening starts with the events person or management (hopefully let them have an agreeing table or area by email or whats app before but keep that separate. Remain independent of your guests booking to your set and job – a good nightclub DJ will always respect this as they have a duty to the venue and the venue’s guests and not to their friends and that mannerism, way in thinking coincides with etiquette.

HOSTING & announcments on microphones

Many DJs may not be used to hosting or making announcements. We’ve heard some DJs say “I never get on the microphone. I let my hands and the music do the talking, microphones are for wedding DJs”. 

If a venue does not want a DJ on the microphone that’s understandable. Every venue will have a microphone for corporate and private hire speeches, always keep that microphone connected every set even if you have no intention of using it. 

A good nightclub DJ will always keep the microphone plugged in even if the venue tells them they are not host. Why keep a microphone plugged in if you’re not going to use it…

Emergencies; always know where the fire exit is before the beginning of a set. If the manager is the one to make the announcement in the event of an emergency evacuation then so be it. However, there might be the situation where the manager is not there in the pandemonium moment so you will have to use the microphone. Be equipped with your voice setting in advance, keep the levels adjusted to your bass and high levels for clear announcements. 

In the event of an emergency, speak clearly and firm do not shout, panic or mumble. Your voice is then the voice of reason to crowd control.

In a situation of a small quibble fight breaking out, a good nightclub DJ will know to not stop the music. This will only draw attention to the fight and may get innocent bystanders involved. With small fights the likelihood that the security will be on it and have it resolved before it gets to an escalating point to where you have to evacuate the crowd. If a fight continues to get progressively worse with no security arriving in time, you will then have stop the music and announce for members to vacate that area and call for security publicly over the PA.