3 Best Practices On How To Read A Crowd Like A Pro DJ

3 Best Practices On How To Read A Crowd Like A Pro DJ

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.

DJ_pushing_away_girl_call_me_maybe_Carly_Rae_Jepsen_how_to_DJ_quickly

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.  Armin_van_burren_in_DJ_booth_blue

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!Girls_Dancing_At_the_Club_Cute_Girls_Club_Wear_Attire

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).

Empty_Dance_Floor_Dancefloor_Bad_DJ

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!  

Chennai_Express_Get_On_The_Dance_Floor

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!

 

DJ Whrr
DJ Whrr
Starting at the ripe age of 15, I (DJ Whrr) started my DJ career. After buying up high quality equipment and teaching myself how to mix, I soon hit the DJ scene. From DJing graduations and weddings, to clubs and house parties, I tried it all! I have performed at many venues including the Filmore in Detroit, MI the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, MI and 5th Quarter in Ann Arbor, MI (if you want me to connect you with any of these venues, I’ll do my best – just shoot me an email in the lower right-hand corner). Finally, I also taught DJing at the University of Michigan for a little while. All these things inspired me to create How to DJ Quickly for DJs to learn online. However, aside from DJing, I am passionate about teaching others. This is why I created How to DJ Quickly. Starting out DJing can be tough (trust me, I know). Whether you are confused about DJ Equipment, How To Mix, How To Mix Like A DJ, Getting DJ gigs, or just need General DJ News, Tips, and Tricks and information about the DJ Lifestyle, I will help you! I know what it is like to be a each skill level and I want to help all! This is why beginners, novices, and experts can use How to DJ Quickly to learn more about DJing! Like I said, I am here to help, so if you have any questions, please email me using my email which you can find on my: "Questions? Contact Me." page. Check out How to DJ Quickly for more!
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Showing 2 comments
  • BohoEr
    Reply

    I loved your blog post.Thanks Again. Cool.

  • Vito
    Reply

    m so frustrated right now because last night I had two gigs back to back. 1 gig was for middle school aged kids and there was only about 10 of them all girls and a table full of moms eating food. When I spoke to the mother in charge she told me that she wanted it to be a dance party. I asked the mom if the girls were allowed to invite their friends . I was told no so I was expecting only those middle school age girls and that’s what happened. I made a folder full of top 40 and had a few remixes of the top 40 as well. I was expecting this to be a pretty easy gig. I know I had to play clean music but little did I know the girls were going to request artists like little Durk and Chief Keef and other very explicit artists and songs. Yes it is very easy to say that I was unprepared but honestly who would expect to play that type of music for middle aged school girls in front of all of their parents and that I not mention that we are really not on that side of town. I love that music I listen to it all the time by but I would never expected play that for that age group.
    The next gig was at a local bar which had really poor planning because nobody was there. There were only about 3 guys and about 3 girls. I knew right away at the amount of people that were there that this was going to be a chill just listen to any type of music kind of night. Two of the girls kept on coming up to me and asking me to play certain styles and genres of music but when I played those certain styles and genres of music they were still unhappy. For example the girls said can you play something that we can shake our ass 2. And so I’m thinking ok I’ll play some Jersey club music as a matter of fact the girl said please some Jersey music. When I put on Jersey club style music the fast hip hop style music the girls look at me like what the hell was I playing then the girl came up to the booth and said “this is not Pauly D.”

    We live in Chicago. I now know jersey shore has fucked the world!

    My head hurts now. Kill me.

    Now I’m not the type of person to make excuses on why the night was a failure or why the people were not dancing but I really was thinking that maybe people are not dancing because there really was no people there to dance along side with. I still feel like as a DJ I could have been able to make those 10 girls dance by themselves or those 6 people at the bar. What am i doing wrong if I’m doing anything wrong at all was it me and my music even though I have all the genres all the latest music and I was putting on the genres and styles that they were requesting or was the fact that nobody was at these events and it was just kind of a bad night??

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