How To Create A Strong Music Set with Your Live Band or DJ Gig


Many moons ago, I was sitting in a bar, alone, in my hometown of St. Louis, MO when a stranger walked up to me and asked, “Are you Leon from the band T. H.U.G.S?”  After I confirmed his suspicions, he proceeded to flatter me and identified himself as a fellow musician before asking, “How did you guys have such strong sets?”  The answer is so simple that I figured most other bands knew it.  I answered, “We didn’t pick the sets.  The audience did”.

Writing tunes in an original band is constant trial and error.  The trick to strengthening your performance set is to not get married to the tunes you write.  Maybe you were in love with a girl named Shauna and you spent an insane amount of time writing a song about her.  If you play Shauna’s song live and the crowd gives a lackluster response: Shauna’s song goes on the scrap heap.  This process continues until you have nothing but crowd bangers for a strong 45 minutes to an hour set.  Is it painful?  Yes, it is.  Does it make for awkward early gigs?  It does, absolutely.

DJ sets work exactly the same way, but only better.  When you play a song that bombs during a DJ set you don’t have to continue to the end.  You can just abruptly stop the track and throw in a good track to save the dance floor.  DJ sets are a little more intricate because what constitutes a bad track is relative to the audience you are playing it for.  I can play a track in St. Louis, MO and clear the dance floor.  I can play that exact same track in Brooklyn, NY and the whole room will scream and dance.  Different strokes for different folks.  In Missouri, people will say, “We don’t know this song!  Play something that we know!”  In New York, people will say, “I’ve never heard that song before.  Thank you for the music”.  Some might think that comparing Midwestern listeners to listeners on the East coast is a little unfair, but I’m just stating facts.   

There is more power in a DJ set as far as controlling the crowd goes.  With a band, you are identified as a certain genre of band and either people like what you’re playing in the realm and confinements of that genre or not.  With a DJ set, you can test and switch genres within seconds and totally abandon any genre you might’ve previously committed to.  Then it becomes, “Oh, damn!  I thought this was a Hip Hop gig.  Good thing I also brought 5 hours of House music to erase the mistake.”  So they short answer to the guy’s question?  Pay attention and cater to your audience.

Later and don’t be a hater.



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