9 February 2011

the warm-up set is the most critical set of any night, and as such the hardest to play

Following on from the art of the warm up DJ here is part 2 and other DJ's share their opinions.


"There’s not that much difference between my mixing style in warm up sets versus headline sets, other than when I’m warming up I try to draw out mixes as long as possible". 

DJ Tim Davison - it's about developing a mood. Create a rhythm and slowly build a groove and avoid anything with a prolonged breakdown to maintain interest. I really enjoy getting to nights early and listening to other warm up DJ’s because you can always learn something new listening from a clubber's perspective. Obviously this is particularly useful at nights where you are seeking to get booked or will shortly be playing. It's not necessarily the speed of the tune which makes it good warm up material, it's the 'energy' it possesses. If you are a preparing a set at home and are unsure whether a tune is appropriate then it's probably best to leave it out. At the end of the day don't be afraid to ask questions and canvass opinions from the promoter. It's their party and they know what they want. Ultimately playing warm up sets is an art not a science. You haven't got big tunes to rely on so you have to be more creative which is a huge amount of fun!”.

DJ Ian Betts - “In my opinion the warm-up set is the most critical set of any night, and as such the hardest to play. It will set the tone for the night ahead and has to be judged just right to give the rest of the party the right foundation on which to build. You have to think about where the DJ after you will take things and build towards his or her starting point, and it is imperative that you do not go too big too soon.

You have to remember that you are only the 'warm-up', not the main event and judge your set accordingly. Most warm-up sets will finish at midnight if not before, which will be the time most punters will be turning up - for me this means that you do not need to play any anthems at all, rather you should break everyone in gently and coax them onto the dance floor in a more subtle fashion. The thing that a lot of DJs don't get about a warm-up is that if it's done well it can be far more memorable than a peak time set, and if you can do it well it proves to a promoter that you are versatile enough to play almost anywhere on a line-up.”

DJ Donna Birt - “A warm-up set should take you on a journey, each tune needs to build in energy from the last, taking into account the bass-lines and guts of the tune (chunky, techy bass-lines are my favourites). The set is not meant to be hard or fast either as the DJ’s later on in the night will take care of that – it’s more of an ass-shake rather than hands in the air stomping type of set.”

Promoter Craig Paxton - I feel that the opening set of the night is the most important of all. The style of tunes, the BPM range and the way that the set is built for the following DJ are all extremely important contributing factors towards how the rest of the night will progress. Too many DJ's I have heard are under the impression that you can go in and bosh it out, play all the classics at 150bpm and that's your job done. That's the worst thing that you can do. To play a good opening set takes a lot of research, control, skill and patience. You have to play tunes that aren't so obvious, which takes a bit of shopping around, avoiding all the big classics that you would probably expect to hear later on in the night, tunes with a good groove, a funky bass-line, something catchy that gets people interested and gets them moving.

Try to build your set subtly and gradually, find out who the DJ after you is and what sort of music they might be playing and aim to take your set towards that so that there is a smooth transition between you and the DJ up next. There can be nothing worse than when you step up to take over and who-ever has been on before you has left you no room to manoeuvre or be creative with your set.

Most importantly of all, have a bit of fun with the crowd when you're up there, nothing gets a crowd going more than seeing a DJ really enjoying what they are doing. Interaction is extremely important at every stage throughout the night so make sure that you enjoy yourself when you're playing.”

Clubber Lisa said, “I’m a clubber who actually likes to get into the club for the first set, I like to be in & have a drink sorted & warmed up ready for a night of dancing. For me I like to hear a warm-up set of funky, chunky, techy sounds to break me in gently & get my bum shaking if you like. I dislike it too hard from the word go, I like a set & the whole night to progress. To me the warm-up sets are most important & probably one of the hardest to do as a DJ, as it takes good tune selection to get a crowd warmed up, moving & on the dance floor in my opinion.

 Jack O'Shaughnessy - The opener must start with a fairly empty room that slowly fills with generally sober people who aren't there to see them.

The DJ must create an atmosphere out of thin air and at the same time set the stage for the musical narrative of the headliner's set. Steve Lawler, head of Viva Music who has headlined top venues the world over, agrees, "The warm-up's job is in fact the hardest and very important to how the whole night will turn out. If a warm-up does a good job, you can feel it in the air, and then usually 99% of the time, it's an amazing night."

The opening DJs biggest challenge is to program a set that will seamlessly sync with the DJ who will go on next.

A good opener must have two things: an attenuated awareness for the musical progression of the night, and an extremely large and eclectic record collection. Craig Richards would concur. With a ten year residency at Fabric, London's most respected club, Richards is highly regarded as one of the best opening DJs in the world. Warming up a room is a position Richards fully embraces, "Over the years I have often opted for the warm-up slot. I find it a wonderful challenge which if played properly can result in maximum musical fulfillment."

Great opening DJs know their music and the subtle effects each record transition will have on a dance floor.

"they need to be aware that the tempo, the groove, the energy and even the texture of every record must be seriously considered." This sensitivity to the way music influences the crowd allows the opener to begin the patient task of drawing people to the dance floor.

But there is more to opening a room than just keeping the tempo under 124 bpm and playing deep music. The signature of a great opener is defined by a devotion to the music he or she is playing. As Lawler explains, "you can tell when an opener is someone that has just gone onto Beatport's Top 100 [to buy their] Deep House [tracks] and is trying to do it, as opposed to someone who loves and collects the music they are playing. You can always hear passion in a DJ's set."

The music lovers, not the DJs, are fit for the job—the people who can forget themselves for a moment and deliver a groove, a beginning and a sense of belief."

The best openers are in many ways the people who are true music lovers, the ones who obsessively collect obscure and eclectic music for the simple joy of it. These DJs know their music so well they intuitively know there is a right track to play in each moment for any audience.

Great opening DJs aren't in it for the money. Instead, these DJs are perhaps the purest music fan in every sense of the word. Since the opener's artistry is built upon subtlety, they rarely receive any accolades. The media often overlooks good warm-ups, instead focusing on the headliners, and only knowledgeable crowds will recognize the skill that goes into the nuance and restraint of slowly building the tension in a room. This often leaves only the headliner's gratitude as any sign of appreciation.

In fact, the biggest reward an opener receives is the opportunity to explore musical territory a headliner often cannot. Playing opening sets "gives justification for buying records that you know will only sound right at certain times," says Craig Richards. "The chance to hear these records loud was and still is my driving force. Playing deep, quirky, delicate tunes at a time when they make sense is an utter pleasure to the man who seeks the truth for the music not the limelight." Successful venues and events have always recognized what a proper opener provides: The atmosphere that is the foundation of any event.

Every DJ dreams of the glory of playing in front of thousands of screaming fans, but often the best opportunities for getting a foot in the door is through warm up sets before headliners.

There are very few DJs who understand the art of warming-up, and indeed, it is an art.

Understanding crowd psychology, human behavioral patterns and timing is just as important as track selection and mixing skills.

Swedish DJ and producer Joel Mull has been warming up the dancefloors for Adam Beyer during their North American Drumcode Tour and he’s impressed us at every set.

Here are his pointers, spoken in the same accent as Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid.

1. Know who’s playing before and after you

This is probably one of the most important things to remember. Your warm up set should be designed to provide a perfect launch pad for the DJ spinning after you.

In order to get this right, you should know what style and pace that DJ generally plays, and work on building your set to his/her sound.

Knowing what style of music the DJ before your plays is equally important, if you’re not the opener.

2. Take it easy, no peaks

The perfect warm up set shouldn’t have any peaks or large stand out moments.

It should be consistent.

3. The longer the better

A warm up set shouldn’t be rushed. In order to properly set the mood it should preferably be two hours or longer.

The longer a set is, the more time you have to build a mood and slowly raise energy levels. Going from zero to booming in less than two hours is hard.

If your set is shorter than two hours, ask the promoter or club owner if it’s possible to start the night earlier.

4. Connect with people

When I play a warm up set, I always try to communicate with people.

I try to make eye contact with at least two or three people in the club and try to get reactions out of them through my music.

I see those people as barometers that I can measure my set upon.

As my music progresses, so should the moods and movements of those people.

5. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.

I always prepare my first 5 or 6 mixes before a set. I know some DJs like to just turn up and play whatever they feel like playing, but when you’re in charge of setting a mood and feeling you need to do it right.

You need to play the right music for the right room.

6. Don’t play big tracks

There’s nothing worse than turning up to spin, and the warm up DJ is slamming out big tracks, or tracks that you were going to play.

Some warm up DJs make the mistake of playing the hits of the headliner, which is just plain annoying.

As a warm up DJ, you should never play big tracks because that’s not your job.

Your job is to set the mood for the other DJ to play the big tracks.

7. No songs and more drums

I always try to find tracks that are more drum orientated and tunes that don’t have a typical song structure.

You don’t want to be playing chorus verse chorus type music, as that’s not ideal for warm up sets.

I tend to stay away from big breakdowns and try to find music that is more stripped back and percussive so I can bring in more elements later, like melodies and more drums.

Think of your set as more of a flat line, rather than peaks and troughs.

8. Organise

Just because your hard drive can hold 30,000 tracks, it doesn’t mean you need that many in your box.

Instead of stuffing your hard drive with loads of music, be organised and regularly clean and arrange your hard drive.

I use playlists to temporarily plan my sets before I play, and playlists are also good when categorized by music genre.

9. Don’t rush mixes

There’s not that much difference between my mixing style in warm up sets versus headline sets, other than when I’m warming up I try to draw out mixes as long as possible.

During a headline set, you can throw mixes in out and be erratic based on crowd reaction but during a warm up set I try to blend music together for longer.

It’s about creating a smooth ride that evolves over time.

10. Use technology, wisely

Most club mixers these days have lots of FX and audio tricks to use, but you need to make sure the FX you use help set the mood, not destroy it.

I use a loop machine to draw mixes out for longer, and a sampler so I can drop sound effects and samples into a set that gives the set some continuity.

I also use a Korg Kaoss Pad for reverb and tape delays, which I use subtly to help create more tension and more atmosphere.

11. The size of the room matters

Your music should be tailored to the size of the room. If you’re playing a festival warm up slot, then you’ll need to play music that is more big room and more energetic.

If you’re playing a small basement club, then you can get away with spacey minimal tracks with lots of subtle FX and drums.

Wearing a pirate scarf may or may not make you a better DJ

12. Hypnotize

People go to clubs for escapism. Dancing is a form of escapism.

If you can get people to close their eyes and really feel the music, you’ve done a superb job.

Try to close those eyes.

13. Patience

This is probably one of the most important aspects to warm up sets. The room might be full, the crowd might be asking you to play it harder, but you should hold back the urge to bang it.

That’s not your job, and the people on the dancefloor will appreciate it even more, when the DJ after you finally let’s rip.

14. Closing tracks

Try not to close with a track that is hands in the air. So many warm up DJs do a great job up until their last track when they suddenly forget their role and play a big tune.

Your last track is your closing statement, and as a warm up DJ, it’s your job to set up the next guy.

Close with a track that’s a bit flat, with nothing too noticeable about it.

Make sure it’s got plenty of outro beats so that the next DJ can easily mix into it, and then when he drops his big track watch the room explode and pat yourself on the back for doing a good job.

Planet Angel Resident Jurrane - who is currently enjoying considerable success with his own productions - takes you through the art of the warm-up set: one of the most difficult sets for newcomer DJs to get right.

Warm-up sets are usually the first bookings that beginning DJs are given (not always at Planet Angel but we like to do things differently). Unfortunately they’re often the hardest sets to get right and are the most important to the overall success of the party. Why? Because they set the tone of the party, dictate the pace of the night and influence what all the DJs afterwards will play.

If you’re the warm-up DJ and you play too loud, hard and fast, the crowd will be tired before midnight. Hammer the anthems and everybody will be bored of hearing them once all the other DJs have played them as well. A good warm-up set takes skill, control, patience – and a bit of psychology. This article suggests a few ideas to help you play that perfect opening set.

Set the mood. Mood is very important because very few people arrive at a party and start dancing immediately. They want to meet their friends, have a drink, chat, check out the surroundings, put their coat away; all manner of different things until they want to have a dance. A good DJ recognises this and doesn’t go for the big tracks from the start in an effort to fill the dancefloor. Instead, he or she recognises the need to create a welcoming mood ready for partygoers when they start dancing.

Next time you get to a club early, watch the dancefloor. People don’t just rush on to it straight away; they often stand on the edges, chilling out, chatting and getting into the mood for dancing. Nodding and foot tapping are the signs they’re appreciating the music and, to the warm-up DJ, these non-verbal signs are the equivalent of those 3am “hands in the air” moments for the peak-time sets. Why? Because it means those people on the edges of the dancefloor are enjoying what the DJ’s doing and they’ll be dancing soon enough.

Keep the volume and BPM’s down. One of the most intimidating things you can find in a club is an empty dancefloor pumping out relentlessly fast music at an ear-splitting volume. At the beginning of the night, people want to be gently welcomed onto a dancefloor, not scared away from it.

Because of this, slow is good for a warm-up set. No-one rushes on to a dancefloor and starts stomping away full-pelt. People respond to gradual increases in energy, particularly at the start of the night. It’s also a good idea to keep the volume levels relatively low as well, so people can still hear themselves talk. As more people arrive on the dancefloor, you can slowly bring the pace and volume up.

Don’t worry about the crowd. Playing a warm-up set can be a little daunting because you’re often playing to an empty room to begin with and, if people don’t start dancing straight away, newer DJs worry they’re doing something wrong. Remember: people don’t start dancing in clubs immediately and just because they’re staying away, it doesn’t mean they don’t like your music. Instead, they’ve got other things to do before they start dancing. As the DJ, it’s your job to welcome them on to the dancefloor when they’re ready.

You may also find that at the start of the night people arrive on the dancefloor, dance for a couple of tracks and then head back to the bar. Again, this isn’t a comment on your music: it’s just a sign they’re not ready to stomp away for the rest of the night. They’ve shown they want to dance and they’ll be back.

Slow and steady wins the race. The secret of a good warm up set is a gradual increase in momentum and energy. Think of the set as a gentle upward energy curve. One you’ve got people on the dancefloor, gradually up the pressure levels with each track. Your aim should be to get people’s heads nodding, toes tapping and groove going until they can resist no longer and can’t help but start dancing. So many Planet Angel parties have started this way with the warm-up DJ increasing the momentum barely perceptibly, gradually drawing people on to the dancefloor until it’s full and then plays a “let’s go!” track – and the room’s set for the rest of the night.

Just remember: don’t do this too quickly or you’ll wear the dancers out. Often a truly great warm-up set is all about holding back. You’re looking for a patient, controlled set that reaches its peak only when the dancefloor is full and ready to go absolutely crazy.

Play music people recognise. Familiarity is a powerful thing in music. If you want to gently entice people on to the dancefloor, lure them in with stuff they’ll know. One of the great ways to get people dancing is to make them realise “wow… I haven’t heard that for years!” or “hey, I know this…. and it’s really good!” Vocal tracks are often also a good bet, for this very reason.

Remember: you’re starting the party. If you’re the warm-up DJ, you’re getting the party started - literally. If the crowd is small to begin with, engage with them personally. Make eye contact, smile, and show them you’re having a good time. Enthusiasm and enjoyment is infectious: if you're having fun, so will your crowd.

Enjoy yourself! Many experienced DJs will tell you the warm-up set can be the most rewarding set of the night to play. It’s no easy thing to start with an empty club and transform it into a heaving dancefloor full of up-for-it party people. Any DJ can take over a packed room at 3am and hammer out the anthems. Pacing a set slowly and carefully takes real skill and craft, and you get a real sense of achievement in building a full dancefloor from scratch. Just remember: above all, have fun!