6AM – The warm-up DJ dilemma: Play the room or hold back?

6AM – ArtistResources
May 5, 2017

It is the dilemma every DJ assigned as the opening act faces with each booking. Must that DJ “play the room” and go all out for the crowd? Or should the DJ hold back in deference to the headlining act?

There are two different thoughts about this matter. Each of them have sound points that hold merit either way, which is why it’s important to look at each side of the argument and the philosophies each abide by.

The Warm-up DJ Should Hold Back
Warm-up DJs serve the purpose of getting the crowd in the mood before the main act performs on stage. Basically the warm-up DJ serves as an appetizer to prepare the audience for the main course which is the performance of the headliners themselves.

As such and for a long time, there has been a traditional and well-defined view when it comes to warm-up DJs. Essentially this school of thought believes that warm-up acts should know their place and stick rigidly within that set of well-defined boundaries, boundaries that do not go beyond playing what the headlining acts will themselves play when they perform.

Part of this belief is that warm-up DJs should not play “bangers” or tracks that will get the crow too hyped up, thus inadvertently stealing the thunder from the main act. After all, the audience paid ticket prices mostly because of the main act scheduled on the lineup, and as such warm-up DJs are not expected to play to the crowd, stealing what should be the role of the headliner.

The Warm-up DJ Should Play to the Crowd
Recently however, there has been a growing number of people who believe that warm-up DJs should be given opportunities to do a bit more than what they have been instructed to do traditionally. These people believe that supporting acts should be able to play to the crowd and play big records as well like the headliners do. Beyond the concept of equality for both the headliner and warm-up act, the idea behind this is to actually give the opening warm-up DJs the opportunity to grow and become a headlining act themselves. This does not mean that the warm-up DJ should be playing the headliner’s tracks or bang it out from beginning to end, but that they should be allowed to feed off the crowd’s response and give more than just a warm-up performance, all while keeping in mind the sound and energy of the headliner coming on after them..

There is also the belief that a warm-up DJ who gets to play to the crowd and does so well will in turn be of help to the main act to perform better, creating a more well-rounded event as a result. Essentially this would serve as a means of validation and motivation not only to the up-and-coming talent on warm-up duties, but also for the headliner too.

Something to Agree On
As mentioned earlier, both ideas have their own merits, as well as issues. It’s an argument that will will never properly be settled, especially as each given venue, lineup and crowd is different and as such merits a decision based on a a series of unique circumstances. There are some important no-no’s to keep in mind for warm-up DJs, which include not playing the headliners own tracks and being respectful of the artist he has been chosen to support. This does not mean completely holding back, but it should also not mean stepping on the toes of the headliner in a way that turns the night’s programming into a shambles.

No matter what side you choose though, it is important to understand that both schools of ideas agree on the important role a warm-up DJ plays in any event. Whether the DJ holds back or play to the crowd a little more than traditionally expected, they should be able to stand out in the performance appropriately, making the dance floor groove without stealing the headliner’s thunder. There is a reason why DJs who have held successful long-standing residencies, opening up for some of the bigger acts coming through their club, have gone on to become excellent DJs in their merit. Being an opening DJ of real class takes practice, a fine ear and a track-selection skill second to none. The warm-up DJs set can be the defining factor of an unforgettable night, or the missing element that transforms what could have been a memorable experience into an easily forgettable one.

“The opening DJ has a huge responsibility; they can dictate the entire mood of the party,” says Magda, of Minus Records to Resident Advisor. “You have to think about who you are opening for and how they play in order to avoid overpowering their sound.” Each headliner has a definitive musical style that presents a unique programming challenge to the opener. “If I open for Theo Parrish I definitely will not be playing the same records as opening for Richie Hawtin. That’s the fun of it though,” she explains. “It’s a challenge to get the different crowds worked up while complementing the main act at the same time.”

Perhaps the biggest factor a warm-up DJ needs to bear in mind is the energy of the room at the moment he hands off the decks to the headliner. If the headliner is having to reset the energy in order to properly construct his set then the warm-up DJ did something wrong. The vibe in the room and the music programming at that point should be such that the transition is seamless.

It’s not easy to be a balanced, well rounded opening DJ. In fact, and many of the world’s greatest DJs agree, it takes more than a mere DJ to become a great warm-up DJ. It takes someone with true love for music, a crafty track-digger with an ear and understanding of the pivotal role they play in constructing an unforgettable night for the dance floor in front of them.

Check out the original article here: http://www.6am-group.com/the-warm-up-dj-dilemma-play-the-room-or-hold-back