This past Saturday, I did my first ever solo DJ gig. All me, all night, booked for three hours. I was excited and terrified, since the longest set I’ve ever done in public before was only forty minutes, and I have always had sister DJs with me as mutual backup and support.
The venue was a downtown restaurant. They don’t have a dance floor and they weren’t expecting dancing, although they did know I mostly play house music and were okay with that. I planned to tone it down a bit for the beginning of the evening and so I prepped a lot of chill house, like St. Germain and Laurent Garnier.
On the day of, I had slept well but then couldn’t nap much during the day. Was starting to get nervous by the afternoon so I didn’t eat much. Drank tonnes of coffee. Couldn’t even get an orange down before I left.
I had improvised a laptop stand by using an old wooden box and drawing on it (see picture above). I was used my own controller (Numark Mixtrack Pro II, $250 at Long & McQuade, a low-end starter controller but it did the job just fine!) since the people I usually borrow turntables and mixers from were all playing that night as well. I had spent some time checking out more music and prepping playlists and converting files and replacing corrupt tracks.
Mama Cutsworth was organising my gig that night as part of ManyFest, along with several other gigs for some of her other students. She arranged to have two rented professional speakers set up for me and the right cables plugged in, etc. My controller only has RCA outputs, so I had picked up male RCA to female ¼” adapters as they were going to have male-male ¼” cables set up for me.
When I got there, though, the speakers had XLR cables plugged in. I freaked right out. However, the last email I’d received about the gig said that the setup guy had left extra cables there, so first I checked to see if maybe those were the right ones. It was dim and all the cables and power bars and extension cords were down on the floor around the chair and table legs. I cleared away the chairs from around the table and followed all the cables to see what was in use and what was extra. There was just a single extra cable coiled up there. It was indeed a ¼” cable but I needed two, not just one. I kept looking (heart pounding) and every time I saw that cable, I was hopeful that it was the second cable, so finally I lifted it onto the table and kept looking. Nothing. I panicked, posted on public facebook and in the DJ Academy Group that I needed cables desperately. My sister DJ “FJ” was setting up at a venue just around the corner from where I was and she actually drove over with a backpack full of cables to see if she could help. We emptied out that backpack and were trying to problem-solve and troubleshoot. At one point, she picked up the coil of ¼” cable to move it and only half of it came away: there had been two cables there all along!!!!! I stared at her, just appalled, relieved and embarrassed and grateful and angry with myself and so sorry that FJ was now going to be late to start her set because I’d been in too much of a panic to check closely whether or not there were one or two cables there. Later I was even more embarrassed and grateful to realise that Mama Cutsworth had not only texted me back during her gig but had actually found time to PHONE me but I missed the call because I was freaking out with FJ over the cables.
FJ jammed all her cables back into her backpack and took off for her gig. By this point, my friend C. had shown up. I was struggling to untangle the knot of cables for my laptop and controller. I was dehydrated (hadn’t been drinking much water because I didn’t want to have to pee during my gig, but had drunk almost a whole pot of coffee), hadn’t eaten enough, had to pee very badly, and was very flustered and anxious and embarrassed. C. asked if she could do anything to help. I was holding the knot of cables and just tugging at it randomly with shaking hands. I thrust the tangle at her and asked if she could untangle it while I went to pee. She was totally calm and happy to help out, so I went to pee and sat there on the toilet taking a few deep breaths and trying to chill. It’s really weird how an overfull bladder can exacerbate my anxiety! I washed my hands and dried them very slowly and thoroughly, and I could feel myself getting calmer again.
By the time I got back to the table, C. had neatly untangled all my cables. I knew all of the steps I had to take, and I reminded myself that there was no rush, so I just did things one at a time. I set up my cool improvised laptop stand, angled the table to face the room (the setup there is kind of weird and I was off in a bizarre corner), angled the speakers into the room (terrified they’d fall over while I moved them since they’re so top-heavy on their tripods), and started getting myself plugged in and running. I set the speaker volumes to just under a quarter, turned my controller volume way down, cued up a track to do the soundcheck, and eased up the controller volume a very tiny bit so I could just put my ear to the speakers to make sure I had sound. No sound!!! I could feel my heart start pounding again while I ran through all my cables and plugs to make sure everything was connected. It was probably twenty seconds (but felt like ten minutes) before I realised I had not yet switched on the speakers. Power on, and soundcheck complete. After all my panicking and freaking out, I ended up starting just a couple of minutes past 11, totally within an acceptable range.
Normally for my sets, I plan the first song and the last song, so I know where I’m starting and where I’m headed. For this, my first ever solo public gig, I planned the first four tracks. I figured if things went wrong with the setup, or I was super anxious, at least I wouldn’t have to think when I started up. And I know that once I’m three or four tracks in, I’m in the groove and having fun, so that would get me over any stress or floundering. I was extremely glad I had planned it that way, because I really needed that ten or so minutes to get comfortable and start enjoying myself. But once I got into it, then I started having a lot of fun, as always. The actual music, the mixing of it, figuring out what to play next just by ear and hunch, messing with the bpm to match things up, trying to make my transitions as seamless as possible… I really enjoy it and actually the time ended up passing by far more quickly than I had expected.
C. texted me early on to let me know it could be louder (and one of the staff came to say the same thing). It seemed very loud where I was, just behind the speakers, so I was glad to get the feedback. Next time, I’ll plan a walk around the venue during the first couple of tracks to judge the sound level for myself.
After an hour, C. kept an eye on my gear so I could go and pee. I had planned Shiverman for my pee break since it’s long, and it slowly changes so it can run for a long stretch without getting repetitive.
The first four songs I planned were:
I planned the first of the three hours to be kind of loungy, bluesy, chill house music. The other tracks I played in that hour—although I can’t remember in which order anymore—were:
Raise the Dead (Love from San Francisco dub) by Kimbu Kimra (Groove Armada: Another Late Night)
Lovin’ Me by BRS
Shelter (Elegia’s Shelter Remix) by Lu and Jii Hoo
Work It Out (Underwater Trumpet Remix by SG4 Project
Muria by Metro Area 4
Gute Laune by Tosca & Tweed
What’s New? by Saint Germain
Ferry Ultra featuring Roy Ayers by Dangerous Vibes
World Peace by Julio Bashmore
Ambrosia (Jori Hulkkonen Remix) by A Reminiscent Drive
Bilbao (Florian Meindl Remix) by Ramon Tapia
For 12 Minutes She Danced with an Alien (Joris Voorn Ruff Mix) by Gerd
La Vendeuse des Chaussures de Femmes Part 1 by Tosca
After my pee break, I came back to my “booth” to find C. holding the headphones to one ear while her boyfriend took pictures of her. I showed her how some of the controls worked and then she went back to her table and I moved into the second hour which I had planned as more of an electro-swing segment. Here’s what I played (again, the exact order escapes me now):
Bing Bam Boo (Shemian Remix) by Dynamode
Esta Vida by Boghosian
Catgroove by Parov Stelar
Funk (Dualtec Remix) by Keith Carnal
Libella Swing by Parov Stelar
Blood (Nigel Hayes Brazilian Dub Mix) by Francois Dubois
Conquer the Night (Original Mix) by umami
Kowloon Kickback (Gramophonedzie Mix) by The Young Punx
Wanna Fete (Wanna Get Remix) by Parov Stelar
I’m a Soldier (Feat. Angela Hunte and Chedda) by Compass: Mexican Institute of Sound & Toy Selectah
Pump Up the Jam (Electro Swing Version) by the Swingrowers
Keep It On the Low by Wattie Green
That took about 45 minutes and then I started moving into the music I’m most familiar with. The staff came by at about 1:15 to say I could start closing it off, but in that last forty minutes or so I played (with faster mixing, because the mixing is the best part!):
Little Speaker by Underworld
Shake Break Bounce by the Chemical Brothers
Gravy Train by Maceo Plex
Up the Mountain (feat. The Battle of Land and Sea) by Bomb the Bass
Analog Sex by Jose Gonzalez
Revolution 909 by Daft Punk
Jupiter George by Dauwd
Soma by Deadmau5
Ghost (Dustin Zahn Remix) by Decimal
Underground (Dennis Ferrer Remix) by Nick Curly
The Sound (Jay Lumen Sacred Sounds Remix) by Kevin Saunderson
Caduceus by Drumspyder
Shadows by Komonazmuk
And then I ended it off with a fade-out of Saint Germain’s Street Scene.
Packing up felt pretty anticlimactic. I coiled up all the speaker cables and left them neatly in piles for pickup, pushed the speakers back against the wall, replaced the table and all its chairs, double-checked to make sure I hadn’t left anything behind. I had parked a couple of blocks away so I went to fetch the car to the loading zone rather than carrying all my gear through downtown at night. When I went back in and gathered up all my gear, some of the last people still drinking at the bar in the centre of the space called out to me “Hey that was fantastic! You were really good! Your music is great!” and giving me enthusiastic thumbs-ups. I thanked them and was somewhat pleased, but started talking myself out of it right away with oh, they’re drunk. But drunk or not, it takes an extra effort to verbalise appreciation, so I’m just going to take the compliments!
What I’ll do differently next time:
- Pay more attention to the speaker placement.
- Try not to panic right away if things aren’t perfect.
- Ask which staff person is my contact person for the evening instead of just randomly collaring whoever was closest.
- Ask staff specifically for feedback about sound levels.
- Walk around to hear the sound for myself.
- Take better care of myself during the day: drink more water, eat a better meal (if I can!)
What I think I did well:
- made good lists and actually used them while packing so I had everything I needed.
- had a heck of a good time actually playing the music and forgot to be nervous or anxious once I started.
- chose appropriate clothes and jewellery so I was comfortable, felt like I looked good, and none of it could snag or drop onto the gear.
- only played music I really like, so I felt confident about it. There were some tracks I felt would fit really well but that I didn’t like very much—a day or two before my gig, I culled them from my playlist just because.
- used my own simple gear instead of borrowing someone else’s stuff. My little setup worked just fine, and I know it well, so there was no learning curve.
Overall, it was a good experience. The more projects I do, the more I am starting to realise that I have a pretty predictable emotional pattern that goes with creative or performative work. The anxiety, for example, is probably always going to be there; the trick is to manage it well. For this gig, it took me by surprise and I just forgot how to handle it for a little while. I forgot to just breathe and pay attention. If I had been paying attention and working through things step by step, I would have very likely found that second cable within a minute or two, and saved myself a lot of embarrassment (and saved FJ and Mama C some trouble!).
Now I’m looking forward to getting my cheque in the mail. A chunk of it is going to another iTunes card!
Here’s a question for you: Do you buy music from Beatport? From Bandcamp? From Juno? Where else? So far all of my music is from my own CDs or I’ve bought it on iTunes. I understand that some other sites give more money to the artist than iTunes does so I’d prefer to be doing that when possible. Also, there are two tracks I really want that aren’t available on iTunes but are available through Beatport. Just wondering what your experiences have been with buying music online. Please let me know!