In a market consumed by Top 100 charts, it's hard to make an impression if you're playing the same records as everyone else. Define your style by digging deep: explore the back catalogs of artists and labels you enjoy; branch off when you hear a remix you like to explore other work from that remixer; most importantly, let your ears lead you. When you see a track with a big feature and huge DJ support, keep in mind that many other DJs are likely going to be playing it too. If you love it, by all means grab it – it's always good to have a few surefire crowd-pleasers in your crate – but the time-honored art of the DJ, for years, involved blowing peoples' minds by playing tracks no one had ever heard before. The more unique your selection, the more in-demand you may find yourself.
Listen intimately to your collection: learn the dynamics of your tracks, identify their prominent rhythms and defining characteristics. Internalizing this knowledge of your collection allows you to navigate it in real-time with ease, mapping out which tracks best fit the puzzle of the moment. The last thing you want is a surprise breakdown when you don't want one, or a blaring diva vocal when you want to bring the rhythm into focus, and having a sense of the dominant rhythm patterns of your tracks will allow you to combine or compliment them for fluid transitions from one to the next. Ultimately, an innate knowledge of your collection gives you the best chance to choose the right track at the right time.
This can't be overstated: know your medium. Using Traktor? Learn it inside out. CDJs? Be sure to study the various models available and be ready to use them when the time comes. Test out different mixes at home, learn how your tracks flow together. Find those pockets of two or three tracks that fit perfectly together. Practice until you're completely comfortable with your rig; learn it like the back of your hand. When the time comes and the pressure is on, the last thing you want is a lack of confidence with the technical aspects required; with your skills in place, you can focus on programming your music and tailoring it for the moment at hand.
Every gig is different, and while you always want to leave room for improvisation, the more you know about the context of the gig, the better prepared and more comfortable you'll be. The size of the room, the type of crowd, the occasion for the event and even the city it takes place in can all be factors in your preparations. Playing vinyl? Go through your records and prepare your record bag appropriately. Serato? Get your crates in order. Traktor? Prepare your playlists. And if you're using USB keys with Pioneer CDJs, be sure to organize your files with their free Rekordbox software to easily navigate your collection in the booth. You'll also want to know what DJ mixer they have on hand and figure out how to use it – and also how to set up your rig with minimum friction and optimal ergonomics.
Now that you're fully prepared with your tracks for the night which you know so well – and the skills to prove it – you're going to have to learn to block out all the distractions, and focus so you can get the job done. Friends chatting, drinks being offered, dancers screaming, rude punters making inappropriate requests, text messages from people trying to get in – as inundated as you may feel, you'll have to find away to politely deflect and shut out these distractions so you can focus on the task at hand – and give everyone a night to remember!