5 Tips for Opening DJ Sets

An opening DJ set is an art form and considered one of the most challenging DJ sets to play. Opening DJs need to set the mood, warm up an empty venue and gradually coax people onto the dance floor.  

An opening set may be one of the first opportunities for DJs that can lead to future gigs or even land a tour with the headlining artist. Here are a few tips for better opening DJ sets.  

1. Research the Headlining DJ

If you've been asked to open for a headlining artist and you're not already familiar with their work, take time to research their style and what type of sets they currently play. The goal here is to find out more about the type of artist they are, so your set can compliment theirs but not overshadow their work. Is their music in the same or a different genre than yours? If your style is similar, be sure that your set doesn't get too aggressive or loud before the headlining DJ hits the club. It may also be beneficial to try to find out what equipment the headliner uses, so you can be ready for a quick and easy changeover. 

2. Choose Your Records Wisely


Tracks for an opening set need to be selected in advance, so you don't waste time during your set looking for tracks in your (digital) crates. They should be songs that set the ambience for the evening and invite people into the venue. The actual tracks themselves greatly depend on your personal DJ sound and the venue you're playing at. You may want to organize several (digital) crates with a range of instrumentals and a few choice vocal tracks that the crowd may know. It's a good idea to include a few well-known songs that could break the ice and get the dance floor started.

3. Don't Overstep Your Boundaries

opening DJ

The opening DJ has to set the tone for the night and get people excited and ready for the headlining artist. Aim to create a set that establishes the vibe that builds in energy as the night progresses. As people begin to filter into the venue, understand that these people may need to 'warm up' themselves; e.g. mingle with friends, have a few drinks before they are ready to hit the dance floor. Please do not play tracks that you know the headlining artist will be including in their set (e.g., their big hits or songs that you've heard on their podcasts, etc. that you know they'll play). This is a sure fire way to annoy both the headlining artist and the promoter for the event!  

4. Set the Mood and Watch the Room

Sara Simms

The opening DJ set is challenging because it's likely that as you begin to play tracks, the venue will be empty. As people begin to filter into the club, be sure to look around the room to gauge how the audience reacts to each song. If they appear to be enjoying the music by giving positive reactions like toe tapping and head nodding, take this as a good sign and continue to play tracks the audience enjoys. If you see no energy movement when you play tracks, this may be a sign that crowd is not receptive to your set or simply not ready yet. If the set does go well and people begin to dance, it's best not to play a string of tracks that are too hard or fast; you don't want to tire out a crowd before the headliner hits the stage.

5. Ladies First

ss & ammoye

DJing is not rocket science; play for the ladies and they'll come together on the dance floor. Once the girls are on the floor, the guys will take notice and soon everybody will be dancing. To get the girls moving, choose songs they'll like. This may include tracks with vocals that they can sing along to or classic tracks with melodic grooves. Once you have your first brave ladies on the dance floor, continue to play songs for these gals and you'll find your audience will quickly grow.

An opening DJ set is a good challenge for DJs of any level. Whether you're opening your own marathon set or playing on tour before a big name artist, an opening set establishes the mood and vibe for the night. The opening DJ's music has the ability to welcome people into a venue and make them want to stay for the evening.  A great opening set is rare treat to listen to, and learning to be a good opening DJ could open the door to many interesting performance possibilities. Take the time to do the job right and you may find yourself with a few more gigs prospects in your calendar after your opening set! 

Learn turntablism techniques with Sara Simms in this excellent video course.

Sara Simms captivates the world as an innovative musician, DJ, turntablist and electronic music producer. She's a multi-instrumentalist who's known for her love of music technology. Sara makes her mark in the music community by crafting diverse sets with styles ranging from pulsating techno to house. She balances technical skills wi... Read More


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