Starting DJing in Sydney: Some Basic Tips

Just as I finished posting that last ranty mcrantington rant about DJing (NEEDS MOAR DJS ? (part 2) (Thursday, November 17th, 2011)) there was a flurry of emailing and suddenly, DJing in Sydney gets very interesting. This is a post about getting into DJing in Sydney. Which is suddenly, thanks to the generosity of quite a few people, very doable.

Avril and Ryan who teach on Wednesdays at the Unity Hall Hotel in Balmain Rozelle Neighbourhood Centre, 665 Darling St Rozelle (classes 7 and 8pm), have opened their small and friendly social dancing slot up to new DJs. I’ve also heard that another couple of venues are interested in doing the same sort of thing, but I’ll have to add their details when I have them confirmed. [Edit 8/12/11: Amanda and Max who teach Tuesdays in North Sydney have also offered opportunities for new DJs during their social dancing] [Edit 25/07/12: Alice and I teach on Wednesdays at the Petersham Bowls Club, and have a 30minute spot at 8pm which is perfect for new DJs].

This is an excellent place to begin DJing. There’s no pay and the crowd will be small, but that’s really what you want for your very first (few) gigs – low pressure. Avril and Ryan [and Amanda and Max] [and Alice and I] are very nice and friendly, and Unity Hall is of course Home Of Mo Jazz in Sydney.

What do you do? Drop them an email, or better yet, go along to their class and have a chat to them about doing some DJing there in the future. That second option is probably the best as it’ll give you a chance to scope out the scene and get an idea of what goes down there each week.

Why start with an after-class gig rather than a larger social dancing night? Well, firstly, you might have some good ideas, but you ain’t got mad skills – yet!

Shorter after class social dancing slots are perfect for new DJs:

  • There’s no pressure to be major-awesome; you’re not making or breaking a major social dancing night;
  • Shorter sets mean you can get in, get a taste, get out. DJing can be quite tiring at first;
  • Teachers at these regular local gigs are relaxed and friendly, which means less stress for you;
  • Students are relaxed and friendly and supportive;
  • These are quieter, smaller events. Yes, I know the urge to show off for a big crowd is strong, but trust me – you don’t want to piss off a crowd of hardcore social dancers. Yet;
  • The timing generally is more relaxed. You can take a bit of extra time to figure out how you plug your laptop into the sound gear because there aren’t a hundred people standing about staring at you.

What should you bring?

  • Your laptop or ipod or whatever it is you’re playing music from, making sure it has a media player you know how to use (itunes, winamp, whatever you like). I’d go with something really simple and familiar at first – time enough to obsess about software later;
  • An RCA Red/ White Stereo connection cable (which cost very little, and can be found at most electronics shops and all music shops):
  • TWO ¼ inch (6.5mm) TS mono phone jack connections (which cost very little, and can be found at all music shops):
  • Your laptop’s power cord;

If you’ve been practicing for a while, or want to go hardcore, then bring your headphones and an external soundcard. But you don’t really need those for your first gig.

How do you prepare?

  • Listen to your music and get to know it. Practice dancing to it in your lounge room so you know how ‘fast’ it feels, whether it’s high or low energy, etc;
  • Learn to use your media player. Experiment with all the settings – every single one;
  • Practice plugging your laptop into your stereo at home;
  • Turn off all the applications on your laptop that you won’t be using – the internet stuff, etc. This means your computer can devote all its energy to playing music, and will make crashes less likely;
  • Turn off all the notification noises – the bing bongs that tell you when you’ve got an email, the boops! that tell you you’re turning the volume up or down;
  • Practice playing pretend sets. How do you drag and drop songs into your playlist?

What should you play?
That’s really up to you. I don’t think you can call yourself a swing DJ if you have less than 90% of your (DJing) collection devoted to swinging jazz. I have lots of other music, but I don’t DJ it for swing dancers. If you’re totally stuck for ideas, perhaps you should work on your music collection for a while before you start DJing.

  • There are basic lists of iconic songs all over the place: Reuben’s list is a good place to start, this is my short list of overplayed songs), and this is my list of ‘essential’ swing albums;
  • What do you hear in class/out social dancing? Ask the DJs. Talk to your local DJs, and be brave enough to chat to DJs at larger events. I know it’s tempting to interrogate a DJ who’s just sitting there, tapping their laptop, but resist the urge – they’re working. Grab them later on – they LOVE talking about music!
  • Don’t ask DJs or teachers to give you music. Would you ask your mechanic to give you free parts for your car?
  • Join the FB group of Australian DJs;
  • Check out;

Don’t expect to be the best DJ in the world your first time. Just go and treat this as a learning experience that could be fun. Just like dancing, the more social dancing you do, the better you’ll get, the more you’ll learn.

[EDIT: This is one of a number of loosely-associated posts about music in Sydney lindy hop today. This list includes:


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