Have the rules for opening DJs changed?
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  1. #1
    Tech Wizard
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    Default Have the rules for opening DJs changed?

    Hey guys,

    So lately, I've opened for quite a few headliners in my city recently. Names such as: 3LAU, Bingo Players and the Bloody Beetroots. I've noticed a few things that I've found to be particularly interesting as far as musical selections for openers and what is expected of us.

    A little about me: I came up playing all genres of House music, I was taught mostly by older House-heads in my city who had been around since the inception of the rave scene, and had really seen it all. I was taught to, "know your place," and to never step outside of the boundaries of being an opening DJ, and basically obeying "The Esoteric Art of Being the Opening DJ," to a T. I could play an entire set of Kerry Chandler and Dirtybird records, or I could do an entire set of mainstream, Beatport Top 10 Electro. I love it all.

    First and foremost, I've noticed that the majority of the artists I've opened for, as well as the promotional companies who bring them in don't expect their openers to abide by any particular set of rules. At first I didn't believe it and I figured that each experience was an exception to the rule. My first experience with this was opening for 3LAU. Having been taught that an opening DJ is never to play anything too high energy prior to the headliner, I prepared multiple folders of Tech/Progressive House. Little did I know, I was going to have a Dubstep DJ on before me who played literally every Dubstep/Trap banger I could imagine. He did a great job, don't get me wrong, but it totally went against the rules of opening. I proceeded to get up there and start to play my more House-y material, and I watched the entire dancefloor die. Shortly thereafter, I started busting out my mainstream Electro, watched the dancefloor get packed again, and was even complimented by 3LAU on my track selection before he got on!

    I figured that this was some sort of mistake and 3LAU was just really cool (which, he definitely is). Although, my heavy hitter Electro and the prior DJs bass-heavy selections did nothing in the way of "burning," his set. In fact, I think it hyped people up even more.

    My next experience that got me thinking was opening for the Bloody Beetroots + Valentino Khan. Again, I abided by infamous rules for opening DJs, and played mostly House/Tech House w/o vocals and more percussive tracks. I really did a lot with my set as well, minimized time spent in breakdowns, did many custom edits, etc. My experience was exactly the same as my last. I started in the way that an opener is traditionally allowed to start, watched the crowd yawn, and ended up pulling out my more mainstream/more peak hour House. I wasn't sure how the next DJ was going to feel about it, but, once again, Valentino Khan complimented me on my selection, hyped me up on the microphone, and proceeded to play a set of banger Trap without anyone growing "tired."

    My most recent experience was opening for the Bingo Players. I was told by the promo company to, "do whatever you want, we trust you," so, instead of planning on playing by the rules that I was always told to obey, I bought a ton of new Melbourne Bounce/Trap/Hip-Hop mashups (TJR is the man), and generally stuff I would play if I was the "headliner." I went ahead and played what the crowd wanted, and...once again, was told by the promoters, audience and the next DJ that everything I played was great.

    Here's my hypothesis: the popularity of EDM and the fact that it has now reached epic proportions as far as being mainstream has changed the rules for opening DJs. I think (depending on the circumstance) it's relatively safe for opening DJs to "rock it out," provided that they've researched the headliners they're opening for and aren't playing any of the tracks they are playing regularly, and don't play anything in the current Beatport Top 50.

    What do you guys think? How do you usually open for headliners? Have your experiences been similar?

  2. #2
    Tech Wizard JBang's Avatar
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    Good post, man. Especially your last note about the popularity of "EDM" changing the rules of an opener. Definitely interesting...

  3. #3
    Tech Guru Kwal's Avatar
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    Here in chicago we have a few venues where you wouldn't last 5 minutes if you played any electro or trap in an opening set

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kwal View Post
    Here in chicago we have a few venues where you wouldn't last 5 minutes if you played any electro or trap in an opening set
    Good man! I've done tons of sets of entirely Tech House when opening for headliners and definitely think that it's important to be able to do so, but I'm asking if that's really necessary every time in this new age of "EDM?"
    Progressive/Electro/Tech/Deep House DJ/ Producer from Pittsburgh, PA.

  5. #5
    Moderator keithace's Avatar
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    Depends on who you are playing. When you are opening for a high energy act of course your energy has to be higher. I think you confused "opening DJ" with playing soft.
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  6. #6
    Tech Mentor matrick's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by keithace View Post
    Depends on who you are playing. When you are opening for a high energy act of course your energy has to be higher. I think you confused "opening DJ" with playing soft.
    ^^This.

    There are no real 'rules,' only etiquette. It completely depends on the situation and it's testament to you as a DJ to read that situation and act accordingly - basically don't ruin the next guy's set. It sounds like your background is warming up for house DJs and your methods and teaching is pretty spot on imo. If only more opening DJs had the same mindset.

  7. #7
    Tech Guru Polygon's Avatar
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    As matrick said, it's a matter of etiquette.
    I went to see Freemasons the other day, and there was a youngster who won some kind of dj contest, and was there to open for them. The dj before him finished his set with betoko-raining again (a fairly slow, calm song), and the guy absolutely nonchalantly got on the stage and proceeded to mix "raining again" with guetta's "aint a party". His whole set was composed of guetta and avicii original mixes, played fully (he probably used sth. like 8-10 tracks in his 1-hour set).
    Needless to say, it got the crowd jumping, but it completely killed Freemasons' later performance, which was actually VERY good tech-house/house mixing. People just started going away.
    So yeah, it's not a matter of track selection, it's a matter of situation.
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  8. #8
    Tech Guru AllDay's Avatar
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    The general rules for me:

    A. Not play the genre of the headliner
    B. Bring the energy down at the end of your set.
    C. More often then not I will play about 10bpm slower then the usual of the headliner, gives me room to play bangers but also not destroy there thunder.

  9. #9
    Tech Guru Patch's Avatar
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    This is a symptom of the gradual implosion and eventual death of dance music and rave culture.

    The crowd just doesn't have the attention span anymore. They want the greatest night of their life, week in, week out, and they want it to be rammed down their throats every 10 minutes throughout the night.

    There are still GREAT nights out there, with DJ's that still play by the rules. BUT - there are so many punters, and so many "DJ's" out there, that you can't help but find nights that cater to the majority of the paying punters.

    And, unfortunately, those punters want to hear every hit song 2 or three times every night...

    Y'know, people are having fun (Dj's, promotors, owners, punters) and getting paid - but it's such a shame that it has turned into POP culture.

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  10. #10
    Tech Guru SlayForMoney's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patch View Post
    This is a symptom of the gradual implosion and eventual death of dance music and rave culture.

    The crowd just doesn't have the attention span anymore. They want the greatest night of their life, week in, week out, and they want it to be rammed down their throats every 10 minutes throughout the night.
    ......
    And, unfortunately, those punters want to hear every hit song 2 or three times every night...
    Tell me about it...I'm just making a mixtape for a friend's movin'-in party and I just know that somebody will bitch to me with "hey, play something faster" in the first 30min and later if there isn't a guetta/calvin harris/pitbull song at least every 15min
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