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How to Read the Crowd as a DJ (the right way)

Terran

4 min read

Feb 7

Reading the crowd is a skill that any DJ can learn. If you’re already a club goer, you’ve likely felt the vibe and flow of a great set. But, if the scene is unfamiliar to you - it might be time to take a step back.


A club music crowd dancing while a DJ reads the crowd

Identify the Audience on the Dancefloor


When you start a DJ set, take some time to understand the people that are impacting your dance floor. The renowned book, “How to DJ Right”, breaks these audience members down into two simple categories:


Party Starters and Party Poopers


The Party Starters are your allies in any venue. They come for the music, to show off their moves, and generally have a great night. Often appearing in the form of a group celebrating an event, or a few stragglers who seem to have the same taste in music as you. Their intensity is contagious, and if you play to their vibe they can amplify the energy in the room.


The Party Poopers are the people who can’t decide if they want to dance or leave early. Standing in the corner or sitting at the bar, these people can drain the energy out of the audience. Your challenge is to either draw them onto the floor or make everyone else so hype that they feel left out.


How to Play the Right Genre and Music


Before playing a live set, experienced DJs consider the venue, crowd, and type of show. If possible, they attend a similar event at the same venue to watch how the crowd reacts.


Some important clues to gather include the average age, what clothes they wear, and what time most people arrive. As a quality DJ, this should be more than enough to give you a starting point.


A DJ playing the right music and genre to a small club crowd

How Professional DJs Play to the Crowd


DJs build energy and momentum using DJing techniques like increasing the tempo, live effects, and harmonic mixing. While also taking away the energy in certain scenarios to give the crowd a break or reset the atmosphere.

They aren’t reading people’s minds, they are trying to play towards the energy in the room.


How to Read the Crowd as a DJ


Once you understand the audience, earn their trust with popular music or a singalong. Then, experiment with a few tracks across different genres, tempos, and energies. Watch the crowds’ reaction closely - it’s usually painfully clear if they are enjoying your choices.


If the dancefloor is full, great work! If people are standing still, you need to switch gears.


While DJing, ask yourself: What’s keeping the audience entertained? Is it the tempo, the type of beat, or the mood? Are people leaving to get drinks or joining the party? Notice who is dancing the most and think about why. Reading the crowd isn’t just about playing music; it’s about working with the audience to create a moment worth remembering.


How to Practice Reading a Crowd


The best way to practice reading a crowd is to stay observant during every live set, no matter the size of the crowd. As a beginner DJ you should take any chance you can to get in front of others. From house parties to weddings and corporate events, every performance is a chance to learn something new and gauge reactions to different tracks or transitions.


The greatest acts in the world all started as bedroom DJs with no experience, the difference is that they made the most out of every time slot.


Audio engineer in a dim club working with a band while reading the crowd

How DJs Read the Crowd FAQ


Why do DJs need to read the crowd?


DJs need to read the crowd to ensure the audience stays alive. It’s about matching the music to the crowd’s mood, and avoiding tunes that take the energy out of the room. By paying attention to reactions, DJs can spot signals for when to switch genres or adjust their performance. While this skill is crucial across genres, it is particularly important for Club DJs, Wedding DJs, and Mobile DJs.


How can a DJ keep the crowd engaged?


The best way to keep the crowd engaged as a DJ is by talking to them! Use the mic for simple shout-outs like “how we feeling?” to easily make the experience more personal and lively. Think before you speak to avoid awkward moments that don’t get a response.


How do DJs adjust their sets based on crowd response?


A well prepared DJ has an arsenal of extra tracks they can supplement into their set at any point. While professional DJs are more familiar with their library and can often quickly navigate to quality transitions or crowd pleasers.


Why is it important to experiment with different genres and tempos during a set?


Experimenting at a live set is often when the unexpected and memorable moments happen. For instance, dropping a thick trap song amidst a mostly house set will really stand out. If mixed in tastefully, this can surprise your audience in the best way. This strategy not only keeps the show fresh but also showcases your versatility as a DJ and entertainer.

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