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The Do's and Don'ts of DJ residencies

Wisdoms on how to make the most of a regular spot behind the decks

  • Eric Sharp
  • 24 May 2018

At this point, I'm pretty sure that 96 per cent of the population of planet Earth are DJs. It’s just science and statistics. At some point in your budding DJ career, you may be asked to do a residency, or you may already be a resident at your local bar or club.

You could say I know a thing or two about residencies, as they’ve been a key part of my career since the very beginning. In 2005, I started playing out in San Francisco after throwing my first warehouse party and nabbing my first residency at a now defunct spot called Red Eye Lounge. I would go on to play a few more residencies around the city, including the first few years of Temple Nightclub. Since moving to Los Angeles, my most exciting residency yet is at Sound Nightclub in Hollywood, a venue that is recognized globally as one of the best on the continent.

And for those of you who have yet to land a recurring gig, there are a few tips I’ve learned throughout my career: be professional, support your scene and give it your absolute best. If you’ve been invited to play once, cherish it. The relationship between you and a venue should be symbiotic, and mutually beneficial. Here are some do’s and don’t’s to make your residency exactly that. Additionally, here's my most recent opening set at Sound for Kidnap: Now on with the do's and don'ts!

Bring more to the table than just your track selection, mixing ability and crowd reading prowess. Brainstorm ideas for nights, artists, other support talent and general ways to make your home better.

Unless you’re Carl Cox checking in for your yearly stint in Ibiza, chances are, the club is doing more for you than you are for them. These days, there are hundreds if not thousands of DJs who would line up to take your place, and probably do so for cheaper than what you’re being paid.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t value yourself; there’s probably a good reason you’ve been chosen as a resident. However, there can be a fine line between feeling comfortable and acting like you own the place. (Hint: you probably don’t.)

Treat every time on the decks as if it’s your last. To be brutally honest, it might be.

Residencies, come and go, clubs open and close. You have the unique perspective of developing a feel for a room over your tenure, so make it special. Someone way smarter than me once said that dance music is all about creating moments. You can literally touch people’s lives with a little bit of focus, determination and effort.

Everybody likes when the DJ is the life of the party. Nobody likes when you’re the death of it.

While I do believe that you are a unique snowflake who was sent from the heavens to bless this lifetime with your exceptional skills and Nostradamus-like intuition when reading a room, it’s customers who keep the lights on. Presumably, you’ve accepted a regular gig because it’s somewhere you want to play, so help them succeed by bringing a crew.

True - marketing is not your main job as the DJ, but wouldn’t you rather the space be as full as possible? Besides, playing out is much more fun when you’re surrounded by smiling familiar faces who can spark the dancefloor energy and help build it into a wildfire.

This should go without saying... but don’t bring that one creepy dude who asks if there will be hot chicks there. Or the other friend who has a tendency to black out and break things, then needs to be carried out at the end of the night. Your guests reflect on you, and your bookers are gonna get tired of you very quickly if they find their staff having to babysit your peeps.

Sometimes this is as simple as thinking about things from the other side of the decks. You may have been playing this spot once a week for the past three years, but for many people in the audience, this might be their first time out. Heraclitus said it better than I can: "You can't step in the same river twice." This is a fancy way of saying that every moment is new. Whatever it takes to remind yourself of that - do it. If your residency starts feeling too routine, just remember you could be stuck in a cubicle for 45 hours a week printing out TPS reports instead.

If you meticulously plan out your set in advance, I am not sure what to say to you. This concept is going to be a lot of extra work, and really you’re missing one of the coolest things about our art form which is the experience of building resonance with a crowd by being able to respond to their energy with your track selection. Whether this is you or you’re like me and you choose all of your tracks on the fly, it’s gonna get stale for you and the staff if you’re always playing same tunes. We have roughly 30 years of electronic music to draw from, and if you’re playing other genres you probably have even more to work with. Mix things up by always staying on top of the freshest tunes and also digging for back catalogue material.

If you’re the warm-up DJ, build up the room. If you’re headlining, tear the roof off. If you’re closing the evening, send everyone off into euphoria (or the after-hours.) Even if you have a very specific sound, you can still tailor the energy of your sets to fit your time slot. The best nights have a distinct flow to them, and you get to participate in this. I get called on to open quite a bit. It’s always a point of pride for me when the headliner has the place whipped up in a frenzy and I can smile to myself knowing that when I started it was completely empty and I helped set the tone for this moment.

EVER.

This is going to vary based on your environment. Obviously a gritty basement room has a much different esthetic compared to a posh bottle service experience. Keep in mind that nowadays, as DJs, we are seen as performers. Your visual persona can make you memorable to your audience and just might be the thing that puts them over the top and becomes an actual fan. And finally speaking of fans…

It’s great to have backstage access, but don’t hide back there all night. You want people coming back to see you again, so taking the time to filter out into the melee and personally connect with the people who were feeling your tunes will pay dividends. In the very least, you can make sure they know your name - many fans show up for the headliner only to get turned on to the support talent. Without the dancers out on the floor, you might as well be DJing in your bedroom, so show them love and take some pictures with them when they ask.

Eric Sharp is a Los Angeles-based DJ. Catch him at his residency at Sound Nightclub in Hollywood and find more from him here

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