Amateur Night: A DJ’s Survival Guide to New Year’s Eve Gigs

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There are DJ gigs and then there are DJ gigs.

As many of us know, playing a New Year’s Eve party can be both a dream and a nightmare… sometimes simultaneously. For some jocks, this event is the holy grail of gigs… as far as earning potential is concerned. However, to the uninitiated, it is not without peril.

The rates for DJs remain high for these events because each year everyone and their mother comes out of the woodwork to throw or attend one. Of course, there’s a limited number of competent DJs who can handle the pressure, its potential pitfalls, and manage an unforgiving audience that – let’s face it – doesn’t get out that often.

Here are some practical tips, gathered from firsthand experience, that just might save your night:

Photo Credit: Ryan Campbell

Don’t take requests, take suggestions. Unless you are playing an underground event with an elevated booth and carte blanche to play whatever you like, you are going to deal with little birds chirping in your ear… all night long! If you take requests at face value, you could lose control of your party and will most certainly feel the backslash when the switch from Daft Punk to salsa doesn’t turn out so well. If you take suggestions, you will quickly get a sense of what your crowd is or isn’t into and test the waters accordingly. Think of suggestions as power steering, not a prescription.

Do a soundcheck. A proper soundcheck before the event is more common with bands and multiplayer events, but on New Year’s Eve there will inevitably be an issue if you don’t do one. A cord is missing, a driver is not installed, or an amp is on the fritz. Doing the check a full day, rather than a few hours, before is advised, in case you need to call in some tech support or to pick up any last-minute gear.

Don’t forget “Auld Lang Syne.” Dropping Robert Burns’ poem from 1788 set to folk music is the mother of all New Year’s Eve traditions. Without it, there is no farewell to the previous year – and you, my friend, are not likely to get another New Year’s Eve gig. Make sure you bring this track above all others, and I don’t mean some crappy karaoke version. And make sure you have an accurate source for that countdown. There is nothing worse than dropping this track too early or too late.

Bring a backup. A backup laptop, a backup hard drive, some real vinyl, an extra needle, a power strip, an extension cord, an RCA cable… whatever! You never know what item you might need in a pinch. Sure, it will make your bag a little heavier than usual, but chances are you will be kicking yourself otherwise.

Dress the part. A New Year’s Eve gig is a special event and to the people around you – again, many of them haven’t been out all year – you are the master of ceremonies. You are a part of the visual experience as much as the party decorations. You can’t go wrong with a tux or cocktail dress, but don’t be afraid to add your own flare.

Go easy on the booze. Free drinks are one of the few fringe benefits of DJing, but – trust me – a New Year’s Eve gig is one worth staying sober for. If something goes wrong, you will need to be able to react quickly, and problem-solving requires a clear head. You will dodge a hangover the following morning as well.

Don’t be afraid to ask for more money. A New Year’s Eve gig is not a typical gig, so charging a premium is perfectly acceptable. If the venue is charging, say, a $75- plus entry fee for the event, then $600 and up should be absolutely no problem for them to cover your services and in cash. If they say they can’t, they are probably cutting corners and you are the sucker.

Don’t forget the guest list. Aside from free booze, a couple of guest-list spots to an otherwise private event are a nice benefit. Make this a part of your fee negotiation rather than an afterthought that can’t be accommodated when the event sells out.

Follow up on social media after the big gig. Chances are the venue will handle the promotions for the gig, and being one of the year’s most attended events, it will sell out. This means that the lead-up to the gig is a breeze. However, after the gig, be sure to post photos and make shout outs thanking the venue and attendees. This is good karma, and can’t hurt your chances for a repeat gig the following year.

Commit & have fun. For many DJs, a New Year’s Eve gig is the mother of money gigs and will often sacrifice their artistic integrity for a payday. I don’t recommend this. If you simply don’t enjoy playing the music your crowd is expecting, then skip the gig. People will be able to tell when you are trying to fool them, and you won’t enjoy yourself anyway. New Year’s Eve is a celebration, and being the life of the party should not be a chore!

Happy New Year!