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UD x Maria Hanlon… Preparing For A DJ Set

Have you just been booked to play a DJ set but you’re not sure how to prepare? Or maybe this is your first ever booking and you don’t know where to start? Don’t worry, we’ve got you! In this guide, DJ Maria Hanlon take you through step-by-step prep so you’ll feel calm and collected as you plug in your headphones and hit play!

Where, What, How? 

Firstly, make sure you know the answers to these three questions:

Where are you DJing?
What time are you DJing?
How long are you DJing for?

Once you know this, you can start prepping. Research the venue you’re playing at or try and pop down before your booking. Next you’ll need to know what time you’re playing as this will affect what you play. Lastly, how many hours are you playing for? This is really important as it will determine how much music you’ll need and how much preparation you’ll need to do. Also, make sure to ask what equipment the venue has and that you’re familiar with it. 

Choose Your Music

The second step is choosing your music. Sort through your music and decide what music will work for the booking. Think about genres here, you don’t need to stick to one genre but maybe pick a few that work well together and that suit the vibe of the booking. If you want to buy more music and add to your collection, have a look on bandcamp and Juno. You can follow your favourite artists on bandcamp and get a notification when they release new music which is super handy and means you can stay up to date with recent releases. Or, if you’re looking for inspiration, read our monthly mixtape blogs for the best new music of the month.

Curate Your Playlist

I make my playlists in rekordbox (a free DJ platform) by dragging my MP3s from my USB into a new playlist. You can sort your playlist by BPM although I like to drag and drop my tracks and customise the order. Pick a good starting point/BPM and work up from there, you want to take your listeners on a journey and make your set exciting, not just play the same BPM for 2 hours straight. Also, think about what YOU would want to listen to if you were in the crowd and work around that. Top tip – always make sure you have more music than you need. If it’s a 1 hour booking I’d recommend having at least 2 hours of music prepared to allow room for spontaneity. Once your playlist is complete export it onto two USBs (one for backup!).

Practise Your Set

Now you have your playlist ready, it’s time to practise. You can practise in rekordbox or at our beautiful, brand new Talent House (you’ll just need your USB and a pair of headphones). Practise mixing tracks together and set cue points so you know when to bring the next track in. Play around and note down good mixes, then finalise your playlist in rekordbox. Just remember to export your finalised playlist to your USBs again.

Make Sure You Have Everything You Need

Before the booking, go through this simple checklist

  • USB x 2 – always take 2 USBs as sometimes the decks aren’t linked and it’s always good to have a backup just in case. Export your playlist onto both USBs so they’re the same. 
  • Headphones – always take your own headphones, don’t assume a venue will have some.
  • Adaptors – take headphone adaptors with you that will work with the kit there.
  • Fully charged phone – make sure your phone is charged and that you have the name and number of the venue and booker on your phone, in case you need it.

Arrive Early 

Get to the booking around 30 minutes before you start, especially if it’s your first time playing there. If there’s a DJ on before you, listen to their set and work out how you’re going to take over from them. Also, introduce yourself and ask them how their set’s been (when they’re not in the middle of mixing of course), this is a really good way to meet other DJs and get feedback on the venue and crowd. Also, tell the staff you’re here and then give yourself plenty of time to set up. 


It’s your time to shine! Remember to read the crowd and use your back up tracks if the vibe feels right. At the end of the booking make sure you take everything home with you (USBs, headphones etc) and say thanks to the staff. Follow up with an email if you’d like to play there again. 

Final Thoughts

Those are my top tips for a perfectly prepped set. Remember to have fun, be bold and brave with your selections and to read the room. Enjoy your sets!

Words: Maria Hanlon

Listen to Maria Meets on the 2nd and 4th Friday of the month 3-5pm on voicesradio.co.uk


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