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How To Create The Best DJ Playlist For Your Next Gig

Djs hands on computer keyboard mixing tracks

Think back to some of the best memories of your life—what music was playing in the background? The right song and the right vibe really make for special moments! And that’s where you come in. As a DJ, you’re always looking to bring the magic. But how to create the best DJ playlist is sometimes harder than you might first think. 

So, we’re here to help! 

When thinking of creating the best DJ playlist and the perfect set, there are a ton of factors to consider. This is especially true if it’s your first time or you’re DJing somewhere new.

Here we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to create the best DJ playlist ever. Ready? Let’s go!

Developing a Concept for Your DJ Playlist

First things first: preparation. 

If you’re new, you may want to consider checking out some tips on how to get your DJ business started before diving deeper and creating DJ playlist ideas.

But if you’ve DJed a few times before, you’re familiar with the basics. So for your next gig—before you even choose a single song—you’ve got to have a really clear idea of what kind of DJ playlist will suit the mood, who’s going to hear it, and the purpose behind it. 

Developing your concept starts with why you’re there and what kind of vibe, mood, or experience you want it to create. Consider some of these common events that need a DJ:

  • Club or bar, where the purpose is to get people dancing, super upbeat, loud, and full of energy.
  • Wedding, where the vibes might be more romantic and special with a lineup of meaningful songs for the couple and more relatable to a wide variety of ages
  • House party or social environment, where the music might change based on requests from the group throughout the event. 
  • Awards night or formal event, where a strict set list is required and it’s more about creating background ambiance. 
  • Silent DJ party, where everyone’s wearing headphones! Hosting a silent DJ party is totally different than most traditional events and will have different requirements to be successful. 
DJ on stage with lights

Different events will dramatically change how you create a DJ playlist, including the songs and equipment you use. 

So, spend some time thinking through the concept and purpose of your set. It’s helpful to put yourself in the shoes of the audience or attendees of the event—how would you want to feel if you were them? What kind of experience would you be looking for? 

Here are a few questions to help guide you in developing DJ Playlist Ideas:

  • Who’s going to be there? Consider age, number of people, why they’re there, and if everyone knows each other or if they’re strangers. 
  • What’s the purpose of music at this event? Think about whether it’s the main focus (i.e., dance club) or to support the other activities (i.e., event with background music). 
  • What kind of mood or vibe do you want to create? Options include energetic, chill, romantic, experiential, calm, upbeat—the list goes on!

Spend some time thinking through all these options and nail down your concept. It will help you create a DJ playlist with more clarity and direction, ultimately creating a better end product.

woman dancing with headphones and hoodie on

Preparing Your DJ Playlist:

Once you have your concept nailed down, you can start building DJ playlist ideas and choosing songs. Here’s how to do it.

Filter your library and collect DJ playlist ideas

Sit down with your music library and start choosing songs that match the concept you’ve decided on. You can then filter or sort your songs based on a few parameters:

  • BPM (beats per minute) to help with mixing songs and determining the flow of the set. A lot of DJ software programs will show this information, but you can also use a tool like Tunebat to find the song key and BPM of audio files. 
  • The genre of each song. This ensures that they complement each other.
  • The overall energy of the song. Though it relates to both the BPM and genre, the energy is more of a “vibe” or feeling you have about the song.

Understand your tracks

As you’re compiling DJ playlist ideas, listen to every single song and get to know them inside and out! Play them without mixing so that you can get a sense of a few things:

  • The length of the song and its natural energy rise and fall
  • Cue points for mixing or switching songs
  • Potential parts to loop a song

When you know the ins and outs of each track, it’s easier to find those that complement each other. As you build your playlist in your DJ software, you can also keep track of notes and comments about transitions between songs.

Plan your opening set

Unless you’re at an event that needs to be rigid and structured, chances are you’ll flow and change your set throughout the night based on the energy of the crowd. 

That said, it’s good to plan your first few songs so you know what you’re starting with. It’s a good way to get a sense of the crowd and if you need to change it up along the way or keep going with your original plan.

dj mixer with headphones

Build your DJ playlist

Even though you might diverge from the playlist, it’s important to get your tracks down. Using DJ software, you can order your tracks in a way that tells a story and keeps the audience engaged through the night. Some things to think of:

  • Start with a strong opener to get people excited
  • Determine how many songs you need to fill the time for your set. This comprehensive guide to how many songs you need in a DJ set goes over some things to think about. The genre of music often dictates the length and BPM of songs, both helpful in determining how many to put on your list. 
  • Think about a few closing options; based on how your set goes, you might need to change the plan
  • Add effects like reverb, filter, or delay to make the tracks different from the original song
  • Incorporate sound effects or your own words and vocals into the set
  • Mix both BPMs and keys to keep things interesting. 

For new DJs or those who want to get started, you might be thinking: where do I create my DJ playlist? What kind of equipment or software do I need? The good news is that if you have a laptop, you can be a DJ! 

There’s so much to get into with equipment and software, so check out this article on how to DJ with a laptop. In short, there are software programs such as Traktor Pro, Serato DJ, or Mixxx that help you order and mix tracks like a pro.

Plan for spontaneity

Preparation is obviously key to a successful DJ playlist. But, the best memories are usually when there’s something different, unexpected, or unique! And, just think of it this way: what’s the point of a live DJ if you’re not going to mix things up a bit? 

So, plan to be spontaneous by thinking of a variety of options and directions you can go. Then, read the room and match their energy—give the people what they want!

One awesome way to do this is to incorporate throwback tunes from years ago. It’s sure to get even the most reluctant dancer out of their seat.

Practice your set

The last step to creating the best DJ playlist for your next gig or event is to practice, practice, practice! Or at least go through it a couple of times. 

After you’ve compiled your DJ playlist ideas and ordered your cues, go through it a few times. You can take notes as you mix to figure out what’s working or not. Also, try experimenting with effects and loops as you go. 

If you’re not totally sure how things are, bring in someone to listen and get their input.

But remember—it’s about having fun and creating fun. So stay loose, comfortable, and open to what comes your way during your DJing gig, and you’ll be just fine!

female dj dancing to music drop

Practical Tips for the Best DJ Playlist

As you go through the process of building a concept and preparing your DJ playlist ideas, there are a number of practical things to consider. 

We talked about the importance of building a concept based on the type of event already, but there are a few more things that go along with that:

  • Event space: What size is the room? How are the acoustics? If possible, check out the space in advance so you know what to expect. The event space and size will determine the equipment you’ll bring and how loud you can play (i.e., if you’re in a backyard with neighbors nearby, you may need to keep it down). 
  • Length and time of the gig: Consider when you’ll be DJing—is it an early, 20-minute time slot at a nightclub? Then your primary job is to amp people up for the rest of the night. Are you playing a 2-hour set at a wedding? Then you need to sustain energy and interest throughout. Think about the timing so you can flow with energy levels throughout the night. 
  • Insurance: You’ve invested time, effort, and money into being a DJ. DJ Insurance is the best way to protect that investment! You can get general liability and optional equipment coverage for just a single event or ongoing coverage, whatever suits your needs. If you’re not sure whether you need insurance or not, check out this article on whether DJs need public liability insurance to learn more. 

These aspects of DJing are definitely less glamorous and sexy but are 100% essential to your success. So, think through the practical details as you plan and prepare to create the best DJ playlist for your next gig. 

So, are you feeling ready to get out there? Creating the best DJ playlist for your next gig is a matter of nailing down a concept, prepping your list, and thinking through practical considerations. We really believe preparation makes for the best experience, so feel free to contact us to get a quote and learn more about DJ insurance. 

From there, you just need to go for it and have some fun! DJing is to create memories through music, so enjoy the process and make the most out of it.

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