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Thread: The art and practice of set planning. PART 2

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    Member Jimanee's Avatar
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    Angry The art and practice of set planning. PART 2

    This is a follow on from this thread, if you haven't please read part 1 first

    So you have prepared your set sequence, now, if you want, you can micro manage the individual mixes. One of the possible advantages to planning ahead is that you can work out the phrasing so everything drops nicely.

    With vinyl I would just remember the point to start mixing, with CDs, well I use points in the “time remaining” display (this display is safer than “time elapsed” as the latter won’t warn you of the end of the track).

    By all means use your own short hand; I use SM for Start the Mix, LM for Leave Mix and MID for Make Incoming track Dominant.

    Now it is bad practice to just have one SM point; what if you miss it or need to mix out earlier?

    Here is the great combo from MJ – Billie Jean to Eurythmics –Sweet Dreams

    sm 03:08 LM 02:45
    sm 02:07 LM 01:38
    sm 01:38 LM 01:05

    Not that I use these times literally, they can vary from device to device, just the start or end of the bar near that time will do. If you are into creative mixing, preparing and practicing in advance can give you the confidence and the time to do it live. And as you are micro managing anyway, you can go even further and practice, record the mixes and analyse them afterwards for mistakes you can avoid in the future (PS. I don’t really do this these days, too much effort).


    The dangers of micromanaging mixes and how to overcome them.

    Just mixing two tunes together with no thought other than mixing them is far simpler than when you are aiming for specific points, doing something complicated/ rehearsed and judging the results to all previous efforts.

    Practicing the same mixes can make you stale, over critical and over confident. So why bother? Because if you practice a prepared set well, it can be a key to delivering a smooth professional performance under difficult circumstances.

    By practicing well I mean find the optimum phrasing and EQ for each mix and then try to perform it under artificially difficult scenarios. Such as using no headphones, using only headphones, place your speakers in the room next door, no pitch control, no sync, whilst intoxicated, etc.

    Listening back to these recordings should show you what you can pull off under those circumstances and you should have found some failsafe practices for when things don’t go your way.

    Staleness

    Now along the way you will also get rather bored of the same mixes/ songs, you will become stale. The way I get around this issue is to treat the performance of a prepared set the same as I would a martial arts Kata; the two share many similarities. One of the goals of a Kata is to perform a sequence of techniques in a natural, reflex like manner; sound familiar?

    The difference in Kata from a noob and a master, is that the noob will be thinking “punch, kick, then turn, etc”. The master would be probably immersed in the performance, striving for the unobtainable perfection, mind and heart embracing the void spirit etc.

    That’s how I try to perform prepared sets, with total dedication and focus; aiming for perfection in technique, body language and spirit.

    In other words I really concentrate and make sure that I look like I’m doing something really difficult/ important, I really care and I’m having lots of fun.

    Over criticalness

    There is a problem with chasing perfection however, in that it can make us over critical, all those thousands of things to get right, being disappointed when you didn’t quite get it.

    Well first of all, you should be the only one who knew what you were trying to accomplish. If you ended up just doing a smooth mix, when what you were attempting was the dropping both basslines together finishing with a triple spinback, that’s fine in your audiences eyes, don’t ruin it by pulling a screwface.

    Secondly, with all your practice you should hear the drifts in your mixing before anyone else does, this can lead to the feeling that you think: that the audience thinks, you are drifting all over the place. There is no point analysing that at the time of the mix, just keep your focus, correct the drifts as you hear them and keep your game face on. Most people can’t even hear mixing if you don’t make it really obvious.

    Over confidence

    This can be a bitch too; after you nail a few of these prepared sets live, you can get to thinking it’s really easy and that you are really good, then you have to do your thing on unfamiliar crappy equipment and half of what you normally do becomes impossible and even the bare basics are a life and death affair. Remember to keep practicing under artificially difficult conditions and develop those failsafe practices/ mixes.

    Be realistic in what you expect yourself to be able to pull off, if you do mix under the influence. There are certain mixes I wouldn’t dream of doing if I was too drunk and the consequences of drunken failure can be dire.

    But, yes, feel free to practice the same set over and over again as long as you bear the above dangers in mind.


    How to visualise what to play next in advance.

    Well most of you are doing it naturally all the time, it’s the reason most of us became DJs in the first place: hear a tune and a track that would be good to mix in to it usually springs to mind. Great, make a note of that one(s); it will probably be the best.

    Picking alternative mixouts is quite different from the above and to explain I’m going to have to use my method of crowd reading. It’s not the only one.

    My way for crowd reading: I quiz nearly everyone I meet on their music tastes and categorise/ stereotype them, I find their likes, dislikes, their mehs and what they’ll put up with. Then imagine a venue real or fantasy, populate them with the appropriate stereotypes, in the right proportion too, then imagine their reaction to your choice.

    For alternative mixouts you need to analyse the attributes of the track playing and their effect on the various groups of stereotypes. You identify the attribute that could cause a problem (ie. Cheesiness) and look for a tune that “fixes” the problem without angering the people who actually like the current track.

    A quick dirty example, you are playing Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff, it’s misfiring, only a few girls, a couple of gay guys are really into it, middle aged men looking disgruntled; playing the planned great mix of Bee Gees’ You should be dancing, would be a mistake. Eurhythmics’’ Sweet Dreams should fix without losing the dancefloor.

    Factoring in song history

    Another common set planning problem is that the above is just one transition, peoples’ perceptions will be coloured by the previous tunes, to plan a set you must place yourself in each group and run through the entire set from their view point, based on their prejudices work through their perceived peaks and troughs to know what they are thinking at each point (what would Frank the Reggae freak from accounts make of these three funk transitions?). You may then manipulate those thoughts.

    Now at this point you might scream “this is impossible”, well sort of it is and that's half the fun, but you can get pretty close. And, of course, you can be limited by the genre that you are playing, no need to worry about your Mum’s perception of your musical journey whilst playing Dubstep.

    A simple set planning theme

    Also you can simplify matters, one way is by picking two opposing extremes of stereotypes that represent the outer limits of those you are going to cater for. On my Disco/ Retro nights for the warm up I usually go between one of my exes representing a Club Bimbo and DJF’s own Badger representing a stuck in the 80s curmudgeon (only kidding )

    I aim to move between the two every 3-5 tunes, so that both parties like 3 out of 4 tracks, favouring mainly the girls obviously.
    In the club I keep a sharp eye on peoples’ drinks and I aim to play the track they won’t like, the moment after they have bought a drink. Be warned doing the above the wrong way round and playing the track that they hate, just as they are making the decision to stay and have another drink, will drive people away.

    Moving back and forth will keep people in a club, but it won’t pack the floor, at the right moment play a track that everyone likes and blow the roof off the place. This track would ideally be part of the main anthem smasher set.

    More set planning themes.

    I have other variations of this theme, sets where I change genre and music decade every two songs, great for audience analysis. Or sets where you presume each song goes badly and play the “fixer” afterwards, this won’t win you fans but is kind of bombproof.

    But why follow/ react when, ideally, you should be leading. There’s a fair amount of DJs that just play the music they love, I like to do that as well. I like being an “ambassador” for the tunes I support.

    If I just played my best stuff locally, I would be playing it to an empty room. So I have to carve out an audience from people with an openish mind, students, hipsters, the fringe, ravers, band people etc. So here as an example is my “Jimanee’s reggae, funk, world, mash up Lounge all conquering" theme which aims to get into these people’s heads and reprogram their musical tastes to my (obviously superior ) way of thinking.

    I usually start with obscure funk, scratch any of the above mentioned people you should find they appreciate bit of funk, then I start to play some evil head games with them, I play stuff that I like and know that they know, only I play better versions or the originals of the track they know had sampled and then I aim to pwn them with my even better more obscure stuff.

    Bludgeon at them long enough for them to get the Meta message: “This guy plays really cool stuff that’s better than mine”. Once their spirit has been broken and they trust you, you can lead them into really uncharted territory.

    This is still an experimental theme for me, also very dangerous and frankly immoral, but I’ve had more successes than failures and the failures are just me ending up playing requests and mainstreamish stuff. So I thought I’d include it as an example theme that leads and manipulates.

    The idea I’m trying to express is to find your own theme or story, label it, pick your tunes based on it, then apply it live, see how it goes down and tweak and change.

    Planning ahead in the club

    There is another element of set preparation; preparing sets live in the venue. It’s a bit like the above, only with no reason to imagine the crowd; they’re right in front of you. Try to read the crowd not just for the next song but how they are going to react to the next six, this is handy for spotting trouble in advance, if you know that the crowd won’t like track four, you have three tunes to sort an alternative. I try and keep several rough “set webs” going, whilst being more specific for the next 2-3 tracks. Not always possible, but I try.

    This is also handy for playing requests, as having a good idea of the next six allows you the option of substituting one of them for the request, if they are similar, and you can give the happy requestor an accurate eta. In fact having a few sets can be used as a kind of map of tunes to work out how to get from the track playing to the requested tune.

    Many argue that set preparation is no substitute for “knowing your tunes” (KYT) and I state that they are both pillars of “knowing your collection”: both KYT and how to flow through your collection.

    That said some requests can be so incompatible, that if I professionally feel that it would work better with the crowd than what I have planned, I’m not too proud to say: I would just gently fade it in there and get the party started.

    IMHO be ready to junk any plan to play the right tune at the right time.
    Last edited by Jimanee; 06-12-2013 at 05:44 AM.

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    Member Jimanee's Avatar
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    Phew, the above was not easy to write, I’ve rewritten so many bits over time, that I’m hoping it makes sense. Please regard it as the Beta test version and let me know if any part needs clarification.

    Also thanks to the Mods for keeping part 1 argument/ flame free; now that part 2 is done this is no longer necessary. I have got a working practice ready to quote and welcome the debate.
    Last edited by Jimanee; 06-08-2013 at 06:13 AM.

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    Member Hamza21's Avatar
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    Generally long posts like these need to broken up over two four posts. It's not easy on the eyes,even with paragraphs it still appears as a wall of text. As well as use sub headers like Sigma did in tutorial.

    http://www.djforums.com/forums/showt...g-%28repost%29
    Last edited by Hamza21; 06-10-2013 at 09:42 PM.

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    Member Adzm00's Avatar
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    Well while I have some disagreements with what you have posted, it should be said you can't really plan a set until you know how to read a crowd, until you know what your crowd expects and until you learn how to deliver that to them while keeping it different each time.

    I have only really just started planning sets in the past year or so, it does take the stress off a bit, but you REALLY need to know what you are doing for it to actually work out.

    I don't even bother with contingency sets, but sometimes my planning is as far as picking out 40 tracks, and using them how I want on the fly.
    www.londontechnoblog.com / www.soundcloud.com/adam-bloy #TeamIdiot
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    Member Jimanee's Avatar
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    @ Hamza; Cheers for the feed back, I did debate the use of sub headers funnily enough based on Sigma's tutorial, I wanted people to get lost in it. I'll redo the post as that seems to have failed, be a couple of days though

    @ Adzm00: Remarkably retrained reply old bean, was expecting you to spit flames not actually be planning sets yourself. I kind of see your point, it depends where the DJ is coming from, for me crowd reading came before buying decks and actually DJing. And I used to make cassette compilations, before I could crowd read.

    I would agree that you can't plan sets WELL, if you can't crowd read.

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    Member Adzm00's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jimanee View Post
    @ Adzm00: Remarkably retrained reply old bean, was expecting you to spit flames not actually be planning sets yourself. I kind of see your point, it depends where the DJ is coming from, for me crowd reading came before buying decks and actually DJing. And I used to make cassette compilations, before I could crowd read.

    I would agree that you can't plan sets WELL, if you can't crowd read.
    Indeed, but I have been doing this for 10 years now and am in my third year as resident of the same place in London, so I have the experience behind me to successfully accomplish it. And to be honest I no longer need to be flicking through 1000 tracks and wasting time this way.

    That is not to say you cannot plan a set to record and put out on the internet, it will teach you a lot about structure. As you know though I don't used mixed in key or any such software, and I don't think I ever will. As it is at the moment sometimes I mix in key, sometimes I don't just depends on me.

    I think although some good advice, noobs should not pay attention to it at all, it's been 9 years DJing and 3 years of the same residency for me to be able to do it, and i do it extremely well, you really need to accurately assess your own skills, and unforunately that is another area people are getting all too overconfident with themselves in.

    I do still like to go a bit off the cuff, but I am entering the phase where I have to be proper professional and know what I am doing before I do it, and just to use the time gained there to add even more to my sets.
    Last edited by Adzm00; 06-11-2013 at 11:44 AM.
    www.londontechnoblog.com / www.soundcloud.com/adam-bloy #TeamIdiot
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    I agree with @adzm00 that crowd reading should be the same in importance if not greater than set planning. My first few gigs, I had all of these tracks planned in specific order with specific transitions in mind, but it all went out the window.

    I agree with you, that you should practice and be able to create sets, but you also have to be flexible and be able to adapt to the crowd.

    I like to have a pool of songs that I know well enough to be able to play according to the crowd.

    Thanks for the write up though!

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    Member Adzm00's Avatar
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    I can still turn up to a club and play a better completely unplanned set than most people can for planning a set for a month.

    My thoughts on it are this, arrogance leads to you doing this too early, and there are far too many arrogant DJ's with thoughts about themselves that their level of skill cannot match. If you do it properly and right, when you are ready to do so, it will help you.

    But I want to clarify my position on what I think is right. It is going to be YEARS, I've been DJing for 10 years, I've had a residency of 2 years in Sheffield and 3 years in London, now I am ready and have been for a short while. If you do it this way, you will be awesome, if you try skip the hard work, you won't be. There is a reason why that when I play the room is packed, even if there is someone from one of the top labels playing in the next room.

    It might sound a bit cocky, but I have been my own worst critic for the past 10 years, so I also know when I can give myself a break and if you want to be the best at something like this, all you really need is dedication to learn and to not kid yourself about your level of skill.
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    Member Jimanee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Adzm00 View Post

    I think although some good advice, noobs should not pay attention to it at all, it's been 9 years DJing and 3 years of the same residency for me to be able to do it, and i do it extremely well.
    See I'm going to have to disagree here, I contend that you get better at something by practicing it rather than avoiding it. I've spent 16 years making setlists and feel that I've grown throughout, playing a prepared set that fails should teach you why it failed, that's not a waste. When the alternative was going in blind, you wouldn't learn that lesson.


    Quote Originally Posted by jamesmington View Post
    My first few gigs, I had all of these tracks planned in specific order with specific transitions in mind, but it all went out the window.
    Ouchy I can see why that would have put you off, all my first gigs where prepared and mostly kicked ass. Though I hope that you can see that if you went back in time and had read this thread, it might not have gone out the window.

    That said it "all going out the window" is just you adapting, you don't really do a bad job if you don't stick to plan. My flatmate complained once that he kept hearing me prepare sets, which I then didn't play when out, I probably didn't feel the need.

    Quote Originally Posted by Adzm00 View Post

    My thoughts on it are this, arrogance leads to you doing this too early, and there are far too many arrogant DJ's with thoughts about themselves that their level of skill cannot match. If you do it properly and right, when you are ready to do so, it will help you.
    Mmmm, it wasn't arrogance that lead me to prepare my first sets, it was fear. I also did include a large section on overconfidence.

    Quote Originally Posted by Adzm00 View Post

    But I want to clarify my position on what I think is right. It is going to be YEARS, I've been DJing for 10 years, I've had a residency of 2 years in Sheffield and 3 years in London, now I am ready and have been for a short while. If you do it this way, you will be awesome, if you try skip the hard work, you won't be. There is a reason why that when I play the room is packed, even if there is someone from one of the top labels playing in the next room.

    It might sound a bit cocky, but I have been my own worst critic for the past 10 years, so I also know when I can give myself a break and if you want to be the best at something like this, all you really need is dedication to learn and to not kid yourself about your level of skill.
    Well to be fair, how do you know you were not ready earlier, if you hadn't tried? I'm glad everything is going well for you, you have a right to be proud... (More to follow, but I accidentally posted this too early and must be off to gym, hope I haven't offended as I haven't checked what I've written)
    Last edited by Jimanee; 06-14-2013 at 05:52 AM. Reason: Accidental posting

  10. #10
    Member Adzm00's Avatar
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    It's arrogance because it says "I know my skills are good enough to know what the club will want before I get there". Making set lists isn't something you practice, practicing structure is, and the intertwine, so does know keys and know when to and when not to mix in key.

    The knowing basic building blocks of DJing inside out and knowing your audience is what enables you to play good sets. When you plan a set and you are a noob, it might teach you a little something about structure, but that is about it, what it does if you always do it is makes you less responsive to what the crowd wants.
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