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So… whatcha doin’ for dinner? What’s that? Did I make reservations? No, I’m not asking you out, I’m asking what you as a DJ are doing if and when your audience is eating dinner. You’d better say “I’m DJ’ing!”

Unfortunately, as I’ve recently learned, the answer from most DJs tends to be “I’m running a pre-made playlist.” When called out on the laziness of that statement, more than one have replied, “but I have it on shuffle, so it’s never the same set twice!” Shame on you!

It could be because I started DJ’ing when vinyl was the only option– unless you were one of those cassette tape DJs, you beast you– and it didn’t matter if the guests were having cocktails, dining, or dancing, I had to be at the turntables mixing from one record to the next, but I treat cocktail hour and dinner time the same way I do the dance portion of the affair. I’m reading the room, watching how people react to the song playing, and basing my choice of the next song off of what I see. If you take your craft seriously, you should be, too.

I know it’s tempting to fire up Spotify and press play, then sneak off to relax, or eat, or have a drink, or read a book, or scroll through TikTok, or do whatever else it is you do while your guests are eating, but resist that temptation. In the first place, it looks better if you are actively mixing music the entire time. You’re being paid for that time, right? Earn your paycheck. More importantly, while the guests are having cocktails, and later while they are eating, you have a chance to get them primed for dancing. Choose songs that get them bopping their heads and tapping their feet, and maybe even singing along, and build on those songs. Read your room, just as you do during your dance sets. If something doesn’t work, move on to something different. When something does work, build on it. Not only are you gathering important information for later, and better preparing yourself to get those guests dancing, you’re also subtly putting the guests into a good mood, which will make them much more likely to want to dance later.

If you are currently relying on playlists to get through the early stages of an event, I encourage you to abandon that practice immediately. If you aren’t, share below in the comments and let us all know what your strategy is for DJ’ing the non-dancing portions of events.

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