Murphy's law is an adage or epigram that is typically stated as: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
No matter how prepared we are, there will come a day when our first line of attack doesn’t work - the venue’s CDJs are broken, we forgot our main sound card, our workhorse controller is broken, we forgot our flash drives... the list of ways Murphy’s Law can take effect goes on. However, these don’t have to prevent you from performing, or stop you from continuing your current set. If you plan ahead and have fall-back plans ready in the event that something goes wrong, you can do what you do best - and demonstrate to future booking agents that you’re prepared for anything.
FIRST AND FOREMOST, BRING A LAPTOP
First and foremost, bring a laptop that has most of your major playlist and some performance software on it. This will come in handy for a few reasons, if only for the fact that it stores music well on its own, runs DJ software, and has an audio-out in the form of a headphones jack, if things truly do go south. It also makes a lot of the next few suggestions much easier.
SOUND CARD PROBLEMS?
Whether the venue’s primary sound solution isn’t available or yours just broke, a basic RCA to 1/8” adapter will at least be able to carry your laptop’s audio to the venue’s speakers. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than the silence of nothing. Not all venues use RCA; in these cases, consider bringing other inexpensive adapters (XLR to 1/4”, etc.) that aren’t specific to RCA so you have your major bases covered.
If you’ve got the capital for an additional sound card, we recommend something basic like the Native Instruments Traktor Audio 2 DJ Audio Interface, or any other sound card that doesn’t take up a lot of space. You can always bring the sound card you use to produce, too, though the risks and benefits of that option vary depending on your particular setup.
Perhaps the event organizer forgot to order the Pioneer CDJs and mixer, or they simply won’t get there in time for your set. Perhaps your own primary controller stopped working, or it’s sitting in your hotel room 15 miles away. In these instances it’s best to have a backup controller of some sort that you know well enough to control at least the basic functions of the DJ software you have on your laptop. This controller doesn’t have to be the most expensive or full-featured equipment - just enough to load decks, play/pause audio, navigate a playlist, and perform basic mixing. If it’s got its own sound card or means of getting audio to the house, all the better.
If you have the space (and money) for larger controllers, controllers like the Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2 or Numark Mixtrack Pro work well here because they not only handle all major functions of most modern DJ softwares, they also come with their own sound cards (RCA outs, at the least) so if all else fails you have familiar gear to that of the venue’s with which to work. Otherwise, even the most basic backpack-friendly controller like the Akai LPD8 should be able to control enough parameters in Traktor or Mixxx to get the job done.
This is one that can easily go wrong, but luckily you can be prepared for disaster without spending a ton of cash. Most DJs and electronic music performers have their go-to pair of trusty DJ headphones. While playing gigs, you’re likely to be rough on them, and that’s ok; The best DJ headphones are designed to take some serious abuse. Inevitably they do break, and if they don’t stop producing sound altogether they might do that annoying thing where only one side stops working. Even if you’re convinced your Sennheiser HD 25s are virtually indestructible, that doesn’t mean you won’t accidentally leave them in the hotel room, or some shady character “accidentally” walks away with them when you’re not looking. Whichever of these scenarios happens, it’s not ideal.
We’re not going to suggest simply buying two pairs of your go-to DJ headphones, since that’s neither cost-effective nor space-effective. Instead, pack up a pair of good, inexpensive in-ear headphones. If Laidback Luke can DJ with the Sol Republic RELAYS in-ear headphones, you can too (Steve Aoki has been seen using them too). They might not be as loud, sound-isolating, or high fidelity like your fancy on/over-ear headphones, but they’re a perfect stop-gap until you can go buy a replacement or get yours repaired.
FORGOT YOUR FLASH DRIVES?
There are a few ways to combat forgetting your flash drive. One way is to have a backup flash drive with the exact same playlists on it - a bit tedious, but if you lose one you always have the other. A second way is to use alternative methods - the most ubiquitous controllers you’ll find in most venues, the Pioneer CDJ-2000 Nexus, can take SD cards or CDs as well as the standard USB ports, and can access a laptop’s library via Rekordbox.
Don’t let Murphy dampen your deck time. Come prepared with backup plans and redundancies wherever possible, and not only will you spare yourself the trouble of starting late or the disappointment of not playing at all, you’ll be able to demonstrate your hustle and preparedness to promoters, event managers, and just about anyone who may be booking you in the near future.
Let’s recap the things you should throw in your bag to avert disaster, and do your gig despite your gear being lost/stolen/breaking/etc.
- Your laptop with some DJ software and your playlist.
- A couple of spare cables and adapters (at the very least this and this this).
- If you can afford it, an entry-level compact DJ audio interface like the Native Instruments Traktor Audio 2.
- A backpack-friendly DJ controller (we like the Akai LPD8).
- Backup in-ear headphones which are ultra-portable and relatively inexpensive (we love the Sol Republic RELAYS).
- A spare USB flash drive (or two) with your playlist saved onto it (several famous DJs use the extremely rugged Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth).
Have a great gig!