How To Start Your Own Emo DJ Night

Impress your friends and hometown in 8 easy steps

Anyone can DJ, just takes a little more to understand the audience and keep everyone happy. In this article, I’ll show you how to DJ yourself in the city you call home and support your local scene in the process.

It’s true. You can be up there. Forget waiting in a club line and paying $10 bucks for a PBR. Forget buying the $60 VIP experience to get a song requested, a shot with the DJs and a free t-shirt. Forget all of that and start your own night. This scene isn’t owned by one group using Taking Back Sunday puns or a traveling group of iPads with giant banners and merchandise in tow. You know this music. You love the music. It’s time to get your friends together and have a night out. You can do this!

You’re asking yourself, who is this blowhard? Who am I to say any of this?

  1. Founder of Washed Up Emo, started in 2007.
  2. I’ve been a DJ since 1996 on both public and commercial radio. (1992 if you count mix tapes in high school under the call letters WDHT, We Don’t Have A Transmitter.)
  3. A short history of Emo Nights. San Francisco’s Diary, arguably the first consistent one started in 2009. Emo Night Philly started in January of 2011 and we started Emo Night NYC in February of 2011.
  4. I’ve compiled and catalogued five plus years of requests from every single night of Emo Night NYC.

I’m a bit of a nerd about this and ready to help you make the same mistakes, I mean, success story that I had with DJing. Let’s get started.

Step 1: Download djay and pay for Spotify Premium

What does this do? You’ll get a solid app for your phone, tablet or computer that can play your own catalog of songs plus have the luxury of having every other song in the world with Spotify for those folks that will try and stump ya with a song you may not have. Play around with the app and learning how to fade in songs, setting up a queue of songs to pull from. Then DJ for your friends once you’ve got the hang of it. If you’re into doing this vinyl and a couple turntables, I support you. One tip: Easy on the sound effects during songs. When you’re throwing down the latest song that everyone has been waiting for, don’t insert the air horn. Your fellow patrons thank you.

Step 2: The right equipment/connections for the club/bar/venue

Now you need a few things to get you ready for the night. First up is having the necessary cables and power to connect up to the house sound. There are many ways to do this but I’m going simple.

You need a split out from your device to hear the song being played and then also the 2nd deck to queue up another song or see what may fit. Two options.

  1. Pre-cueing DJ Cable — This simple cable lets you cue up your next track in the headphones independently of what’s playing through the speakers. ($20)
  2. Griffin DJ Connect — Like the cable but stereo out ($99). Discontinued, but find on eBay, etc.
  3. Mixer — You’ll need to provide a little more juice to your sound. There’s a great little mixer from that is perfect. This will also work with two turntables. ($35)
  4. RCA cables — You need (1) male to male RCA cable, (2) male RCA to 1/8 inch. Use the male to male or male RCA to 1/8 inch out from the Master out of the mixer to the board/mixer at the venue. Use the male RCA to 1/8 inch with your DJ Connect or DJ Cable.
  5. Audio cable — You may not have anything but a 1/8 out from your DJ Cable at your venue, so just have handy a long 1/8 to 1/8 so the soundguy doesn’t get mad at you.
  6. Audio cable — 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch adaptor for those venues that only have 1/4 inputs
  7. Headphones — Anything you can afford will do. These can get pricey very quickly and you don’t need Beats. I suggest over using over the ear style for DJing. If they sound good to you, then get em.
  8. Power strip — Always bring a power strip because where you plug in your computer and the mixer will sometimes be far from an outlet. Also, you’ll make friends charging people’s phones.

Step 3: Your goals

Answering this step with what you want out of the event will go a long way in determining what comes next. Are you going to do this once or monthly? Are you going to have guest DJs? How long are you going to DJ? Do you want to get a sponsor/local business involved? Do you want to make merchandise to sell? Spend a good amount of time thinking about this and you’ll be happier later.

Step 4: The Venue

Now you need to find a great place to DJ with your awesome set up. If you’re already going to shows in your town/city, you probably know the venue, bars or local hangs people go to. Whether you know the owners of these places or not, the next time you’re there, ask them if they’re interested in having a night there. Don’t be discouraged if they’re not interested. Find that spin or difference that sets you apart from other theme nights or just DJing in general. If they say yes, work out an agreement with them and have at least 6–8 weeks lead time. I suggest to start ask for 10% of the bar during your event. It’s a good start rate and is an incentive for you to promote the night and get your friends out and hopefully the next time, their friends will show up too. Ask if they can do a drink special the night of your event. It helps everyone drink a little bit more. Double check the audio set up works and fits with what you got. You don’t want any complications the night of.

Step 5: Marketing / Promotion

Now that you’ve got the venue, it’s time to let people know about it. I suggest an online/offline approach to this. First, design a flyer that clearly explains the name of the night, when, where and any other information to entice. It could be a drink special or a special guest or a theme. Design that flyer for Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Why? Each specific sizing will display best on those platforms. You may be that savvy but if you’re not, download Over and start making magic.

Set up any social networks you’d like for the night. I caution when it comes to emo nights, using Taking Back Sunday and Saves the Day as puns with your night has been played out. Simply, it’s better if you make it easier to understand and mention the genre and the city. The second line can be something related to a lyric, etc. but stay simple on this. Once you’ve got that set, invite, follow, etc. on socials, start building up people in your town.

Don’t forget the tried and true of local. Your local record store, clubs, venues, smoke shop, bar, music shop, etc. Wherever your friends or future friends are hanging out, that’s where you need to print off a few and hand them out or hang them up on the bulletin board.

Make some merchandise like buttons, stickers or t-shirts. There are countless places to go to make those and I’m sure your local area has someone that will hook up a deal. Maybe they’ll even give you a discount if you mention them. While we’re on the topic of paper, make a request sheet and print off a bunch of copies to have at your night. Sure, people will come up to you and tweet at you, but it’s always good to have some pens and paper for those without Twitter or too shy to come up to you.

Step 6: Partnerships / Charity

As your promotion kicks in, there are opportunities in the community that may present themselves for your night be a part of. Those could be businesses that want to be a part of your night as you get more consistent. Again, think about where you’re hanging out and who would want to be associated. It could be the local radio station, a restaurant near by, the merchandise company I previously mentioned, etc. Maybe it’s paid. Maybe it’s barter. Maybe you just love that business and want to help them out.

This goes into the charity/non-profit angle as well. There is an opportunity to do good with your night past padding your pockets in cash and getting adulation from the crowd on your choice of songs. You could talk to the ASPCA, Planned Parenthood, etc. about having their information present at the night, a tip jar or giving proceeds from the event to the organization.

Step 7: The Night Of

You’ve got your gear, promotion is all set up and it looks like a few people are going to come out. I’d plan on getting to the venue early, setting up and testing everything prior to starting. Understand that once people get in there, you will need to be louder than it seems when you’re testing it out with just the bartender in there. Make sure you’ve got plenty of room to grow as the night progresses.

One huge tip, play requests. Find the right time and place for these to slot in throughout the night. If everyone is requesting a band, maybe it’s time to slide into that era based on who is there. Or if you see everyone is requesting older stuff, stick to that. It’s a constant heat check of what’s working and what’s not. Also try and switch up songs you know will work at times when you think it’s one era. Example: If you’re playing pop punk stuff, throw in a new band like The Menzingers to see if anyone reacts or knows. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much of the genre a crowd knows. Learn what works when and where, play with it to gauge interest, and don’t be afraid to try something new.

Over the years I’ve seen nights develop in similar ways and devised a way to make everyone happy with a specific genre, emo. I’ll explain how that breaks down by hour using those bands but you can apply this to any genre/time period.

8–9pm — You’re just getting started. The early birds are there and most likely older and in their 30s/40s. They have kids, real jobs and can only stay out so late. Here’s a great chance to play obscure, old 80s/90s emo/hardcore. It’s quiet enough where you can hear Geoff Farina’s voice for that sick Karate track but also play Rites of Spring. You won’t have anyone yet asking for Saves the Day.

9–10pm — Well it seems things are getting off to a nice start. Requests are coming in and your guest DJ is playing some great songs. Keep an eye on requests and offer suggestions if the guest is only playing their band or staying in a specific era. Read the room and take some time to talk to people requesting or at a booth to gauge their favorite bands.

10-midnight — Known as the “money hour.” The emo/hardcore kids that had kids are gone. The actual kids in their 20s are going hard and it’s time to get this DJ night going with all the hits and classics people know. Again, this is a great time to tease in a song from the old or new era to sprinkle in. A general rule of radio is play a song they know then hit them with a song they don’t. You hook them, then hook em with something they may get into. This is a good time to do this. Also, if you ever feel the crowd waning just play one of your “hits” and bring it back up. Don’t be afraid to “slow song” it. Throwing on a song that is slower or quieter only makes that next song that everyone knows even more exciting.

Midnight to 1am — The crowd is still going strong. You’ve got them requesting more and more, and this is where it gets complicated. The younger crowd is there but the 30s folks that stuck around/have no kids are a little drunker and want older and older songs. You’ve gotta make an effort to balance out the old and new. Keep an eye on Twitter, the request sheet and don’t assume that no one singing along means that it’s not doing well. Head nods or finger points can be great visuals to seeing if what you’re playing works well or not.

Second tip on requests: If you’re handed a phone with a song on it and the person demands you play it, kindly ask them to step aside. Clarify that if they were a DJ, they’d want to hear it first before playing. Offer to listen to it for possible play in the next DJ night. If it’s actually good, you’ve got a new local band or fan that’s happy their record was heard by a group of people. If it ends up being crap, well, good luck explaining why you’re not going to play it next month. (Fun fact: I was once threatened with bodily harm if I didn’t play Tool at an emo night. I resisted and learned the bouncer’s phone was the easiest way to summon him, not yelling “Holy crap. I’m just a DJ!” at the top of my lungs.)

1am to 2am — A great time to progressively try more and more obscure songs in-between more popular one. Also, give the requested songs you’ve been holding off on a little play here and see how they do.

Step 8: Get paid and work out donations

Great job! You survived your DJ night. You hung with your friends, met some new ones, yelled too much over the music, maybe messed up a track once or two, gave out some stickers and sold a few t-shirts. Next, you gotta get paid. Count out the money for the charity you worked with and figure out when you’re going to drop that off. Next, find the owner of the venue and be gracious about them letting you DJ. Go through the numbers with the owner at the end of their shift or the next day when they’ve gone through the night’s receipts. That’s a good time to discuss the next night and if there are any changes either of you want to make. This can be any number of things: changing the day, time, wanting to throw an after party for a national touring show, mixing up the charity each month, the sound quality, etc. Air it all out.

Congrats. Now go plan that next one and don’t pay for another DJ night. Your hometown just got one, you!

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