Originally issued on March 17th, 2017, this article was revised on March 7th of 2018, and reposted the following year to provide further advice based on years of experience working in the event production and audio industry.
Producing an electronic music event is no easy feat. There are a million and one things to properly execute that could go wrong at any time. From taping down the power cables to artist pick-up, many factors contribute to a successful, or not so much, experience.
We’ve done our rounds of event production and know there are common professional audio pitfalls at electronic music events of all sizes and kinds. Subtract Music founder Anton Tumas has been DJing and curating his own events for years now, gaining valuable experience in the process as both an artist and a party-curator. We put our experiences together to compile a list of common issues that can arise at any electronic music event, and thus could be thought of and prevented beforehand.
Learn from our own and other’s mistakes. A lot of these issues are resolved simply by hiring a competent sound company to do the work for you.
#1 – Poor sound
Nothing kills the whole experience more than low grade, improperly setup or badly tuned sound. Or worse yet, blown speakers. Not skimping on the sound budget and hiring a reputable sound company with professional grade equipment is of utmost importance for any serious event promoter.
#2 – Lack of sufficiently loud monitors
We’ve said this before already – monitors are the most overlooked sound system at the party! Every DJ needs this tool to perform their job correctly. A good DJ monitor setup consists of two high-powered speakers and at least one (or better yet, a pair of subwoofers) with ability to accurately reproduce the entire audio spectrum. The DJ needs these tools in order to accurately feel the energy of the music that’s playing through the main sound system. They also need to feel their mixes and to hear any frequencies that may need adjusting. This also means that the monitors have to be able to play significantly louder than the sound bleed from the main PA.
The reality of the situation, is that after many years of touring, many DJ’s hearing is just not what it used to be, so they require even more output from the monitors to compensate. If the monitor system is not able to achieve the level they require, the DJ may crank the mixer well into the red, just to try and squeeze every last bit of volume out of the system, and we all know where this leads. Thus, properly budgeting for a professional grade monitoring setup is of outmost importance. Dance music places a huge emphasis on low frequencies that a typical pair of self-powered speakers just cannot provide.
#3 – Booth monitors without subs
While not absolutely necessary, having a subwoofer (or two) in the booth tremendously helps the DJs beatmatch, and to feel the energy of the music being played. The more the DJ can find their groove, the better set they will play = happy dance floor. Without subs, the DJ only hears the bass bleed from the main speakers, which usually has a huge time delay and lacks clarity since the speakers are quite far away from them.
#4 – DJs who distort the mixer (double red)
Louder does not equal better. If the DJ is distorting the signal, have the audio engineer immediately correct the problem. Distorted sound diminishes the audio output quality and consequently sounds terrible. Just remember the garbage in, garbage out principle. Keep it green and orange. Red lights aren’t the method to make the volume louder, that’s the sound guys job. A common reason DJs play into the red (besides out of habit), is not having a loud enough monitor setup that can overcome the sound bleed from the main speakers.
#5 – Drinks on speakers / DJ table
Need we say more than the obvious? Liquids damage electronics and people resting their drinks on speakers or anywhere near multi-thousand dollar equipment are just looking for trouble and expensive repair/replacement bills. Have proper signage and an attentive bar staff to discard all cups, as it’s bound to happen no matter what.
#6 – DJ booth without any free space
Imagine showing up super excited at the gig, ready to rock the dance floor, only to find out that the DJ table is so small, it’s literally impossible to put your laptop and controllers anywhere. Find out the tech-rider requirements of all the artists and plan ahead. Especially important when you have live acts, as their space requirement vary greatly.
#7 – Video taping or taking photos with the flash on
B**** don’t kill my vibe. If you’re taking a photo or video, it literally takes three seconds to double check that your flash is off before you shove that camera in my face and distract me from my set and the vibe I am building in the room.
#8 – Visuals pointed AT the DJ
No one enjoys being blinded by glaring lights while trying to DJ. Venue lighting, visuals, and fog are brought in to enhance the experience, but not to the detriment of the patrons or the DJ. That means no really bright lights directly in the DJ’s face or the crowd
#9 – CDJs with outdated firmware
Update the firmware folks, it only takes a minute. This helps prevent USB drive errors, link issues and other related matters, not to mention unlocking the latest features of your decks and rekordbox. Your DJ mixer may also have firmware that needs updating, especially if you’re using Pioneer.
#10 – Plastic folding tables in the booth
Anything works better than plastic folding tables (usually far too short and not stable). Avoid anything that is collapsible in the middle or unstable. Wooden or non-folding plastic tables ought to do the trick, but make sure the height is up to snuff (40-42” surface height is recommended). Last thing you want is an unhappy DJ with a sore back after his set.
#11 – Monitors at knee level
A lot of monitors are built to be laid down on a 45 degree angle for stage monitor use. This angle works well for bands because the monitors would be out in front of them on the floor. The reason why this doesn’t always work for electronic artists is that in order for them to work at that angle, they need a certain amount of distance away from you in order for the audio to be pointed at your ears. The ideal monitor is centered to the ear height of the DJ and is pointed at them from the front or the sides.
#12 – DJs leaving Allen & Heath Xone:92 filters on
We see this virtually every time. The industry standard Xone:92 is a mixer that many DJs love dearly. A design that’s over 20 years old, yet it has some very important details that are unknown to many. It has a pair of filters that are activated via a blue on/off button. Perhaps 20 years ago when this mixer was designed, the sound systems just did not have the low frequency response of today, but for some reason Allen & Heath decided that even with the filter frequency knob all the way down (in HPF mode), it still filters out everything below 30Hz. Thus when the blue button is left on, there’s still a loss or alteration of of audio occurring, or even a resonance around that frequency (if the resonance knob is set to high). Countless times we’ve walked up to the DJ and turned off the filter to notice an immediate increase in low frequency response of the sound system.
There’s another, perhaps more well-known issue with the Xone:92 – toggling the filter on/off button can cause a very audible audio drop out of audio, depending on how quickly the user hits the button. We’ve contacted Allen & Heath about this in the past, only to be disappointingly told that it’s a “feature” of the mixer’s design. Quite embarrassing in our opinion. Best results have been achieved by quickly tapping the filter on/off button between the beats with the resonance set all the way to “mild”.
#13 – Mixers with missing knobs
It does not take much to replace a missing knob on a mixer, a DJ’s most essential tool. It is not only frustrating, but at times nearly impossible to DJ with missing knobs on a mixer. It also looks tacky and cheap, a bad look for any promoter.
#14 – Power cables/strips with missing ground connectors
A missing ground connector is just a bad idea. The ground is there to protect your life in case of an electrical malfunction. Need we say more?
#15 – Compact power strips with all of the plugs taken
With multiple DJs likely on the lineup with an unexpected variety of hardware and equipment to plug in and keep charged, nothing is more frustrating than not being able to plug in essential items for a set due to compact power strips with plugs all already in use. Also keep in mind laptop chargers and such are quite large and will require a lot more space in order to be plugged in.
#16 – Venues without sufficient wall outlets
You’ve found the perfect location, but it has one outlet in the entire area you’re occupying. A shame. Since a venue can be anything from a multi-million dollar club to a warehouse in the middle of nowhere, it’s important to know the type of power situation you’ll be dealing with. This is really the audio engineer’s job. They should calculate the amount of current needed to be pulled from the venue.
In the case of a club, all the amps should run on their own circuit breakers.
In the case of an unknown venue such as a warehouse, the audio engineer should take a tour and figure out the electrical routing of the venue. Many times shows don’t plan out their electrical needs adequately, resulting in sound turning off when the amplifiers draw too much power and trip the electric breakers.
#17 – MP3 set recordings
There’s literally no reason to record in MP3. The storage media is super cheap nowadays, not to mention many DJs want the full CD quality of their set so they can perform their own master of it (before downsampling it to MP3 for the web themselves). Recording in MP3 creates an unnecessary sample rate conversion and potential loss of quality.
#18 – Cheap cables
Low grade audio cables can degrade the signal and result in a poor connection, as well as audio drop-outs. For highest quality RCA cables, use Canare connectors. For XLR and SpeakOn (speaker wire), Neutrik is the industry standard. Premade XLR cables are a great deal at AudioPile, RCA and SpeakOn can be ordered from Redco Audio via their custom cable configurator. Monster Cable notoriously have hard to remove RCA connectors that can result in damage to your audio equipment when trying to take them off.
If you’re willing and able to make your own cables, buy rolls of wire and connectors from Redco or Parts Express.
#19 – Rattling ceiling decorations
What a distraction. You’re there to enjoy the music and overall experience, but rattling ceiling decorations can create an uncomfortable environment. People will begin questioning if these decorations were necessary in the first place. Prep ahead of time and test the sound to see if they would rattle while the music is playing. If they are, take them down. If the venue has rattling lights and other vibrating décor, see if it can be tied down or secured in some way.
#20 – Improperly setup turntables
According to a recent Resident Advisor article, up to 75% of venues do not have properly setup turntables. Some of the common issues are poor tonearm and height calibration, worn-out or damaged bearing, lack of proper isolation from the sound system (resulting in feedback and skipping) and much more. With some Djs playing vinyl-only sets, this one is absolutely non-negotiable. Borrowing the turntables your homie has laying in his basement may not be the best idea after all.
#21 – Sound complaints from neighbors
We all get the occasional sound complaint and while some are more severe than others, plan for this ahead of time. Be courteous and alert your neighbors about the loud, long playing of music. A heads up goes a long way and deters possible police involvement. However the first step of location scouting should be investigating the possibility of this occurring, and even doing a sound test if necessary.
#22 – Wobbling DJ gear (uneven table surface)
Ever try eating, working, or DJing on a teetering table? It’s incredibly annoying to the point of giving up. Make sure the surface where the gear will be placed on is level and sturdy.
#23 – Lights and fog machines sharing circuits with audio gear
It’s very important to keep different types of gear on different circuits. Put your DJ gear and computers on different circuits than the main sound system. That way at least the equipment and music can still keep playing if the main speakers trip any of the breakers. CDJs restart and lose the selected track if the power goes out.
As an event producer you strive to create a positive experience for a successful event. Although this requires maximum effort, being aware of and preparing for pitfalls like these will make all the difference.
Most importantly, patrons will remember and continue to support your brand.
If you found this article useful, sign up for our newsletter to learn more and to stay up to date with 6AM’s news and features on the world of electronic music.