I feel it at nearly every gig and although it’s often just a small amount, by then the worry worm is in my head. What if the music stops? What if the power cuts out? What if the couple’s first dance song glitches? What if I hit traffic, or my van breaks down? Thoughts like these, and many more, invade my head space.
I know it’s quite normal to feel like this; apart from anything else, it shows I care. But it’s still important to avoid being consumed by the destructive, negative thoughts. In an effort to allay my most common fears, I’ve put measures in place so that if something does happen, I’m prepared.
For example, I have backups for lots of my equipment in case of break down. I leave home with plenty of time to spare. And I often visit venues I’m not familiar with well in advance, so that I know the basics before I turn up for an event.
This got me thinking about how other DJs deal with their anxiety and worries. I recently posted on TikTok, asking others for their experiences and feelings on the topic, and the range of comments was enlightening.
I’ve responded to some of the stand-outs below:
@djdannicholson: “Anxiety relating to imposter syndrome. A horrible feeling.”
We’ve all felt this at some point, but I guess if people are booking us, having a good time and leaving positive reviews, then we’re not imposters, right?
@samfromdublin: “When an older person requests ‘play something we can dance to’ with no guidance.”
This definitely causes stress, but it’s not just older people that say it. The annoying thing about this is that most of the time it’s said when the dancefloor is busy!
@bigandydj: “If it’s a venue I’ve not been to before, I always do a recce.”
Great point, I also try and recce venues. It definitely lowers the anxiety and you can scope out parking, access and many other things. If it’s a wedding, I usually try and meet the couple at the venue for a pre-wedding meeting.
@filthfactoryofficial: “I hate the first three tunes. I get shaky hands. I combat it by making sure they are floor-fillers and ones I know mix well together.”
This hasn’t crossed my mind before but it’s a great point. If you start strong, with something you’re comfortable mixing, you’ll make a good first impression. That can only be a positive!
@euanbassmusic: “Flip it, anxiety to excitement.”
I’ve heard this before, but I’ve never been able to master it…
@discodanny1: “I often get DJ anxiety when playing the first dance at a wedding. I combat this by playing the whole song in my headphones before I start.”
Wow, what a great tip. I am going to start doing this.
@londoneventdj: “I have this fear that potentially the laptop might crash or freeze, even though this has never happened.”
I used to get this feeling and that’s why I went stand-alone. Laptops get hot but my Opus Quad and my XDJ RR don’t. One less thing to plug in and one less worry.
@djsirfrancis: “I have the fear that none of my equipment will turn on.”
I hear you, but… I mean… surely not all of it will not turn on?! Bring back-ups and that shouldn’t be an issue.
@davetainton: “When I get asked to play a genre of music that I have no clue about.”
I’ve also experienced this fear. Try and cover all bases in your music library. The Mastermix essential hits range is great for this!
Techniques for Managing your anxiety by Tony Winyard
With its unpredictable nature, the world of DJing can easily become a source of stress. But remember, every profession has its challenges, and it's how we handle them that defines our experience.
If you can relate to the comments above and anxiety is becoming an issue at your gigs, here are some scientifically backed techniques to help you manage and reduce those feelings:
The HeartMath Institute offers tools that focus on the heart's role in managing stress. One of their core practices is the Quick Coherence Technique:
1. Focus your attention on the area of your heart.
2. Imagine your breath flowing in and out of your heart or chest area. Breathe a little slower and deeper than usual.
3. Activate a positive feeling. Recall a time you felt good inside, or think about a person or place you love.
This technique helps align your heart, mind, and body, promoting harmony and reducing stress.
Controlled breathing can be a DJ's best friend, especially when the unexpected happens.
Try these techniques:
Before your set, take a few moments to breathe deeply. Inhale through your nose, letting your abdomen rise, and exhale slowly through your mouth. This can calm your nerves and prepare you mentally.
In moments of heightened stress, like a technical glitch, use the box breathing technique. Inhale for a count of 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, and hold again for 4. It can centre your mind and help you think clearly.
The physiological sigh:
This natural mechanism is not just a quick reset; it's a DJ's secret weapon for instant stress relief.
Imagine you're about to start an event, or you're in the middle of a set and feeling the pressure. The physiological sigh is your go-to:
1. Take a deep inhalation through your nose, followed by a shorter inhalation.
2. Exhale slowly through your mouth or nose.
The beauty of this technique is its subtlety and speed. It helps regulate oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the lungs, providing immediate relief. For DJs, it's the perfect exercise to employ just before starting an event to set the tone right. And here's the best part: it's so discreet that you can easily use it multiple times during a performance.
While you're cueing up your next track or waiting for the current one to end, take a moment for a physiological sigh. With your headphones on and the audience lost in the music, no one will even notice. It's a seamless way to keep your cool, stay centred, and ensure your performance remains top-notch. Think of it as a stealthy stress-buster, right at your fingertips.
For a video on how to do it, search on YouTube or visit youtube.com/watch?v=rBdhqBGqiMc
Why mindset matters
Our perception plays a pivotal role in how we experience events.
Did you know that the very same mechanisms that produce excitement also produce fear, and any fear can be transformed into excitement by controlling your breathing? It's a fascinating interplay of physiology and psychology.
When we're excited, our heart rate increases, and we might feel a rush of adrenaline – the same physiological responses that occur when we're afraid. The difference often lies in our interpretation of these sensations and our subsequent reactions.
On the other hand, excitement can quickly turn into fear if you hold your breath. Breath is a powerful regulator of our emotional state. By holding our breath, we might inadvertently be signalling to our body that there's a threat, amplifying our feelings of anxiety. Conversely, by breathing fully and deeply, especially in moments of fear or stress, we can shift our body's response from one of apprehension to one of exhilaration.
As @euanbassmusic mentioned, flipping anxiety to excitement can be a real game-changer.
While it might not be easy for everyone, reframing your perspective can make a world of difference.
Just remember, the energy and passion you bring to your sets are what make you unique. The next time you feel those familiar jitters, take a deep breath and remind yourself: it's not fear, it's excitement. The love for music, the joy of seeing people dance, and the thrill of the beat – let these be your guiding lights.
The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 121, Pages 58-61.