17 tips for DJing at Burning Man
I sadly won’t make it out to the playa this year, but I put together a long list of tips for DJing at Burning Man. Hopefully some of this lands with you before you share your music.
1. Try not to make Burning Man about DJing or your career (also remember, Burning Man is “supposed” to be anti-commercial). It’s hard with so much opportunity abound, and to be fair, I’ll admit Burning Man is where I truly honed my craft and made a name for myself…But, I’ve regularly made the mistake of overplaying.
Sorry, your friends don’t want to see you play every single time. You miss out on those bonding moments, the transformation, the FUN. It can get lonely. BM has so much more to offer, enjoy it!
2. A camp/art car is gifting YOU the opportunity to play music, not the other way around. Telling people your DJ sets are your playa gift is lame. It’s like saying “I’m gifting you the opportunity to help me achieve my career goals”…Just say nothing or think of something else.
3. Shit will go wrong. Monitors won’t work, CDJs will be fussy, and power will go out (multiple times). Just be cool about it all, laugh, and chalk it up to playa chaos…Tons of people (sound techs, lighting, stage builders, etc) worked tirelessly, for free, to provide this experience for you under insane conditions, so don’t place real-world expectations on the teams.
4. If you SYNC, learn how to beatmatch. You may end up in B2B situations with DJs who don’t Rekordbox, or the sync button might fry. This goes for the real world as well (you especially don’t want your thumb up ur butt when going B2B with a vinyl DJ where you can’t rely on the comforts of the CDJ).
5. Don’t get grouchy or rigid about set times. Shit regularly runs late due to the aforementioned playa chaos. When conflict arises with another DJ, ask the host of the camp/art car to arbitrate. If they are incapacitated (which is not uncommon), then just be cool and compromise.
6. However, if some big-name DJ tries to kick you off the decks (not naming names here, but this happened to me), stand your fucking ground. This isn’t a Vegas nightclub. We’re all equals, regardless of how many bottles and tables we can sell in the commercial world.
7. You’ll have opportunities to meet really BIG DJs, and you may want to get an “in” with them. But here’s the truth…most busy touring DJs just wanna hang out, get silly, and meet fun people on the playa when they aren’t playing. Say hello, be cool, and save the industry talk for off-playa.
8. Prepare ten times more music than you are slotted to play. You never know what gigs will pop up. And your 2-hour set might become a 5-hour set…this has happened to me. Thanks to Dixon for showing up late to P Diddy’s camp. I had a blast all 5 hours 🙂
9. On that note, keep a USB stick on you at all times. I keep mine on a necklace (I know some think this looks ridiculous or like a dick swing, but in my book, practicality wins). They are very easy to lose.
This also reminds me of a great spontaneous moment I had with Patrice Bäumel years back. Near the end of the week, we just traded USB sticks. Unexpected moment, and I had a huge step function in my music collection+knowledge. Be open, and aim for those!
10. Relatedly, bring 2-3 extra copies of your USB stick. Keep at least 1 extra on hand with you (you don’t know if the CDJs will be linked!), and keep the rest packed safely at camp.
11. Write down/print all your gigs with set times and camp locations (and optionally camp contact phone #’s if you’re into phones on the playa) on multiple pieces of paper stored in various places. Put it in a waterproof plastic sleeve (or laminate it, if you’re an uber-nerd)…It’s really easy to lose track of time. Also, there’s a high probability your phone battery will die, so in general, don’t keep any critical information stored in digital form only.
12. Assume any gear you bring to the playa WILL GET DESTROYED. I am a Traktor DJ in the real world, but I don’t want my computer to get mutilated, so I mostly just play off USB at burning man. Also, laptops overheat, so be careful during daytime gigs.
13. Include all those weird, oddball tracks that you never get to play at clubs in a special folder. Shit gets wacky out there, people are way more open-minded to musical risks. Go for it…seriously!!
14. Unpopular/old-school opinion here. In my opinion, posting a flyer with all your gigs is lame (remember, non-commodification/commercialization). If someone wants to see you, they’ll ask you directly or check the Rock Star Librarian.
15. Bring your ID and a cup to your gigs. I usually bring a few beers for myself too. It’s best to enter playa situations NOT expecting special treatment. Be as low maintenance as possible.
16. Before you play, take a minute to ask around and find the closest place to pee – as mentioned, your 2-hour set may become a 5-hour set. I have a hilarious story based on personal experience that got quite gross/messy. You can ask me about it in person sometime.
17. Lastly…really….truly…HAVE FUN. Easier said than done in many cases with so much chaos and opportunity abound, but just enjoy the ride, and laugh as much as possible.
Hi, here’s 17 tips for DJing at Burning Man, based on my 9 years of DJing on the playa.
I hope ya’ll have a wonderful time out there. I won’t make it this year (too tough to manage leaving the little one at home that long), but I hope to return. I will miss you dearly
— atish (@atishmusic) August 16, 2022