It is every DJs worst nightmare to turn up for a gig and realise that they have left an essential item at home.
If it is a local residency that you are doing then it isn’t so much of a problem, but if you have travelled hundreds or even thousands of miles, the worst case scenario is that it could damage your reputation.
Some of the items on this list will seem obvious, but you would be surprised at the number of DJs I have spoken to who have forgotten some of these items in the past.
To ensure that you don’t forget anything, why not download the free PDF checklist and print it out?
Cables are arguably the most important items that a digital DJ needs to keep track of. In order to connect everything at a gig, a DJ might need:
- RCA > RCA cables
- RCA > Jack cables
- XLR cables
- Ethernet cables
- USB cables
- Laptop power cables
- Controller power cables
Most of these cables are relatively inexpensive, but if you forget any of these, it is extremely difficult to get your hands on them at midnight from a city centre shop.
Not only do you need to make sure that you bring your cables with you, it is also prudent to pack a spare of the most essential cables.
These cables tend to get rolled up, folded and squashed several times per week and eventually they will break. Having a spare cable could save your gig from disaster.
2. Backup USB drive
Whether you perform with a laptop and controller or directly from USB, having a backup is highly recommended.
Laptops (even Macs!) can crash and/or freeze. If you are playing from your controller and the club has a pair of CDJs, it is good practice to insert a USB at the start of the night so that if the unthinkable does happen, you can quickly continue the music while you restart your laptop.
Moreover, if you are playing from USB, it is important to keep several backups.
I like to keep at least one USB that is a copy of the one I am playing from, as well as an assortment of USBs with various other styles of music on them.
That way, if one of my USBs becomes corrupted, I can easily switch and continue without any problems.
3. Backup CD
Who still plays from CD nowadays you may ask?!
I have performed at some venues who have confirmed at the time of booking that their equipment consists of archaic CDJ-800s or CDJ-1000s. As a result of this, I have been required to take my own controller with me.
In cases like these, your backup USB isn’t going to be of much use if your laptop crashes. Keeping a CD with one of your mixes on could save you some embarrassment in these instances.
(Also, if anyone asks you for a mix CD during the course of the night, you could give it to them at the end of your set. However, if you do this, remember to burn another CD before your next gig!)
4. Phone earbuds
With some headphones and in-ear monitors costing $200+, it isn’t financially possible for everyone to have a spare pair in case of damage or breakage.
While I wouldn’t recommend using them as a permanent solution, your phone earbuds are a perfect replacement should your headphones sustain some damage and will get you through the gig until you can get your regular ear companions repaired or replaced.
5. 1/4″ Headphone jack adapter
On most professional mixers, the headphone port will take a 1/4″ plug, whereas most standard headphones or earphones come with a 1/8” plug. Some controllers nowadays also come fitted with a 1/8” port, but this is the exception rather than the rule.
Professional headphones often come with a screw thread adapter as standard, so it is good practice to keep several spare headphone
6. Drinks and snacks
Maybe it is just my personal experience, but the comfort of a DJ doesn’t seem to be as high on the list of priorities for venues as it used to be.
In previous years, someone would always offer drinks throughout the night and, in some cases, food would also be provided before and/or after the gig.
Having received a poor experience on more than one occasion, I always make sure that I carry several bottles of water and some fruit or snacks with me to keep my energy levels up, especially during longer sets.
It is also a good idea to have some mints or chewing gum with you so you will smell fresh when speaking to promoters and club owners once the gig has finished.
7. Phone charger
I know this is an obvious one for a lot of people, but with our phones having more and more uses nowadays, it really is more important than ever to keep your phone charged.
With self-promotion now being equally as important as talent, shooting those photos and videos to share on social media is a must for the modern DJ.
Other battery draining functions for our phones during DJ gigs are:
- To use as a portable hotspot to download a track if WiFi is not available
- To upload a digital version of your business card if you don’t have any physical ones left
- To use as a torch to assist with plugging cables into the correct ports in dark DJ booths
Or, if you are feeling particularly kind, when a customer asks you nicely to charge their phone, you are able to oblige.
8. Cloths, tissues and wet wipes
These are all extremely lightweight and compact, so there is no reason not to pack them into your bag.
A microfibre cloth is perfect for cleaning your laptop screen or the jog wheels of your controller, whereas a face cloth can come in handy to quickly mop up any spilled liquids.
Tissues can come in handy if you have a cold and wet wipes are useful if you encounter a venue that doesn’t pay much attention to the upkeep of its washrooms.
9. Business cards
While a lot of physical items have been replaced by their digital counterparts in recent years, business cards seem to have stood the test of time.
As business cards now come in different shapes and sizes, have extremely creative designs and glow in the dark, they still emit that professionalism that cannot quite be replaced by sending a digital file to someone.
Being relatively inexpensive and very small, I strongly recommend that you always keep at least 15-20 business cards with you to hand out to potential clients or networking contacts.
10. Pen and paper
The trusty pen and paper can easily be forgotten as DJs tend to opt for digital solutions.
However, if your phone runs out of battery and you forget your charger, a pen and paper can ensure that you still manage to record the contact details of a promoter, record label boss or nightclub owner
A pen and paper can also be useful when drunk customers want to make requests or when trying to send your number to a person on the dance floor who may have caught your eye.
11. Gaffer tape
Often confused with duct tape, gaffer tape can be a DJs best friend.
Unlike duct tape, gaffer tape uses a synthetic adhesive, which means that it can be removed easily and cleanly.
In instances when you need to run long cables, gaffer tape can be used to keep the cables tidy and to prevent any slips or trips.
Alternatively, if the DJ booth has a mess of cables running in multiple directions, it is sometimes a good idea to stick particular cables together in small groups to ensure there are no mistakes when packing all of your equipment away at the end of the night.
While a torch or flashlight has been removed from a lot of DJs bags since phones started to include them, I always keep one in my bag just in case.
There have been many occasions when my phone has just been too big to fit into a particular space when running cables, so a small compact flashlight has come to my rescue.
13. 4-way extension socket
Yes, the venue should absolutely have a plentiful supply of these and several spares. But what if they don’t?
An extension socket doesn’t take up a huge amount of space and could save you from that awkward situation where you aren’t able to power up some of your gear, especially if you are a performance DJ who integrates midi controllers, pad controllers, keyboards and the like.
14. Folding multi-tool
A folding multi-tool will probably stay in your bag for many gigs without ever being needed. Some DJs I know have even removed them from their bags after many years of lying dormant.
If you need to unscrew a plug or a socket or change a fuse, can you rely on the venue being able to quickly supply you with the necessary tools
Some of the more established brands of multi-tools can be quite expensive, but there are many inexpensive options that could save you if you need to quickly cut something, crimp something, screw or unscrew something or bend something.
15. Portable recorder
While there are many solutions nowadays to be able to record your sets, very few will offer the simplicity to be able
16. USB fan
A lot of venues will decide it is a good idea to put the amplifiers in the DJ booth – and they get hot!
Spending a few dollars on a USB or battery powered fan could save you from the embarrassment of emerging from the DJ booth at the end of the night looking sweaty and smelling nasty.
Nightclubs are loud and with levels sometimes exceeding 120db, it is important to look after your ears
The generic earplugs that you pick up in your local pharmacy will safeguard your hearing to a certain extent, though a custom pair is recommended for better protection.
For more information on earplugs and other ways to protect your hearing, you should take a look at my article “Does DJing Damage Your Hearing?”
18. Diarrhoea tablets
And last but not least!
This might be one that you don’t want to think about, but it absolutely can happen.
You travel to a different city for a gig, have a bit of time to kill before the event so you decide to eat a burger or a kebab or some fried chicken. A couple of hours passes and you are ready to get on the decks and feel that rumbling in your stomach.
Always be prepared for the unexpected and pack some diarrhoea relief tablets like Imodium to ensure you don’t have to cancel your gig at the last minute.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it is one that has grown with me during my career.
I am sure that I will continue to add new items to this list as and when things go wrong and I will update this article too