In DJ terms, “back-to-back” stems from the days when DJs played vinyl. One DJ would be on the decks and the other would be digging in their record box for their next track, meaning that they had their backs to each other.
What is back-to-back DJing?
Back-to-back DJing is when two (or more) DJs share the decks and each will play tracks from their own collection. The idea is that the DJs will work together to showcase their individual and combined talents to provide an enhanced show to the crowd.
There will likely be many times during a DJs career when the opportunity of a back-to-back set arises, either planned or impromptu.
How to do back-to-back DJing best in a nightclub?
A back-to-back set can take place in many different venues and a nightclub setting is arguably the most important.
The main thing to focus on when doing a nightclub back-to-back set is to have communication with the other DJ, both verbally and musically.
Even if you are sharing the stage with your best friend, there is still bound to be an element of natural rivalry. Just remember that even though both of you are behind the decks and each DJ wants to prove themselves individually, you are effectively playing a single set and your music should reflect that.
If you have plenty of notice of when the set will be, try and have a chat prior to the event so you at least have an idea of what you might play. It is also a good idea to take note of what each other are playing during the set so that it doesn’t end up sounding disjointed.
I have played many nightclub back-to-back sets during my career and I have been the contributor and recipient of both good and bad DJ booth etiquette.
Microphone; Use the mic to hype the crowd or give the other DJ a shout out.
Lights; Use the lights to complement the other DJ’s set. Maybe some timely use of strobes?
Mixer; There is an unwritten rule that the mixer is the property of the DJ who is playing. It is not cool to hog the mixer and start triggering FX or killing frequencies when you should be focusing on the microphone or lights.
Early mixing; Any DJ will normally finish their particular turn with a big track, so there is nothing worse than the next DJ going on and mixing out prematurely before it has had a chance to register any impact with the crowd.
Read the crowd
Reading the crowd might be second nature to you when you are playing alone, but the addition of another DJ to the booth can easily divert your attention elsewhere.
If the music style you are playing doesn’t seem to be working very well, try to move away from it. The other DJ will notice the change and will subconsciously follow suit.
How to do back-to-back DJing best at a house party?
A back-to-back set at a house party is normally a lot more relaxed than a back-to-back set in a nightclub setting, but there are still some guidelines that should be followed.
Everyone should get their turn
There is always that person who is eager to spend all night on the decks and tries to hog them like a selfish child with their new toy. In these situations, it is a good idea to create a list of all the DJs that wish to play and nominate someone to ensure that they all get their time on the decks. Once this is established, it can be turned into a game!
Turn it into an elimination game
One of the favourite ways of back-to-back DJing at house parties around the world is to make it into an elimination game.
Every DJ will start with an agreed amount of “lives”. Each DJ will take their turns in order and as the night wears on, the more everyone will drink and inevitably, people will start to make mistakes.
When a mistake is made, it is up to the other DJs or the people in attendance at the party to decide if they lose a life. Once a DJ loses all of their lives, they are eliminated from the game.
This is repeated until there are two DJs remaining and one will eventually become the winner.
How many tracks should each DJ play during a back-to-back set?
There is no written rule when it comes to how many tracks a DJ should play, but to minimise confusion, I know a lot of DJs that prefer to play an odd number of tracks so that their first and last tracks are played on the same deck.
What is tag team DJing?
The term “Tag Team DJing” allegedly originates from times when lots of DJs would be at the same nightclub or party. Instead of having a line-up of DJs for the night, each DJ would play a few tracks and then “tag” the next DJ in to take over (similar to how wrestlers tag each other in and out of the ring).
I have also heard people refer to tag team DJing as a similar situation to a back-to-back DJ set. The DJs will share a setup of a single mixer with 2,3 or 4 decks, but instead of playing a few tracks and then swapping, they will play for maybe one hour before the next DJ takes over.
Both of these situations being called tag team DJing make sense to me, but I would be interested to hear from anyone who has any further knowledge of either scenario.
What is 2×4 DJing?
Traditionally, 2×4 DJing is when two DJs each have their own setup, so there ends up being two mixers and four turntables.
What is recommended in these situations is that one DJ has the “master” mixer and the other DJ runs their mixer from one of the channels. Alternatively, there can be a third mixer controlling the output.
How the music flows is entirely up to the DJs.
In some cases, one DJ will be responsible for the music and the other DJ will be accountable for scratching or layering acapellas and samples. In other instances, both DJs will do their equal share of mixing, scratching and trickery.
What about DJ/producer duos?
In many of the famous DJ/producer duos, there is normally one person who is more at home on the decks and one who is more comfortable in the studio. When you see these acts at a gig or festival, you will probably see that one of them will focus mainly on DJing and the other will be either hyping or surfing the crowd.
Better DJing Top Tip
If you are involved in a back-to-back set and the other DJ is being unprofessional with some of the dirty tactics mentioned above, don’t stoop down to their level. Maintain your level of respect for them and they will eventually notice their bad behaviour.
Back-To-Back DJing Conclusion
If you work together so that everybody has a good time, back-to-back DJing can be a lot of fun. However, if one DJ sees it as a chance to try and show their superiority, then it is a recipe for disaster. It will reflect badly on both DJs and it is likely that the crowd will be dissatisfied.
I hope that this article has helped you in some way. If you have any further questions or suggestions regarding back-to-back DJing, please feel free to leave a comment.