My goal as a DJ is to put together a fun show that will entertain the people listening. I want to provide a chance for them to relax, get a little silly, and briefly forget about all the crap they have to deal with every day. I do my best to structure my show to sound like something you’d hear on terrestrial or satellite radio, with recurring segments and blocks of songs that work somewhat well together.
I thought it would be interesting to write about the process that goes into creating a show. This is specifically referring to how I prepare my show, the Audio Arcade. Other DJs/shows will likely go about this differently, and I’d love to hear how they do things.
I am a planner in general, though I’m realistic and flexible enough to know that plans will likely need to change. So, it was only natural that planning would be very important to my show preparation. I spend about 5-7 hours preparing a 3-hour show. I can ad-lib a bit, but it’s really not my strong suit, and I think my show quality would suffer a lot if I tried that. I would rather do no show at all than to do a show that’s not up to my own standards. There are other DJs who are very good at ad-libbing, and their shows sound great. It’s just not my personal style, though.
This article will walk through the steps I take during preparation and describe a bit of what happens while a show is in progress. It’s a good way to learn what the DJ is actually doing to make a show run smoothly.
I use Microsoft OneNote to organize my notes for every show. I start by creating a show summary, so I can quickly look back and see what unique items were in any given show. For example, I’ll note the topic for the theme block/trivia and any new skits or commercials.
Once I’ve chosen a theme block and identified the songs for it, I start searching for some trivia about the particular theme. The time spent on this varies depending on the topic. Some are rather difficult and I have to get creative to find anything interesting through Google searches.
I try to use sites that sound somewhat reputable and not those crappy “16 things you didn’t know about whatever” sites like Buzzfeed. I’m always a little concerned that I’ll share some trivia and have someone point out that it’s completely wrong. I guess that would just be an opportunity to learn something new!
I end every show with a quote – sometimes inspirational (without being too preachy), and sometimes just witty observational stuff (Mark Twain was a genius!). I use a site called BrainyQuote and usually pick a few at a time to use for future shows.
Keeping with the fun vibe of the show, I play a few silly cartoon or game clips every show. This may sound pretty straightforward, but it can actually take a bit of time to prepare these.
If I don’t know exactly what I want, it can be tricky to find anything. I might say I want something from The Simpsons, for example, but that’s a pretty broad statement. It’s more helpful to know exactly what I’m after, otherwise there can be a lot of time wasted searching for something decent.
I’ve gone as far as to keep a little notebook handy when I watch cartoons. Then if there’s something particularly funny, I can make a note of it and look it up later.
Once I have the clip, there’s usually some audio cleanup needed. I’ll edit it and mess with the audio settings to get it sounding decent.
Every show, I post my Kalabakk’s Question to Facebook, along with show notes after the show has ended. As part of the show preparation, I write a Facebook note with my answer to Kalabakk’s Question (does that count as talking to myself?), and copy a template for the Show Notes and swap in the new information.
Ah, the music. That’s the part that most people probably think about when show preparation is mentioned. Some playlists almost build themselves, and others take me quite a while to stitch together.
I start by making a copy of the previous week’s playlist. That allows me to have the basic structure of the show in place. For example, the metal block and theme blocks are at the same spot in every show, so I don’t have to guess where they should be.
I’ll start by swapping out the cartoon clips with the new ones. If I’ve been airing new commercials, I’ll swap in the new one where the previous new one was located. I probably over-analyze this, but I try to play new stuff during the point of the show when the listener count is usually the highest.
Since I already have the theme block chosen, I’ll put those songs in and remove the previous ones. I then do the same thing for the metal block, though I don’t have those songs chosen in advance. At this point, I have a basic shell for the new playlist.
I’ll keep following the swapping process, replacing commercials, station ads, skits, and so forth. I keep the same structure and placement of the various show segments, so that helps me construct a new playlist that stays in sync with the ordering of my show notes.
The music choices can be a tricky thing. I’m never quite sure how it happens, other than to say I tend to start with a song I like and build each block of music around it. Sometimes I’ll get other songs from the same era or genre, but my preferred way is to do it based on the pacing of the song. For example, if the first song is kind of relaxed with a light guitar rhythm, I try to find other songs like that, even if they were made 30 years apart from each other.
I like to have a mix of song blocks within each show. The main reason is that I just like a little variety when listening to music. Hearing the same genre for 3 hours straight can get a bit tiresome. The other reason is a more practical one. I don’t have enough of one genre to fill out a 3 hour show without repeating artists a lot.
Along the way, I’ll try to put similar elements together. For example, if I have a song that’s talking about something cold or icy, I might follow it up with a commercial about Andorians. Sometimes I do it on purpose, and other times I’m surprised to find that it happened without me realizing it.
I also have to balance what I put in the playlist with the amount of time available for the show. It’s 3 hours per show, so if my playlist is longer than that, it will get cut off. As I put everything together, I may need to add an extra song, remove/add a commercial, or otherwise arrange things so the timing works right.
So that’s the mystery of making a playlist for me. It seems to be a blend of planning on my part with the music kind of deciding on its own that it wants to be played. There are times where I finish a playlist and don’t realize quite how it happened. I’m just glad it happened.
Running a show
I want to talk a little bit about what happens during a show from the DJ’s perspective. Think if it like one of those “behind the scenes” shows. There aren’t really any secrets here, but I’m doing more than just pushing a button and kicking my feet up for 3 hours.
Starting a show
For me, the start of a show is the most hectic part. There’s a flurry of activity that happens at the beginning of my shows. I’m starting the actual playlist, posting things to social media, posting topics in IRC, and posting messages in game chat channels. I’m also watching the clock as the first talk break approaches so I can introduce the show properly.
There’s a few concurrent things happening behind the scenes to ensure that the show starts smoothly, so if I’m not super chatty just before and just after a show starts, that’s why.
During the show
The clock is my friend and my enemy at the same time. My broadcasting software gives an ETA of the total playtime of the playlist and when each item will play in actual clock-time. It adjusts itself as the show goes on, so I keep a close eye on the stuff at the end of the playlist. I may find that I need to add or remove something on the fly to keep the timing correct.
As the show is in progress, I have to:
- Follow my show notes to make sure I’m talking about everything there.
- Watch the clock.
- Keep an eye on/participate in several different chat channels. When I’m broadcasting to Subspace Radio and EVE Radio concurrently, that means 2 different sets of channels to watch, along with some DJ-only channels.
- Watch the clock some more.
- Make sure the broadcasting software is still streaming the show.
- Make adjustments to the playlist based on ETA updates in the broadcasting software.
- Watch the clock during my talk breaks to make sure I finish at the right time.
- Make adjustments to the playlist based on requests. I usually look at the length of the song and try to remove a song with a similar length to keep the overall show time on track.
I love using the word “conclusion”, it makes this sound like this was a college thesis or something fancy like that.
If you’ve ever listened to my show, you’re probably familiar with the show segments I’ve listed throughout this article. Because of the nature of my show, it requires a lot of preparation to make it turn out the way I want. My hope is that it all sounds seamless when you hear it on the air, but I wanted to illustrate what is actually involved in putting everything together.
There’s a lot of information in this article, so if you’ve ever considered becoming a DJ, don’t let it scare you off. It’s actually a lot of fun! All of these steps might not be how you would prepare or run a show of your own, but even it if looks overwhelming, it’s something that comes more naturally as you do more shows.
I would love to hear how other people organize/run their shows!