DJ Mineh Ishida

Playlist or Live Mix?

Playlists, Live Mixes and Hybrid

Sometimes when I’m talking with other west coast swing DJs the conversation of playlists or live mixes comes up.  Namely, the advantages and disadvantages of creating a playlist in advance vs just playing off the cuff.  Below, I’ve outlined my thoughts on each of these methods, and my hybrid system that I use when I DJ.


Creating a playlist in advance is a very attractive proposition to some west coast swing djs.  This is the preferred method for many DJs who do double duty: either they are the dance instructor or event coordinator for the evening, and are responsible for the music as well.

The advantages of this system are primarily in the fact that the music can be prepared in advance.  This means that preset balance between styles, tempos and genres can be established, and risk of under representation of any one group is minimized.   In addition, once the playlist is going, the DJ can step away from the console to take care of whatever other responsibilities they may have.  It also allows the DJ to plan transitions in music very carefully, to ensure good flow between songs and styles.

The cons lie in the fact that rarely do we live in a world where we can prepare for every possibility.  For example, if the demographics of the night are not as expected, the playlist would have to be scrapped and adjusted for the change in audience.  Also it makes playing with other DJs more difficult, as if the DJ playing before you happened to play a few songs you had on your list, you would have to redo that portion of your list, and run the risk of playing the same song twice.

Live mix

Live mixing means that songs are chosen very soon before they are played, almost in real time.  Most professional DJs I know prefer the live mix or hybrid methods as outlined below.  This is mostly because DJs rely upon their experience to “read” the crowd and gauge their mood when selecting music.

This system is very quick to adapt to change.  If your crowd is heavy in blues lovers early in the evening, play more blues.  If that crowd should shift to an audience that prefers slow contemporary songs, it takes no additional effort to make that shift.  Also if you need to adjust the tempo of a song, or manually loop or cut certain portions of the music in real time, you’re setup to do so.

The problem with this method is that you have to have a lot of experience mixing music to be effective with this system.  During the moment, its easy to be swayed in your song choices by your own emotions or feelings about music.  There is less time to think about transitions between songs, and you have to try to keep track of your song balance as you choose music. Also, if you should have to walk away from your setup for a few moments, you’d have to queue up a small list and hope you make it back before those songs have played through. It involves being more “in the moment” than a playlist would require, and as such the margin for error is smaller.  Undoubtedly though, if you’re good at this method, in many cases you’ll produce a consistently better “fit” than the playlist DJ might.

Hybrid Mix

I imagine most DJs who DJ west coast swing dances probably use some hybrid of the two systems.  Below I’ve described my workflow and what works best for me.   Every DJ has their own system that works for them, so if you choose to adopt my workflow, experiment with it and find what works best for you!

My preferred software for DJing WCS dance events is Virtual DJ.  I’ve found that the way the file browser is setup allows me to plan my songs somewhat in advance, while still allowing me the versatility of mixing live.  Below is a screenshot of the Virtual DJ interface:

As you can see, there are three sections, Playlist, Sidebar and Browser that reside below the main play decks above.

What I do is setup a playlist with about 5-10 songs ahead of the song that I am currently playing in the Playlist portion.  As each song finishes, it automatically will play the next song on my list.  I constantly am adjusting this list as the night goes, so it is almost like a live mix.  However, because I am planning 5-10 songs out, I can watch my tempo shifts, style changes and better plan out any transitions that I need to make.  Additionally, I use the sidebar to further plan my set.

Before I get to an event, or any time during the evening, if there are songs that I feel I will need to play later, I load them into my sidebar, so i can find them easily. and I remember that they need to be played.  This is also where requests go, so that I remember to put them in when they fit into the set.  Think of it like pulling out the tools you need for a job in advance so that you can get to them quickly without having to search for them while you’re working.

So there you have it.  As I said before, every DJ has their own system which they are comfortable with, so experiment and find the one that works best for you!

About the Author:

DJ Mineh Ishida is a west coast swing DJ living in Tampa, FL.  He founded in 2012 and is passionate about contributing to the West Coast Swing community through DJing and his work with this website.  You can Find more information about DJ Mineh on the About Page.  For booking Inquiries, please use this Contact Form.