Patrick's DJ thoughts...

Patrick’s DJ thoughts…


Getting ready to DJ

  • Listen to tango music a lot! In the car while driving, I have my ipod playing while I drive and I add songs that I like to the “on the go” playlist. This way I keep rotating in some new songs to established tandas that I like.
  • Listen to online streaming stations and services in as style that you like. That way you can find songs you don’t have in your collection yet. 
  • Listen at work or at home. Getting the music in your head/body will help!
  • Ask other DJ’s for previous playlists. You can see the flow then within tandas as well as the flow between tandas. Remember, you have your own tastes too! Looking at others preferences will help you get started though.
  • Put together tandas you’re experimenting with and try them at a practica.
  • Be sure to try any experimental songs at a practica or at least at home with a friend to make sure they work.
  • Be careful with more modern tangos, even from Argentina that were recorded for the music hall rather than the dance hall. These sound great, and often have better sound quality, but are not as suitable for dancing.
  • I’ve also added the dates to the end of the Artist category in my song, to help me track that I’m playing songs of a similar era in a tanda. For example: “Francisco Canaro & Alberto Arenas – 53”. This way you can ensure that the mood or tone of the tanda is similar enough. Some orchestras changed a lot over time!


Creating tandas

  • Tandas can be three, four or five songs long depending on the venue and community. One thought is to have shorter tandas with a shorter dance, so that more people can dance with each other. 
    Then for an all nighter, you can lengthen the tandas to give people more time together.
    Typically the Vals and Milonga tandas are only 3 songs long regardless.
  • Songs in Tandas are grouped in a similar type: milonga, vals or milonga. 
  • Songs in Tandas are also similar in style by: orchestra, singer or instrumental, even particular style or time period within an orchestra’s repertoire. 
    The more refined the community is, the more refined the tandas become: songs may be all the same orchestra and singer, they may all be within a narrow range of date of recording.
  • Alternative tandas will follow the same theme of similar energy, quality and feeling, but are rarely the same group or orchestra.
  • I keep a folder with tandas that I like by composer in itunes. That way I can pick one out on the fly if needed.
    This way you may have the same song multiple times in the tandas folder, so when you drag your tanda into the milonga playlist, pay attention if it tells you have duplicates! You don’t want to play the same song twice.
  • It’s nice to have a strong starting song in a tanda, where the orchestra, melody or song is recognizable to the dancers. This will get people on the dance floor sooner.
  • The middle songs (one or two) can be lesser know songs by that orchestra.
  • The last song should also be strong in the style of the orchestra, so the dancers end on a high note. 
  • There’s no right way or wrong way to mix songs together, yet one thought Alex Krebs shared with me many years ago is that you should at least have an explanation if someone asks you, “Why did you play that song there?” 
  • Just so you know, many Argentinians will not dance to Carlos Gardel. So, it’s usually safe to just leave his music out of the milonga.


Mechanical issues.


  • You can alter the volume of particular songs in music editing software. 
  • I-Tunes will “normalize” the volumes to a degree, the ipod won’t. Be ready to change volumes. 
  • Have you turned off the systems sounds for your computer? You don’t want your computer to beep through the sound system when you’re dragging and dropping during a milonga.
  • Set your phone to airplane mode.
  • Use your remote control! (Get one for your ipod if you don’t have one.) If you’re dancing while dj-ing, you need to be ready to modify the volume at a moment’s notice. 
  • You can also trim alternative songs to a shorter length that’s more appropriate for the milonga. It takes a little finesse, but you can splice a section out of a song to still have a good beginning and end. It’s worth it!
  • You can also add quiet to the end or beginning of a song if there isn’t any space.
  • Another option is to create a 2 or 3 second quiet pause that you can put in between songs that stop and start too quick. 
  • Leave the “Artist”, “Album”, and Genre” labels in itunes blank for the 2-second gap and for cortinas. That way the tandas and gaps will visually stand out better in your playlist.



  • Create cortinas that are 30 to 45 seconds long. 
  • I will often have a Cortina theme for a milonga from the same song, soundtrack or with different artists doing the same song, so there is some variety to the cortinas and they’re still recognizable as cortinas to the dancers.
  • Make sure your cortinas are different enough from the dance music so people know it is a Cortina.
  • If you know you have swing or salsa dancers at your milonga, they might enjoy an alternate dance break in the evening. (This is more acceptable in some communities. I experienced it in Buenos Aires.) 
    To do this, have a swing or salsa song cued up for the cortina. Play the song and watch who dances or not. If a group starts dancing, let the whole song play. If not too many people start dancing, then fade the song out after 30 to 45 seconds. Stop it. Fade the volume back up. Then start the next tanda. 
    You could also just put in a whole tanda of swing or salsa if it’s appropriate.


Doing a playlist for a milonga.


  • Be sure to check in with the organizer/community you’re DJing for to see what kind of music they’re wanting. It can be helpful to get a previous playist to see how much traditional/alternative for example.
  • Drag a bunch of cortinas into the new milonga playlist.
  • I prefer to try to have a large percentage of familiar songs for the dancers, without too much new stuff. It’s harder to dance to songs or styles that you’re not familiar with.
  • Drag tandas or individual songs into the playlist.
  • Separate tandas with cortinas. You can also sort individual songs into workable tandas in this playist – especially with alt tandas. 
  • A good starting point for structure is: Tango, Tango, Vals, Tango, Tango, Milonga. 
  • Sometimes I’ll have three tangos in between the other styles, especially if there’s an alternative tanda in the mix. 
  • As you start to organize the playlist, listen to the transitions between tandas to see how the energy feels. 
  • Drag whole tandas with the Cortina above or below other tandas to rearrange the set. This can be done on the fly during the dance. BE CAREFUL TO NOT EVER DOUBLE-CLICK WHEN DRAGGING ON THE FLY OR YOU’LL START A NEW SONG WHILE PEOPLE ARE DANCING.
  • As the milonga progress, feel the mood of the room and the dancers. You should generally know the sound of the next tanda in line and then decide if it still feels like a good next set. If not, swap it out with something else. 
  • If the evening is moving along and you haven’t played a set you’re really wanting to, move it up closer. 
  • Start to think in advance of the last three or four tandas you would like to close with, and move them into line as you get close to the end. 
  • To end the dance, a version of La Cuparsita is often played. This can be the third song of a tanda, or an extra song at the end of the tanda. Sometimes this depends on the mood. 
    Sometimes at an alt milonga this isn’t done. Sometimes, this simply isn’t done. Sometimes people expect it, other times not!
  • As the DJ, your first priority is to the music and the quality of the sound. Stop dancing immediately if something in the sound needs attention.
  • As to volume, be sensitive to the needs of the group. Younger people like it louder in general. 
    There is an important threshold where the volume is loud enough to easily hear the beat and the melody.