The plight of the DJ.


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A common misconception about me (in the music world at least) is that I’m a DJ. While I do, in fact, “DJ” in the ‘I-play-songs-at-bars-for-people’ kinda way. I possess none of the skills of an actual DJ: I can’t really blend records, I don’t scratch, all I can do is pick songs and play them. Pretty simple.

Due to this misconception about me I’ve been given opportunities over the years to “DJ”, which has allowed me to make some easy money going to a bar and playing music for people while they drink. Sometimes it’s been in a bigger forum but most of the time it’s some low profile type shit. I prefer it that way cause, like I said, I’m not a DJ.

When I first started getting these gigs I really didn’t have a clue about the mindset one must enter when going into DJing. “Rocking A Party” was something I had never considered. To my mind it was; “I’m gonna play what ever I like and people will like it cause I have good taste.” This was my first mistake.

My first consistent gig was a party called ‘Block Bleeda’ the premise of which, was that I would play only ignorant and offensive rap. I was all about this, so I made a shit load of CD’s (they had CD turntables) of rap you couldn’t play around your mom and, about halfway through the night, I realized this just wasn’t gonna work. The first thing I learned was that people leave a place when they don’t like the music. Secondly I learned that in most cases, girls dictate what music you’re playing and girls, for the most part, are not crazy about Geto Boy album cuts about slapping women, who knew?

I also got my first taste of something that in the past few years has become the bane of my existence as a DJ, requests (I’ll get back to this later). All of these things combined caused me to seriously reevaluate my whole approach as a DJ. The truth is, a DJ is only as good as his crowd and nine times out of ten you’re playing for the lowest common denominator. When I started I thought I could play shit people had never heard and on the strength of the songs goodness, it would go over. Boy, was I ever wrong.

I mean, there are times when that flies, like when people are just chilling and drinking in a sitting position. However, the second dancing starts, all bets are off, dancing forces a reluctant DJ’s hand like nothing else. I could be playing rare soul b-sides all night to the delight of a small yet faithful crowd but as soon some dumb asshole offers up a shitty request and I actually go along with it, it’s a wrap. As soon as a girl hears a song her and her friends love, a song that they have, in all likelihood, heard a bazillion times (and would skip over if it came on in their Ipod) and they start dancing the playlist is forever changed. As a DJ, it’s my job to keep these people here, keep them happy, keep them drinking, and keep them dancing. I am no more than a glorified juke box or a sorority girl’s itunes on random.

I recently considered making a sign to put above my head when I DJ that would read something like this:

“Requests will be heard but rarely accepted. Please save your breath and don’t bother requesting anything on this list:
-House Music
-Techno Music
-Lil’ Wayne/Drake
-T-pain
-Madonna
-Reggeaton
-Dancehall (Sorry, I just hate that shit)
-Any music I’ve had a part in making
-99% of music made after 2004

I don’t own any of this shit and, even if I did, I would not play it.

Also, try and stay within genre when thinking of requests. If I’m playing hip hop, it’s unlikely I’ll be mixing in some ABBA anytime soon. If I’m playing a dance set, don’t ask to hear some slow shit. Simply put, use your fucking head.

Thank you and please leave me alone.”

I’m sure it wouldn’t go over well (or even get noticed) but it would be fun to have to point at when one of those things was inevitably requested.

Requests almost always suck. 9 out of 10 requests are when some drunk girl walks up to you (almost always with her sheepish boyfriend trailing) fake flirting so you can play some jersey shore party boat anthem for her and her stupid friends. Other times, it’s people requesting songs that I simply refuse to believe anyone needs to hear. One time I was DJing and the night was waning, not much dancing going on and people were basically chilling. At which point, some dude requested ‘jump around’ and ‘Nothing But A G Thing.’ Both great songs, obviously, but do you REALLY ever need to hear them again? I actually said that to the guy and he was like, “Yeah, I guess you’re right…”

I know how drunk people are, something happens to a person when they get drunk and they only wanna hear the most familiar shit. Or, to take it a step further, they want to hear the most familiar and corny shit. Some of the most successful (at party rocking) bar DJ’s I know stick to strictly guilty pleasure songs. I’m not stranger to that, trust me when I say I’d way sooner play ‘The Thong Song’ than anything that’s on the radio right now.

It’s hard to have a backbone in DJing anymore because people are programed to only want to hear certain songs, any deviation from those songs and you’re walking on thin ice. Not to be too wistful, but back in the day, I could have sworn DJ’s broke records and people gave shit a chance before getting in a huff and requesting the safest song possible.

Here’s an example of what it’s like DJing nowadays:

I DJ’d the night Michael Jackson died. While I was bummed about his passing (not too bummed because, you know, famous people die too), I also knew that I would be playing a whole lotta M.J. that night, not a problem, M.J. made dope music. I usually play a few of his songs regardless of him being alive or dead. In a weird selfish DJ kinda way, I was relieved it was him who died and not some asshole like Mariah Carey or Madonna. The thought of having to play that bullshit for a bunch of weepy idiots would be enough for me to call in sick.

Anyway, I get on around 11 and immediately people are requesting MJ. I knew this was coming but I also had planned on doing an hour or 2 of his shit a little later. You know, let the people get drunk and then drop it on them like everyone in the room isn’t 100% expecting it. However, as these requests came in I had just got on and didn’t want to blow my load. I told all the people this and they were like “but I’m leaving soooooon!” In my mind, that meant “You’re not buying anymore drinks and thusly, are not of importance to me.” Eventually, I cracked and got into the MJ set earlier then I had hoped and, of course, people went nuts.

I was playing Jackson 5 shit all the way up to ‘Black and White’ (I draw the line after that). Now, here’s the revealing part; During this hour plus MJ set, no less than 4 people came up to me, WHILE I’M PLAYING NOTHING BUT MJ and said, “Yo, dude, you should really play some Michael Jackson.” Yes…that happened…over and over again.

The moral of the story is, most people are complete fucking imbeciles and most DJ’s are music snob-pricks and yet, in order for this to all work, we gotta meet halfway. To be a successful DJ, you gotta eat a little shit..but you also have to draw the line somewhere. So, next time you’re out and you decide it’s your duty to let the DJ know what you feel like hearing, take a deep breath and reconsider. If, after that breath, you still feel the need, do so as nicely and painlessly as possible:

Suggest a song.
If he has it, he might play it. If not, you tried and no harm was done.
DO NOT hang out by the DJ booth brainstorming the name of that Ashanti song you love because you need a “replacement request” for the one that just got nixed.
Let it go and accept your loss.

Trust me, it’s for the better.

With all this, you may wonder why I even bother. Well, it’s because when I DJ, at the end of the night, I feel like I’ve made a difference.
The difference of dance.

Just kidding, they pay me and I love money.

4 thoughts on “The plight of the DJ.

  1. You mean that’s why, when I turned on ‘Bitches Brew,’ people booed. I had this great set, and then whiskey eyes had me wanting Miles, so I played Miles. Never again.

  2. Do you ever get the chance to actually play the music you think is dope? If so when and where?sidebar comment: keep up the good work.

    • I had an old dj gig where the first hour and half were totally dead. i’d play nothing but old soul music and old hip hop. it’ was awesome. the people that got to hear it weren’t many, but those those that did, loved it.
      same goes for when a a place clears out alter in the night. then is when you can play whatever you want.
      but if people are dancing, it’s outta your hands.

  3. When I was in college and I was DJing parties to pay for rent and records I had that problem allot. And like you I love money. So just to get enjoyment out of it I would blend in (for lack of a better word) “dance” songs from artist I enjoyed. I remember the first time I played Living Legends Angels With Dirty Faces after a Ying Yang Twins song and the floor exploded like crazy.

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