I should probably explain some of the more exclusive language at work in this entry, but I had planned on posting it on Swing Talk, so I reckon we should all just be grateful I posted it here instead of starting a shitfight over there. Let it be known, though, that these comments are partially in response to repeated comments by some ignorami that all DJs are in fact carp, except perhaps for Gary. I beg to differ with this somewhat limited observation and perhaps add that there is really only one truly carp DJ in Melbourne. And that’s enough about that…
So, read on. Or go do something else.
Expectations of DJs
I’ve been thinking about our expectations of DJs – mostly because I’m now having a bash at this gig I’m having to rethink many of my old ideas.
Perhaps the biggest deal for most dancers is what a DJ plays – they want to hear ‘more of X’ or ‘less of Y’, for whatever reasons (it’s more authentic, it’s less authentic, it’s more interesting, it’s faster, it’s slower, it’s whatever’). Now that’s all well and cool – we like to hear songs we like when we go out dancing. And perhaps, more importantly, we like to hear songs that make us dance like a crazy person. But there are some issues, here.
1. How do we let the DJ know what we want to hear?
There are a few options. The simplest and most effective is ask. But how? Frankly, asking for a song at a dance and then expecting it immediately is ridiculous. To even expect it that night is asking a lot – I mean, we have DJs rather than a juke box because we think that DJing itself involves some special skills, more than just wacking a CD in the player. We trust their judgement. So why not do that – trust the DJ to make the choices while you get on with the business of dancing?
But that fairly obvious point aside, hHow else might we request songs? Swing Talk? Sure, not a bad option. But I’ve noticed that some people tend to forget their manners, forget that they’re actually dealing with real people when they make requests on Swing Talk. I think it’s best to remind yourself that the ‘DJ’ is not some nameless, faceless, iron-constitutioned person we don’t know. They’re usually music nerds, who really worry about pleasing the crowd and doing a good job. And usually without any advice or training or constructive feedback. And at the end of the day, if you want something, it’s best to play nice, to say please and to not feel that you’re owed that song. Because the DJ owes you nothing if you don’t give them some love.
2. Should the DJ feel obliged to play songs specifically because they were requested/they know a particular person (note the singular there) likes it, etc?
On the one hand, they could do their best to put together a set that ‘pleases everyone’, specifically including songs they know people like. Or they could go with the flow on the night, mixing up new stuff, old stuff, favourites, wacky new stuff, etc etc. I prefer the latter approach, as a DJ and punter, particularly if the song(s) requested suck. And perhaps, even more importantly (and speaking as someone with a limited budget), I think about what it means to request songs from a DJ, or to expect them to have ‘everything’ in their collection. As someone who has very little money to spend on CDs, I make very careful choices in the music I buy. I mean, let’s remember – a DJ is usually forking out at least $30 a pop on music. If you’re me, living on my budget, $30 is a once-a-month deal at best. And when I go to buy that CD, should I choose a) to buy something that I really really like, b) to choose something I’ve carefully researched and found is excellent for DJing, c) choose something I hate because I know that 5 people love it? I’m looking at options a and b, here as most-likely.
3. To what extent should we expect DJs to pander to our tastes when they’re buying their music?
Personally, I’d feel like a poop if a DJ on a tight budget went out and bought some Vince Giordano which they loathed, just because I’d said I love it and want to dance to it. I’d much rather they went out and found an artist they adored and spent their money there. I like the idea of having a number of DJs, each with special interests, so that when I go to hear them play, I know what to expect, and I know I’ll be hearing X type of music, probably played by someone who’s devoted time to becoming a specialist in that type of music. I don’t expect one DJ to play everything – if they do, I’m damn impressed, because I know how hard it is to do ‘everything’ in one set.
4. How should the DJ play requested songs?
Do they just slap the CD in then and there – immediately, or do they work it in gradually? The first method is kind of problematic – sure, that one person who requested Sidney Bechet’s ‘Slippin’ and Slidin’’ will be happy, but the rest of the room will no doubt look up at the DJ with a puzzled look that seems to say “dood, we were digging that mellow 110bpm groove vibe you had going”. I like to assume that the DJ will have (or will soon develop) the skills to make the decision about when to play the songs, without my help. And if I want to choose the songs and in what order they’re played, then, hell, I’ll get up there and do it. You can’t DJ and dance on the same night.
5. Because a DJ is being paid, how much should we expect of them?
Firstly, let’s have a little look at how much DJs are paid, exactly. Now, if you’re lucky enough to live in a city where DJs are paid (and not everyone is), what’s the deal?
In Melbourne, I’ve been paid $25 for 2.5 hours at CBD. I’ve also been paid $25 for 1.5 hours at CBD. I’ve been paid $30 for 1.25 hours at the Funpit. I’ve DJed for free at Camberwell, and DJing at the Blues Pit is $25 (or $30 – I forget) for a 45 minute set.
Now, if I chose to work a shift at Safeway, I’d be better paid. And the working conditions would no doubt be far better – I could handball difficult customers to a manager, I wouldn’t have to spend hours, days, weeks researching my work, and there’s very little take-home work.
If you’ve read the discussion on DJs’ pay, on Swing Talk, you’ll see that any ‘profit’ from DJing is actually eaten up by things like buying music and equipment, dealing with APRA, travel and so on. Add to that the fact that DJs don’t get to dance, and….
Just how fair is it to demand that they then also spend their money buying music you like so that they can play them for you at a dance? And how cool is it, then, to heckle and harangue DJs for not playing the music that you want to hear (and let’s remember – you’re just one kid in a crowd of dancers, all with different tastes, which don’t necessarily coincide with yours)?
Sure, there are other benefits and advantages to DJing. DJs may get into a venue for free (so, you may actually be paid $36 at the Funpit, for example). They get the respect and accolades of their peers… no, wait, what was that about being hassled by dancers for songs…? Frankly, once the initial thrill (and fear) of DJing wears off, the fringe benefits of DJing are remarkably slim. The satisfaction of filling the dance floor and making people happy? Sure, yeah. Getting to hear music you love for hours on end? Hm. And not dancing to it? Assuming you get to play it at all, if you’re not busy dealing with requests…
And let’s not forget the other side of DJing – having to be at dancing exactly on time for your shift (add 15minutes for set up), and then if you want to do any kind of decent job, actually being there to hear the first DJ’s set to be sure there’re no repeats. Dealing with arseholes giving you a hard time (heckling online, in person at the doo, via email, etc etc etc). etc etc etc.
So, at the end of the day, next time you consider slanging off a DJ, or demanding they play your music, why not stop and think a minute. Cut them some slack. And if you really hate the music, why not DJ yourself?
I DJ because I’m enjoying the challenge of learning the skills of playing to a crowd. I’m interested in the music – I like the challenge of researching and hunting down affordable and excellent music. I like the thought of giving back to the scene a little – I’m volunteering my time and energy for other people’s fun. And I think of it as pay back for all the times I’ve had a fantastic night dancing to a fantastic DJ. And I DJ because the more DJs there are in a scene, the more variety of music there is, and the more chances the DJs get to dance!
BTW: please feel free to add comments to this article. Spamming and sledging will of course be triumphantly, gloriously and satisfyingly deleted arbtrarily, with the righteous and highly likely possibility of rubbing it in.

5 Replies to “unexpectedly…”

  1. I liked this post in the same way that I liked the most recent one about dancing. I get an insight into a world I know nothing about and you articulate it so well I feel I understand something I didn’t before.
    I tend to think the DJ should prioritise the audience’s needs as sh/e judges them–inevitably subjective. When the DJ is amateur (for love) rather than professional, however, expectations should probably be adjusted, especially in consideration of the limited discography and the volunteer element of it.
    But what do I know? I’m still shocked after learning that people throw things at cyclists from their cars. Who would be such an arsehole? Plenty of people, apparently. They’re everywhere. They’re unrepentant.

  2. such kind words, skirt….
    re people hassling cyclists. Totally. I have nasty high school flashbacks when I’m riding along the road and get guys yelling at me to show them my tits. Please. When will that line get old? And FUCK, I’m riding a bike – I have enough trouble getting my sports bra off when I’m NOT riding!
    My favourite thing; when a car cuts me off or scares me, I like to kick it as I ride past. They freak and think they’ve hit you. You laugh.
    Or, I have a friend who stops, leans in their window and explains, “hey, you know, if I’d been a kid, you’d have killed me. You need to be more careful”. And they are suitably repentant.

  3. This is like talking to myself.
    I’m glad I started DJing in Melbourne when it was a lot more easy going. Having said that, the people that whinge is only a very, very small amount. What is always interesting is that if you ask them to expand on their whinge, it comes up empty. Fluff I believe.
    There are some people at this stage I just ignore. After giving them respect and the opportunity to be constructive many, many times, I just ignore them.
    I think that aside there are many things I have learning over the past few years with dancers.
    As Artie Shaw but it “Jitterbuggers are morons”. And it’s true. The thing is that dancers are just humans. And humans change there mind from minute to minute. What they were in the mood for yesterday in the pits today. So when you get a room of them together you get a mishmash pit of morons. What can make it even worse is, over have of them have expectations.
    I have a very basic rule. Keep 80% of them happy and you have done a fantastic job.
    Make sure you don’t get this confused with keeping 80% of them happy all the time. There is a difference.
    I also like to work with the 2 song per group idea. Basically a group will like a particular mood at any given time. Each Genre and sub Genre is a mood in itself. Play two song to one group. Then read the room to see what group are sitting out. Use a transition song and then 2 new songs to the next mood group. Keep it flowing. I find some times I can lead a mood direction and most other times the dancers lead it.
    Getting on to other things, my biggest downer as a DJ has been when I was playing a lot of would I would call average Jazz, just to try to keep the dancers happy. I seem to have gotten over that. At the moment I spend a lot of time going through my collection finding material I’m less familiar with and that’s helping me move on.
    From the board I thing the most interesting question is: “What is Verity”.
    From my “morons” bit about, of course my idea of Verity is totally different form other peoples. I know some of the SHB’s idea of Verity is playing non-swing music.
    That of course leads on to the big question is: “Is playing a small amount of non-swing music at a swing event a major problem.” The smarty pants answer would be, just play some Neo. My real answer is I don’t know. What I to know is that to put a non-swing song in your set and for it to go down will with all the dancers takes a lot of skill. I find you must first make sure all the classic hard core dancers are happy and maybe even some of them left (gone outside) the room. Play some hardcore classic songs in a row of upper tempo and you should achieve this. Then it’s a matter is checking if those “non-swing mood group are in the room and ready to dance. You then need to make the transition and then comes the non-swing song. And hey the songs selection is like bringing a cat for a walk.
    Anyway, that’s my little few words at the moment.

  4. There are so many things I want to respond to here, Brian!
    I’ve written another entry on one (taking a cat for a walk), because it’s really made me think about work stuff.
    But I’m also fascinated by the issue of ‘variety’ – different dancers define it in different ways (does it mean tempo, does it mean different types of jazz, does it mean different energy levels, does it mean vocal and instrumental tracks, does it mean stuff that’s not swinging jazz…). Just how diverse should we be as DJs? I mean, in a scene as big as ours, should we specialise or should we have diverse sets? As a dancer, I like specialist DJs. But as a DJ, I like diversity. And if we compare this with somewhere like Perth, where they have a more homogenous approach to DJing and to dance styles, should we seek to emulate this apparent lack of diversity, or continue to celebrate and encourage our own local diversity, even if it means not encouraging an intense and exhaustive knowledge of particular music and dance styles in dancers and DJs?
    re ‘Jitterbugs are morons’. I see your frustration: nothing irks me more than dancers who demand ‘diversity’ or complain about DJs (particularly when they do so with no regard for a DJ’s self esteem), yet know so little about the music, dance so infrequently that they a) don’t really have any clue about the range of music that’s played at a particular venue, let alone across the scene; b) don’t dance much anyway during a night, even if a DJ they ‘love’ is playing; c) don’t know enough about the music to recognise when a DJ is actually playing music from across an 80 year period (20s – now), by millions of artists, and from many different musical styles; d) say things like ‘play something different’ or ‘play something good’, yet can’t even name song titles, let alone articulate to any satisfying degree exactly what they’re looking for.
    But of course, this may be because they are stuck in that whole ‘precognitive’ groove, right? ahahhahah
    Writing about DJing in reference to hardcore academic theory (that phenomenology stuff) makes me realise that any specialist field of knowledge is inherently exclusive. So is it fruitless to expect jitterbugs to be anything other than morons, and to do anything other than ‘give them what they (think) want’?

  5. Glad you enjoyed my little bit of text.
    I am on the definite opinion for the few that continually ask for verity, they are looking for Neo-and non swing. Oh, yes, they are the same.
    Try to spin what you love and not crap music to keep a few happy. Other wise you end up like me.
    “An even bigger Moron”.

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