Treat your DJs good: get more chicks

I read some thing on vernacular jazz dance about the lack of female DJs at European swing dance events…which I now realise was a response to my joke post about women DJs, which was actually Olive and Astrid in Fringe, being science nerds.

This past MSF (which is one of the two biggest Australian events), we had these DJs:

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 1.25.21 PM

(c/o KatGalang)

me (I’m a woman btw)
Kat Galang (woman)
Alice Roberts (woman)
Barb Heggan (woman)
Allie Payne (woman)
Manon van Pagee (woman)

Mike Healey
Trev Hutchison
Gas Fernandez
Keith Hsuan
Tim Jones
Matt Greenwood

That’s 50% wimminz, 50% menz.
I was the DJ coordinator. I don’t think about gender when I’m putting together DJ teams. I look for:
– mad skills (ie can work a room, keeping the floor full is just entry level requirement)
– professionalism (answer emails promptly, on time, have the right gear, get their shit together, on time, etc)
– personable and easy to work with (grumpy poos can get fucked)
– good music collection
– experienced (I don’t use new DJs for big events)

Any DJ who gives me shit is immediately blackballed – eg if they send me nasty emails because I didn’t hire them (yes, this happens about every second event); if they’re nasty to _anyone_, if they do something I asked them not to (eg play soul in a swing set, dance during their set, etc etc), if they miss sets or are late to sets, etc etc. This last set is the most important criteria for me. This job is kind of tiring and annoying, and I just don’t need some dick giving me shit at 2am on the third night of an exchange. If I’ve told you to play fucking swing, play fucking swing and shut that funk down.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I get good men:women ratios. Most of the local DJs in most local Australian scenes are women. But they rarely step up to national level events – they’re under-represented. I think that’s because they’re not confident about stepping up, and aren’t supported (I’ve written about this a LOT, so you may want to search for more posts on this if you’re looking for some rants).

Why do some Australian events have massively more male DJs than men? The events that have these imbalances almost always also have pretty shitful working conditions and pay deals for their DJs, and they almost always have pretty awful approaches to DJ recruitment/hiring. They just hire randomly. They hire DJs who approach _them_. Seriously, why would you do that? If you want good DJs, you chase THEM. Don’t give them a chance to approach you – woo them! This means that they get the pushy blokes on their roster. And they miss out on the less confident ninjas.
There are times when events have fewer women DJs than men and the organisers have done everything right. Some years and some events, this is just how things pan out. But if you don’t have a good female:male DJ ratio for your event year after year, _you’re_ doing something wrong.

Why should you chase DJs? Isn’t that more work? Yes. But fuck, do you want good DJs or do you want people who pimp themselves out aggressively? Also: don’t be a lazy arse. Get your shit in gear.

Once you get your DJs, treat ’em right.

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 1.27.06 PM
(c/o KatGalang)

I treat my DJs with respect. Even if I’m exhausted. Because YOLO, so you bloody well owe it to people to treat them right. And being nice to people makes you feel nice. WIN.

I pay DJs as much as I can, and I agitate for better pay ever year. btw the base line for a decent event is now: a free pass, plus at least $25 per hour. The best deal is a free pass + $30 per hour. I think this is total rubbish. DJs deliver the bulk of music at Australian events, yet is has the lowest value. WRONG TOWN. I don’t think we pay our DJs anywhere near enough, so I keep banging on to organisers about improving pay.

I’m also very strict about working conditions for DJs – safe, clean work spaces. Good notice on set times. If you’re booked for a set, I pay you for it, even if it’s cancelled. If you pay longer, you’re paid for that. Your name is plastered over the PR material. You get lots of public props. Prompt pay, in cash. Don’t harass your DJs. Make sure they’re not being harassed by the punters, and if they are, shut that shit down. If a DJ has a problem, YOU solve it – they just handball it up to you. BAM!

If I can’t manage these things (sometimes shit happens), I make sure I fix it as SOON as I can. And I apologise. I chase down DJs after events for feedback, and I assume that we can always improve things.

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 1.28.35 PM

(c/o DJTrev)

I’m also always on the look out for new talent. Yes, I do favour experienced people, and because our national scene is so small, you’re going to see the same names on my lists. But that’s because they’re good. I don’t do nepotism. I do awesomism: if you’re awesome, I’ll hassle you until you DJ for me.
When I find new talent for big events, I only use them if they have experience with smaller events. They have to have been DJing for a few years, and dancing for longer. I have to have seen/heard them DJ before.
I try to give all the DJs I hire a lot of support – I deal with their problems, etc etc. And I try to make sure newer DJs have support too – maybe an experienced DJ buddy, or perhaps they need more time to set up before a set. Or maybe they need a bit of a pep talk. Or some quiet time. Whatever it is, I try to make it work. I think that if I want ninja DJs, I need to invest in ninja DJ development.
I also try to make sure the experienced people don’t get too burnt out. But that’s hard – we have too few DJs to work all our events. I also try to offer them interesting set briefs, and I encourage interesting set ideas.

So, basically, if you treat your DJs well, and get up off your arse and hunt down some peeps with mad skills, you’ll get good gender ratios in your DJ line up.


7 Replies to “Treat your DJs good: get more chicks”

  1. Here’s what I wrote Sam after I dj’ed MLX 2011.

    “This was one of the easiest events I’ve had to dj. Some awesome factors:

    1. I knew my schedule way ahead of time.
    2. There was a dj schedule on the desk so I knew who I was replacing and who was following me
    3. Was treated very well by the MLX staff. Chris did a great job looking after me on Saturday.
    4. You’re organized and have a DJ vision which you shared.

    Too often, I find myself at events that don’t pay their DJs well, don’t communicate, and make you dig for information. MLX DJ life was easy.”

    She does quality work and values her DJs.

  2. Oh, this is nice to read, Kenny! I remember your work that MLX. I particularly remember your doing a spanking lot of band breaks for the Oz Big Band from Perth. You perfectly complemented their solid, swinging big band sound with a perfect selection of very good songs. And you were VERY nice to work with!

  3. I’ve been extremely grateful that the Balboa community in the US has been so accepting of good female DJs because they are looking the kind of music that will be right for their event. I can say I’ve been disappointed on a number of occasions looking at DJ rosters for some national events and seeing nary a female DJ on the roster – it’s a glaring omission to me, and has been for a long time.

    It is not my style to be pushy and ask – I like to think that my work speaks for itself and if my DJ’ing is what the event calls for, then I will be asked. If that gets me fewer DJ gigs, so be it, but at least I know I was invited for the right reasons.

  4. I’m going to make a sexist generalization based on my experiences as an organizer and DJ. Pound for pound a female DJ will kick a male DJ’s ass 9 times out of 10.

    Maybe I’m biased having DJs Laura Windley, Erica Vess, and Kristy Milliken packing the dance floors in my region, but these gals (and others like them) are typically better researched, more timely, better team players, more honest in their self-appraisal, less likely to falsely recommend another DJ for a gig just so they’ll be hired in return, and generally more willing to work harder to make events successful because they realize they’re a minority and don’t want to represent poorly.

    In a room packed with too many boys eager to chest-bump and loudly crow about their bigger music collections, their ability to haul their own fancy gear (yes some DJ’s use that as a marketing point), or their fancy laminated promotional brochures and website designs, the gal DJs will be the ones with the headphones on and possibly dancing to something in the corner to see how it feels.

    There’s a hugely visible quality difference (and profitability potential) between events where an organizer hires “PICK ME!” laptop owners as DJs on a first come first served basis vs. those where the organizer does their research. You’re correct in noting that the ratio of women DJs carrying the day is much higher in the second group.

    That’s why, even though our Jammin’ on the James is still 4 months away, I’m already working on my sets because I don’t want the gals showing me up!

  5. Thanks for writing this up – I fullheartedly agree. Also, love your writing style!
    For my own events I’m going all out when it comes to DJ work standards. That means I pay their travel, they get a full pass (good for me, too, because they will know what music will fit best to the class material taught!), they get free hosting, a modest stipend for food and drinks and a nice pay per hour for any hour they’re scheduled. If the event is very successful and I was happy with their work I usually double the hourly wage. Oh yeah, and of course they get the DJ schedule way in advance and all of the other shenanigans.
    With these work standards set in place I obviously don’t want pushy newbie DJ to DJ for me. Instead I hire the people that really stand out at events because they continuously play the right kind of music at the exact right time, and are nice to work and hang out with.

    Now, I’m a DJ myself and that very much informs the way I like to treat my fellow DJs. Personally, I had to say ‘no’ to many events in the past just because the work conditions were that shitty. I’m trying to do everything in my power to improve DJ work conditions and if I can set an example with my own event, all the better. I wish more DJs were also organizers.

    Here’s another idea why I think the DJ gender ratio at big events is oftentimes much in favor of the male ones:
    If a free pass is involved and there are way more follows signing up for the event than leads I’ve seen event organizers try to balance things out by hiring male (=often leads) DJs. That way they can let in one of the follows on their waitlist for any leading DJ they give a free pass to.
    Of course this practice doesn’t exactly speak for the organizers (as they potentially favor dance role over awesomism) but I’ve heard it happens a lot anyway.
    Anyone else feels like this might play a role in the selection of DJs?

  6. Wow, A. WOW! Travel! Food/drinks stipends! That’s so far out of the league of Australian events. MLX is definitely the best-paying event here, and it does include a drinks stipend, but travel! I’m a big fan of that approach: you can guarantee you’ll get good DJs. But then there are nine million more DJs in America, and nine million more events, so there’s serious competition for talent.

    Your point about organisers hiring male DJs to even out follow-lead rations is interesting. I don’t think it happens here (it certainly wouldn’t occur to me). But then I’m usually involved more with all-social events…

    …I think a lot of these things comes down to scale. the biggest Australian events very rarely have more than 350 registrants for passes. And you don’t begin to make profits at events until you get to about 400. Then things start to scale properly.

  7. Hey dogpossum! I forgot to mention that I’m based in Europe. All my information on how DJs are hired for events arounds here stems from my own experiences or from what I’ve heard from my organizer/DJ friends.
    Judging by the reactions that I get from the DJs I approach for my events, paid travel seems to be fairly uncommon in Europe at the moment. But here’s hoping that the DJs I hire come to expect at least some of the conditions I offer them for other events as well and maybe decline a shitty offer or two in the future so that organizers eventually need to revalue the role of the DJ at their dance event.

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