Technology and power

Last night while I was sleeping, Jon posted an interesting and provocative post on fb.
You can read it here.
Jon made some good points about why spotify isn’t a good tool for DJing, and I agree with all of them. Except the first one:

OK Swing Dance DJs,
Do yourself a favor, and stop using Spotify as your primary DJ source.

This is what I wrote, long after everyone else had discussed the issue to death.

I disagree.
Most dance scenes are small, and have just a handful of people running and teaching classes, DJing, booking venues, doing advertising, running the door, running parties, booking visiting teachers, running weekend workshops, researching insurance APRA and other music use licenses, dealing with sexual harassment policies AND SO ON.

When it comes to music, something like spotify – which takes a bunch of hours and $$ out of the equation – can make or break a small event.

It’s a tool, like any other, and it can be a tool for levelling entry to DJing.

When I started DJing, there weren’t any legit streaming or download sites or tools. We bought CDs. It was fucking expensive, because a CD cost $30 in Australia. I was lucky enough to get in just as the $US dropped, and CDs on amazon were $10 a pop.
Even now, if I buy a CD from a band, it’ll cost me $20. If a band knows what they’re doing, they’ll do it old school and distribute free promo copies of their album to DJs who can then play it and encourage local sales.

I did a bunch of research for my phd on the issues surrounding women’s participation in swing DJing, and I found that money, time, and confidence were the barriers.

A tool like spotify, which people know how to use (because they use it for fun, even if the UI sucks), can afford, and feel confident using, and can afford can be the step up into DJing that women and other marginalised users need. No imposing music nerd shops, no expensive, heavy, space-eating CDs, no ‘take a punt because we don’t preview albums’ limits.

So I say YAY SPOTIFY.

Most of the DJs in the international lindy hopping world never do or ever aspire to DJing at huge events all over the country. They DJ locally for no pay and little respect.

If you are into DJing hardcore, you will move on beyond spotify, because it simply doesn’t fulfill your needs. For all the reasons listed above.

[Jon replied to my post with this good point:]

I understand that people have hurdles. And if its a “no swing scene or spotify” decision, then its no question. Use Spotify.
But the minute “you” want to be taken seriously, its time to get off spotify and start collecting.

[I was struck by the way this post exemplified some of our assumptions about DJing in the dance world. I was reminded of this book about Horace Tapscott, which essentially points out that sometimes being super famous isn’t as important as community.]

But what if someone doesn’t want to be ‘taken seriously’? And who’s doing the judging? Members of a male-dominated high profile, high-power group?

My DJing rule is ‘make it easy for people to have fun’ not ‘you must own all the technology to DJ your local event’.

Me, I don’t use spotify for DJing because it’s not adequate (UI sucks, and I can’t add my tags).

It’s not the size of your collection that counts, it’s how much pleasure you and your friends get from it.

I really feel as though we (as a scene) have this discussion every few years. Last time it was itunes. The time before it was DJs sharing hard drives of music.

In my brain, of course I’m all about buying music, paying APRA fees, using good tools, being a professional, etc etc etc.
But in practice, when we police the ‘right’ way to DJ, we see so many potential DJs think ‘oh, that’s too serious for me. I’m not a real DJ,’ and give up.

I’ve seen DJs do fantastic sets from spotify. The fact that musicians get screwed by spotify doesn’t change that. Most DJs I know don’t have proper APRA or POCOS licenses, don’t follow the laws about format shifting, use youtube videos of songs, etc etc etc.

I think it’s more important to tip our argument sideways, and say “Stop looking at your computer and fussing about software, and start looking at the dancers, getting better at reading their feels”. And I know that this is something you do, Jon, which is why I enjoy your DJing so much. But there are plenty of DJs reading along in this thread who don’t have those skills, and will interpret discussions about tools as metrics for valuing DJing.
As Kevin suggests above: if you’re not watching the crowd, you might as well hit shuffle. And to be frank, there are plenty of DJs who’d be better replaced by someone’s very good collection on shuffle. And there are quite a few very good DJs who are such unpleasant people it’s simply not worth hiring them, because they make everyone miserable.

The collection is the least important part of DJing. But it’s an easy way for DJs to compare size and girth, and much easier to quantify than dancers’ happiness. So we talk about collections.

And you know I’m going to say the least useful thing ever, but: bands > DJs.

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