I’ve been crapping on about DJing on the SwingDJs board. I started a thread called mad skillz: mentoring, encouraging and skilling up (new) DJs. As with all threads I’ve begun with long, expository posts that don’t really make much sense and which tend to be far to theoretical, the thread has been languishing. Kind of like my tutorials when I ask a long question which is really a bit of exposition or otherwise impossible to answer.
But someone asked a question which caught my interest, so I’m going to answer it here, at length.
I made this comment (in a post that was far too long):
One thing I’ve noticed – if a scene values social dancing and has quite a tight community vibe, there’s a strong emphasis on skilling up new DJs. But the local culture dictates how this skilling up is achieved.
(Posted: Thu Sep 11, 2008 20:40, first page of the thread at URL above)
And Haydn replied:
Can I ask you – in practice, how does this ‘tight community vibe’ translate into DJs helping each other?
I’m going to answer this at length here, rather than cluttering up that discussion board with my own opinions/rambles.
I have to reiterate: I’m working largely from an Australian perspective, with only a bit of international experience. I’m sure things are vary in different places.
‘A tight community vibe’ needn’t actually translate into DJs helping each other. I don’t see it very often, but I’m sure there’ve been times when a DJ has made it difficult for a new DJ or experienced DJ to ‘break into’ a scene – to preserve their own status, to preserve their own profits, etc.
Also, definitions of ‘community’ (and who’s actually considered part of that community) are ideologically and politically loaded. Do you count west coast swing dancers as part of your ‘swing’ community? Rock and rollers? People from other dance schools/studios? Musicians? People you don’t know?
When I say a ‘tight community vibe’, I’m thinking about scenes where people articulate some sense of ‘communitas’ or identify themselves as part of a scene or community with some sort of pride, protectiveness, etc.
But how might that translate to DJs helping each other?
Well, if a local scene has an active social club or organisation who also run social events, then that club might have an incentive to manage DJs quite carefully – so new DJs will get a bit of mentoring or coaching. I’ve noticed that gigs run by a smaller more coherent group – or by one person, or coordinated by someone who really cares about the DJing/social dancing – often manage the DJs more carefully. If the night is only one of many, is managed by an inexperienced dancer (or DJ) or isn’t actually ‘valued’ terribly highly, the DJing might be less strictly managed. Also, interestingly, if an event (or club) has a particularly fervent revivalist bent (ie they’re really really really into historical ‘accuracy’), they’re also pretty anal about music and about ‘teaching’ their DJs to like the ‘right’ music. But people might ‘manage’ DJs for other reasons – nepotism, interpersonal rivalries, failed romances, burning desires, professional networking, etc – all might affect who hires whom for which gigs.
I’ve noticed that these trends increase as a scene develops – in a newer scene, for example, where there are fewer DJs, there’s less ‘regulation’ of DJing: people are just happy to have someone play some music. As DJing becomes increasingly ‘professionalised’ or formalised in a scene (eg introducing pay rates, introducing a DJ roster, introducing preferences for particular types of music), then it becomes more ‘regulated’. It can also become less accessible. I’ve wondered if this is as a scene or community grows it also develops increasingly complex modes of cultural production and management (whether we’re talking DJing, dancing, dress making, event management, website design, whatever). Also, people figure out that formalised ways of working together can be useful on large projects – a camp has ‘rules’ for teachers (whether unspoken or not), an exchange is run by a group who become a nonprofit organisation to deal with tax and insurance, a social night has formal (or informally enforced) ‘no aerials’ rules for public safety.
What I’ve noticed (and I guess I’m talking about Australian examples, and only very vaguely in reference to the US, etc) is that if a local scene has quite a close community – ie people volunteering their time for events, events run by committees with a ‘community development’ agenda and ethos rather than (or in addition to) a profit motive, etc – then there’s a greater interest in ‘skilling up’ DJs – for the community’s benefit. More experienced DJs are more likely to volunteer to mentor new DJs in that context out of a spirit of ‘communitas’ or ‘doing good stuff for the community’.
There are other reasons for managing new DJs, though – profit motive is a good one, especially if you’re in a scene where dancers really value or care about the quality of DJing. Or plain old competition for cultural capital – a DJ might feel it’s in their interests to discourage new DJs or to not open their night to new DJs (ie they want to keep their status and ward off competitors). If a particular event has a specific musical focus (eg it might want to showcase a particular musical style or moment in history), then there’d also be reason to manage the DJs – if you were (for example), interested in running a ‘neo revival’ night, you might favour DJs who play BBVD, etc, and not hire DJs who play old school exclusively. I’ve even played gigs where what I’ve looked like – on stage – has been important: wearing vintage gear was specifically requested… which leads to interesting questions about the ‘performance’ of DJing. And how we might ‘perform’ the role of ‘vintage music fan’ or ‘swing dancer = vintage costume fan’ for an audience of non-dancers, for example. [That last bit is interesting in the light of things like the Facebook group ‘Embracing my embarrassing swing adolescence’ which seems largely to be about aesthetics and protocols of swing dance fashion – ie what not to wear]
There’s also another interesting aspect to all this. Throughout much of the academic literature dealing with online communities, authors note the importance of ‘answering questions’, especially in an established and well-moderated online ‘community’. People might answer questions for a number of reasons: to help out; to demonstrate their own knowledge (and status); to test their own knowledge; to enter into the discussion (and hence participate in the community – basically, answering simply as a way of getting into the conversation and enjoying the process of answering and discussing questions); etc etc etc.
I’ve always been interested in noticing what type of people answer what types of questions in swing dance discussion boards. In the years I was gathering data for my doctoral thesis (and before), I was really surprised by some of my findings. Sure, the data suggested all this stuff, but I was really hoping to find that how we play online wasn’t so tightly bound to gender. But I found that female posters tend to be quicker to offer assistance (eg hosting, info, etc), but that they mightn’t do so publicly (they’re almost always over-represented in offering condolences, giving positive feedback, compliments and proffering kind words generally). Men are more likely to post ‘information’ or ‘facts’, and to disagree. There are exceptions, but on the whole these tropes are consistent, and they also correlate with the way we talk in groups face to face. I’m also interested in the way the threaded discussion echoes ‘formal turn taking’ in a meeting – which is something all-male groups tend to favour (whereas women tend to favour a more casual, more interrupting/cooperative meaning-making approach). There are also ethnic issues at work here – I was at a fascinating book launch the other day for indigenous literacy day: the speeches and discussion was very very different to the usual middle class ‘literati’ book launch: a room full of koori ladies don’t really do formal turn taking :D.
This is partly to do with how we’re socialised (which of course will result in regional variations), but also to do with the social/cultural context of online communication, especially on something like a discussion board. I’ve been wondering how Facebook changes all that, especially as it’s far more accessible than something like a discussion board.
All this might mean, in the context of DJs helping each other, that women are more likely to answer questions via private message or to ask for help via private message, and less likely to post publicly on the board generally. It also suggests that people post answers and ‘help each other’ for a range of reasons.
SwingDJs is a tricky case study as DJing generally is so male-dominated: there are more men posting regularly here than women, for example (which could be a result of the culture of online communication rather than directly correlating to the number of women DJs IRL).
Something I’ve noticed: experienced DJs, no matter what their gender, are generally very helpful and welcoming to new DJs. They mightn’t be very good at actually helping or communicating their welcome, but they certainly want to be helpful and care about this stuff. This might be a trickle-on effect from the revivalist impulses of contemporary swing dance generally – there’s this impetus towards ‘recruiting’ new dancers, so as to ‘preserve’ historic dance forms.
Or it could just be that nerds – no matter their flavour – love to talk to other nerds about stuff they love.