unexpectedly…

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.
Hmmmm.
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.