5 Things Professional DJs Wish You Knew
These days, everyone seems to be a DJ. Or at least everyone knows a DJ. Within the past 10 years, the industry has sky rocketed to astronomical heights. When I was a kid, I didn’t realize that Djing was even a viable job option. Now, at 33, it’s my full time career. Even though the industry has expanded exponentially, it seems like there is very little dialogue between Djs and the rest of the world. Many of my friends have expressed that they aren’t really sure what I’m doing, it just looks technical. So in order to shed some light and understanding on what’s actually happening behind the decks, I present you with 5 things that Professional Djs Wish You Knew. Enjoy!
1. It’s more than a party. We are working.
So you walk into the bar and you see the DJ in the corner, slighting bumping to the beat, grooving away in the mix. It looks like a good time. It is a good time. I get to watch people and play the songs that will become the soundtrack of their experience. I love it! But inevitably, someone will come up to me and want me to dance, take shots, listen to their life story, etc, not really keeping in mind that I’m currently in the middle of a DJ set.
I’ve always wondered why the barrier of performance respect isn’t really there for Djs. Perhaps because we are so easily accessible? Maybe because we are the hub of the party. Who knows. I come from a performance background, myself. And never, when I was in the middle of a symphonic performance, a dance recital, or while I was mid-monologue on stage during a play, did someone come up to me to do any of the before mentioned things. But it almost nightly happens to me as a DJ. And almost always the person asking me gets offended when I don’t adhere to their request.
Regardless of whether it’s a request to come have a dance, have a conversation, step away for a drink, or whatever, it’s taking my time and focus away from the overall flow of the event. While I can break away for short bursts of time (under 60 seconds usually) to listen to a customer request, engage in short conversation, etc, I am still responsible for keeping the music going and managing the vibe of the event. Anything that takes our attention away from that is basically distracting us from doing our job. So while we might be in the middle of a raging party, and we are absolutely having a great time, please remember that we are still working, and that it isn’t really the time or place for distractions. Get my social media handle and slide in the DM if you wanna talk.
2. Putting together a good set is a lot harder than putting your itunes or spotify on shuffle.
With the digitalization of music allowing for increased accessibility, the number of people who have access to the tools needed to dj has also increased. In the earlier days, a DJ was defined by their library of music, often possessing records that were hard to come by. With anyone being able to copy a hard drive or rip an mp3, it’s gotten to the point where it seems anyone who can program their Spotify to shuffle is a self-titled DJ. Professional Djs want you to know that a lot more goes into playing a killer set than programming a playlist in Itunes.
For a DJ set, you never want to stop the music, so it’s more like you’re playing one long song. I always imagine my sets like making a musical quilt. This is achieved through mixing and mashing songs in variations of clever transitions. (More than the auto fade that your itunes does) A DJ set is defined not only by the songs she chooses, but also by the way she chooses to move between them. A good DJ set will sound fluid – without sudden breaks in the music or the vibe. In order to achieve this, the DJ must beat match the songs to make sure they flow in time with each other. And that’s just the beginning. More advanced Djs will incorporate more in-depth techniques such mixing in key, musical phrasing, tone play, word play, and scratching into their transitions and sets.
3. I’m a DJ. NOT a Jukebox.
This one is huge. Like HUGE. Like every professional DJ I know wants to scream this from the roof tops type HUGE! Let me set up a scenario. Your wedding reception has ended and you and the wedding party have decided to night cap out at a local club. When you walk into the club, you walk right up to the DJ, announce that you are the bride and then present a list of 10 songs that you want to hear. Congratulations. You’ve just acted completely entitled and self-centered and successfully mistaken the DJ for a jukebox.
Let me break it down for you. The person who you should have given the list of requests to is the DJ you hired for your private event. When that event ended and you walked into a different establishment, that DJ’s obligation is not to you, but to their client (which is the establishment that they are working for) When you walk up to the booth, interrupt their set, and make your numerous requests, you are completely disregarding the intention of the venue and the creative intention of the DJ by insisting that the entire vibe and focus switch to you. Save that for the private event Djs (which start at $100+/hr) who are being paid to make everything about you.
It’s important to remember when you walk into an establishment, the venue has a specific goal for the night, and it’s the Djs job to execute a set in a way that will help achieve that goal. A lot of times that means saying no to your crappy, off-placed request. For example, some frat boys thought it would be funny to hear Elton John’s Tiny Dancer at midnight in the middle of a dance club. Much to their disliking, I said no. Because, if I had played that song at that moment, the 3 idiots who wanted to hear it would have laughed at their inside joke, and everyone else would have left and gone to the next club over to continue dancing. Many times, as the person managing the vibe of the night, half of our job is to ward off those terrible requests so no one kills the vibe and the venue stays busy. That’s one of the biggest reasons venues hire a DJ and don’t just leave the music in the hands of whoever is quickest to the jukebox.
4. Most Djs cringe inside when someone walks up to the booth.
I feel like this one should come as no surprise after I set up those last two scenarios. As I was saying earlier in the article, there seems to be an apparent lack of performance respect that gets extended to Djs. From rude and demanding requests from patrons to being told I’m the worst DJ ever if I don’t have a specific song, to having people actually throw things at me from the dance floor to get my attention, the way many patrons and club goes treat Djs is often poor at best. Now, this isn’t everyone that we encounter. But it definitely happens on a regular, nightly basis. You get to a point where you see the giggling group of girls coming up and you already know that they’ll be asking you to play Despacito again even though you just played it like 20 minutes prior. Or they’ll walk over and say “play something I can dance to!” while you’re looking out at a full dance floor. Or they’ll ask what songs you have (like you’ve got time to go through the 60,000 plus songs on your hard drive) and try to look over your shoulder at your music library. Often times they’ll just walk up and thrust a bright phone screen in your face (basically blinding you) that has youtube pulled up with the song they want to hear. Other times, they’ll walk over to the booth and try to make conversation, or worse, intentionally distract you so that you mess up (flashing, twerking, touching gear, etc) Others will approach with the “I used to/ am/ was/could be/wanna be/dreamed I was once/a dj – can I get in on your set? Like you’re supposed to just turn over your turntables and tag them in. These are the sort of interactions that we get more often than not when playing out as a DJ. (And it’s not just from giggling groups of girls.)
Every now and then, someone will walk up (and I’ll be secretly cringing in my head, preparing to kindly handle whatever mess is about to be dropped on me) and they’ll simply say, “You were fantastic. Thanks for playing a banging set!” They may even throw down a tip. Those are the ones I live for. But they’re also few and far between compared to the other ways that people choose to treat djs.
I think if I can speak for all Djs, the one thing we really want from club goers is to be treated with a little more respect. #respectthedj Many of us don’t mind humoring requests, but you’ll find at the end of the day, a little respect goes a long way.
5. You Get What You Pay For. Every. Single. Time.
This last is for everyone who has ever hit up a DJ talking about I can’t pay you, but you’ll get lots of exposure! This one is specifically for you. And it’s something that holds true across all industries and in all types of business. Which is the part where you get what you pay for. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard clients tell me how awful their DJ was, only to find out that they barely paid $100 and some gift cards. HOLD THE PHONE. WHAT? I know everyone wants to get the best deal possible on things. That’s part of our bargaining nature. But seriously, I feel like I need to break down costs for some people to understand.
While you’ll find variations up and down in either direction, I believe a good median expectation price for a private event DJ is starting at $100 an hour. Time frame, Season, location, equipment add ons, and etc. will obviously add additional cost to that price point. Sometimes when I present a quote to a potential client, the response will be an astounded “but this isn’t a wedding!” to which I want to add that median price point for a wedding DJ starts around $150-200 an hour.
Again I’m picturing a confused client scratching their head and asking, “but that much money? Just to play a few songs?” And again I feel the need to break it down a little further.
First, keep in mind that the average professional DJ set up is a several thousand dollar investment, with an average setup ranging anywhere from $2k – $10k+. Also, true professionals keep back up gear on hand in case of emergencies. Next, there’s insurance and music licensing. The average working DJ will shell out another few thousand over the course of the year in music licensing costs and insurance fees. To operate legally and on professional, industry standard equipment, it’s not a low cost.
The other side of that is professionalism. This is the difference in a $50 dj who shows up an hour late, plays inappropriate music on poor quality gear that doesn’t sound good and feels as though his job was done just by showing up, basically completely embarrassing you in front of your guests. Versus a professional DJ who arrives early, has gear set before people arrive, is courteous to you and your guests, plays music that is appropriate, is able to manage the flow and logistics of the event in a way that’s seamless to your guests, and overall creates an enjoyable environment that complements your party. These are prime examples of experiences created by a professional vs by someone who just happens to own some DJ gear.
Professional Djs want you to remember when you get that quote, the value of the service that they’ll be providing you. While the price may seem high, remember that part of what you’re paying for is peace of mind. The same way that Grandma used to say you never skimp on Peanut Butter or Hot Dogs, if you’re looking for high quality entertainment at your next event, I’d like to suggest that you don’t skimp on DJ services either. The drapes and table clothes, you can probably get away with going cheap. But the DJ can either enhance or ruin your entire event. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to take my chances with the drapes.