Sitting in the back of this small-ish audience for the panel discussion, Club DJ Confab: Mixing Tips & Career Solutions, the panel featured moderator John Anthony (Baltimore), DJ Sticky Boots (Indiana), Paul Dailey (Boston; DJ Times), John Hohman (Pittsburgh), Dean Masi (Masi & Mellow), Paul Gadbois (DJ, Remixer/Producer), and Michael Taylor (XM).
As a random ice-breaker, one of the panelists asked the audience to take a moment and introduce yourself to someone around you. Looking to my immediate right then left, I didn't have anyone close by so I turned around and spotted a cute, long-haired brunette. I then surprised myself by politely asking her (more like blurting), are you a singer? She smiled coyly and replied, "Sort of." As if my brain was on some sort of auto-pilot, I picked up my murse (aka man-bag) that contained some promo CDs from earlier panels and decided to sit next to her but not before asking if that was cool with her. She was all for it. I extended my hand and introduced myself. Her name was Francine Maggiore but she wasn't a DJ. She's an aspiring folk singer but leading a double life. Francine the folk singer has written and produced some sweet, bluesy Folk music while her alter-ego has composed several humorous dirty ditties such as "He's An A**hole" and "Naughty & Nice," both of which have been featured on Howard Stern's satellite radio show.
First and foremost, DJing is a relationship business as well as a labor of love. But with the DJ marketplace overly-saturated with DJs sprouting up this way and that, being able to land a gig and sustain it, able to connect with your target audience—reading the crowd but also knowing both your place and your limitations, is one of the essential keys to being successful in this business.
A few random tips/suggestions:
- A panelist brought up an interesting 'reading the crowd' tactic for DJs: that it's actually a fine art to be able to carefully clear a dancefloor just enough so that people go to the bar for a breather (a drink) but then be able to bring them back with a particular song to up the mood or vibe.
- For smaller venues play co-worker favorites for the first half hour before switching things up.
- In Top 40-type venues, it's about the women and playing to them, which usually gets more people out onto the dancefloor.
- Keeping things fresh and exciting is a constant for DJs new or pro. Even when a DJ is in the middle of playing several Top 40 hits, throwing in some "middle-skool" jams from the likes of Jay-Z or Biggie will produce a welcomed variant to your set, and every once in awhile its especially important to finesse a crowd—that is, to drop a classic track within the genre.
When it comes to career solutions, sometimes doing side projects and/or gigs may be the only way to go until something on the horizon becomes available that's more attune to what you really want to be doing. And since everybody in their respective mother what's to be a DJ, it's about building your name; what makes you stand out from the crowd?
I know I've said this several times but you have to ask yourself: What can I bring to the table that the other guy simply cannot? For starters, it's about identifying your passion, going that extra mile, and then sticking with it. And providing an interested party with a mix CD may not necessarily work if you want to work in a club; that's not maximizing your potential.
With regards to self-promotion:
- Making yourself available to various club-orientated message boards is a good place to start.
- Convey to those you already know and hang out with what music you play.
- Word of mouth (aka "buzz marketing)—spread your own good gospel on various social networks.
- Paul Gadbois had a great suggestion: duality business cards—give your business card a make-over so that it looks like it could pass for some kind of VIP card. Make it more interesting.
- Go see/observe other DJs and give them their utmost respect.
Paul Gadbois broke down the DJ paradigm even further when he said that there are three types of DJs:
- 1. The DJ who is comfortable breaking the hits,
- 2. The DJ who is comfortable playing the hits,
- 3. And the DJ who plays neither and sucks.
Some drawbacks to DJing—and these are, I'm fairly certain, things everyone knows:
- Long, long hours; always on your feet.
- No weekends off, especially New Year's.
- Getting or feeling too complacent—
- Not having a back-up "Plan B" in the event that "Plan A" doesn't wind up working out.
- Needing to always act as if your next gig could be your last gig.
- And finally, one of the last suggestions was that DJs, especially when playing in large venues that utilize those ginormous speaker arrays, should wear ear-plugs as eardrums can be easily damaged.
My experience thus far DJing in a wine bar setting (1,000-sq.feet, 55 people maximum capacity) has had its share of ups and downs with regards to reading the crowd. Even though the wine bar doesn't have a designated dancefloor, there is some room in which patrons have gotten up and shaken a leg or two, which more often than not occurs when I play Merengue and Salsa.
The highest I've played to is 200, the smallest 60 but I find that I'm always adapting, always learning how to not only read the patrons within the club or wine bar environment but also how to manipulate the dancefloor accordingly and preparing my mind for potential songs to play several songs within the next one to two hours. I also try to listen to how loud people become with the flow of alcohol but I'm careful not to make the music too loud for fear of drowning out people's conversations, too.