Inside the Mind of a DJ
by Ben Clissold
Let me say from the top, I am not a DJ, never have been, and probably never will be. Yeah, I know enough about music genres other than House, Techno, and Alternative, that I could learn, but I don't want to. However, my knowledge of music has put me in enough DJ booths to know just how mad these guys are, and how they think.
The first thing you should know, is that this is personal for DJs. They love music, live it, and know it so much better than you or I can start to imagine. The top rung of DJs know just about every song from every genre, right down to the beat patterns. This knowledge is what they are paid for.
DJing consists of many more elements than the people on the dancefloor expect. It is not simply a matter of playing good songs. That would be easy. They have to select music on the basis of speed, style, the crowd on the floor, and mood. Whilst American Pie and Horny might both be great songs, it would usually be completely inappropriate to play one after the other. The speeds are different, the people that like them are different, and they suit different moods.
Ask a DJ at a rough club, the whole concept of mood is so important. Playing a song like You shook me all night long, when the crowd is hyped up enough, and drunk enough will always cause a fight. When a DJ told me that, I thought he was mad, so he showed me. The dancefloor jusr errupted.
Pumpy, high paced music is good for the middle of the night, when people are ready to dance. Soft gentle stuff, like R&B us good at the start and end of the night, whilst the crowd is warming up, and being wound down for closing time. Certain good songs can be used for triggers at the start of the night.
This is one of the greatest challenges for a DJ. When is the crowd ready to hit that dancefloor. Picking the right song, at the right time will either get the dancefloor moving, or waste a good song for later in the night. A top DJ will have a bit of courage and usually get the timing right, but even the top guys have been known to get it wrong.
Picking a real loser late in the night is another bad thing. One night at a major city venue, the head DJ played a sexist song that managed to get most of the girls off the dancefloor, and out the door. The guys simply followed.
The guy.girl balance is a pretty important factor. Girls dance more willingly than guys, so early in the night, most DJs play more girlie music. This fills the dancefloor with girls, and is the best time for a guy to be out there. The problem is though, that guys suffer from a condition that makes us hate all songs by Prince, Madonna, and other high pitched, annoying artists. This stuff is commonly known as girlie music.
Bloke music is just as bad. It is classic yobbo music. Anything by AC/DC, Cold Chisel, or any other loud metal band fits here. It gets the girls off the floor, and the guys on. The challenge though, is for the DJ to find the right balance of all this music. A guy will tolerate maybe one or two girl songs, and vice versa. A DJ wants both guys and girls on the floor together, and wants the dancefloor full as long as possible.
Keeping this in mind, you have to remember the consistency aspect. If a DJ cannot jump from one genre to another, it becomes difficult to get a good balance. Over time they can. A song like Closer is a nice transition song from R&B to Alternative. Often the songs you here most are the best transition songs. That is why you hear them so often. It allows a DJ to play variety, whilst keeping the beat changes subtle enough to dance through.
A night of music should be a bit like a wobbly jelly. It should move around, changing a bit, but without any sharp edges. The transformations must be subtle.
So why must a DJ play a variety of music? For most people, boredom sets in without changes of pace. I have been known to spend five or six hours straight on a dancefloor. Without a change or two in the music speed and type, I would have lasted half an hour. Clubs also like to play some music that you donít like, so you leave the dancefloor and buy more drinks.
All of this inevitably leads to a predictability trap. I have seen many a good DJ become too predictable. They start matching good transfer songs, with other good songs, but always play them together. The regular patrons pick up on this pretty quickly, and become annoyed. I remember saying to one DJ: ďOkay youíve found the perfect mix, can you play something unexpected tomorrow?Ē. It was an awesome mix, but after ten weeks of trying to find it, we were all pretty sick of the music.
At moments like this, a DJ really does need to play some requests, so as to not play all the same stuff. But overall, you have to expect them to hate playing requests. They will often have the perfect track in mind, and do not need an amateurís help. Often one song will remind you of another good one, because of a similarity. If the similarity is right, a DJ might play your request. More often than not, polite DJs will work around to your song eventually, so donít be too disappointed if it takes some time.
Always keep in mind, a DJ is their music. If you request a song, they can be taken as an insult, so ask politely and expect a pretty blunt reply. Always try to keep in mind that a DJ will be working to a plan. If you think about what you are requesting, and time the requesting of your favourite songs right, you could hear more of your favourites.