S1E4 - DeeJaying for Dummies: WPP Nov 24, 2019
A little bit on my approach to DeeJaying, and why I sucked at first.
Welcome to The Whole Phil podcast, I am your host, Phil Reese, the DJ, that's my Facebook name, Really Phil Reese, that's my Twitter, Phillip J Reese, that's my Instagram, my dot com and my real life. This is the podcast where you get your whole Phil. I talk about whatever I want, with whomever I want, and do whatever I want, because there's no rules, no format, and no fucking censors (sorry Mom).
Thanks for joining me today, Monday, November 25th. Let me tell you a little about me, I'm a loving, lovable, fat, hairy, queer, inked, sober, spiritual, vegetarian, feminist radical leftist web developer, video producer and deejay in DC. Now that you know a little about me and where we are, let me know a little about you. Tweet me, at reallyphilreese, I'd love to meet you. Let's start the show.
Today's topic is DJing
I've been DJing professionally for 5 years now at bars, clubs and parties around DC. When I first started, I was not very good, but by plugging away at it, I learned some secrets to success, and today I'm going to discuss just a few of those secrets.
What's the difference between having a DJ and just having a preselected playlist or a jukebox at an event? A DJ is a curator, and can inject human judgement into selecting the music for the event. So to be a DJ you have to be discerning and responsive. That's what differentiates paying you to be there rather than just plugging in an iPod and hitting shuffle. You need to read the room and be willing and able to change the direction of your set on a dime based on the crowd feedback you're getting. This isn't feedback like comment cards, but crowd energy.
Why was I bad when I started DJing? It wasn't because I was messing up the fades between the songs or had lots of goofs. I got a lot of the technical tricks very quickly. But I tried to impose my taste on the audience, rather than being responsive to the crowd. I mean, every DJ imposes their tastes on their set, you'd just be an internet jukebox if you didn't. But I would go in with a set playlist of things I wanted to hear, and play through it regardless of how the crowd reacted. A better DJ connects with their crowd and the set becomes a conversation between them. Remember, when you're a DJ, you're there for them, they're not there for you, unless you're also a producer playing your own work.
And that's why most people wouldn't make good DJs right off the bat. While having an incredibly deep knowledge of music is a requirement for all DJs, the irony is that this can also be an Achilles heel. Most of us with deep knowledge and interest in music tend to also be music snobs, and a stubborn music snob can't connect with their audience. I love deep house music, but it's not everyone's cup of tea. It's not that I no longer have strong opinions about the music I like best, I'm still quite discerning, but I had to develop a little humility and open-mindedness in order to get better. Just because I think I know more about good music than these Queens, doesn't mean I can tyrannically impose myself on their good time. I'm there to serve them. So I need to be open minded about what I'm playing --to a point at least. If you're someone who dislikes more music that you encounter than you like, you probably won't make a good DJ.
Conversely, though, a DJ should never play a song they dislike or are unfamiliar with. Again, you are not a jukebox. Only play what's in your collection, and only add to your collection music you enjoy. I prefer disco, house and electro influenced tunes, and I tend to dislike the most stereotypical elements of trap, dubstep and Big Room, so my collection is tailored to that. That doesn't mean I have NO trap in my collection, I'm just discerning about what I add. And just because you get a request, doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea to play it, even if it's in your collection. Again, read the room. What gives a DJ set the human element is the discretion the DJ has about what to play in what order. But you must be flexible in terms of artist, type, genre, and era, depending on the mood of the room. So you need to have a deep catalog to select from, which means, you have to tone down your snobbery a bit. There are billions of hours of recorded music in the world. There is no way you can't find any common ground between your tastes and your audience's. But that means you gotta open up your tastes beyond your all time faves.
In terms of getting the mood right, this is an artform, not a science by any means. It takes a lot of practice. At the beginning of a set, I really like to play some very diverse tunes in terms of genre, era, sound, and mood. I pay close attention to the audience and see if I can catch some people's attention. If the mood is dropping in the bar when I'm playing something, I try to avoid playing anything like it again. When I find a group within the audience really responding to something I'm playing, I try to elicit a bigger and bigger response from them, based on the music they initially reacted to. If I'm successful, that mood becomes contagious. Usually a great party starts out with just one person having a good time, and the good time spreads out from them.
Therefore you have to have a deep bench of music to play. Again, a DJ is not a jukebox or an iPod so you should come prepared. But you also don't come prepared with a complete playlist you are married to. When preparing for a gig, you should pick 2-4 times enough music to fill the time you're playing. It helps if you've been to this venue or party before, and experienced a successful set there, so you have some parameters to work with.
More than 2-4 times is too much, and you'll end up overwhelmed, but less than 2xs, your bench is not deep enough. With every track, make sure you've listened to closely for quality, for spots where you can transition, and have thought about other tracks that would pair well with it. And of course, the music you pull for your gig must be diverse, but all must be music you like!
In terms of technique, that's really all learned in person and can't be taught in a podcast. But it's important that if you want to be a DJ, even moreso than your techniques, having the ability to respond to an audience's mood is the most critical factor in your success.
That's it for today. I hope you're enjoying the show. If you like what you hear, please subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts, just search Whole Phil, and drop me a rating on Apple podcasts or Google podcasts if you want me to keep this going. Tweet me at reallyphilreese with topic ideas you think I should cover. Thursday is Thanksgiving! If you're in DC, come see me DJ Thursday for a special Thanksgiving party at JR's bar on 17th Street NW No cover, ever. Learn more about my upcoming DJ gigs at my website phillipjreese.com. Next week I will have a special co-host for a very special episode! Watch out for that. And remember, be good to yourself, love yourself, and we're all in this together.
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