What constitutes a “good” open format dj? Too often am I out on the town, or chatting with fellow deejays when the criticism of others, works its way into the conversation. Typical things I hear: “Why is he/she playing this?” “Why did he/she cut the song off so quickly” “Listen to that train-wreck” and so on.
I can’t say I’m not guilty of this. I believe all of us are, to some degree. It might appear like a simple question; however there are many factors to consider.
Let me start by saying, one thing that seems to be forgotten most is the role of a Deejay. By definition, a DJ is a person who selects and plays recorded music for an audience. I think that’s just the scratching the surface and should include that as a “DJ” you should be “creating a party”, even if people don’t dance they should want to dance and rage due to the vibe you’ve created.
Playing music that is appropriate for your gig is essential. For example; the other day I was walking through my neighborhood and passed a bar/restaurant, which has started to incorporate dj’s into their vibe. However, rather than play appropriate for the setting, this “DJ” was blasting progressive house music like he was playing main stage at a the Ultra Music Festival. It was obvious the people inside weren’t feeling it. This tells me two things:
1. He doesn’t know how to read a crowd.
2. He doesn’t understand that each gig/venue has an appropriate style of music that should be played.
There is nothing wrong with taking chances and thinking outside the box, however there’s difference between doing that and playing way off course. I’m not going to hate too hard though, because he looked very young and inexperienced, which all of us were at some point.
As an open format DJ, regardless of the type of venue, you should be well-versed in a diverse mix of genres both old and new. If you plan on making it in the open format scene, you had better be creative. Playing the same top 40 songs as every other dj, track to track will NOT make you stand out. From an owner’s perspective you’re the same as every other Tom, Dick and Harry out there, UNLESS you do something different that leaves an impression. There’s a reason why someone such as DJ AM was and is still respected by many nightlife veterans. He did everything any good open format DJ should do:
1.He was well versed in many genres, just listen to the diversity in all of his sets.
2. He was creative, if you listen carefully his creativity enhances the party, creates a good vibe and never takes away from it
3.Using turntablism, he added flair to his sets.
As an open format DJ if you’re not playing diverse sets, you’re being half-ass about your career. The whole reason why there is an open format scene is because people like variety, and if you’re not providing an eclectic mix you’re not doing your job. Are you expected to know every song from every genre both old and new? No, but you should spend time searching old and new songs from a variety of genres for something fun you can potentially play, and never be afraid to try incorporating something old or obscure into your set.
What’s the worst that can happen? People hate it? I don’t care if it’s a young crowd, you can still work in classics and create a good party, playing just the current hits is being naive. Finally, DO NOT get caught up playing the same genre for long periods of time, after all you’re an “open format” DJ.
Creativity, this can be anything from “word play” to songs with similar synths, beats, lyrics, etc. Put a little thought into your set, don’t just pick random songs and slam them together. It’s also very easy to let your creativity take away from a party.
I see it fairly often. I’ll be at a nightclub and the patrons clearly want a rager, meanwhile the DJ, is on a super creative yet really dull tear. If it’s taking away from the party what areyou doing? Take a second when preparing for a gig and ask yourself, will this song I’m considering incorporating take away from the party? What kind of energy/vibe does this song give off?
I don’t want you to think every song must be a high energy banger. However if you’re an open format DJ in a club and people are standing around with drinks in their hands starring at their cellphones, chances are it’s a not a song they jive with. Know the room you’re playing before you show up for a gig, I can’t stress this enough. It has happened to me, where I’ve shown up fully prepared to go in one direction and found myself scrambling to head in the actual direction of the room.
Owners and Operators, all too often they like to interject their opinions into your role and pretend like they know what they’re talking about. Some of them actually do, however a fair percentage in my opinion are clueless. Is this a fight you should always engage in? I’d say pick your battles and know what you are willing to risk if you lose?
Several years ago, I was in the middle of a party and a random girl kept pestering me to play a completely inappropriate song. After shooting her down several times she went to complain to management. Who then proceeded to come over and tell me to play her song. I told this manager that it wasn’t appropriate and that his party will suffer if it is played, he insisted, so what did I do? I cut off the song I had playing and let this miserable song play in it’s entirety. Only then did the girl realize she has horrible taste inmusic and this manager realized he should have ignored her. After that I was no longer harassed at this particular venue.
If you’re a good open format DJ, the only thing you should hear from management is: “What would you like to drink?” Yes, there are exceptions to this and yes, we all have our off nights.
Turntablism, is the art of manipulating sounds and creating music using turntables and a mixer. Is it essential? I’m going to say no, because I’ve heard many a DJ play a great set without a single scratch. What I will say is that, it does add quite a bit of flair to your set if done properly and it will set you apart from every other DJ that doesn’t scratch.
Volume. I can’t tell you how many DJ’s clearly don’t pay attention to their levels when mixing or just playing in general. Here are 3 typical volume fails:
1.If there’s distortion over the sound system.
2. When mixing if the song you’re mixing/scratching out of doesn’t match the level of the song you’re going into and vice versa.
3. When the room is mostly empty and the sound system is at it’s breaking point. A few tips on how to fix these issues:
-If the level meter in your software or on the mixer is jumping into the red, that’s not good, you need to drop it down at least into the yellow zone.
-Pay attention to the level of the song you have playing and the song you’re about to put on, adjust as needed and as previously stated STAY OUT OF THE RED, this is why those level meters are built into mixers and whatever software you use.
-The same way a party builds the volume of the music must follow the same trend. If the room you’re playing is empty there’s no reason why the sound system should be at its peak. It doesn’t need to be so low that people can hear each other across the room, this isn’t a coffee shop. Keep the music at a reasonable volume, which for me is a few decibels above the noise of the crowd in your room, it’s a fine balance between bleeding ear drums and hearing everyone’s conversation while you dj.
However, here are 3 simple guidelines to help:
In the early portion of the night you want to set a tone for the night ahead and build an appropriate vibe that jives with it. This is the reason why opening a party properly is so essential.
Peak hours, this is where you take that opening vibe to new heights and step upthe energy in the room.
Lastly, the final hour, this is what I like to call the “anything goes” hour. By now most people are usually drunk, on something or just continuing to dance because they love your selection. This hour could be used for anything from experimenting with a new song or maybe work in some fun classics, either way just don’t kill the party they survived this long.
Now to tie all of my rambling back in to the original question at hand, what makes for a good DJ? A good open format DJ is someone that demonstrates a broad range of ability (ie: scratching, mixing, use of effects). Has an impressive knowledge of multiple genres that he/she clearly ties into a set, and lastly, someone who puts aside their own likes/dislikes when it comes to music in order to create a great party. If you know someone who demonstrates all of the above in an effective manner, then you know a good DJ.
Let me add, that no one is perfect, myself included. However if you truly love the art of Deejaying then you will put in the time and effort to enhance your abilities. If not, then I don’t care where your career is at, you’re not a not a good DJ.
DJ Danny Rockz is a DJ at various venues around New York City. He is currently touring around the country with DJ Pauly D.
Get more information about Danny at his website
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