I have severe FOMO. Like clinical, textbook diagnosis, should be medicated FOMO. For the sake of this article, I’d like to ignore the undoubtedly ugly underlying issues that result in this paralyzing FOMO and instead examine one of its positive influences in my life. This FOMO—this incapacity to decline an invitation, to miss a party, an event of any kind—has put me in contact with a good deal of event playlists and a good deal of amateur DJ’s. As a consequence, I’ve seen both good and bad compilations, both exciting and boring sets. And I’ve come to one conclusion: Amateur DJ-ing, the assembling and compiling of a playlist, is an art.
Diligently wading through the sea of available music, fishing out the perfect selections, and then curating the honored choices into the proper timeline of crescendos and decrescendos of emotion requires not only talent, but also meticulous effort. Or, you could just play the top 40 hits from 2011 (I’m looking at you, Shooters).
But what makes someone a “good DJ”? In this world of diverse tastes, is it possible to successfully navigate the perilous terrain that is selecting music for other people to listen to? Here are a few pointers that might help your chances.
Know your audience
This may seem obvious (and to a certain extent it is), but it still number one on this list for a reason: it’s really fricking important. Like any artistic endeavor, the value of the art lies in how the audience receives it, and certain audiences have certain tastes. There’s no need to do any serious investigation on the crowd’s taste, but make some educated guesses. You’re not going to play the same set on a road trip with your middle aged mom as you would at a Friday night rave. Also, don’t be afraid to push boundaries a little bit and gauge reaction. One out-of-the-box song won’t blow the night, but it might give you some more insight into what the group is feeling that night. By recognizing the crowd’s taste, you’re allowing yourself to create an enjoyable experience for all involved.
Genre choices are important, but they certainly are not the only decisions to make. There are a lot of different feelings alternative rock can produce. For those choices you’ll need to look to the mood of the room, and more specifically what mood you want to create for the room. Is it a dancing party? Is it a relaxing hang out? Or is it an erudite discussion on the merits of Post-Structuralism? A fun day in the sun can turn melancholy and moody quick if there’s too much Bon Iver on the playlist. But conversely, a stagnant get-together’s atmosphere can really be “turned to 11” if you achieve the right equilibrium ratio of Kanye-bangers to non-Kanye songs (Spoiler alert: it’s 1 to 0). The DJ wields a unique and awesome influence on every single person in the room, and, as Uncle Ben told Tobey Maguire in 2002, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
No one is saying you need to compromise your own artistic tastes. Just because the crowd is a heavy metal biker gang doesn’t mean you have to ignore your own predilection for 90s neo-soul. You also don’t have to go after Fat Mike’s old lady like they are telling you to do. What you do need to do is find the crossover between the two tastes (and stay as far away from Fat Mike as possible). While there isn’t too much overlap between heavy metal and neo-soul, a band like Ugly Kid Joe does blend elements of both styles together. Furthermore, compromise doesn’t necessarily have to come in the form of every song maintaining some degree of equilibrium. Don’t be afraid to do a couple for them and then take the music trend towards your own tastes.
The worst thing a DJ can do is to fail to recognize his or her own importance. Whether consciously or not, everyone in the room is paying attention to the DJ’s decisions, and they are judging their experiences based off the ambience and energy he or she creates. So have fun. Play that one tune you’ve got on stuck in your head. Give the crowd what they want every now and then. But focus! Because this is serious stuff.
Picture Source: http://wallpapertube.com/music/1-other-music-dj-dj-console-wallpaper