The Art of Disc Jockeying

A guest post on the 6 ways to create an unforgettable dance floor by Stacey K—a writer, blogger, traveler, hairstylist, and DJ based in Edmonton, Alberta.

I never — and I mean never — would have guessed that at some point in my life, I would make a living playing music. I kind of play clarinet, I can lead a rag-tag campfire singalong on guitar, and I can plunk out a few chords on the keyboard.

That’s it.

But two years ago I was desperate for work, and, in a sea of job postings, one seemed to jump off the screen: ‘Wanted: Part-time DJ’s for Busy DJ Company.’

When I started out, I knew nothing about sound equipment, had never tried to mix one track into another, and I certainly had no intention of building a reputation as a DJ. I was surprised to learn that creating a killer dance floor has a lot less to do with technical skills than I had originally thought, and a lot more to do with connecting with people.

Want to know how to become a DJ?

Firstly, I’d recommend reading this interview with dj questlove, founding member of The Roots, as it holds some of the most influential advice on DJing that I have ever read. Failing that, here are the five most important things I’ve learned while falling in love with my job.

Use emotional connection and familiarity to get people dancing

Generally, people don’t dance to songs they don’t know. Occasionally, if you’ve already won them over, you can sneak in some unfamiliar stuff towards the end of your show, but by and large, familiarity is the key to engaging a crowd.

No, I don’t want to play the chicken dance.

Ever.

But the truth is, for some people, old ‘cliche’ songs are part of the fabric of their memory, and a night isn’t complete until they’ve made little chicken-mouth hand motions beside their Auntie Kathy on the dance floor.

That said, the best kind of familiarity to play on is the nostalgia of when people first started listening to music – what was popular when your crowd was 16-25? I love playing for a crowd that is mostly my age, because I know exactly what late-nineties pop music is going to play on those nostalgia cords.

There’s a certain age of women who run to the dance floor when ABBA comes on, and a certain age of men that will almost always get out of their seats for the Rolling Stones. Use that to your advantage.

It’s not about you

It may seem counter-intuitive to building your reputation as a DJ, or your personal ‘brand’, if you will, but your performance is not about you. It is about your crowd.

You may cringe when you drop it, but if a song you hate elicits a cheer from the dance floor, guess what? It’s making you appear to be The Best DJ Ever in their eyes.

If you want your crowd to remember you after they leave the dance floor, you’re going to have to check your ego at the door, and play whatever it takes to keep the dance floor moving.

Pay attention

A good DJ is always listening and always watching.

Dinner music is a crucial time to collect information on your crowd that you can use to build your dance floor later. I am always watching the room, looking for what gets heads bobbing. Sometimes a song comes on during cocktails, and you see a person’s head go back and a smile come across their face as they say, ‘Oh! Great song!’ Pay attention to those moments, and make note of the reaction certain songs get from the crowd.

Sometimes people will surprise you. For example, one time a mother of the groom, easily in her sixties, insisted that I play only Macklemore as the night carried on – but often clues gathered from ages and cultures are a good hint.

Tailor your set list to your crowd

NEVER use pre-made playlists – not even for dinner or cocktail hour. It’s stagnant, cliché, and boring.

I can’t tell you the number of times that I have had guests come up to me to tell me that their expectations for me as a wedding DJ were very low – and do you know where that comes from? The fact that every wedding they’ve been to in the past decade has had the same music, played with the same games, spliced with the same old slow songs, preceded by the same dinner music.

I love the classics just as much as anyone else, but people are sick and tired of hearing the same old music.

Continually expand your music knowledge

I am always, always listening for inspiration.

If I’m watching a movie, and I hear something new I think will work well during an event, I write down some lyrics and find it later. Some people use Shazam, which is good too. I never have. I think I like the thrill of the chase, trying to track down that mysterious new melody.

Sometimes I hear an old song, that I forgot even existed, and I think, yes! This will be perfect for that wedding I’ve got coming up – the one that wanted lots of jazz.

I don’t listen to the radio much, but I try to make a point to when I am about to DJ for a young crowd. A few hours of listening to a Top 40 station, and you’ll definitely know what the current number one songs are.

Lastly, if there is one thing you take away, let it be this:

Connect with your audience on a personal level

This isn’t just crucial when it comes to music selection, it is also what will win your clients over. If people trust you and like you and feel that you are there to serve them, it’s rare that they will give poor feedback, even if your dance floor falls flat.

When it comes to gear and technology, fake it until you make it. Learn as you go. A basic understanding of gear will go a long way, but truly, every venue is different, and it will take a while before you are prepared to walk into a situation/venue and anticipate potential challenges, and that is only learned through trial and error.

No one wants to make an error when all eyes are on them, but truly, people forget about these things if you connect with them on a personal level, or through playing music that tickles their nostalgia bone.

Here’s one parting gift: Sam Cooke. Go buy his Portrait of a Legend album. Every song on that album can be part of creating an epic dance floor. I’ll let you figure out how.

Cover photo by Adam Gaumont.

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Foundation—Interviews With Entrepeneurs

I’ve recently been watching Foundation, video interviews with mostly tech entrepreneurs, hosted by Kevin Rose, one of the cofounders of Digg.

They’re really good. If you’re into startups, starting things, or hearing the stories of how the big players in the internet/tech world got to be where they are, check it out.

Here are some of the big names who have been interviewed so far: Jack Dorsey (Twitter, Square), Philip Rosedale (SecondLife), Tony Conrad (about.me), Dennis Crowley (Foursquare), Leah Busque (TaskRabbit), Tim Ferriss (4-Hour Workweek), Kevin Systrom (Instragram), Scott Harrison (charity:water), Elon Musk (Paypal, SpaceX, Tesla), Tony Hsieh (Zappos), Ev Williams (Blogger, Twitter, Medium), and David Copperfield (illusionist).

corporate consumerism: the end of simple shopping

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I’m a t-shirt and jeans kind of guy. I’ve got simple tastes. I frequent the chain stores of the thrifty hipster class: Target, Ikea, Trader Joe’s*. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could just about get by on those three stores and no more.

Over the last few years, I’ve grown more aware and interested in the consequences of my most basic decisions, including where I choose to spend my money. Not only that, I’ve also grown more and more tired of the soul-sucking mega-multi-national corporations. I’ve come to believe that bigger corporations equal more corporate employees which equals, roughly, less fulfillment, less creativity and less skill per capita (as well as more inequality, more hierarchy and less transparency). I think small business is the way to go, both as alternative career path and alternative consumer destination. The interwebosphere is making that a more viable and less risky option all the time. But what about the good ol’ brick and mortar stores, where, I’ll go out on a limb to say, most of us still prefer to go most of the time?

And if I believe so much in supporting local small business, as I claim to, why do I still spend most of my money at big chains, or even small chains? Continue reading “corporate consumerism: the end of simple shopping”

The art of hip hop

the art of hip hopKRS-One has described hip hop in many ways, but my favorite was on his album with Marley Marl entitled ‘Hip Hop Lives’. The song was called ‘I Come Back’ and in it he gives a couple acronyms, my favorite being ‘Holy Intergrated People Having Omnipresent Power’. That’s comforting to me. I love it. Because hip hop at its core is a movement. It’s action. It’s a culture.

You need to understand that hip hop is one of the most prominent genres of music and it is barely thirty years old. You also need to understand that it came from nothing. A few kids in the South Bronx had no instruments, but their parents had a turntable and so did their buddy’s parents. So let’s play records back to back to back. Matter of fact, let’s just play that real funky break and we can jam all night to that rhythm. That’s the birth of the DJ in a nutshell. Continue reading “The art of hip hop”

the art of relationship

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The art, the structure, the mathematics and beauty of life, of me and you, of two people relating in ways we should. Reasons and rules life exists by.

There is a formula. There are ingredients. There is a mix, of colors and spirits, that makes something beautiful, something beyond.
I dare to share. Will you dare to hear?

What are little girls made of? Cinnamon and spice, and all things nice. That’s what little girls are made of.

What are little boys made of? Snails, puppy dogs tails and all things gross. That’s what little boys are made of.

What is a relationship? Continue reading “the art of relationship”

Your trek to becoming a videographer

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To begin a successful video production you must start with the end result, or at least what you hope to achieve. When at the brainstorming level, ask yourself some basic guideline questions: What or who is the subject matter? Who’s going to watch it – i.e., what is your target audience? What is the overall goal for this production? Who are you trying to make famous, the topic or yourself? Installing this practice from the get-go sets efficiency in motion. Answering these questions also offers practicality and gives you the boost to sketch in the emotions, influence and message you’re trying to convey to your viewers. Take these simple steps as a hinted list and apply them, then proceed to launch yourself from pre-production into production.

We now journey into picking up a moving image camera and printing the story in our head to tape. Production is where the videographer shines. The set has now become a place of residence where they bring vision to reality. A great shooter is not only able to set up the ideal shot, get the right angles and capture essential moments, but they also approach each scene with an editor’s point of view. Since the editor needs to tell the same story by piecing together the images provided by the videographer, it’s essential the videographer has the forethought to gather more than enough video. If you take anything away today from this learning session let it be this – thinking in terms of editing is going to give you above average results every time! Continue reading “Your trek to becoming a videographer”