When I first started out as a DJ, part of it was because I wanted people to hear what I loved. I wanted my favourite songs to be played loud in an established club with ears that may not have heard my favourite songs before, and that’s why I carted 7 CDs in a bag with me when I found out that Planet had started a ‘You-Be-The-DJ’ type night. My name got called out, I got 20 minutes, and it changed everything.
A few weeks after that, I got my first paid gig. I got it by being cheeky and asking for a slot. A lot of people asked how I became a DJ over the years and my answer always seemed disappointing to them. Basically, getting the gig is easier than you would think. It’s the stuff that comes after that determines how successful you are. I shared a couple of insights in my previous article and lo, here is one more, but it’s an important one!
Use the requests to educate yourself.
Yep, I know. You have a great taste in music. The whole reason for you being here, behind those decks is to pretty much shout ‘LISTEN TO THIS!’ to a room full of strangers. You have to remember though, that DJing is a balance of give and take. Sorry, but so many people forget this. In order for you to be able to introduce music that people may or may not have heard of, you have to listen to them when they tell you what they want you to play. A familiar, well known song is something that you can drag your mates on the dancefloor to dance to, because it’s a 95% certain that you all know it, and you’re all drunk and want to dance.
The two extremes I see though, are 1. Mr Predictable, you know, the DJ who’s songs cause you to spend the evening telling your friends that oh, look, he’s playing Buck Cherry again, I guess this means NickleBack are on next… groan… etc, and 2. Mr Pretentious – the one who ‘doesn’t take requests’ and ‘If they don’t like what I’m playing, they fail as new rock spawn and should eject themselves off the planet’. There was a point in time when I didn’t know who Metallica was. There was a point in time when YOU didn’t know who Metallica was. What you do is play what they ask for (of course, vetted to see if it isn’t terrible on a catastrophic wtf level), and then put something on that you suspect should work because of how fantastic you think it is. It’s much easier to get somebody who’s pumped because you just played their Green Day request to listen to the rest of your set, than somebody who’s bitching to their mate because you scoffed in their face when they asked for inferior music.
My personal music taste is grungy flannely goodness. It’s my thing. I also like metal a fair bit too. The floor I played promised a mix of pop punk, indie, light rock, ska… and absolutely no metal. This was fine, because the metalheads got a nice floor all to themselves. It meant, though, that I had to get creative, because I had a catalogue of heavy stuff that was suddenly useless. I was fine on one hand, I had a bunch of awesome songs at my disposal that were a mixture of different rock genres… but I also didn’t know who a lot of the newer bands were. Requests are an excellent way to gauge who to check out. Why are so many people asking after this band? I used to write requests for bands, and then a notch next to the name for every one I got for the same artists after. And then I used to do my research, because at the end of the day, if a band is getting that much attention, I should know who they are.
The payback of all of this, is that I used to play grunge at the beginning of the night. The songs I loved, the songs that I thought people should hear. It was a quiet period, nobody had drank enough to want to dance yet, so the pressure to fill the dancefloor wasn’t existant. I allowed myself that hour to give a little of what I personally had to offer. I built a small following on that; people who started to come to The Planet early to hear my grunge set. It never got super busy. At the end of the day, 10-11 is still pre-drinking in a pub/at home time no matter how good your sets are, but to this day, that group that followed my grunge sets became to this day, one of my favourite things about my time at the Planet, and when the hour was done, they would disperse, and I would give the stage back to the audience, and fill the floor with Fall Out Boy.