“Thou Dost Protest Too Much…” – William Shakespeare
The DJ community seems to spend a lot of time figuring out ways to market itself as an industry whose practitioners are far more than button pushing music players. And indeed it should. DJs – the professional ones, anyway – are more than music providers. We are (or strive to be) Masters of Ceremony, Event Coordinators, Planners, Lighting Designers, Technicians, etc. You know the list well. This “swiss army knife” branding is important in the effort to elevate our industry in the eyes of clients. But somewhere along the way, we’ve spent so much time shaking our collective fists in righteous indignation that we would be thought of only as “music players”. We protest too much. Sometimes I feel like we forget something very important. We actually DO play music.
Pardon me if I speak for a second as the musician I am….but music is a damn important part of what we do. At the risk of sounding downright blasphemous, one could argue music programming is one of the most important things we do. Isn’t music where this whole disc jockey thing started?
I just got back from another fantastic Mobile Beat convention in Las Vegas. The 2013 edition was full of informative seminars, great entertainment and a mouth-watering exhibition floor full of toys straight out of any DJ’s fantasies. The seminars covered a spectrum of subjects that are vital to our industry – marketing, sales, lighting design, lead management, and more. Fantastic stuff from business and personal growth experts from all over the country. But the one thing that didn’t seem to be talked about was the actual music we’re called upon to be experts about. Don’t get me wrong, I saw dazzling displays of mixing both on the exhibit floor and after hours. And there certainly were informative sessions about the technical aspects of actually delivering the music, like controllers and mixers. But it was interesting to notice an absence of specifically music-related seminars from the schedule.
But this is not just a Mobile Beat observation. Nor is it some sort of oversight. There is a high demand from both DJs and our clients for these other services. The shift in focus to other things in our DJ tool belts – most notably lighting – is nothing new and extends far beyond the walls of one convention. Knowing our DJ community as I do, I’m sure we’ve spent too many decades with tunnel vision about charts and top dance songs, perhaps at the expense of the important business aspects of our industry. So I’m glad those resources have become front and center. And I guess it makes sense to focus on the tools (like controllers), skills (like MCing) and services that not only have proven to be great sources of income, but that also are hard for the general consumer to have access to (like lighting). It’s certainly true that although they may not be able to expertly mix them, most consumers do have access to thousands of MP3 files at any given time. The music itself is not a scarce commodity so it’s smart to diversify our skills and services. But I guess it’s a bit startling to see music go from the back seat to not even being in the car at all.
Especially since music is still one of the first things most clients I consult with seem to bring up when I ask them what they’re looking for in a DJ. Almost universally they start discussions talking about what kind of music they like or don’t like. We know that lighting and state of the art sound equipment are vital in creating amazing events for our clients, but they don’t. What they’re more familiar with are their favorite songs and those of their guests.
Just as technical advancements in sound and lighting seem to be set faster than a thousand beats per minute, there are also always new artists, genres and sub-genres of dance music emerging all the time. Trap, crunk, dub. Half the time I’m not sure if we’re talking about music or the names of Sarah Palin’s children. If you think I’m kidding, look at this daunting list of dance genres. Of course we’re not going to be playing most of these at most weddings or special events, but the point is more are always coming and so are the artists that produce them. And we DJs are supposed to be the experts about it. There are also important musical aspects like time signature, rhythm, tempo and key to consider about the songs we play that are necessary for us to continue to study and discuss.
So while we rail against the stereotype of music players, let’s not forget…that’s what we are. Let’s keep talking about and studying the musical aspects of our business.
Protest can be good. Just don’t protest too much.
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