Making the Cut By Stu Chisholm

May 17, 2013 by Stu Chisholm

Way, way back in my junior high years, I had a study hall in the gym. I wasn’t particularly athletic, but I loved to run, so I’d spend that time doing laps, burning off that nervous energy that all teens seem to have (and that I now envy). The gym had a balcony, of sorts, and this is where the girls who also had study hall would bring their records and portable phonographs. You’d see them walking the hall with those 45 record cases that looked like they might hold a small cake. They always had all the latest hits. They’d sit in a circle in the balcony playing them as I ran. It was cool…at first.

What wasn’t cool was that these girls never let a song finish, starting to play it, and then suddenly interrupting it after maybe a minute or so. Then they’d repeat with every great song of the day. It was especially annoying when it was a song I liked and I was keeping pace with! But they didn’t care. In fact, they probably didn’t even know I was alive. They were too busy mooning over Tony Orlando.

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THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME

That was the catalyst that turned me into a serious music collector. If I couldn’t hear my tunes all the way through at school, at least when I got home, or when I was delivering newspapers (my job at the time) listening to my tapes, I would be in control! And later on, when I became a mobile DJ, the start of my business greatly helped by my years of collecting music, I made sure that each and every song was played as intended, uninterrupted and continuously. I rode the wave of disco, mastering the smooth mix, letting songs ride, sometimes even bringing in a third or fourth track. When house, trance and techno came along, I was quick to adapt those mixing skills to the new genres.

Imagine, then, when I saw a post by a respected colleague on Facebook who does weddings and occasionally spins nightclubs, as I used to do (and still occasionally pinch-hit when needed) talking about a DJ he heard who cut songs together fairly rapidly, never letting more than a minute or two play before bringing in the next. He virtual-yelled, “Cut those songs, DJ!” To him, it was a revelation. To me, it was a recurring childhood nightmare.

In another DJ forum, another DJ asked, “How long should you play a song before you mix in the next song?” He also wanted to know how long he should let the two songs “ride” together before fully switching over.

SHOCK AND AWE

Once I let my general sense of “egad” subside, I realized that this was actually a question of style. It’s not that there’s a general rule that everyone should follow, but it’s how you as an entertainer want your show to sound. I then realized that the answer is all about the context. At a wedding or traditional party, cutting the favorite songs of your client and their guests short might not fly! In a nightclub, however, your mix is your art, and how you do it is what sets you apart. Experimenting isn’t a risk; it’s a rule! DJs with buzz are innovators. Nobody talks about the DJ who imitates. They talk about that first DJ! Or, at least the first one they hear in the area with that style.

The public attention span growing shorter, it shouldn’t have surprised me that some club goers, and by extension, some young couples planning weddings, now request this type of manic ADD-style music mixing. So, as REO Speedwagon sang way back when, it’s time to roll with the changes!

There are a couple of positives. First, quick-cut beat-on-beat mixing is fairly easy. The long ride-over, silky smooth club mixes of the past are still appreciated, but aren’t necessary. Just cut-in on the “meat” of the song, give ‘em a good chorus and then move along. The second advantage is that you’re able to fit a lot more music into the time available! When playing full- length hits, you’re lucky to fit 15 songs into an hour. After dinner, you’re also lucky to have three hours for all the dancing and activities at a typical wedding. If you have a long list from your couple and guests are clamoring for the newest, hottest tunes, it’s now easy to fit in 25 or more songs!

DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

Having performed both styles, I will say this: only once in my 33 years have I ever had anyone comment negatively about playing full-length tracks. (And this was recent.) When I perform the quick cut style, I commonly get asked why I cut someone’s favorite track short. These comments come from departing guests, of course! For private parties, the style of the evening is always discussed in great detail with the client. This should go without saying, but here I’m taking no chances.

BEST PREDICTOR OF THE FUTURE: THE PAST

As long as I’m tying past and present together here, I’d also like to take a moment to mention the dynamics of a party and human nature. Over the past few months, I’ve been clearing out space in my file cabinets by transcribing my old Music, and various dance trends, are a constantly evolving continuum, yet sig- nificant changes aren’t really caused by the music. They’re caused by us, entertainers. paper program logs into Excel files. I’ve kept program logs even longer than I’ve used contracts! They’re extremely useful tools, giving a snapshot of each party from start to finish. As I write this, I’m working in the year 1998, and there’s a surprising amount of things that those parties have in-common with those of today. For instance, the order of various party elements, such as the cutting of the cake, the tossing of the bouquet and the father/ daughter dance are all in the same general time frame. The swell of response from the audience, which I track with a number (1 to 5) follows a predictable path. Except for the actual music content, my reception in June of ’98 is indistinguishable from June of 2012. This isn’t something I impose. It’s all based on the dynamic (“reading”) of the crowd.

In fact, some of the music IS the same! Most wedding DJs are still playing “Wonderful Tonight,” Shania Twain’s “From This Moment On” and Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me.” Here in Detroit, we still play Stevie Wonder’s “My Eyes Don’t Cry” (known by the general public as The Hustle), and pop tunes that were new back then, like “All My Life” by K-Ci & Jojo, Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” and “C’mon ‘N Ride It ( The Train)” by Quad City DJs frequently find their way into current sets. Heck, I’ll bet entertainers will still playing “Old Time Rock And Roll” in the year 2100! We’ve traded the Macarena for the Harlem Shake, but I note that the audience is ready for them at about the same point during the party. The “must have” hits of that year that seemed so important, Madonna’s “Ray Of Light,” and “One Week” by the Barenaked Ladies, have been MIA from request lists (and my program logs) for years.

WHAT IT MEANS

With this vast overview, it’s easy to see that the dynamics of a party and human nature are fairly static. Music, and various dance trends, are a constantly evolving continuum, yet significant changes aren’t really caused by the music. They’re caused by us, entertainers. You can probably name the big innovators in both the club scene and private parties because you’ve been reading Mobile Beat! The question, then, is what will you be known for 15 years from now? When your clients are looking at their wedding album in the future, will there be a photo of an activity that no other DJ’s clients will have? Or an autograph by a party guest that you inspired to write, “Damn, that DJ made my day”? Engage your creativity, innovate and change the world! Until next time, safe spinnin’!

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Stu Chisholm Stu Chisholm (45 Posts)

Stu Chisholm had been collecting music since he was about eight years old and began his DJ career in 1979. After much hard work, trial-and-error, and a stint at the Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts, he studied the DJ arts with famous Michigan broadcaster, Bill Henning, at a local college. Stu interned at Detroit’s rock powerhouse, WRIF. To his radio and mobile work Stu later added club gigs at Detroit’s best venues, and voiceover work. He has shared his extensive DJ experience through his Mobile Beat columns, as a seminar speaker and through his book, “The Complete Disc Jockey: A Comprehensive Manual for the Professional DJ,” released in 2008.


Filed Under: Business, Issue #149, Music, Performing, Sales & Marketing, Sound, Weddings