Staying Alive without Contemporary Parties by Mark Johnson

March 26, 2006 by Mobile Beat Staff Writer

Can a DJ cut out a large audience segment and still survive?As you may have been following in some of my recent articles, I have been bemoaning the current state of contemporary music. I’ve explored the reasons why today’s music has such a short shelf life, mobile DJ-wise. I think we’d all like to have fresh songs that have some staying power instead of always having to fall back on the same tired DJ standards that have their own staying power.

Again challenging the idea of Music for all Occasions,” let’s explore what I would be leaving behind should I decide not to perform for certain contemporary occasions.

Only the Young

First and foremost, the most demanding audiences for contemporary music are found at school dances. I have always enjoyed playing for dances, as schools have been a large segment of my clients. I’ve written many articles about advertising to schools, maintaining a long-term relationship, and how to conduct oneself at a school dance with all of the various distractions. To retire from contemporary music will certainly mean no more school dances.

Second will be sweet sixteen parties. These have always been another favorite audience of mine, as they typically oriented towards the girls-who always dance a lot more than the boys. (Actually I don’t recall ever being part of a sweet sixteen party held for a boy.)

Sweet sixteen parties involve basically the same music you could play at a school dance, although the need for absolutely the latest songs will be replaced by the more girl-oriented songs from the disco era and more dancing songs instead of the recent hard rock and heavy metal/alternative songs that appeal more to boys. Sweet sixteen parties are definitely still in the contemporary category; you simply can’t deny the “Kelly Clarkson effect” on current music.

High school and middle school graduation parties are a third audience that may fall by the wayside. These are both boy- and girl-oriented, with the music leaning towards the gender of the guest of honor. If it’s sponsored by a school, then the music is pretty much the same as a school dance. If it’s a private party, then you have a greater risk of missing the mark on the right music for this smaller audience.

Confirmations, communions, mitzvahs, birthdays and other youth-oriented parties will also run the risk of being removed from your list of potential audiences. While these tend to be family parties as well, they still have the requirement for contemporary music. You could fake it by focusing on other time periods. But there will always be requests for up-to-the-last-minute songs.

One final note on my beloved school dances. I could advertise to perform for “retro-only” dances, i.e., focus only on a particular time period. I’ve been running into a few ‘80s party concepts, and if a school could commit to keeping the party retro, then I could dodge the contemporary bullet. Unfortunately my memory keeps reminding me of the supposedly retro parties I’ve played for that were just excuses to wear retro clothing and featured only a token selection of retro songs. Imagine 200 kids doing The Electric Slide with poodle skirts, bobby socks and saddle shoes. Weird.

Where’s the Party?

To not give up my DJ business entirely, I’ll focus on the events that don’t require as much contemporary music and maybe save myself from early retirement.

Weddings: Clearly a highly competitive environment, DJ-wise. But they don’t have quite as much demand for contemporary sounds, as the bride and groom are certainly not kids anymore, and the other guests are adults requiring more time-honored music, as opposed to the flavor of the week.

Block Parties and other Family Parties: As long as the theme of the party is not focused on the occasion for a child, i.e., a birthday or graduation, these family-oriented parties can be performed using the wide range of music that is not contemporary. Sure, the kids will want the latest and greatest and you can try your best. But the party will be a success if the adults think it is, and the casualties are kept to a minimum.

Corporate/Office/Holiday Parties: Kelly Clarkson need not apply as the attendees are most certainly all adults.

30, 40, 50, 60, 70, etc. Birthday Parties: These are usually adult-only affairs that won’t call for contemporary music. Once in a while you’ll get a very current request but the overall flavor is time-honored classic rock, disco, oldies and other adult-oriented party music. “Freebird” anyone?

Retirement Parties and Reunions: Clearly not contemporary, as you’re either playing music from the guest of honor’s wonder years or music from the reunion class time period.

Beach Clubs, Swim Clubs and other large outdoor summer parties: As a DJ, I’m usually hired to keep the kids happy with a majority of their music selections, but still keep the adults happy with the obvious adult classics. One fortunate element about these parties is if I get hit with requests I don’t have, usually one of the kids will have an iPod or CD of that song that I could play. Cheating? Perhaps. But the show must go on.

I Will Survive

Are the lines drawn in the sand meant to divide the events between youth-oriented, combined and adult-oriented parties? Maybe. Those might be the distinctions that should not be completely surrendered, due to the state of contemporary music.

As I review my last year’s events, I realize that I can live without the youth-oriented events. Sure, I don’t get the multiple bookings that a school can offer with one phone call. Although I’ve basically stopped calling schools, I’ve found that focusing away from youth-only parties hasn’t hurt my business that much. I’ll miss them and the fun that was had. But it may be replaced with a more steady (and confidence building) collection of parties that I don’t feel so under-prepared for, as I do with today’s contemporary music parties.

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Mobile Beat Staff Writer (228 Posts)

This is the general editors account for Mobile Beat Magazine and Website. Who reads Mobile Beat online and in print and attends Mobile Beat events? DJs, VJs and KJs to start with, especially those who own and operate mobile entertainment services. They provide music, video, lighting and a myriad other entertainment choices for corporate events, wedding receptions, dances and innumerable other gatherings.


Filed Under: Issues from 2006