BLESSINGS IN DISGUISE OR DISASTERS WAITING TO HAPPEN?
Imagine you are the skipper of a brand new, fresh-paint-smelling, polished-brass, decked-out-to-the-nines luxury ocean liner. One night, while cruising across the Atlantic Ocean, a passenger saunters onto the bridge and up to you: “Captain I see an iceberg up ahead. Please get close to it so everyone can get a good look. Trust me, they’ll love it.” If you, the captain, with all the responsibility of that position, act on the passenger’s request, you’ve just made a mistake of Titanic proportions.
The original meaning of the word “request” meant to “seek again” or to “ask for again.” Then it changed grammatically into “demand,” then to “need” and finally to “require,” To me, the word has a kind and gentle tone to it, but more often than not, a musical request means “I WANT IT NOW!”
MAKE A HAND-STOP-SIGN IF YOU HATE REQUESTS…
Here are some of my least favorite requests: “You got anything else?” What do you have? Can you play #4 on the album?” Can you play anything better?” and my all time favorite (not) “Play it, they’ll love it”. I’ve also experienced the un-request: “take that song off right now or I’ll kick your ass!” (Now you’ve got my attention.)
I especially hate it when I see two females approaching me with a guy in tow for obvious reinforcement. I know I’ll have to play their request regardless of what I think about it.
DJ Kraft (Carl Botha) of Canada gets fired up about requests: “I’ll tell you what (I’d like) for improvements: rocket boosters and hidden trip wires to keep people from walking up to me with bad requests”
GRRR I’m a DJ feels requests are insulting: “We’re not asking for feedback, we are artists—how we put the music together makes us @#%^ artists.
ON THE OTHER HAND, RAISE IT (YOUR HAND) IF YOU LIKE REQUESTS…
Janice Peyton says some requests have hidden benefits: “Don’t dismiss some of the bizarre requests. Often, I’ve found that the host’s circle of friends have fond memories of some bizarre track that you would never have played in a million years, but sets the group on fire! Watch for that. You should get a feel for that from meeting with the couple, but sometimes, you gotta take a risk.”
Sometime I’ll take a risk by faking a request by “Mike” or “Scott”—I do this to test out a new song, to see if dancers take the bait. However, as with any trick it can backfire. I once watched a DJ start his “show” by announcing, with great fanfare that he had (some astronomical number of songs) in plastic milk crates lined up behind him, and that he was taking requests. Unfortunately he didn’t have the first three songs!
HOW DO YOU HANDLE REQUESTS?
Carlos Hernandez, with Marathon Professional in Los Angeles, has his requests dialed in! He holds up a sign with his cell phone number printed on it. He asks his guests to text his cell phone with their request and their name. Hernandez says the phone requests keep people from coming up to him and provide lists of songs for him to consider playing or adding to his library.
DJ Cyro (on a YouTube video) says DJs need to take charge: “If you don’t control (requests) they’ll (kids) control you!” He hands out request forms and puts card on tables (with his logo on them). “Keep it simple: “If it’s a song that no one will dance to, I tell them I’ll look for it and play it if I have it.” Can’t argue with that.
I put a pad and pen on the table next to my system. I ask them to write their request down and tell them I’ll try to find it. “Try” is the key word here. Sometimes if I think it’ll work I’ll play it, otherwise I’ll answer with “That’s a great song, I’m sorry it’s in my other music library.” This works great for protecting the wedding couple that doesn’t want a particular song played. You never want to tell the guests that the bride doesn’t want the song, because there’s a good chance that person will go up to the newlywed and complain—and now you’re the bad guy.
Every once in a while I get lucky and have the requested song ready to play as if we’re on the same musical wave length. In this case I jump all over it taking the mike in hand, I’ll have the requester ask me again for the song and then immediately play it—makes me look like a genius!
REQUESTS WITH A “CONTENT WARNING”
My favorite request came from a preteen for a song I wasn’t sure of. I asked her if it was clean and she responded “oh yes it’s been washed, it’s very clean!” She was so sincere; I had to contain my laughter.
DJ product reviewer par excellence, Brian Redd theorizes the appeal of suggestive lyrics: “The F-bomb is for shock value for 14-year-olds who buy music!” If his client insists, he will play a song with inappropriate lyrics but will announce a disclaimer with the name of the person making the request. I do the same thing.
Redd’s theory is pretty “Frickin” right on. Once when I was setting up for an elementary school gig a male student came up to me and asked if I would play a song I knew to be inappropriate. I told him it had curse words in it and I couldn’t play it. He responded “the bad words were the best part!”
Willy, of Sound City Entertainment, Isle of Man, UK is proactive about requests: “I have a note on my website reminding people to think about the true lyrical content of songs, also a statement that we reserve the right to NOT play certain songs with inappropriate lyrics.
Like ‘em or not, requests are an inevitable part of the mobile DJ’s profession. How we deal with requests can make or break the event, so we do well to consider beforehand how we’ll handle them. Remember, like the captain of a ship, you are in charge of the event’s musical voyage, and a lot of people are depending on you for a “safe” (fun, danceable, well-mixed) journey.
Mike Ryan started out writing for news radio, and has been a SoCal DJ on KGB and KSDS. He mobiles as Mike on the Mike. He is also the inventor/owner of Frankenstand Powered Speaker Stands. He is currently the president of the San Diego Chapter of the ADJA.
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