In Search of Spinning Platters by Jay Maxwell

January 28, 2008 by Jay Maxwell

Web search and purchase options have given DJs a deeper musical reachIt’s rare these days to find someone without a phone either attached to his belt or handily tucked away inside her purse. My wife will sometimes phone me even when we are in the same store to see if I am still in the music section or if I have finished my portion of the shopping list. Why they can’t put the dairy section closer to the entertainment department is a universal question that has never been clearly answered for me. If ever there is a store that has milk just one aisle from music, I’ll be a fan of that store forever.
Growing up on a farm in rural Southwest Georgia (where milk was just on the other side of the fence), I recall being taught how to use the telephone. First, we were on a “party line,” which meant that ten other homes were on the same line that we were on. In order to use the phone, you first had to pick up the phone to make sure that no one else was on the line. If someone was already talking you had to wait to use the phone. Of course you could also either listen to their conversation (the original electronic grapevine) or join in if you wanted. There was many a time I recall hearing my mother tell someone to “put the phone down,” or “we’ll be through in just a few minutes and then you can use the phone.” When a family finally was able to afford a private line, you could consider yourself part of the snooty crowd. The same year that we put a man on the moon, my family finally upgraded to a private line. We still talked to the same people, but waiting to use the phone had become a thing of the past. To call Johnny or Steve, I no longer had to listen first to see who else might be on the line, now I could just instantly let my fingers spin through the rotary dial. I realized then that more progress meant less waiting.

Musical Treasure Hunting
During my career as a mobile DJ, one of the rewarding accomplishments has been to find all the songs requested ahead of time by a client for her event. Typically we already had the vast majority of songs, but often there were a few that we had to track down. From an early age, I’ve enjoyed the thrill of hunting for a rare item. The farm that my family owned was also a site with a plethora of American Indian artifacts including arrowheads. It was a lifelong pastime of my father to search for these treasures of the past, and a favorite memory of mine was when he would let me help him search the freshly plowed fields for these treasures from the past. As a DJ, the treasure became finding the musical gem requested by a client. Often the client would state that for several years he had been trying unsuccessfully to find the song, yet was expecting me (the DJ/music expert) to miraculously be able to locate the tune. For me it was often as time consuming as trying to find an ancient relic in the sand, but when the wait was rewarded with the requested song, there was an overwhelming sense of satisfaction.

Gathering Treasure with the ‘Net
Just a few years ago, the search for specific music was made much easier and quicker with the internet. When the opportunity was first offered through the Web to download music, I didn’t jump on board. The reason for my hesitancy was my doubts about the legality and ethicality of getting music for free. My personal conviction was that not rewarding those in the entertainment industry for their artistry was illegal and this was eventually verified by the courts. Shortly thereafter, the virtual stores began charging for their music making the online sale of music legal. This is when I began to get excited, because I realized that this made the music store-thus the selection of music-vastly larger than the traditional brick and mortar location. Once again, technological progress meant less waiting to find the desired gems.
There have been numerous times when internet music stores helped save the day for me. I like to call these stores my “online party line.” In honor of this fact, this issue’s music list has a sampling of some of the songs that we’ve purchased online-for a party.
At a recent youth event I was helping one of my DJs set up, and before I left we had a dozen requests for one song that we didn’t have in the library, which had just begun receiving airplay on the radio. By the time I got home, the DJ had phoned me to say he had received another two pages of requests for this same song-“Crank That” by Soulja Boy, a song that was to become one of the top sellers of 2007. After immediately downloading the song via the internet, I returned to the event to satisfy 300 screaming adolescent dancers.
Another example of the Web making the impossible a reality happened for a wedding reception. We were helping a couple in planning the music for their wedding reception, and the bride’s mother wanted to hear a song called “The Voyage” for their anniversary song. She had heard the song only once, and that was when they were in Ireland at a pub. After telling her that it shouldn’t be any problem, it turned out to be a major challenge to discover. We finally located it using the Web, but several searches were needed before we finally located it.

What’s the Good Word?
One of the past joys of collecting music was pulling out the album from its jacket and reading the lyrics on the inside cover as the record was spinning on the platter. Now that we are often getting our music instantly from the internet, the question of knowing whether or not the lyrics are appropriate must still be answered, but requires a little bit more effort. Even if the music is bought from a traditional store or is supplied through a service, it rarely comes with the lyrics to the songs. Once again the internet has become a valuable tool, a quick search usually supplying us with the lyrical content. If it is too objectionable for our audience we will know ahead of time not to play the song.

Digging the Deep Cuts
From the DJ’s perspective the Web has made the finding of the necessary music much easier. Rather than having to walk the fields of the city to find an artifact, we now type in the song we want and instantly have the matter in hand. However, the Web has given everyone the accessibility to this immense array of music. Clients are now asking for music not played on traditional radio stations, but heard through the computer or satellite radio. The challenge to keep up with client’s requests is what keeps this job interesting and exciting. Finding all the client’s requests is like searching for arrowheads. Looking for requests locally in a store is like looking on the surface of the earth-you’re bound to find some. Or you can instantly dig several feet into the ground-by searching the internet stores-and find most everything you need. As much as I enjoyed finding most client requests before the party by using the older method, it is much more satisfying to know that through the internet we are able to find ALL the songs a client wants, in less time, so we’ll be ready when they shout, “Play Something We Can Dance To!”

Mobile Beat’s resident musicologist since 1992 (issue #11 and every one since), Jay Maxell runs the multi-unit, multi-talent entertainment company, Jay Maxwell’s Music by Request, LLC, in Charleston, South Carolina. He is also a professor of Mathematics and Business at Charleston Southern University. His passion for detail and continuous research of clients’ requests can be found not only in this column, but also in his annually updated music guide, Play Something We Can Dance To.
For an extended version of this article, including Jay’s song lists, get MOBILE BEAT #112, JANUARY 2008.

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Filed Under: 2008, Playlists, Songs & Music Charts