Becoming A Party DJ
This is just a few musings on becoming a party DJ, not an attempt at any sort of definitive guide. By party DJ I'm taking about mobile DJ's, mobile jocks, etc, where you bring the disco rig with you to an event, rather than DJ'ing for parties in clubs and bars.
So you love playing music to a crowd and fancy playing at parties? First things first – do you love playing the music you love or do you love playing music a crowd loves? If you only enjoy playing a few music genres you are personally into then becoming a party DJ is going to need to be based on finding clients who want exactly what you want. I don't know the best way to go about this as it isn't me, but a basic word or warning – if you market yourself as a generic party DJ and turn up to only play what you love you are going to have some pretty pissed off people unless by some miracle you get lucky and only land jobs where everyone loves your music too! General parties often have quite a range of age groups present (e.g. younger and older generations for birthdays, weddings, engagements, etc) and these age groups tend to have very different music tastes. DJ'ing at a club or bar doesn't typically have this problem as they will likely have a narrower musical style or reputation they are known for and that is what will be played, but for party disco hire people (not just the client!) tend to view you as there to play what they like, whatever that may be…
If you want to successfully DJ these parties then you need to love playing all sorts of different genres or get off on playing anything that gets people dancing whether you love it or not. So my first recommendation is obviously get yourself a really wide range of music across different genres and then get it organized so you can find particular genres in the thick of a busy and loud party. If you don't have an encyclopedic brain which can recall song names for everything and anything then iTunes playlists is a great way of doing this, as most decent DJ software will read iTunes playlists. I create playlists for music decade, music genres, warm up, pumpy, deffo crowd pleasers, and all sorts of other things so that I've always got somewhere to go to scan lots of song choices to give me ideas whatever the dynamic of the party. This takes time but is well worth doing so you are ready as soon as you start getting asked to play styles you aren't immediately mentally familiar with. On the way home after a party you will always kick yourself for not playing that track which would have been perfect for that moment, so think about ways to get your playlists to help you find that track at the moment you need it when the pressure is on.
Being a party DJ often involves quite a degree of people management, and its not always nice. As guests get drunk some won't think twice about telling you what you should be playing. They may be right of course and as part of your crowd they should be listened to, but they also often want to hear a song or genre they love but which may be a complete dance floor killer or loved only by them. There are loads of songs which sound great to people on the radio or on their iPod but are hopeless for a dance floor or party. As a party DJ, as well as trying to find the perfect mix that will please as many people as possible, your job is also to deal with all these people whatever they throw at you. Think ahead, how will you deal with some drunk telling you what you are playing is sh*t and you need to play x, y and z? My advice, be friendly, always. Whatever is thrown at you, shower them with roses and come back positively. "Yea great, I'll see if I can fit it in, in a bit", "I'll have a look but I'm not sure its right for tonight", "maybe but I've been asked to keep it a bit more ### tonight", "I'm getting lots of requests for this stuff right now but I'll try that a bit later if that's OK?", etc. Even really rude in your face drunk people can respect you if you come back to them positively and with a bit of reasonable reasoning. Sometimes they can even come round and become helpful by drunkenly going round getting some more useful requests from their mates you've got them to promise they'll all dance too if you play it!
Basically everyone at a party thinks they know the perfect music choices and as the DJ you often get to take the brunt of that amazing wisdom at the select moments they choose to share their valuable insights with you. Sometimes they are right and other times you wish they'd stumble off and keep their opinions to themselves. Of course whist often implying they would make a better DJ, they are not actually the DJ, they haven't put themselves in the position of being the DJ and taking on the responsibility of pleasing everyone, they haven't spent the last 4 hours trying to select perfect track after perfect track whilst still saving other perfect tracks for the end of the night, whilst altering choices and direction as the dynamic of the party changes. You'll never get it 100% right, there will always be some people who will criticize you, but if you manage to remain polite and friendly, don't let negativity get to you too much and stick to the plan of trying please the majority as much as possible you should get to the place where random people actually take the time to come up and thank you at the end of a party for some great music.
DJ'ing is obviously noisy, but party DJ'ing noise can really affect you if you are not prepared. Firstly you need to protect your hearing so consider getting yourself some decent musician earplugs if you are reguarly exposing yourself to lots of decibels. However by noise I'm talking more about noise that stops you being able to think straight and work as effectively as possible. As a party DJ you'll often find yourself crammed into a corner with your PA a foot away from each ear and also in venues with poor acoustics causing reflections that bounce the sound back at you in odd ways. With the pressure on you need to find that next perfect track but you can't even hear yourself think. As a specific genre DJ, like club DJ's with a typically much more narrow focus, you already know what you are going to play next as you know your rehearsed sets and variants and are fully prepared. But as a party DJ your last two tunes aren't going down great and you need to shift to something new and find inspiration in your music collection. If you can work by song name and know your collection inside out then this isn't going to be such an issue, but if you prefer to be able to quickly jump though playlists and have a quick listen to tracks to see what would work well you need to be able to hear them and yourself think, so invest in some good headphones. I can't recommend getting a good set of noise reducing headphones enough. I use Sennheiser HD25's which are great for this and a much loved DJ headphone generally. I also have a set of Sennheiser HD280's which are even better at shutting out the ambient noise, but at the expense of looking big and a bit dorky. Have a look around and see what works best for you, but being able to seal your ears inside a good quality set of headphones can really help save you when you're getting tired because you've been playing for the last 4 hours and just can't think for all the overpowering noise hitting you from the PA and crowd.
I say noise reducing headphones are less important for DJ's who are able to plan what they are going to play but in fact it can still be really important to carry a good set because you can often find yourself in venues with bad acoustics causing you to be hearing the sound reflected back at you out of sync with the crowd. Clubs deal with this problem by providing a monitor speaker for the DJ, but for party DJ'ing a decent monitor is often a luxury that doesn't exist due to cost or space. At these gigs being able to switch your headphones to hearing the main mix going out as you do a bit of your amazing and infamous DJ mixing can save you from sounding like a piece of crap to the crowd who are hearing the bass 1/8 second before you do from the PA!
You've decided to become a party DJ so of course you are going to have every crowd up and dancing all night long at every party you do. Yea, right! It may come as a surprise but not every crowd wants to dance and there are plenty of gigs where dancing only really kicks off for bits of the evening. Of course it might be because you are a sh*t DJ, but it is also just crowds and the mood they are in. Don't beat yourself up about it (unless you really are sh*t in which case maybe consider a change of hobby / career!). Early evening as guests arrive and people get mingling use your less pumpy stuff over the first hour or two. You are the warm up DJ, but unlike an actual warm up DJ you're also playing the main set so use the time to watch your crowd and learn. Any foot tapping or body swinging going on? See if you can spot any songs which seem to get a bit of a positive reaction and bank the observations for later. As the evening progresses up the tempo and see what people react to. If you get a group of girls up on the dance floor then play to them and try and keep them there. Vary the music a bit, playing the latest dance anthems for long periods is often not the right choice for older crowds so jump around a bit and see if you can find, say, some of those old skool or R&B classics that strike a chord. Just keep watching and thinking. If you suddenly loose your dance floor to a song choice it doesn't necessarily mean it was an awful choice, you may have just worn the dancers out or they now fancy a chat, maybe take the opportunity to change the genre or tempo and go somewhere else. I've done gigs where people dance all night long and I've also done gigs where virtually no-one danced and had really happy clients at the end of both of them. Sometimes the crowd just doesn't want to go there, the venue layout, atmosphere or mix of people is wrong for a thriving dance floor but people still really appreciate listening to a great mix of tunes. Plenty of bars don't have dance floors and dancing but people love them for the music played through the night. Whatever happens don't get phased about it even if some drunk arse is making out you are sh*t because the dance floor is empty – you are there to provide great music everyone enjoys and can have fun to whether they choose to dance or not, so do that.
Yep , for event/party DJ'ing you may well have to speak on that mic, even if only very briefly. There's plenty of opinions on mic talking out there amongst DJ's, how much is right etc, but ultimately I think it comes down to your personality and ability to judge your crowd. If you are the shy type the good news:- it doesn't have to be much at all. As a reasonable minimum I think its fine to just introduce yourself at some point early on, something like "Good evening ladies and gentleman and welcome to #####, I'm DJ #### and if you have any requests this evening do please let me know. We're partying through to #pm tonight and I hope you have a great time." There, you've done it, you've broken the barrier, introduced yourself and made yourself accessible to the crowd. Then at the end of the night maybe give a warning that we're going into the last half hour, any last requests, etc and finally announce the last song and thank everyone for coming. You might want to do more than that, up to you, but I think that is a pretty acceptable amount of talking for many parties. Some DJ's will tell me I'm wrong and more is needed, but in my experience that is fine and indeed perfectly appropriate for many types of party where the guests don't want to be interrupted by the increasingly annoying DJ. DJ's who claim that if you don't talk all night you are no better than the client sticking a mix CD on are talking rubbish, your primary job is to play great music based on the crowd and the mood, something a mix CD or pre-prepared playlist can't possibly do.
You'll also often be asked to announce things like "can you tell everyone the food is ready", "can you tell them the the bar is closing", wedding cake cutting and first dances. Think about what you'll say in each of these moments ahead of time and write it down so its there in front of you if you find yourself panicked in front of a big crowd. Finally, don't rush it, take your time to plan what you will say before you open up the mic, speak nice and s l o w l e y and smile as you say it. You are the entertainment for the night, the person leading the entire party through its music so even if it terrifies you the first few times, smile as you speak and sound fun!
Still keen? Great, check out these for more useful info
Digital DJ – Want To Be A Wedding DJ? – One of the best guides I've come across for wedding DJ newbies and also general DJ'ing at all types mixed age group parties.
Digital DJ Tips – Lots of info and guides on this site for DJ's of all levels
Pro Mobile – UK magazine for mobile DJ's