The Role of a DJ in 2014

Constantly I read through forums and social media groups about different things that are happening within our industry. From piracy to so-called “Sids”, quality of equipment to what people view as professional standards. I am always interested to read different peoples points of view, and I have to say the difference in those points is quite something.

I have been a professional DJ for not as long as many others, only since 2009, but in that time have been one of the resident DJs for Cunard Cruise Liners, co-owned a wedding DJ company, DJ’d at over 150 weddings & corporate functions, and currently find myself in my second year as a resident DJ in the summer resort of Magaluf, Mallorca. In my short time I like to think I have seen most sides of DJing, and am reasonably well placed to see both sides of the argument.

I see our role of being a DJ fundamentally comes down to entertaining the people in front of us, whether that be a small function for 40 people or thousands of ravers that have paid to come see you, our job is to make people happy. Everything else comes second to that, and if you don’t agree with that point then maybe this career isn’t for you.

In my opinion entertaining people as a mobile DJ can more often than not be harder than a club DJ. People who hire mobile DJs tend to be looking for the best DJ in the world for their event, which without being rude is being very optimistic Shibuya Kaho . A mobile DJ turns up to a venue with a hugely broad range of people 90% of the time. He/she needs to take those people, who very often are skeptical about having a party, and get them dancing all night. Club DJs (speaking as one) do not tend to have that problem; people who turn up at a venue tend to know what they are expecting, and come to the club for that reason. There are some incredibly talented mobile DJs out there, but with talent comes a price tag. I wouldn’t go to a Michelin Star restaurant and expect McDonalds prices, equally I wouldn’t expect McDonalds food for Michelin Star prices. That concept applies in all industry, DJing included. Which brings us on to the “Sid”.

I personally don’t like the term “Sid” (which I am lead to believe is from the phrase “Sixty quid Sid”). It is a demeaning term to describe someone who will DJ for a small amount of money because of very little overheads; most of the kit he/she uses is poor quality and little if any of the music they have has been sourced from the correct places, without mentioning lack of insurance and legal paperwork. My opinion when it comes to this is to leave them to it. I read a lot of people getting very angry at the presence of “Sids” in their area ruining the industry for them, but in my experience, if a “Sid” is affecting someone’s work, then that person has not proven to anyone they are better and more talented than a “Sid”. I know many DJs that get asked for work because people know who they are and they have been recommended, myself included. I have a price I am happy to go out for, and if someone does not have the budget for that, they are not the customers I am after anyway. It is down to us as individuals to show a customer we are worth the money we charge, leave the “Sids” to it, I am quite happy knowing I do the same amount of work as they do for a lot more income. Yes, they are a lot of the time working illegally, but just watch as the bars & customers that employ them start declining, and if you are good enough people will start to see the difference.

Onto a pet hate of mine. I had someone approach the DJ box a few months ago who asked what equipment I was using, which as we all know is code for “I’m a DJ too”. I spoke to him and of course he informed me he was an up and coming DJ in the area. I asked him “Where have you played?”, and his response was “Nowhere yet, just my bedroom, waiting to get my first gig”. I simply asked him what qualified him as a DJ, and he got very defensive about his mixing ability and technical skill etc. Now I am sure we have all had this at some point, and I can understand a DJ wanting to gain experience, after all we were all there once. I had a nice laugh about this (partly because my response of “I have sex in my bedroom, doesn’t make me a porn star”), but on a serious point there are a lot of “DJs” out there who have never played a gig, and I was under the impression there was no difference between “DJ” and “Professional DJ”.

DJing is an art, as arrogant as that sounds. Even in our modern age where it is easier than ever to learn how to mix, to get the equipment needed for a party, where the industry is just more accessible; I still think it is an art. Being able to see a room of people, work out what they want to hear, take them for a number of hours as their only source of entertainment, and get them to leave the venue at the end of the night having had a quality evening, is difficult to do. Being able to mix is a skill yes, and I enjoy the feeling of having two songs mixing perfectly, an acapella playing over the top of a drop adding that extra level, people not realising two songs have changed; we all know that is a thrill. But that is not the be all and end all of our job. It is about the atmosphere that is generated in the room, it is song choice and timing, it is seeing & having the knowledge to know what will work when, and using your skill to turn that ordinary playlist into a night people will remember. I use the mic an awful lot, and a lot more DJing in Magaluf than in the UK because it is a huge part of the job out here (you literally are an entertainer), but I use those skills in the UK to get a crowd from just dancing and enjoying “Another night in town” to “Wow that was amazing! We have to come back here”. That is the skill in our job, and a skill that should be charged for.

I think the biggest shift in our industry has been the mentality of bar owners. We all know money has been tight for business in the last few years, and we also know on paper the first place to cut costs will naturally be entertainment. I don’t agree with that, but we know that is the fact. However I also think it is our responsibility in our industry to educate bars and bar owners. We all will agree that having a good high quality DJ means more money in the tills, it means you can pay your own wage out of the extra money the bar has having you. Yet bar owners and managers seem to be surprised when you can prove this to them. When getting work before I have said to owners “give me a chance to prove to you that you will make more money with me here, if I prove that then we can talk”. Once you have a venue wanting you, price becomes a lot easier to discuss. I am constantly thinking when I am playing about what the bar is taking as well as my job getting people dancing. It works both ways, if people are enjoying what you are doing they will stay for longer, and come back week after week. The bar takes more, people have a better time, and your reputation grows.

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