The Nerves of a Commercial DJ
Recently, a friend came to one of my commercial DJ gigs and asked how I could stand playing Pop music all night for drunken, belligerent patrons. The quick answer, “It’s a gig”. My friend had no qualms about expressing his opinion that he considered me to be a bit of an art snob because of my grant funded experimental projects done in both Missouri and New York. Normally I would argue with him and try to defend myself, but recently I have accepted that one of my imperfections is that I can come off snobby to some people. You can be a snob, you can be a working DJ, but you can’t be both.
At the end of the day, I have to come to terms with reality. The “Pop” in pop music is short for popular. Experimental music is not a popular genre or feeling amongst the masses. The numbers tell us that my Pop music loving audience isn’t the strange one…I’m the strange one. Just like grade school. Just like high school. Just like life has been as long as I’ve been cognitive. Experimental music is disconnected from the mainstream and so am I. With school music programs being dismantled and destroyed from coast to coast, the sophistication of the average listener is diminishing as I type this blog. What does that mean? That means that Pop music will get progressively worse because the listeners will slowly but surely forget and thus redefine what good music is. The immaculate arrangement and musicianship that constituted a Pop song when I was young is now replaced with a drum machine and a rapid-talking girl bragging about her drug-dealing boyfriend. And there you have it.
I know a few DJs that consider themselves to be above doing commercial DJ gigs. They play a bunch of weird stuff for no money and a bar tab and then make their rent money by rolling burritos all day. I don’t knock those people. I get it. If being a DJ were all that I had…maybe I would be that way too. As it stands, I’m an artist. I create art all of the time so I don’t need DJ gigs for a sense of fulfillment. A DJ gig for me is the equivalent of a normal person going to the office (only I get to drink on the job without getting fired).
If a DJ starts to buckle under the pressure…there are some tips.
1. 1. Don’t argue with stupid people. You can’t fix stupid. Many have tried and failed. Flowers for Algernon is just a book and a movie. It’s not real. Once a person gets stuck on stupid they stay stuck. If people want to describe music by race instead of genre…let them. You’re no match for that kind of stupid. Humor them. Ask them what they specifically want to hear that makes them feel like they’re hearing “white music” or “black music” and move on.
2. Become a Dance Nazi. If someone requests a song and then doesn’t dance to it…cut their song short. Let them know in advance, “If you don’t dance to your request I’ll cut your track short”.
3. Be nice even if it kills you. Your disgruntled, mostly unhappy patrons work 40 hours a week and are taking out their life frustrations on you. If they can put up with the misery of 40 hours a week then surely you can put up with their crap for 4 or 5 hours.
4. Nice, polite people get their tracks played first. The more a person gets rude and aggressive about you playing their track the further you should push their track back on the playlist (if you even decide to play it at all).
5. Stop taking yourself so seriously and have some fun. If you feel like you could be doing something better, then go do something better and shut up. If you think you’re such hot stuff then kick it into gear and prove it. Often, the only thing in your way is you.