Monday, May 17, 2010

What Makes A Good Club DJ?

It's About Time Somebody Let The Cat Out Of The Bag

By the time you've finished this article, you'll know what the experts have to say and you'll have heard my not-so-humble opinion. Before we begin, you are cautioned to ignore what curiosity did to my friend pictured above.

Who Are The Experts And What Do They Say?

DJ Magazine is a monthly magazine that is generally recognized as one of the largest selling dance music magazines in the world. Beginning its publication in 1991, this magazine now has a circulation of more than 30,000 copies monthly and is so popular that it is translated into numerous languages.
Each year, DJ Magazine publishes its list of the top 100 DJ's based upon public votes. I would consider the top ten identified DJ's to be reliable experts on what it takes to be a good DJ. Here's what they have to say on the subject:

#1 Armin Van Buuren - "Timing and character."

#2 Tiësto - "A great DJ can adjust to the crowd, make them go crazy but still be able to do his own thing."

#3 David Guetta - "A great crowd."

#4 Above & Beyond - "Good taste in music, an open mind and experience."

#5 Paul Van Dyk - "The confidence of knowing what your own sound is. And not being a snobby ass and playing for yourself."

#6 Deadmau5 - "Their taste in music. It's a little bit of technical know-how, but 90% of it is the music you play."

#7 Ferry Corsten - "Knowing how to entertain the crowd. You're not there to educate. You should present new music without forcing it down people's throats."

#8 Markus Schulz - "Unique style and understanding of the momentum in the room."

#9 Gareth Emery - "Knowing the crowd is a fundamental requirement and looking like you're enjoying it."

#10 Sander Van Doorn - "A lot of interaction with the crowd. Playing a set is about educating on one hand, but also playing music that the people are there for."

My Not-So-Humble Opinion

As a proficient Latin dancer who has taught more than 800 people to dance and who has attended dozens of Latin dance clubs, I am not without my opinions regarding what makes a good DJ.

As DJ Paul Van Dyk implied, a DJ who plays for himself is no more than a snooby ass. Of course, it's natural for performing artists, and I consider DJ's to be such, to have big egos. However, when a DJ plays for himself, the listeners and dancers know it and they quickly recognize that the DJ is too egotistical to listen to his/her clients and to serve them well. A truly professional DJ will keep an open mind as Above & Beyond indicates, and will keep his/her finger on the pulse of the audience.

DJ Ferry Corsten says that a DJ should "present new music without forcing it down people's throats." Wow! He is so right. While it's appropriate to rely heavily upon music that you know is tried and true, you have an obligation as a DJ to introduce new music to your audience. This is what keeps the experience fresh for your fans. Balancing your desire to teach and to expose your fans to new music with their ability and readiness to accept it, is an art that must be mastered.

Knowing the crowd's taste in music is imperative according to DJ Deadmau5. My experience bears witness to this. When a DJ in a Latin club plays lots of salsa and small amounts of the other Latin genres, he/she will only be considered a good DJ by the crowd if they like listening to salsa music and enjoy dancing to it. While a Latin club population consisting of large numbers of Caribbean Latins may fit this description, a Latin club population consisting primarily of people of Central and South American decent would likely not. Of course, this is not exclusively true and it's the DJ's job to know the musical likes and dislikes of his audience.

Curiously missing from the opinions of the experts, is a point that I stress often. While it's not imperative that a DJ know how to dance, it really can make a significant difference and it's sometimes what separates the average DJ's from the excellent ones. As a lead-and-follow partner dancer, I feel a very strong need to dance to music that motivates me and that has a discernable beat that I feel all throughout my body. I assume the same is true for dancers of other types of music as well. Therefore, it seems to me that, a DJ who knows how to dance will feel the music as his dancing audience does and will know what it is they expect.

Now What?

Now that you know what the experts say and you're aware of the opinions expressed by this author, make up your own mind and decide who's the best DJ by using your newly acquired educated and critical eye.