Does the Dj read the crowd or does he/she play what they want to hear? Is the crowd being read to determine what to play to keep them moving and to maintain the flow of the party? Do the people get excited when they hear certain songs begin to play?
I’ve never liked dancing to music simply because music was playing. And having been Steppin’ now 15+ years, I’ve come to appreciate how music is played for the Steppin’ community. The right combination of Steppin’ classics, traditional and contemporary R&B, smooth Jazz, Fusion, New Age and Pop will keep a room full of steppers on the floor all night long. I’ve witnessed only a very few Djs who have the ability to read a crowd of steppers in the midst of an event and play exactly what is needed to keep the floor packed consistently from the time they begin playing until the set is over.
As I’ve traveled around the Midwest and across the country, I’ve taken note of the unique characteristics that make a Dj great. Ironically it seems, I’ve had these same traits myself as a dancer, a former Dj and lover of good music. I first got the bug for playing music in Gary, Indiana more than 40 years ago. I played locally mostly and was the resident Dj for the local chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. I loved playing their big holiday sets because they provided the biggest stage for performing. I wasn’t into masterful mixing at the time, I was into playing the right music at the right time to keep the crowd engaged…and it always worked! I distinctly remember being asked by an observer at a party once if I was from Chicago because he thought that I played music like the Dj’s in Chicago did.
Since those early days I haven’t played with any kind of real consistency, but I’ve always been aware of the kinds of songs being played that I tend to gravitate to as a stepper and the kinds of music that makes me want to dance. During my Steppin’ instructional years I would always put together a playlist of music that I had purchased in Chicago for my Saturday class which consisted of music that I thought my students would like dancing to. There was never a Saturday that passed where a student didn’t ask if the music was for sale or if they could get me to make a cd for them. You know your music is great music when your playlist is in demand.
My Dj’ing Philosophy
As a Dj, you must be able to read the crowd you’re playing for. What’s the nature of the event? Is it upscale or casual? What type of venue is it? Are you in a club, a ballroom or at a pool party? What is the makeup of the crowd? Are they 45+, 30-somethings or a combination thereof? Is everyone dressed to the nines, or is the overall attire of the event comprised of jeans and t-shirts? As a DJ I think you have to be mindful of these questions as the musical host for events.
Additionally, as the musical host there should be a method to how you play. Are you playing a string of songs just because they’re being played on the sets or are you creating a musical tapestry that takes the crowd higher and higher as you play? Does your music blend well so that it’s pleasing to the ear, or does it sound like “gym shoes in a dryer” as my good friend Darryl “DJ Chillnite” Clarke often says? Are you mixing in key and keeping your bpms tight from song to song to allow for smooth, seamless song transitions and are you bringing the new song in on the “1” of the musical count? Do you have the right combination of songs so that you provide something for everyone, or are you prone to playing that which only sounds good to you? I’ve learned that playing before crowds of people is an art that very few have really learned to master. And as I venture out to test the waters of my proficiency in the world of DJ’ing I’m finding that my style of playing is being appreciated by many; those who have been dancing for a while and people who have never set foot on a floor to dance at all – the blend of music and timing seems to work perfectly for them – because I love to keep it smooth!
There isn’t enough time in the day to go through all of the great music that I own that we dance to, but as a Dj I have the opportunity to make my mark in the game if I know what to play and when to play it. I believe that I have that unique talent and the “ear” for playing good music and it goes back to my childhood. I’ll create mixes exclusively for the AM website and you’ll be able to judge for yourself and when I do, feel free to tell me what you think. In the meantime, look for me out and about creating my own opportunities to play before crowds so that I may continue earning my 10,000+ hours requirted for mastery of the art.
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Keep it smooth my friends…I’ll see you on the wood somewhere soon! 🙂