It’s a responsibility. Your job is to make people happy. How do you know if people are happy? You need to learn to read the room or get to know your audience. You’re using your judgement, knowledge and time (so much time) to find new music, select tunes, unearth old gems… and then find the right moment to play them. John Reith’s vision for founding the BBC could well have been a mantra for DJs: Inform, educate, entertain.
Then there’s the technical skill of mixing. Yes, you can be a selector without ever matching a beat. But even then you’re the selector, it’s all about playing the right tune at the right time. Or you can go deep – beat matching, mixing in key, scratch wizardry, and with modern technology you can be remixing, creating new loops and whole tunes on the fly. It’s not without stress, one mistake or dud track and you lose the room. People start drifting off to the bar or smoking area. A split-second decision could save your set.
I always found the only time I wasn’t nervous was when I was actually playing. Then you’re in the zone. You’re playing musical chess, three moves ahead and keeping an eye on the dancefloor while enjoying the moment. A mix goes smoothly, the dancefloor is getting full, an obscure b-side from 1998 is raising the roof. It’s a buzz. But it wasn’t always like that. There were many long nights playing to empty bars for nothing. Playing chart hits in town until 2 a.m. on a Thursday night to pay the bills (and fund your record habit). Being asked again and again and again to play UB40 at a wedding. Hours of practice, repeating the same two tunes ready to record a mix. Trawling through your collection to find that tune, you know, the one which you can’t remember the name and it might have been this producer or this other artist, but I know what the record sleeve looks like and it’s a white label with a small biro mark on it. Getting to a club and your memory stick won’t load up. Pulling out the wrong memory stick. Taking the needle off the record that’s currently playing. DJs: we’ve all been there, we feel your pain.
So just a little appreciation for the DJs please. It’s not just standing there playing other people’s records. Well, it is a bit of that. But it’s so much more.