Keep Playing That Song?: New Perspectives on DJing in a Changed Marketplace by @pjtlynch

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Hello everyone, and thank you for joining me for this session. Are you all having a great conference? Excellent.

Today we’ll be taking a new look at some common problems we face as DJs, and challenging some of the notions that may be holding us back as an industry. I think you’ll find it exciting, if a bit controversial.

To the folks in the back, there’s some room up front if you want to get closer. No? Ok.

For decades now, DJing has operated under what I refer to as a DJ-down model. As DJs we act as curators, determining which music to play, at what tempo, etc., and deliver that down to the customer. And for a long time that worked. But in recent years, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, complaints have been increasing. And they’ve been especially vocal among a key audience: pop singers.

Ok, I can see I’ve already ruffled some feathers out there. I know what you’re thinking “Why are pop stars always telling us how to DJ? We’re professionals.” Look, I understand, I used to feel that way too. But let’s stop for a second and actually look at some of their common complaints, and see what they can tell us.

First, who’s heard “C’mon Mr. DJ, turn that music up”? I see a lot of hands. Did someone say “annoying”? Yes, it can definitely be annoying. But ask yourself this: if the music was truly loud enough, would you have even heard the request?

Ah, so maybe some of these complaints do have something to them! See, we’re up there in the booth, but the people are out there on the floor, they know firsthand what they need and if we’re supplying it to them. They want to dance with their baby, not be able to hear him talk. And if we listen, they’ll tell us that.

Let’s look at another common complaint: “Please don’t stop the music.” C’mon guys, this one should be a no-brainer. Why are we stopping the music in the first place? Our job is to play music. But this is what happens when DJing gets too internal. We get so focused on our own industry stuff that we forget the basics of what our audience wants. And the fact that someone has to write and produce a song to correct us on it is just downright embarrassing. We’re better than that.

And then there’s “Hey DJ, keep playing that song. All night.” Ok, I’ll admit this one is a bit ridiculous. Or is it? Now I’m not saying you should go out there and play one song all night—as an industry we’re simply not ready for that. But if you’ve got a fierce track, could you play it 3, 4, maybe 5 times in a row? I’m going to challenge you a bit here and say that the answer is yes. Why? Because that’s what your audience wants.

Here’s the thing, guys: there was a time when the DJ-down model worked, when we were the only choice people had to get down to a hot jam. But now they can pop in their earbuds, or hop on their Spotifys, or even self-DJ their own killer sets. If we aren’t willing to deliver them what they want—even if that means the same song non-stop 50 times in a row at a deafening volume—they’ll get it somewhere else. Period.

I know this may be hard to hear, but it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, I believe an audience-centered approach will allow the DJing industry to break out of its legacy models. And doing so will remind people why they love DJs, and the impact the DJing industry has on their lives.

Because if we’re meeting their needs on the surface issues, they’ll be free to just dance. And when they dance, good things happen. Soon, my friends, we’ll be hearing not complaints, but how you, I, how each one of us has them falling in love again, maybe even saving their life.

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