What Makes a DJ Good?

By Brian Alvarez

 

Let me start by saying this is a loaded question. What makes a good DJ to one may not be what makes a good DJ to another. My definition of what makes a DJ good is someone who is technically sound at their craft. But before we get into that let’s examine the artist. We have been around since the seventies taking the place of bands with the option of spinning music from numerous eras and different genres. This art form has grown and today a DJ is technically your iPod, don’t hate and read on. For our purposes,a DJ is any person or computer that selects music by going from one song to the other essentially creating a vibe. I have seen parties that were amazing by simply utilizing a mixtape. I’ve seen kids rock parties with their computer and iTunes. When you have a target market and you know your audience finding the right song can be easy. However,when you step into the professional arena with the demand to connect with hundreds and possibly thousands of people, mix tapes and iPods simply will not do. Why? They cannot connect with the room like a human can.  Here are 5 qualities to what makes an awesome DJ.

 

The first and most important quality of the Mixmaster is empathy, this took me many years to understand. When I first started out throwing songs at an audience I thought it was all about me and my taste of music.  To an extent there is some truth to this statement.. When I needed to expand my business and do more professional events such as weddings, I needed to realize that my opinion didn’t matter. Some performers have the misconception that they are the star of the show but in fact a good DJ is a slave to the dance floor. Only the quality of empathy and putting yourself in the shoes of the audience can help you to better understand this. I myself started off as a breakdancer when I was young and I relied on the DJ to keep the beat and energy up. Now, I’m on the other side and I hold that responsibility to its highest degree. As artists we need to know where the journey begins and where it’s going to end.  Then we need to build the journey along the way.

 

The second quality is mastery of the gear and serenity. From a technical standpoint DJing has become more complex than ever. As a performer you need to be able to multitask and deal with the stress of an event gracefully. Having a contingency plan and a network of professionals with good relationships to help you in case of emergencies is absolutely essential.  When you are 100% comfortable on your gear, you are able to focus on those important details of the event.  When you are 100% comfortable that you can handle any curve ball thrown at you, you are able to perform at a high relaxed level.  This confident attitude is essential when dealing with the most important day of people’s lives.

 

The third quality is what I like to call unity of spirit. I have the rare opportunity to blend genres from multiple generations to diverse audiences and take them on a musical journey. When I play rock and roll and mash it up with hip-hop I am bring together two communities in spirit. This power is not to be taken lightly. Imagine speaking a universal language like music and only using one genre. It is just like asking an artist to paint only in only one color.  It can be done, and some do it well but use all of the tools to paint the picture. A diverse background and passion for music discovery is what helps push me to explore the wonderful world of music. I challenge myself to listen to genres of music, even if I don’t like them.  Eventually I will find something that fits perfectly with what a client would like.  Songs are like people, some are liked and some are hated but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have value.

 

The fourth quality is skill. The fact that this is ranked fourth may offend some DJs, and to be honest I’m a little offended by it.  Wait, how does that work?  I have been a club DJ for over 20 years, and one thing that I have noticed is that today’s generation does not care about skill. It doesn’t matter if you can do transformer scratches or if you are amazing with your effects.  It is lost on the dance floor from my perspective. However, this does not mean that these are not useful and very valuable tactics. In fact,I think the exact opposite. I believe that innovation and knowledge of when to use these tricks is what sets you apart from the average DJ.  I have seen many DJs overuse their effects and rely too heavily on remixes.  You will lose your audience. A good crowd rocker understands that sometimes less is more. Basic mixing is often overlooked.  Did you know that by mixing a song you are able to test your audience to see if they’re ready for the next track?  A great tactician will can sense the change in energy of the room when a new bassline kicks in. If the energy isn’t right I’m looking for another track that is.  Had you asked me this question 10 years ago, skill probably would have been at the top of the list, but with modern advances in technology the playing field has been leveled a bit.

 

The final quality is the ability to have fun within the constructs of the evening. In many ways I am a conductor to the symphony of your night.. I am in charge of making sure that everything goes well.  I need to make sure that everyone is having the time of their lives and that nobody is acting like a complete jerk. I’ve seen a lot of things that could be detrimental to an event like an altercation, broken glass on the floor, or other situations that could alter the outcome of the night. This means that the DJ has to be extremely professional engaging with not only the guest, but other vendors and staff members at the venue.  As the captains of the ship, it is my duty to manage and address potential distractions that can take away from the overall feel of the evening.

 

In summary, a DJ you must be professional, empathetic, confident,  calm, skillful, and fun.  So whether you want to be a DJ or you’re hiring one just know that an iPod might rock your party, but if you care about results there is no substitute for a true artist.

 

Brian Alvarez is the founder and CEO of Technically Sound DJ Academy in Ann Arbor,called technically The Academy is intended to preserve the traits of the DJ for the next generation. Regardless of political or religious divisions, music is a unifying force and the universal language. It has no race, no color, no gender, and is meant for the masses.  The DJ is the conduit.

Insider Tips on DJ Scams

 

Before you sign that contract make sure you read it very carefully.  We often receive last minute events from frantic couples that call upset because their DJ cancelled on them.  You may be asking yourself; “How does this happen?”  You think you get a great deal on a DJ but what you didn’t realize is that some companies have a clause in their contract which allows then to cancel on you at any time.  “Why would they do that?”; you might ask.  Here’s how it works.  They entice you to book at a low price in order to fill their calendars, then they wait for another client to come along.  They quote that event at a hundred or two higher than yours and if the clients agree they simply kick  you to curb for the higher paying event.  I’ve heard of some really creative excuses over the years for why the DJ had to cancel but in the end the details were in your contract that you signed.  Although this is not an ethical business practice, it does exist and it happens routinely.

How can you avoid this?  Hire a reputable company and make sure you read your contract.  If you have any questions about the contract you should be able to speak to your DJ about it.  Another way this can be prevented is ask your DJ company about their back up plan should an emergency arise.  Are you SOL, or will they take care of you and make sure you’re covered.  Read reviews, if a company routinely does this an upset bride surely took the time to write a review about it somewhere.  Although deals can be attractive when shopping around, it may be better in the end to pay a little extra and take the worry out of your big day.

 

Photograph Credit:  Alice Heart Photography www.aliceheartphotography.com

What to Look for When Hiring a DJ

Is music a priority for your wedding?

Wedding couples place a varying degree of importance on the music and the role that it plays in their wedding. Some people really love music, the art of DJing, and the effect it has on the dance floor. Others only care about what they want to hear and want the most direct result. I think it is important to consider what role you would like to have your DJ play. Nowadays anyone with a laptop can call themselves a DJ.  For some couples this might be the right fit. However, it is my belief that a DJ is much more than someone who puts on music.

A true professional, at the top of his game, is well-versed in all genres.  He can read a crowd through all generations, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds. This entertainer is also an event coordinator and must work with vendors and caterers to make sure that the wedding is going according to the plan. He must feel the crowd out and be able to raise and lower the energy level of the audience as this may decline from time to time. A great entertainer engages the crowd when necessary and welcomes requests from your guests. His ego must be put aside in order to properly coordinate your event. An attitude during the event or an unwillingness to cooperate can have a significant negative impact on your whole night!

I have personally seen numerous failures ranging from equipment malfunctions to not showing up altogether.  A professional will carry backup gear and make an investment in top quality, brand name gear. It is important to know that you have the concentrated efforts of a dedicated career DJ if music is important to you.

From a performance standpoint, I love to make people dance and I am willing to play whatever it takes to get people on the dance floor. I leave my ego at the door and try to create a memorable event for all in attendance.

Hiring a DJ can be a complicated process and most have never done this. A few questions that I have been asked in the past that may help you in your search are:

  • What kind of equipment do you use?
  • What genres are you accustomed to?
  • What will you do if nobody is dancing?
  • In case of an emergency what would happen to my event?
  • Do you mix all of the songs or do you play the full versions?
  • What makes your DJ service unique?

In my experience the food and the DJ are the most important components of any event. While the food has taken hours to prepare it is only enjoyed for about 45 minutes. The DJ is an intricate part of the entire wedding process. He is handling announcements, cocktail and dinner music, and controlling the dance floor for many hours. Having somebody you can work with and trust with the vision of your wedding is very important.

Above all else, when you hire your DJ I recommend talking face to face with them.. This way, when you go into the event you are friends and it a lot easier to work with them. There are plenty of shortcuts in hiring a DJ and it all depends on how important music is for your event. I’m sure your cousin can create an awesome playlist but only a true professional can take you through generations of music seamlessly to accommodate everyone that is coming to your special day.