––Brian S Red, from his video “Why do DJs hate requests?” (https://youtu.be/ztFreHifjDE)
To paraphrase Brian in this YouTube video: A DJ is not a human jukebox. Personally, I encourage requests if they come in via e-mail or social media in advance. Why not take requests as the audience comes up with ideas for you? Aside from the fact that DJs have there own ideas after years of working in the profession, there are preparatory tasks that make acquisition of a song prohibitive. Did you know it takes a minimum of 15 minutes to prepare each track? Modern digital DJs, who create continuous, harmonically matched mixes, do so with the intention of taking the listener on a musical expedition. This type of DJ, and I am one, needs time for the following:
1) Acquire the music (songs I use are between $3-$6 at http://www.traxSource.com/ )
2) Import, label and organize the music both in the library (Beatport) & mixing software (e.g. Traktor, Serato)
3) Learn the orchestration of the song by listening and memorizing. This way we can understand the musical structure, from the vamp to the chorus to the bridge to the end
4) Create loops & cue points. This allows us to elongate, and ‘reorchestrate’ as needed to make the song work on the canvas live
5) Insert notes . Many songs have surprises including tempo and key changes. A good DJ will be aware of these so she can acclimate the outbound with the inbound music seamlessly. Notes help
6) Practicing egress & ingress transitions. Example I seek out songs, in my 10,000+ title library, that are in a similar genre and key. I organize them into a digital “crate”. I then try, mostly at random, to see which songs have complimentary music passages that can be interleaved. Example: an a cappella passage on an inbound song that works harmonically with a bass guitar groove from an outbound track. I will post examples on my blog at http://www.Athonia.com/
7) Some DJs also try to find one point in every song, usually a very small percussive loop, that they can use to make a tempo change without bringing the dance floor to a halt.
That process above may not be what everyone does but that is what I do. I spend, on average, 20 hours in advance of every big event preparing music specially. If it’s a New Years Eve event I’ll seek out dance floor remixes, not the radio versions, of the well-received songs from the previous year. That alone will take hours of sleuth work on Billboard, VEVO and BBC. I might also prepare a count-down to ring in the New Year. It’s different for every event.
I recently heard someone say that this methodology outlined above is ego driven. Is rehearsing with your band before a show and act of egotism? Is prepping food before cooking a gourmet meal somehow self-indulgent? To the contrary, I think the insistent audience member, who repeatedly demands that their song be played, is themselves pretty self-centered. It expresses a need for control that might be lacking in other parts of their life. Don’t judge. Let the artist who was awarded the gig do what they were hired to do.
There are DJs out there who are happy to act as a human interface to Napster, typing in songs, and playing what people who happen to be in earshot of them want them to play on whim. That ain’t me. That’s not to say these selectors are not talented people worthy of hire. Some of these song pickers have encyclopedic knowledge of music. No doubt, they can get a dance floor going during the course of a song. They are artists but they are not DJs in the modern sense of the word. Technology, talent & practice have given rise to a new type of DJ. The last thing that modern DJ wants to do is to undermine their own efforts by allowing the audience to toss a wrench in the works. Thoughts?