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ARTICLE
People Power
So you’re awesome on the mic, your tune selection is second to none, your lights are DMXed to within an inch of their life and the dancefloor is full. Happy days! And then you see it: Slowly. Waveringly. Slack-jawed and bleary eyed. Staggering toward you. It’s a guest, and they want to talk. You’re going to have to deal with this person!

We have to be good at selling ourselves to potential clients over the phone, via e-mail, online and face-to-face but a lot of DJs fall short when it comes to actually dealing with the public during gigs. I’ve a word limit, but I could fill this article with true life stories I’ve come across such as:

DJ Scream In A Child’s Face – “I’m in charge, you don’t choose the music!”

DJ Ego – “That’s a terrible request, why would I play rubbish like that?”

And the classic: DJ I’ve Already Got Your Money – “The music is fine, I can’t help it if you’re guests aren’t dancing.”

If you’re doing your job properly and actually care about your clients, you’ll be getting feedback from them throughout the night – making sure they’re having fun and enjoying the music. In doing so you’re a) getting an ongoing pulse from the most important person / people in the room and b) cutting off any issues at the pass. If they don’t like the music, think you’re too loud or quiet, or that you’re doing too much or too little talking, you’re giving them plenty of opportunity to address this during the gig, not afterwards when they want to leave a crap review or tell everyone how you did X and didn’t do Y. But dealing with clients is for another article.

No friends, this one is going to focus on the more nuanced dealings with the guests and family members who can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Much of the time the thing that decides which of these they are is how you react to them. What I’m going to do with this article is address some of the most common conversations and interactions you might come across with a member of the (usually inebriated) public and suggest strategies for how to deal with the situation effectively.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not saying what I’m about to share is fool-proof, because you can never assume a logical outcome when dealing with someone who is illogical (either through drink or their own sense of self-importance) but through all the weddings, family celebrations and corporate events that I’ve played at, these strategies have never done me wrong.

If anyone asks me about getting good on the mic my first bit of advice is to practice speaking clearly, however my second piece of advice is to practice what you’re saying. I’ve got ‘scripts’ for everything from the first dance to the buffet opening to when I have to drop that uber cheesy ‘must play’. Dealing with Joe Public is pretty much the same – if you have a good idea about what to say and how to approach the most common situations then you’re primed and can hit the ground running instead of finding yourself flustered and unsure of what to say or how to deal with a situation.

Before we begin – Some key strategies:

Give them some rope: you always want the person to feel that they’re in control despite the fact that you’re the one running things.

Be assertive: there are three types of communication between people – assertive, aggressive and passive:

– Assertive demands respect without overstepping boundaries
– Aggressive makes you an enemy and target
– Passive allows them to walk all over you

ALWAYS be assertive.

Bring them into your space if you can. I use a LiteConsole or Equinox booth and a good way to break down barriers with guests is, when they come to the front, beckon them round to the side. Then put a hand on their shoulder to create a physical connection while maintaining a boundary and say, “Sorry, I have earplugs in and I can’t hear people out front, what can I do for you?” Instantly you’re controlling the space and presenting yourself as open and approachable. This is a much better place to start than having someone bark at you from the front of your booth.

You’ve already started to create a bond with the person, even if you’ve only been engaging with them for a few seconds. What happens next and how you deal with the situation is key to maintaining control whilst keeping everyone happy.

Scenario 1:
The Oddball Request


This is probably the most common issue any mobile DJ is likely to face. Your client loves genre A, the crowd is lapping up genre A and then someone comes up and says: “This music is **** play some genre B”, but know genre B ain’t going to work.

There’s a bunch of ways to deal with this:

“Well everyone is dancing to it….”
This is too passive and gives them an opening to overrule you: “Yeah but if you play my tune they’ll like it more…” or “I don’t care, this is rubbish put a good tune on.”

“Nah that’s not going to work.”
You’re instantly encouraging conflict with this reply, you’re giving them no rope.

If you’re assertive and can control the conversation your best approach is bringing them onside with something along the lines of: “That’s a really cool request” or “Chic, man I love Chic, have you ever seen them live? They’ve amazing.”

If it’s an artist you know particularly well you can up the ante:

“Mate I love the Stereophonics, not got into their newer stuff but I must have listened to ‘Performance and Cocktails’ a million times back in the day.”
Or
“Y’know, I’d love to drop some of that stuff but the client is wanting stuff like this… ”
Use your body – wave your hand towards the (hopefully bouncing) dancefloor to re-iterate that what you’re playing is actually working.

Even if you don’t know anything about the music they’re asking for, my personal favourite once I’ve got them on board is: “Mate if I had it my way we’d be listening to nothing but Floyd and Springsteen tonight but this is what they’re asking for… Is there anything else a bit more like the stuff I’m playing you like?”

At this point you’re the good guy – you like cool music, you’ve not been an obnoxious DJ Prat that has just brushed them off and you’re trying to help them out but your hands are tied… 99.99% of the time that will placate even the most pedantic of requesters.

Scenario 2:
The Soon To Be Departed


“Can you play ‘XYZ’? Our taxi is coming in 5 minutes?”

We’ve all had it, it’s the punters passive way of trying to exert influence on us. Now, if it’s early on or the tune is a genuine banger that will fit in then there’s nothing wrong with dropping it next but most of the time this isn’t the case. My token response, depending on how I gauge them and what I think their response will be, is:

“I’d love to, but as soon as I do that everyone will be telling me their taxi is coming and I’ve to play their tune next.”
With this you’re trying to help them out, but can’t, they should appreciate it and move on. If they won’t then they’re being unreasonable and they’re not worth worrying about UNLESS it’s someone very close to the client.

Other good options are:

“Awww man am I that bad you’re ducking out early?”
A bit of self-depreciating humour never did any one any harm and, again, gets them onside.

“Sorry, I’m in the middle of a wee set here and your tune won’t fit, if you can hold on a bit I’ll try and get it in for you soon.”
Again, you’re trying to help but making it clear that they won’t dictate to you how or when their music will be played.

Bear in mind that in all the times I’ve had this happen, literally only once has the client actually been truthful and had a taxi to catch… Don’t get caught up stressing about it and definitely don’t ruin the flow of your set to placate one person who appears to be leaving as soon as they’ve been fed!

UPDATE: I actually had this happen on Friday night and the girl did have a taxi to catch, so make that twice. I was in the middle of a really cool funky house set the crowd were loving and she came up and asked for ‘Bits ‘n’ Pieces’. Totally not where I was planning on going for at least another hour but I was definitely going to play it later and a bunch of folk (including the bride and groom) had asked for some GBX type stuff. So I looped the end of whatever I was playing – I think it was some early Basement Jaxx – did a very melodramatic sigh and said:

“Guys I was about to take you on a really cool funky journey but someoooooooone is going home and wants me to crowbar in their song before they go.” – big overdramatic shake of the head, remember body language is an essential part of what we do and backs up everything we’re saying. “Now I really don’t know if this is going to work but she asked nicely so I’m going to play it anyway…”

I then dropped ‘Bits ‘n’ Pieces’ at an instantly recognisable cue point and the room went nuts! Using a little bit of humour, I was able to work in the girl’s request (plus the half dozen or so other folk who asked for it) and do a total 180 on where I was with the music 10 seconds previous without losing any energy or bodies from the dancefloor.
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 93, Pages 48-55.
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