By Tony Fernandez
The premise: Would you DJ at a venue that had everything laid out for you? All you have to bring is your headphones and your skills. Gear is in the booth. Computer is in the booth. Drinks are in the booth. You get it. However, there’s a catch (there’s always a catch) — you can ONLY play from the club-provided library. You can NOT incorporate any of your music. NO jump drives, no external drives, no streaming. You play with what they give you.
On the surface, I get it. It does sound accommodating. It sounds simple enough. Even challenging. And most DJs do like a good challenge. A lot of DJs are of the opinion that this experiment wouldn’t be a big deal. It would even be fun.
Can you tell where I’m going with this? I have been in this exact scenario. I was not a fan. I didn’t last long in the venue that had this system in place. (More on that later…)
The largest problem with this setup is that you have no control over the most important piece of the puzzle: the music library. We all have our own way of organizing tracks. We all have mixes and remixes that complement our “normal” tracks. More importantly, we all know WHERE those choice mixes are on our drives. If you walk into a construct like this, it’s a VERY tight sandbox. Sure it can work for a night or three. However, after time, it’s going to be suffocating because if the library isn’t keeping up with the demands of the night, well, to be redundant, it’s going to be suffocating.
What’s (kind of) is that I keep seeing scenarios creeping into the DJ world where alternatives are being developed to make the aspect of DJing “easier.” Not easier for the DJ, but easier for the people who have to deal with/hire the DJ. So not only are there venues that are setting themselves up with complete turnkey systems and libraries — did you know there is a company that is marketing a system to bars and clubs where a projector shoots an image of a DJ and the club can stream a mix from a library? In the end you get a projected DJ “playing” a set.
You don’t have to worry about AI taking the job from DJs some day in the future, it’s happening now.
So what can you do about it? Be yourself. KNOW your music. Know your crowds. Know how to put those three things together and you’ll have a job that no one will take away from you because no one else or nothing else can be like you.
Okay, it’s later… So I was hired at a local club. I was covering for other DJ’s nights off. Things went well. I was asked to become a regular. I said yes. After about three months of filling in and regular residency I was presented with the “system.” Play ONLY from the club’s library. I didn’t. The club’s library was, like, three months behind and guess what people were asking for — new stuff! I kept bringing my library in to complement the club’s library. After about three weeks of being insubordinate, I was fired. Rightfully so, may I add. I did my job quite well but they didn’t like the fact that I was doing it with outside tools.
Fast forward three weeks: I get a call from the manager that fired me. They needed a fill in. I said sure. No hard feelings. I come in and as I’m getting ready in the booth the manager proceeds to tell me that he heard about my night last week. I did a 15-year anniversary party for a venue a block away. Ended up being on the outside patio. It was as great night. Still can’t believe the cops weren’t called because I was BLARING the sound rig. 350 people on a patio that held 250. Manager tells me that on Monday (after the patio party) the owner tells the bar staff that they should hire the DJ that was at the patio on Saturday. Manager tells the owner… that’s the DJ you fired for bringing in the outside library. You already had him here.
Moral of the story? I knew my job better than the guy that was paying me. I have no regrets about being fired. Yes, I’d do it again. I know my job. I won’t put myself in a scenario where I’m micro-managed to ONLY play THIS. Being a DJ is fluid and non-linear. If others can’t see that, I’ll keep on looking for those who can.
I’m going to keep stuffing my library with what works for me. Hope you do the same.
Keep ‘em spinning.
Based out of Richmond, VA, DJ Tony Fernandez has been a DJ, Remixer, Producer, Musical Soothsayer and Audio Gear Oracle since 1980. Find him on Facebook. Email firstname.lastname@example.org