Is Being a DJ a "Young Man's Game?"

Einstein DJ

By Stu Chisholm, “The Complete Disc Jockey”

At the end of February, an article appeared in the Long Island Newsday about some older DJs finding their niche.

(http://www.newsday.com/lifestyle/retirement/djs-of-a-certain-age-play-for-older-crowd-1.7238043 )

In it, one of the experts they consulted, a long-time industry leader, took a decidedly ageist bent when he said that a younger bride doesn’t want a DJ that reminds her of her grandpa regardless of how good he is. Back-peddling ever so slightly, he added that on the other hand, veteran DJs stay current with the latest musical trends and equipment and are often more polished, professional and flat-out better than their younger counterparts. (Small consolation if the better DJ can’t get work.)

The article then goes on to talk about the “strong bias” against older entertainers when it comes to entertaining young adults. Fueling this perception, it outlines the physical demands of the job, as if an older DJ is either incapable of heavy lifting or not smart enough to hire an assistant. Their advice to DJs who have managed to remain successful over the long-haul: get thee to a senior center or assisted living facility! In short, you are now obsolete; it is bad to get older and you should stick with your own kind.

I’m left to wonder: what kind of an image does that sentence place in the minds of readers? Is it helping or hurting?

The mantra that being a DJ is “a young man’s game,” adding that anyone foolish enough to contemplate becoming a mobile DJ when they retire and should take up fishing instead, is a hellish reversal of childhood; instead of being told, “you can do anything you put your mind to,” the older DJ is told, “you can only do old people stuff.” I’m guessing the author missed the Vistaprint commercial with Charlton Nussmeyer, a.k.a. DJ Nuss, a wicked-mixing senior who demonstrates their mantra: “make the right first impression.”

I posted a comment, the first, where I outlined my initial objections:

I began spinning music at parties in 1979 and have fought age bias my entire career. Back then I worked with a partner who was 10 years older than me. We had a whole lot of clients who hired us to do ’50s and ’60s sock hops. When my partner retired, I recall arriving for one of our regular events. “Hey, great to see you,” said our client, and asked when my partner would be arriving. When I said I’d be handling the showt myself, I got a blank stare. “Are you… sure… you can handle this crowd?” I told him it would be no problem. About the third time he asked, I made him a proposition: “Don’t look up on the stage tonight,” I said, adding that if he could tell that my partner wasn’t there, he wouldn’t have to pay me the balance. At the end of the party, he came up and said, “Dammit, Stu,” and peeled-off the money he owed plus a fat tip. I was somewhere around 25 years old at the time.

Flash forward to a few years ago when I was hired to man the Pringle’s mobile nightclub for a big street fair. The contract had been made over the phone. When I arrived, the operator’s eyes bugged out as he said, “Um… YOU’RE the DJ?” At first I had no idea what he was getting at. “Yes,” I said, inquiring where I could put my gear. He stammered and hemmed and hawed, finally croaking, “You DO realize that our demographic is ages 12 to 24,* right?” Again, I nodded, still holding my gear, finally grasping his strange attitude. He had some compilation of current tunes playing and said, “Do you have this kind of music?” I was starting to lose patience. “Yes. In fact, I own and SELL the same compilation you’re playing. Now PLEASE… where do I put my gear?” When finally allowed to set up, I used a feature on his CD players that even he didn’t know he had — it’s an effect that sounds like an old turntable being switched-off — and then I brought-in my first song, introducing myself over the mic. A look of relief crossed his face and he said, “Okay, you’ve got this. I’ll be over at the sample tent.” I was in my late 40s by then.

Today I’m 56 and still spinning many events, mostly weddings. I keep current on my music and have added conducting wedding ceremonies to my list of services. One of my clients mentioned that not only did she like my experience, but, as she put it, “I don’t have to worry about the DJ flirting with my bridesmaids all night, like the one at my sister’s wedding did.” (Oh, I forgot to mention — I’ve also been happily married for the past 28 years.) Being a music fan and not being afraid of technology, I can DJ as well as anyone and far better than most. If a bride overlooks me because of my age, then she’s the one losing out. My work speaks for itself.

DON’T SLAP ME, ‘CAUSE I’M NOT IN THE MOOD…

To say that I felt completely blindsided by this article is an understatement. For one thing, said expert is a year older than I am (and still working)! For another, I couldn’t help but think of how some might view this article if he had said, “Let’s face it, most white couples don’t want a black DJ at their wedding.” (Or fat DJ. Or female DJ. Or Catholic DJ.) As an industry spokesperson, it is important to support ALL DJs! To nurture them in professional circles (for a fee) and then engage in/enable age bias in the public square is pure hypocrisy. When I made said person aware of my concerns, he said that he stood by his statements, talking about how he’d been working out and “adapting” to stay marketable. He made references to the willingness or unwillingness of older DJs to adapt to the times. This, of course, was never the point of the article.

The bottom line is that all DJs, individually and collectively, should stand up for what is right, and that means to fight any and all “isms,” whether or not they’re popular. The still sagging economy and the hobbyist “DJ wannabes” have made getting work tough enough. We don’t need our own industry leaders making it harder for ANY segment of our industry to earn a living.

 

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