Whose Party is This Anyway?

Outdoor Teen Dance

By Stu Chisholm

I’ve been a music collector far longer than I’ve been a DJ and I pride myself on my music knowledge and the depth of my library.

I also promote it so of course, I see more than my fair share of clients who have non-mainstream tastes. It’s not uncommon for me to get lists of eclectic, off-the-wall music that I’m asked to work in during, say, a wedding reception.

As you can imagine, this can sometimes be quite a challenge!

Music Programming

This topic recently came up in an online DJ forum. What surprised me the most was the number of DJs who absolutely refused to have their music program dictated by their customer.

“It’s my reputation,” quipped one poster. “When it doesn’t work, they’re going to be looking at me!”

This, of course, is true, but the main thing he said was: “when it doesn’t work.” Why would he assume this?

Firstly, I always go over all music lists with my clients before their event. I’ve learned that regardless of how eclectic the tastes of the couple might be, a good many of their friends and family will share their preferences. Such a list is an insight into this.

If there are songs that they feel strongly about – sure dance floor killers – then it’s not my job to veto the song, but to let my clients know this beforehand.

If they then insist, I still have other options.

I could work their request into the cocktail hour or dinner set, for instance. If not, then I’ve got the challenge to present it to the audience in a way they’ll accept and know it’s the couple’s specific song request.

Remember the old saying about “it’s not what you say, but how you say it?” Similarly, “It’s not what you play, but how you play it.”

A Tricky Situation

A classic example comes from 2001 and the song “Because I Got High” by Afroman. It was THE song of that summer, yet I arrived at a county Parks & Rec teen dance hearing stories about how the DJ from the previous week played it and got blacklisted.

But here I was, faced with a couple of hundred teens who all wanted to hear that one song. Even some of their parents began to wander over and ask for it. If I didn’t play it, that’s all those kids were going to remember; not what I played, but what I DIDN’T play.

Knowing the song’s lyrics, though, I thought I’d try a different tactic: sell it with a presentation. So, with a parks & rec official and a uniformed state trooper standing behind me, I fired-up the mic and said, “Okay, now I want you to listen to this next song, because it is a cautionary tale. It is the sad story of what can happen when you mess up your life by using drugs.” I then dropped the first beat and the crowd lost their minds!

Afterward, my two official friends, said, “Who knew they’d dance to an anti-drug song?” Because it wasn’t “their” music, they didn’t really remember that it was the same song they’d booted the last DJ for, and they picked-up on the “ruined my life” lyric, which I sang at them and pointed for emphasis. The audience was happy and I became a wonder in the eyes of my civic employers.

So in a nutshell, this is our job: to make our client’s dreams happen. It’s up to us to find a way. Hey, if it was easy, anybody could be a DJ!

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Technical Consultant