By Stu Chisholm, “The Complete Disc Jockey”
We’ve all had those gigs: no matter what we do, somebody isn’t happy. Maybe the whole audience isn’t happy. We think we’ve got a good “read” on the crowd; we are following the detailed agenda worked out with the client(s) in advance; we’re attentive to the requests coming in… and nada. Even worse, there’s a loudmouth in the crowd bagging on you. Sound familiar?
Eric Christensen, a Wedding and Event DJ at Eclectic Entertainment with DJ E had just this thing happen to him a few weeks ago and, in frustration, described his experience:
“This past weekend, I was DJing a rather small wedding reception (80 guests total) in a local hotel atrium. The room was almost 75 degrees inside, so I can see why not everyone would be willing to stick around and dance the entire night without getting some air, but I had a couple of guys demand that since I’m “the DJ, you should know what gets the dance floor crowded” and to “play something good so there are more people on the floor.” One drunk groomsman decided to ask me, “Is this your first gig? There’s no one dancing.” I pointed out the Bride, a couple of her friends and her 9-year-old niece on the dance floor, but he blew me off and said, “You’re not doing your job. Get people on the dance floor!”
“In fact, I almost got into a heated argument with a belligerent guest because I won’t cut songs off and play “anything that’s not this song.” One woman even [demanded that I] plug in her iPod and “pick the songs that will be “happenin’ and if it’s not working, go to another song.” I declined her offer and said I have probably most of the songs in her iPod already and if she could write down some requests, I’d be happy to work off some of the songs on her list. She refused to do that, saying, “Just plug it in and use it ok?”
“PYT wasn’t working. Thriller didn’t do anything. The Cha Cha [Slide] was fine until maybe 4 minutes in; 20 people on the dance floor dwindled to 4. The Booty Bass songs were good…for 2 songs, then nothing. Even some Country and Disco wasn’t doing much. No one wanted slow songs at all either.”
Completely bewildered, he closed by saying, “All my weddings this year have been great except this one.”
Threads like this seem to spring up daily on every DJ forum
While my own response to Eric isn’t an Earth-shattering revelation, I thought it worth sharing with all of my DJ warriors who sometimes take shots they don’t deserve. Here goes…
Some groups just aren’t dancers no matter what you do. I had a summer gig in a large tent one year, and while it was an option, they decided NOT to rent the air conditioning units. Naturally it was a beautiful, sun-drenched day and temps in the tent quickly shot up to 90 degrees. Being that the tent was on the edge of a lake/beach and you had to go outside to smoke anyway, I ended up playing music for the bartenders and wait staff. The situation did not foster participation.
There might also be dynamics at work that you aren’t aware of. I remember a wedding I did for members of a singles club that I frequently worked for. As a group, their parties were totally off the hook, but this party was nearly as sedate as a wake! Some mutual friends arrived later in the evening and ended up being the only ones to dance the whole night, aside from the Bride and Groom’s first dance. The next day, the Groom called to tell me how thrilled he was. “Were we at the same party,” I asked, “because I couldn’t pry your guests out of their seats short of using a crowbar! I’m thinking of selling insurance.” He said, “Oh, no, you don’t understand! Do you know that church that doesn’t allow dancing? Well, [my bride’s] family all belongs to it and their minister was there the entire night. And did you notice that big group that left immediately after dinner? That was my family, who doesn’t really approve of [my wife] and took off. But WE thought you did an excellent job and your music reflected our tastes perfectly!” You sometimes just never know.
I do several things to “read the crowd.”
This is NOT a talent, Jedi mind trick or even a skill. It is feedback. While you can learn a lot via your eyeballs; lots of white hair in the room? Lots of certain ethnicities? Kids? You learn a whole lot MORE from your couple and actually talking with the guests. I ask the couple to send me requests ahead of time, specifying not only those songs and artists that the couple prefers, but those things they know from past events that really got their families going. I then also solicit requests from the guests. During dinner, I’ll walk the tables, chatting up the guests and asking what radio stations they listen to or what they feel like dancing to. I keep a running list at my table. Nobody can blame me (or you) for not being psychic! We’re DJs, not mind readers.
Normally my basic style is a bit more laid back, but I also keep some interactive tricks in my arsenal for the really hard-to-reach crowds. You sometimes must literally command them! TELL them what to do. “I need everyone to come up to the floor and line up.” (Or “form a circle,” etc.) Then explain the rules. If you’ve ever been to a Renaissance festival and caught the Ded Bob Sho, he does this with panache! Tell them to pay attention. Tell them what is happening (and where). Then humorously tell them what will happen if they do NOT follow instructions! (And always then pick a “rule breaker” to lead various dances or activities.) These are all techniques I learned via Todd Mitchem’s “Let’s Get Interactive” videos and materials, and those were based on long-standing theatrical techniques. Scott Faver, “The Games Master” employs similar tactics. Sometimes people just plain need to be led; they’re not self-starters. On the upside, once you’ve gotten them up on their feet and into the “show,” they’ll usually stay there without too much more cajoling.
Anyway, that was my contribution to Eric’s dilemma. Did you ever have an impossible to please audience? Drop me a line at DJStuCrew@gmail.com with the subject, “Bad night” and share your story. Maybe you’ll see it here and, together, we can prevent unwary DJs from becoming insurance salesmen.