By Stu Chisholm, “The Complete DJ”
Every DJ sweats the “winter doldrums,” when the weddings drop off and our calendars become skinny. I’m lucky enough to have had a steady annual gig in February since about 2002; a Daddy-Daughter Dance for a local Catholic elementary school.
Even though I don’t have children of my own, I absolutely love them as an audience! Unlike teens or adults, who need to be coaxed, prodded and sometimes even outright tricked onto a dance floor, a group of K – 6th graders are quick to come when called and follow instructions. Turning them from runners and frolickers into dancers requires little more than some glow necklaces or buttons and an announcement that “we’ve got some cool prizes for anybody we see doing some good dance moves.” The parents love it when their kids get fussed over, and the kids get a kick out of seeing their dads doing goofy things on-stage. I consider kids my very best audience, and I think I have nearly as much fun as they do!
Not having kids, however, it’s an annual re-education camp for me as to what the super young set are listening to at the moment. I not only need to ferret out what’s popular, but be totally cognizant of the music content. At a Catholic school, not only must the “seven dirty words” be avoided at all costs, but overall content is also an issue. Even if you have radio edits, you can bet that at least some of the kids know the words and will sing them anyway. Convincing an outraged parent that “the word was NOT in my version of that song” is an argument you don’t want to live through and cannot win anyway. Cuss-free songs must also be free of overt sexual content, or references to drugs or violence.
In short, preparation is vital. I end up doing several hours of listening to music I normally might never hear. I often view the lyric versions on YouTube to be sure that certain words or content don’t get past my ear. This show only lasts 2 ½ hours, but by the time I arrive, I’ve usually accumulated some 20+ man hours of prep time.
But before I can preview, I need to learn which songs I’ll need. My first source is easy; I work with the parents and planning committee, who clue me into their own kid’s favorites. Even then, I sometimes have to exercise veto power, since some parents don’t mind their kids listening to something other parents might find objectionable; a sort of “fail safe.” My next best source is Radio Disney. Or at least it used to be. This is why I’m writing this particular topic: DJs, be warned!
THE GOOD OL’ DAYS
Since I first started doing children’s parties, a DJ’s best friend has been Radio Disney. While my generation would’ve balked at any type of media aimed specifically at us kids, today’s children seem to accept what they offer. Not only that, but Radio Disney has served as a launching pad for many of today’s top artists, such as Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, who started out better known as Hannah Montana. It pays to pay attention to it if you want to see the “next big thing.” Planning my program, I could literally pick any song from the Disney Top-30 and drop it without fear of upsetting anyone. Sadly, this is no longer the case.
Among this year’s offerings were Hunter Hayes’s “I Want Crazy” and “Rock N Roll” by Avril Lavigne. A quick listen to the lyrics makes their unsuitability for the elementary school crowd apparent. Another darling of Disney Radio is Katy Perry, and while most of her songs easily pass muster, a few do not, so you can’t just drop any request with confidence. Know the material! Another one I caught was a great dance tune called “Harlem” by New Politics. Even though it’s #15 on the Disney chart, the lyrics version on YouTube makes it a solid no go.
Turning to the current radio airplay Top-40 chart for the world beyond Disney, some of the most popular tunes are also non-starters. At #1 is Eminem’s “The Monster” which is unplayable for this set, as is “Timber” by Pitbull with Ke$ha. Then there are those songs with a bit of guilt by association, and this year’s poster child is Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.” The kids know it and ask for it. The parents know the video. This makes the call a no-brainer.
YES, IT IS CENSORSHIP
Personally, I find censorship distasteful and eschew the role of “thought police.” That said, I like to work and want to retain my valuable clients. Also, I can sympathize with parents who want to protect their kids and have an ideal moral framework they want to pass along. This must be a very tough job! So, for the brief time I am entertaining them, it’s not too much to ask that their concerns be respected and that I be their ally. Besides, for every song that cannot be played, there are a dozen more that can. There’s no reason to sweat the loss of just one or two, even if they’re huge. Bottom line: know the material.