Should DJs Be Music Moral Guardians?

Big Brother

By Dave Austin “Music Professor”

What’s Appropriate?

In preparing for a recent birthday party for a group of thirteen year olds, the sponsoring parents expressed concern about the music I would be playing.

Would the songs be appropriate for the age group, and most importantly, would any of the songs contain lyrics which would be considered vulgar or unfit for their youngsters?

To allay the parents’ concerns, I suggested they ask their kids to make up a list of the songs they wanted to hear during the party, and the parents review the list before passing it on to me.

Since that party, I’ve been thinking about some of the music being produced today and how we, as working professionals (and parents), should handle it. It is true that so-called “clean” or radio versions of songs are available and most of us choose them over unedited versions. However, some of these can still be inappropriate due to the lyrical content or subject matter.

Getting Caught in the Middle

For us as music providers for a variety of events and audiences, we may find ourselves caught in the middle of what is considered appropriate and the demands of our clients and guests. Are we to act as moral guardians?

If we’re doing a kids event, and, for example, and “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke or “Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj is requested, do we play it or not. If we don’t play it, the kids will likely be unhappy, but if we do, parents may take offense. Unfortunately, many kids – especially younger ones – may have no idea what the lyrics of a song may mean or imply. (“Whistle” by Flo Rida, for example.)

Should You Hit the “Play” Button?

Unhappily, there is not always an absolutely right/wrong answer. It comes down, in my opinion, to our personal judgment based on several factors: what are the “community standards” for the locale in which we’re conducting the event, and are we qualified or capable of interpreting those standards. What type of event are we doing – kid’s party, wedding, club gig?

Obviously each of these events can have widely different standards which would determine the music we play.

Don’t Be Big Brother

Always talk with your client in advance and determine their wishes and expectations. Find out who will be in the audience – will it be kids, 20-somethings, middle-aged adults or as is often the case, a mixture of ages and tastes.

As professionals, it is not our job to “push the limits” of propriety. In short, using good judgment while still meeting the needs of our client and audience is the best policy.

As always, we want our audiences to enjoy themselves and go away having had a fun experience. So, in a phrase, we should carefully select our music to fit the occasion and audience, and by doing so, we create a win-win situation for both ourselves and our audiences.

Check out these related articles:

Song Selection for Teens
Working with Student Request Lists
When You Can’t Play Your Biggest Request at a School Dance


  • Dave Austin began his career at age 13 at a small, hometown radio station. He went on to graduate from the University of Southern Mississippi with a Bachelor’s degree in broadcasting. Since that time, Dave has been a mobile and radio DJ, radio station Program Director, and a TV news reporter and anchorman. He has also done voiceover work for documentaries and commercials. In 1986 Dave’s longtime passion for music prompted him to start “Southern Celebrations DJs,” a multi-system mobile entertainment company serving clients in Tennessee, Northern Georgia and Northern Alabama. You can email him c/o

Latest articles

Related articles