Breaking down the fatal flaws of bad DJing.
We’ve all experienced a bad DJ. It’s not fun…
Oblivious to the feel of the room or the desires of the client.
If you’ve seen an amateur in action, it’s often cringeworthy. For those who DJ professionally, it’s disheartening when our craft is defined as setting up speakers, beatmatching, or trying to be the life of the party. We’re tired of seeing wedding receptions derailed by DJs who mean well, but have no clue what they’re doing.
So what separates an amateur from a professional?
We’re glad you asked…
In our opinion, problems arise when the basics get ignored. There are some DJ fundamentals that many people never learn. A lot of people take up DJing as a hobby, or it’s their first go at running a business. Everyone has a learning curve so we thought we’d review some basics.
Whether you’re looking to hire a DJ, or you’re in the industry yourself, here’s 5 tips to avoid hiring, or being, the worst DJ ever!
Setting the Stage: Self-Awareness
Of course no DJ is perfect. Even the best in the business make their share of mistakes. This article is not designed to roast every DJ who messes up an announcement, mispronounces a name, lets a dorky dance move out once in a while, or forgets to put fresh batteries in a wireless handheld mic. We’re all probably guilty of at least one of these.
Before we dive in to our 5 DJ tips, we want to highlight one of the most important qualities in any DJ … self-awareness.
Merriam Webster’s defines self-awareness as: “knowledge and awareness of your own personality or character.”
Terrible DJs have something in common: they lack self-awareness. We’ve all seen this in action…
– It’s the DJ who tries to be a standup comedian. Few find them funny.
– It’s the DJ who brings 10x the gear they actually need. When all is said and done – tangled cables have invaded the venue like the devious tentacles of the Kraken!
– It’s the DJ who only plays the songs they like, while completely ignoring the demographic and preferences of the crowd.
The fact is, DJing involves people. It’s not just playing tunes from a playlist. It’s understanding what people like, tracking the response of the room, and making significant on-the-fly decisions that make or break an event.
So to start, we think self-awareness is a prerequisite for all else. Here’s a few questions to ask yourself. Answer honestly.
- As a DJ, how well do you know yourself?
- How well do you read the feelings of others?
- Do other people respond well to you?
- Are you funny? How do you know?
Such are the many questions surrounding a DJ’s self-awareness. Awful DJs tend to be clueless about themselves, how to meet the needs of others, and how the crowd really perceives them.
That being said, think of these 5 DJ tips as an exercise in self-awareness. Run through the list and rate yourself as honestly as possible. Better yet – ask a fellow DJ you trust to rate you.
#1: Don’t Talk Too Much
This one might sound obvious, even predictable. But the tendency to over-talk is more dangerous than many DJs assume.
Let’s start with an extreme example. Chances are you’ve experienced this… a DJ who not only makes announcements, but his announcements have announcements! While guests are trying to dance he/she sings along with the lyrics, or continually spews hype cliches like: “Put your hands up!” or “Let’s raise the roof!” There’s absolutely no judgment for using a good ol’ fashioned hype-phrase (tacky as it is), but save that stuff for parties with your friends. As a professional, don’t ruin your clients’ experience by karaoking to your favorite 90’s rap playlist.
It’s okay to enjoy being on the mic. Emceeing is a key aspect of our job. But less is more.
Here’s a few more subtle ways a lot of DJ’s talk too much. Annoying emcees aside, even seasoned professionals sometimes makes these mistakes:
Announcing dinner tables
At weddings it’s common for the DJ to excuse tables for dinner. If you’ve been in the industry for years, you’ve definitely done this at large weddings with 200+ people. That’s a lot of tables to excuse.
Where do DJs go wrong here?
They announce each and every table on the microphone!
Can we just say it? No! As guests are talking with each other at their tables, the last thing they desire is to be continuously and loudly interrupted by a DJ. Add to the equation the fact that guests are typically starving and wonder why the hell the DJ hasn’t called their table yet – it’s a recipe for disaster.
And worse still, given the boring nature of this task, many DJs kill time by working in jokes with their table announcements. During this portion of the night, people want food not entertainment. They’d rather talk with the people around them, so please stop interrupting them!
Solution? Ditch the microphone and excuse tables in person! Have an assistant? Send them to excuse tables. Make one brief announcement at the start of dinner explaining how tables will be excused, then allow background music to create a calm and pleasant vibe for hungry guests.
It avoids the annoying table announcements every 5 minutes and gives DJs a chance to interact with guests face to face. Instead of coming across as a loud lunatic you’ll create a personal impression.
Don’t talk to fill dead space.
Even the best DJs can’t always prevent unexpected glitches in gear, or awkward moments at a gig. Cut yourself some slack. However, a common mistake in such moments is to fill the dead space with talking.
Someone might counter: talking is better than silence! It makes people feel less awkward! If there’s a lull in the event, or a transition is taking longer than expected, always have background music ready.
Most DJ setups have multiple input channels. Choose a playlist that fits the event, have it playing 100% of the time but muted, then turn it on in moments of crisis.
This is more professional than simply talking to fill space. Use your voice as a last resort. It seems counterintuitive as an emcee, but again we say, less is more.
#2: Talk Naturally
What disturbing images come to mind when you hear the phrase cheesy DJ voice? This phrase transports many of us to some wedding or party we attended, where the DJ talked like a bad game show host.
The bottom line: just be yourself. Do you. People want authenticity, not an actor.
Using a cheesy announcing voice can be an honest mistake. It’s often an misguided attempt to create more energy, or to hype up a crowd. But you don’t have to become another person, or change your voice, to engage a group of people. Quite the opposite!
If you are engaging clients personally and authentically, they’ve hired you for you. They’re not interested in a DJ who announces stereotypically. Be yourself and allow your personality to draw people in.
Some DJs naturally have a deep booming voice and that works for them (although you might have to scale it down to avoid being overly dramatic). You’re not doing voiceovers for an action flick, you’re a DJ. Use the vocal chords you have and speak naturally.
Regardless of what frequency your voice falls into, there are a lot of factors to creating energy with your announcements. Speak with enthusiasm, but don’t become a cartoon character. People are more likely to follow someone they relate to, so be relatable.
#3: Announce With Variety
How many DJ’s start every announcement in exactly the same way?
“Ladies and gentlemen…”
“At this time…”
“Next up we have…”
There’s probably a place for each of these statements, but it’s easy to wear out a phrase by overusing it. How often do you begin an announcement the same way? Have you ever asked yourself that question?
The worst DJ’s ever are uncreative, monotonous, and predictable. As emcees their control of the event feels clunky and amateur.
Tip for success… Have 3-4 ways to say everything. If you can’t write down several ways to announce a cake cutting or introduce a toast, inspiration won’t magically arrive in the moment. A gifted DJ gains his/her edge in the details – by giving attention to not just what is said, but how it is said.
#4: Speak intelligently
This one may seem subjective, but consider how intelligent you appear and sound to your clients. When you make announcements, is it clear what you’re saying? Do people know exactly what’s being asked of them? Do they know where to go? Are your instructions easy to follow?
The language and tone you use when emceeing depends on your context. Is it okay to use slang or should you stick to more formal announcing? Well, it depends on your context. Where are you? Who are you speaking to?
At a wedding, for instance, some level of formality is probably required. But not always. A rural barn wedding might require different vocabulary than one in an urban high-rise. Regardless of how formal or casual you need to be, the main thing to avoid is being sloppy.
As a DJ, don’t think of emceeing as an afterthought. People form their opinion of you largely by how you interact with them. The more thoughtful, fun, and intelligent you seem, the more likely people will pursue you as a DJ.
A good rule of thumb is to rehearse your announcement in your head before speaking. Seriously, it works. It’s easier to stumble over your words by flying by the seat of your pants. Before grabbing the crowd’s attention, go through exactly what you plan to say.
Occasionally you’ll find yourself correcting yourself in your head, or finding a better way to say something. Taking a few seconds to rehearse pays off.
#5: Don’t be the life of the party
We saved an important tip for last… the goal of a DJ is not to be the life of the party. DJs are not the center of attention. Instead they direct people’s attention to where it should be.
The center of attention might be a bride and groom.
It might be the music itself.
As a DJ, it’s never you.
The worst DJs ever think they’re the star of the show. That’s the first mistake, DJing isn’t a show. It’s a profession. It’s a service to clients.
What happens when a DJ thinks they’re the “life of the party?” Expect the aforementioned emcee who can’t stop talking, cracks painful jokes, and is prone to make uncomfortable cameos on the dance floor.
Good DJ’s create energy behind the scenes, not from center stage.
Getting People Pumped
It’s not that good DJs are uninvolved in the fun, but rather they understand their role in the fun. A great DJ constantly monitors the pace, flow, and vibe of the event. They ask questions like:
How are things going?
Does something need to change?
Who’s on the dance floor and what song best fits them?
What’s the best way to ignite more energy right now?
The demographic of a dance floor can change multiple times during a single gig. DJing means thinking on your feet and making adjustments. No auto-pilot allowed.
So what’s the bottom line? A DJ’s job is to help people party, not be the center of the party.
No Stand-Up Comedians
A serious DJ party foul is bad humor. Our advice is to embrace early on that DJing and stand-up comedy are two separate callings. Please don’t confuse them.
First, because most DJs aren’t as funny as they think they are. Sure, there’s probably someone out there who appreciates their humor, but the trick is knowing whether that’s the majority or minority. Be lighthearted and fun. A well-timed joke can be great, but don’t go overboard.
Secondly, ask yourself why people are there. Is it a wedding? Corporate party? Graduation? Birthday? Chances are high no one wants to hear a DJ rattle off jokes. They want to socialize without being interrupted, dance, and enjoy themselves.
Don’t defeat yourself as a DJ by intruding. Create space for people to connect with others around them and have the time of their lives. Stay in the background until you’re needed to keep the party going.
Wrapping Up: What now?
Now that we’ve covered some DJ basics, how do you rate yourself? Rather than being self-deprecating, we hope you’re encouraged to fine-tune what you do. Whether you’re a novice or veteran, we all have room for improvement.
In fact, the best are not always the most talented. Sometimes they’re the ones willing to work the hardest. The ones who take growth seriously.
There will always be bad DJs who miss the mark when it comes to working with people. To them the main goal is showing off their mashups, regardless of whether the moment is right.
But for the rest of us, this is a craft. It’s a passion. It’s about serving people with our talent. We hope these 5 tips will help hone what you do, grow your business, and give you a confidence boost.
Hit Us Up!
If these DJ tips have been helpful, we’d love to hear from you!