Last time I went to a DJ night was probably 50 years ago. The DJ spun vinyl records and talked a little.
Well, two nights ago I went to a 21st century DJ night. It had great music to dance. Although sometimes the percussion (drums, etc) were very repetitive. There was a guy that looked very busy, and rocking with the music. I danced up to where he was performing to have a look around.
He had a square console with maybe 50 illuminated buttons, and a half dozen knobs to turn. On his right was a laptop. He had a pair of headphones, but would only put them on for a few seconds.
It is obvious that he had a multitude of recorded stuff to select from.
But how does he do it? Other than filling the dance floor, what makes one DJ better than the next?
Play the right songs in the right order.
He reminds you to tip your bartender?
I jest, mostly. if a DJ is keeping people on the dance floor, he’s doing his job. If his audience wants to hear top-40 hits from the mid 90’s, it’s just his responsibility to queue up the Blues Traveler and let his audience have fun. A hallmark of a good DJ is figuring out what makes his audience tick (and ignoring that one drunk guy requesting the Ghostbusters Theme for the fourth time that night.)
But depending on the skills of the DJ in question, and the context of the venue, he may be doing little more than matching the beat of the outgoing track to the incoming track. If your DJ is competent, you shouldn’t hear a jarring change between the rhythm of two songs, even if they’re mostly at two completely different tempos.
Other DJs will actually mix on the fly, using each of those incomprehensible buttons to add in beats, sounds or sampled segments in rhythmic loops to create a song. Or, it can be something in between, where the DJ will jazz up songs, by mixing in segments of other songs or adding other musical layers on top of it.
You’ve probably seen those times when the dance floor is packed, then a new song comes on and everyone drifts away. Good DJs don’t do that. They can read the crowd and know what to play next - bring the energy up, slow it down, etc.
I’m guessing since you said the percussion was a bit repetitive, it was electronica and the DJ was mixing one song into the next without a distinct switch. With software that matches the beats of two songs, it’s not as technically challenging as it used to be when they had to manually match the tempo and downbeat by altering the turntable speed (or at least it’s a different technical challenge). But the DJ still has to know what two songs will mix well together and at what point one needs to start. That requires knowing thousands of tracks in detail.
Here’s a video with The Sklar Brothers really funny routine about the strip club dj
Moved to Cafe Society.
General Questions Moderator
This…but I will add to it. Plays the right tracks in the right order that his crowd wants to hear. That makes a good DJ that’d I’d pay to go see.
Now from a bar owners’ perspective, a good resident DJ at a local bar knows the above and also when to empty a dance floor and drive everyone to the bar to buy drinks.
Technology has made it easy to be a bad disc jockey. Most have a good knowledge of EDM (electronic dance music) from Kraftwerk (circa 1978) to the biggest Las Vegas names, like Steve Aoki, who recently hosted an excellent radio show where he played his favourite music from the last 30 years.
Good songs have a very catchy rhythm or hook, with these songs endless similar variations are still being played years later. Some songs are particularly innovative. Many songs are popular for a week and fade into obscurity.
The best DJs don’t overplay a given artist (here’s more Drake!), can read the audience and keep people rushing to the dance floor (they’re playing this song!), can educate the a audience a bit without condescension, mix good songs of similar rhythm together well, play a variety of beats or musical sub genres, have a low key style (look at me! My name is on a billboard!), may have interesting video…
I suspect that luck has something to do with establishing a name, along with gigs in places like Ibiza and Vegas, but there is a real difference between a good and great DJ, even if not well described here. Seamless transition, every song perfect, completely control the mood and audience.