Not another Laptop DJ
written by Scotty Evil
Well, it’s time for a rant.
For those who don’t know, I’ve been a DJ for about 25 years. I was the guy stuck in front of the stereo system at house parties and I decided to get paid for it. Simple as that. Sure, I took a break from it time to time, but I’ve always come back to music. It’s my passion. I once got a birthday card from a friend that said “Happy Birthday to the only guy I know who listens to everything from Iron Maiden to The Powder Blues”.
And it’s true. I’m into everything from British Metal to R&B to House and most everything in between. If it has musicianship, deep lyrics or a great beat I’ll likely love it.
But enough about me. This rant is part of a bigger issue born of sheer ignorance.
I have a LOT of musician friends, some relatively famous. The drummer from Trooper since 2006? Went to high school with him. Super nice guy, amazing musician. But live bands (don’t know of any dead ones, but hey, that’s what they call themselves) have this stigma about DJ’s. We are always taking their venues, taking their jobs, and we press buttons on a laptop.
History lesson: people have been playing pre-recorded music for people to dance to since the Gramophone was invented. There were orchestral revolts in the street. Quartets picketed outside of mansions where well-to-do socialites were dancing to THEIR music and not paying them so much as a shilling! The nerve!
These musical pirates were then called “DJ’s” sometime in the 1940’s. Not sure what they were called back then, cylinder spinners? Wax slingers? Then came the 50’s and “sock-hops”. Lots of local band got gigs playing that evil “rock” music. Noise. The Devil’s music. And there were more than a few DJ’s.
All along, “Live Bands” (let’s call them LB for short) have lamented this, a long passed-down tradition from those Quartets of yore.
So don’t get me wrong, I have a shit-ton of respect for LB. I play in a cover band myself. I spend hours learning new songs, and as I play lead, guitar solos as well. It requires talent, effort and practice.
Does DJing require that? Let’s see. My job is to make people DANCE. Period. I get pretty upset with myself if people AREN’T dancing. I have to “read” the crowd. I have to pick from some 40,000 songs to start things. And pick another one. And another. For 4-6 hours, sometimes without a LB or any kind of break. At an average of 3.5 minutes a song, thats a shit-ton of music. Put your iTunes on random someday and see how happy you are with that fuelling your next house-party. I’ve seen people use an iPod to provide music for their wedding. It’s a fucking train-wreck.
Why do DJ’s use laptops? YOU pack around 10 crates of vinyl and then be fucked because you don’t have a song someone wants to shout-out to their drunk 20 year-old friend having a birthday party with 50 people spending shit-tons of money at the bar that will pack the dance floor with ladies in short skirts. YOU pack around 50lbs cases of CD’s then have to sort through an Excel spread-sheet to find which fucking compilation CD the latest Enrique Iglesias song is on. I use a $1100 Macbook Pro to run the mixing software for my $1000 Numark controller to play, beat match and use effects on the $250 hard-drive full of the 40,000 songs I have purchased over the years for which those artists are getting paid royalties for. Yes, LB, some of my earnings go to YOU.
“Oh, you just push a button on your laptop every few minutes. You just use a playlist” Fuck that shit. I pick music on the fly, and THEN I BEATMATCH it. It’s called mixing. Most times my crowd doesn’t know the song has changed. And I get requests. On rare occasions I don’t have that one weird song I’ve never heard of. But I use my LAPTOP to download it in minutes (from my record pool subscription or iTunes) and BAM! Happy customer.
I’ve seen hundreds of bands work in clubs. Most have a pre-determined setlist. Dance floor empty? They don’t care. Granted there are a handful talented enough to switch it up from night to night. But then then are a few who use “backing tracks” or “click-tracks”. Why? Because they don’t have keyboards, or horns, or even backing vocals sometimes. Funny as hell when they fuck it up though and “Billie Jean” continues to play on while they get their shit together.
But the venue owner DOES care if no one is dancing. A smart venue operates on a very simple system: make the ladies happy. What makes them happy? Dancing. Not the fact your guitarist is proud he finally mastered “Sultans of Swing” or Van Halen’s “Eruption”. Congrats, you made 3 people in your bar happy because they are guitarists too. But the ladies are grabbing their jackets and heading to the next bar down the street, where they know the DJ will drop some Drake and take their requests all night.
Why doesn’t the venue book LB anymore? Because the ladies left. And so did the men trying to pick them up by spending wads of cash plying them with Jaeger Bombs in the faint hope it will lead to a booty call. But back to the real reason this is a rant.
When one of my LB friends post the same tired “come see me play my laptop” meme, it irks me. It didn’t the first couple of times, but FFS I don’t shit on your band as they play their favourite rock song that NO ONE has ever danced to. Here’s a tip LB: if they don’t dance to it, you’d better be famous enough to have a best-selling album to help you book gigs, because the local night-spot want people to dance, not some guy who ventured out from his mom’s basement in shorts, Nike Shox and a faded Sepultura concert shirt to drool in his $3 happy-hour Coors Lite.
LB: stop trashing DJ’s. We’ve upgraded our skills, our music selection and our equipment. If you spent more time paying attention to your setlist and what venue owners want, you wouldn’t have to worry about DJ’s taking your opportunities. I’m very glad to work with some talented local bands. The best have something new to play every time we work together. Honest, check out Toy Zebra when you have a chance. All talent, no ego.
And BTW, any of you are welcome to come watch me work. Some nights it’s work. Most are a blast because my floor is packed and people are blown away at the variety of genres I mix in. Fist-bumps and high-fives from the dancers make me grin.
So in closing: don’t shit on someone who works at McDonald’s when you stagger past the drive-thru at 3am stuffing your face with a Happy Meal. It’s not cool, it’s downright hypocritical.
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Written by Scotty Evil