Last Saturday night I was asked to step away from the DJ Booth at Fado’s (an Irish pub and Dance Club in Atlanta, GA) for not playing exactly what was written on a scripted playlist that the general manager handed me ten minutes after I started my DJ Set.
Ring a bell? To some of you this episode might remind you of a recent case that took place in Miami Beach last December, when DJ Shadow was asked to leave the DJ booth for playing music that was “too future”. After the incident DJ Shadow tweeted: “I don't care if I get kicked out of every rich kid club on the planet. I will never sacrifice my integrity as a DJ...ever”. These words resonate with me today as I write this trivial note about the incident that I went through, in hopes that I can expel some demons out of my system.
I cannot think of a more diminishing thing for a DJ than asking him or her to play off a scripted playlist. What’s the point of having them there? If all you want to hear is a predetermined playlist, don’t go through the trouble of booking a DJ. Just hit play on your computer or IPod, and let the machine do the job.
After thirteen plus years of experience as a Disc Jockey, I've learned the importance of reading the crowd as the night progresses and being mindful of the type of venue you are playing at, and this time this was no different. Two months ago I was invited to play at this same place, and after the night was over, my set and style was highly praised both by the managers and the public. This is exactly why they asked me to come back. What was different this time was that Brian Russell (Fado’s general manager) was present, and he clearly did not like the music I was playing. Ten minutes into my set he approached me and handed me a two-sheet playlist broken down by the hour. He asked me to play exactly what was on the list without deviating its particular order, to which I politely explained that I was not going to do. “With all due respect” – I said, “I am not a juke box. I am a Disk Jockey. I will accommodate as many songs as I can from your list into my set to please you and your costumers, whenever I think those songs feel right, but I will not play your list as is. That’s just not what I do.” “Don’t be so damned arrogant” – He said. “People didn't come here to hear you play, so just do as I say and play the list.”
Why was professionalism and standing up for what you love and believe in, mistaken for arrogance? Club owners and managers know their business well, and they are key for us as entertainers to know what’s happening beyond our range of view in a club. As a DJ I've learned it’s very important to listen to them, as they can provide us with valuable insight about our surroundings, but demanding a DJ you hired to play off a list is just simply ridiculous.
Twenty minutes after I refused to play by the general manager’s rules, he approached me one more time claiming that the song I was currently playing wasn't part of the list, and therefore I had to stop playing, collect my things and leave. With forty plus people dancing on the dance floor, and many others having a good time around it, I got on the microphone and addressed them, saying that I was very sorry to inform them that I could no longer continue playing. “I have been asked by the management to stop because they do not like the music I am playing, and they want me out” - I said. I thanked them for coming and started collecting my gear. For a brief fifteen seconds, people around me started cheering “DJ, DJ, DJ, DJ”; Fado’s house music kicked in, and almost everyone inside the building left shortly afterwards when the none directional, boring and predictable playlist they pray upon, filled the space.
When approached by my girlfriend to talk about what just had happened, Brian Russell simply said: “Here at Fado’s we don’t really need a DJ. We just need someone to push a button and pretend like they are DJing. People here don’t care.”
In the end, I believe that both Brian Russell and myself stood up for what we believe in. Neither of us had to sacrifice our professional integrity. He did what he considered best for his establishment and I did the same for one of the things in life I have a huge respect and gratitude for: Great Music.
If the rules of the game had been clear since the moment they contacted me with a job offer, all of this would not have happened. If all they needed was someone willing to play their list, I would have clearly declined their offer, and spared all of us from a very unpleasant experience.
Djing is in itself an art form, and as such, it requires a great deal of research, practice, love and devotion. You decide to become a DJ, not because it is trendy, but because you honestly love and respect music, and because you want to share it with others in a very unique way. Good DJs understand the crowd they are playing for, and the venue where they are playing; they are constantly feeding from it, and reinventing themselves in the moment to create a very distinctive experience for their listeners. They take risks by pushing the boundaries of their public as they play familiar and unfamiliar songs, challenging the audience to explore new sonic territories. They tell a story with the music they are sharing, create a unique and cohesive atmosphere that lifts peoples hearts by summoning the collective sound-consciousness of an era. They make you smile and dance.
There is no playlist in this world that can achieve all of this. Every single night is different, unique, and has it’s own particular energy; It demands the human soul intervention. Assuming that a repetitive scripted playlist is what your clients want to hear, is not only an act of arrogance, but also an insult to your costumer’s intelligence. Although we all like to hear our favorite songs when we are having a good time on the dance floor, we also like to be surprised, challenged, and introduced to new sounds.
If you are reading this and you are a musician, a DJ, or any other type of creative individual, I highly encourage you to stay true to your art and stand up for what you believe in. Although many doors could shut in front of you, know that many others will open, ones that will respect your work, integrity and professionalism. Do your homework and find out beforehand where you are playing, and what’s expected from you. Always do your best. If things go south despite your efforts, stand tall, stay true to your craft, learn from the experience and move forward. How you treat your art is going to make club managers, promoters, and such, respect and value the music culture and business as a whole.
Now, if you are looking for the easiest money ever earned in your life, there is a job opening at Fado’s on Friday nights, and all they expect from you is to simply push play.