“Sorry, but I don’t have it.”
This is a sentence I have said many, many times. Almost every DJ is frequently approached by guests who request their favorite tracks or style. It happens a little more at mainstream/mixed music parties and a little less in clubs that specialize in certain types of music, but it does happen everywhere. I have to admit that this has been a welcome excuse quite a few times for me when I didn’t want to play a certain track – but what would happen if this simply wasn’t true anymore? What if I could access every piece of music ever recorded at any given time, even while I am playing a set at a club?
Why DJs hate requests
Many DJs hate requests. DJs often see themselves as experts in music and pride themselves on their ability to play the right track at the right time. If a guest requests a track that would fit in better than what the DJ had intended to play, this undermines the DJ’s authority. That’s the reason why many DJs seem a bit disgruntled when someone asks for their favorite.
However, since this is so common, most DJs have found a way to handle requests. The obvious way is to accept the request and play what was requested. Many DJs actually do that, but there are also a lot of good reasons why the DJ won’t play the track that was requested. For example, the track might not fit to the musical style of the club or the DJ has played that particular track before and no one danced to it.
While there might be a perfectly good and rational reason for not playing a certain track, it is often hard to communicate that to a drunk guest in a loud club while having a job to do. That’s the reason why “Sorry, but I don’t have it.” is a phrase that DJs say so often. It can be the truth, but it can also be the easy alternative of having to explain why the DJ doesn’t want to play a certain track.
Downloading music just in time
With the rise of download shops like iTunes or Beatport, it has become very easy for DJs to get the music they want. However, what most DJs still do is preselecting music at home and then picking individual tracks from that selection when they are playing at the club.
If you didn’t think of selecting a certain track for a gig at home, then you might actually not have it available when someone asks for it.
I think this is something that can and will change within the next few years. A few clubs I know already have WiFi, and even if they don’t it’s not that hard to get internet access through UMTS or LTE pretty much everywhere.
So why can’t DJs just buy the music they want to play just in time? Sure, you have to prepare for a gig, but what about requests? Won’t guests figure out that you could get any track they ask for at any given time – and expect that you will actually do that?
A little experiment
I decided to try out what this would mean in practice. I recently bought a little mobile hotspot that connects to a UMTS network and creates a WiFi network that I can access from my laptop. When I was booked for a birthday party a few weeks ago, I told the host that I would be able to get any track he wanted within minutes. I also put the mobile hotspot clearly visible for everyone on front of my laptop.
I had assumed that more people would take the chance to request something and that they wouldn’t accept a “No” of any kind.
The party was great: Nice location, nice people, good food and drinks, and I did my best to serve the right music. I got most of the people to dance and at the end of the party, everyone seemed to be happy.
What surprised me a little was that requests didn’t change at all. People didn’t request more or less songs than at any other party. In a few cases, I bought the tracks that were requested and played them, and in some cases I just gave a friendly “No”. I felt it was sometimes useful to get a track just in time, but it was by no means a game-changer.
It’s hard to tell if people actually understood precisely what I was doing and that they could actually get every song they wanted – but does it really matter? Was my experiment even valid? Maybe I was just lucky and had an unusually friendly crowd that night?
It’s not about technology, it’s about trust
I talked to a couple of my DJ friends about this experiment, and suddenly all of this didn’t seem like such a big deal.
One of my friends summed it up nicely:”Trust your DJ!”
If your crowd trusts your musical taste, it will not matter much if you play that particular song or not. If they don’t trust you, they will either leave or bother you long enough until you give in and play what they want.
It might actually be useful in some cases to buy a track just in time, but it doesn’t save you from the effort of preparing your gig and knowing your music. If you are not prepared and just play whatever people ask for, it will probably be a really crappy party.
Nevertheless, I expect it to become normal to just buy a track during a gig. Maybe we will even see integration of download shops into the user interfaces of popular DJ software – or even be able to access our music collection in the cloud through services like Spotify.
Would that fundamentally change what DJs are doing? Not really – it will always be about the right music at the right time in the right place.