After a long weekend behind the decks I came home with mixture of pride and defeat. In the span of two separate 6 hour gigs I had discovered music in my library I had forgotten, laughed with friends, pulled off some clever mixes, marinated my liver, lost sleep, tore up my back, and spent my earnings on cabs and late night pizza. Most people think being a DJ is all fun and games, but, in truth, it is filled with ups and downs. So, before you run out and blow your X-Mas bonus on a pair turntables, it would be smart to look at the pros and cons of being a DJ. Since I am a cynic at heart, I made sure to enlist the help of a few established and respected DJs so you don’t have to take my word for it.
- Sharing music – According to Sam Walker, one half of rising duo Walker & Royce, the best part of being a DJ is “Traveling abroad and meeting people around the world who are all connected through this music. it’s cliche but it’s so true.” I think most of us DJs would agree on this, or some variation.
- You get paid to party – You do what you might normally do on a Friday night, but you return home with more cash then you started with…on a good night anyways. Some say that a “job” is getting paid to do something you wouldn’t normally do. DJing is not a job, it’s a love. Getting paid is just a bonus.
- Schwagg – As a DJ you are often privy to numerous free stuff, including, but not limited to: Drinks, T-shirts, cover charges, equipment and various assorted party favors if you position yourself appropriately. These are essential to making up for the small wages, at least in America.
- People think DJs are sexy – Standing in that booth and steering the momentum of a party has some substantial cultural cache. You don’t even have to pump yourself up to walk over and talk to a cutie, they will come up to you!
- There is no dress code – Wearing a uniform couldn’t be more repressive to your personal identity. As a DJ people are excited by your need to express your personal style, and often expect it. Sometimes dressing the part can get you more gigs than your music.
- Free music – The more you play out the easier it is to convince people that they should send you their tunes for free so that you might spread the good word.
- You have an excuse not to dance – Some people love music, but are too embarrassed to do the Mash Potato. When you are stuck in the DJ booth, you have the best excuse in the house. Personally, I dance in the booth even if you can’t see my feet.
- Sharing music with your friends – There is nothing like being surrounded by a group of your best pals, while you drop bombs on the dancefloor. Q-Burns Abstract Message says that the best part of being a DJ is “Any time I’m on the bill with like-minded friends. No matter the club situation, having a kindred soul to vibe off of makes me a better DJ.”
- Working the room – DJing is like a sport, if you are on your game you can find your groove; the pocket when you are in the mix and the crowd responds to every move you make. International Tech House DJ Derek Marin says that the best part of being a DJ is “The moment you have the crowds full attention and trust. When you’re in the zone and they’ve fully committed – you can take them anywhere and it’s magical. During that time i feel like i’m cheating death in the same way that Hemingway describes making love.”
- Steering culture – Over the years DJs have been responsible for new musical directions, advances in technology, fashion trends, and dance movements among other things. They are in a position to enrich culture on a number of levels, and are in no danger of fading away.
- It can be detrimental to your health – You can spend countless hours breathing in dust bunnies while crate digging in some off-the-grid basement, damage your eyesight by staring at a computer screen until you are bloodshot & bleary eyed, or throw out your back lugging your gig bag across town and country.
- Collecting is an addiction – Like any drug, voraciously collecting music can quickly deplete your bank account and make your house unlivable. Have you seen that show hoarders? Thank goodness for digital media.
- Song Requests – You have spent years curating your record collection and keep your finger on the pulse of the musical heartbeat, but this is regularly lost on the gum chewing loud mouth punters badgering you to play the sounds of another played-out pop star from their smart phone. Resident New York DJ, Dims, r(h)etorts “If I was just plugging phones in left and right, why would I even need to be there?”
- Competition is high & the pay is lousy – Now that everyone and their brother has a laptop, DJs are a dime a dozen. Promoters regularly exploit the scarcity of available venues and sacrifice quality for “a following” to fill their coffers. DJs are expected to fill the bar, take a modest cut of the bar profits, and get booted when they have worn out all their friends. Where has all the love gone?
- DJ Egos – There are a lot of DJs out there with the big head. If you are opening for a big name DJ, you may find that they aren’t always the most humble of people. A little bit of fame can go to their heads in a big way. Reflecting on his own experience, Q-Burns Abstract Message says the worst part of being a DJ is “Encountering and having to deal with the ridiculously inflated egos of many of the other DJs. It really bums me out sometimes.”
- “Airports”- This is the worst part of DJing in one word via Derek Marin. Not too many of us are globetrotting, but this one is high on the list of those making ends meet on the international club circuit.
- Pandering – DJs spend their free time sifting through barrels and barrels of crap to find a few musical gems. This makes it particularly soul crushing when you are forced to pander to the masses, who, at one point, looked to the DJ for was new and good. Now that everyone has ten thousand songs on their iPod, respect levels are at an all time low.
- Trying to make everyone happy – It doesn’t matter how many songs you have in your repertoire, there will always be someone that is unhappy. If that someone is the booker, sometimes you have to turn on a dime. One half of the duo known as Hot Jello, Mike Device says the worst part of DJing “…is when you book a private gig in advance, and discuss the musical direction and then they immediately change it on you, and you have to do something else entirely. It kind of throws you off balance.”
- Keeping people’s attention – Not only do you have to be on your toes in the booth, you have to regularly play out, make podcasts, get your name on another flyer, make tracks, and tweet. Warhol’s notion about 15 minutes of fame is now a lot closer to 15 seconds. As soon as you slack off, you are forgotten. The amount of time you spend keeping people’s attention these days is astronomical to the time you spend actually spinning records.
- Haters – Anyone who hates on the music you play, or thinks what DJs do is not hard, suck the most. If you aren’t into the music, go some place else and leave us in peace!
I am sure there are a few more on both sides of the coins that I have missed, but you get the idea. For those us that stay the path, the pros continue to outweigh the cons. In fact, when I asked Mr. Walker what he thought the worst part of being a DJ was, he said “Nothing that merits me complaining about it.”