Playing what you want vs what is needed.

Some DJs are faced with a reality. Sure you like deep rolling techno and spend 4 hours on beatport digging for the best possible tracks to include in your set. But what happens if you get to the club and you can just tell that the latest Carl Cox bomb will cause puzzled looks on all of the punters faces. Not everyone plays in Ibiza (yet). Sure you could stick to your guns. But this is likely to cause a few consequences. Your unlikely to get people dancing. Who wants to play to an empty floor? And you are likely to piss management off and not be booked there. That might be cool as well, but there are only so many places to play at and you want to be seen as professional. After all you are an entertainer. People have payed good money to come to a club and sacrificed time and effort to be there. So DJ’s find themselves a position of great power, but also great responsibility.

Lets face it, dance music with its many different genres is quite specialised. A niche market. And then you have micro niches. Just look at all of the different forms of house: deep, minimal, tech, funky, progressive, the list goes on. Which dilutes a listener base even further. The majority of people do not understand, because it is not their passion. And thats cool too. I don’t understand a particular passion for cars or cooking. They exist and i respect that. Many a times have i talked to someone about dance music and am treated to a mused look of boredom.

So what is the solution? Well i have heard a number of things. Play the music, educate the crowd. This is an interesting one and i can see this perspective. A lot of the time people have not particularly come specifically for new music. Yes they want music. but they also want to hang with their friends and have a good time. Its a thing where they don’t really want anything different. Music is often about familiarity. Some people search for good music. The music enthusiasts. The rest want what they know. Do you push something on someone who doesn’t want it. From my experience it does not work. Its as difficult as getting the kids to eat their broccoli.

If you are known for playing minimal underground and are found in this position what do you do? Is a commercial track acceptable? I have found that as a DJ your music selection and range of knowledge has to be larger than that of the people who have come to see you. A comedian has to know more jokes than you and keep it fresh. No-one wants to go to a show and hear rehashed jokes. I find the same with music. People want familiarity at such venues. You can come to a gig with 20 fresh underground tunes but people will want to hear what you played 1 year ago. This is where track selection is very important. Songs with familiar hooks, accapellas, edits and remakes of old classics work well. This gives a sense of maintaining that little bit of freshness, not rehashing something on the radio and keeping the crowd happy. Playing as if you are a jukebox is no challenge. It’s finding fresh remakes and edits that can make it fun again. Or music that people have heard but has not quite made it to the mainstream yet, such as in film, advertising or even alternative radio. Whilst people may not listen to alternative radio, they may hear it at a coffee shop or shopping mall.

Of further interest is that you are then able to introduce less familiar songs interspersed in your sets and keep yourself challenged as a DJ. It’s a fine balancing act. And of course having a broad range of solid tunes, not too one dimensional so you can read the crowd and actually sense what type of music is doing well. Nothing is worse than getting to a gig and not having the tuneage to support your great mixing skills!

Music can be quite contextual. Whilst seeing one of our favourite DJs in Ibiza play a Swedish House mafia track might not be looked upon favourably, playing it in a bar and a club which isn’t so underground can be a better choice as its what people want. The same song has different meanings in different contexts.

What do you think? Is playing a commercial track selling out? Or are you being a good DJ and giving the crowd what they want?
Leave your comments below


  1. I think u need to have a mixed bag but if your playing complete commercial rubbish that ur not remotely interested in then your probably in the wrong joint..early evening with some groove that ur into, main mix with whatever takes your fancy including your bangers ur really into and later with some mashed up edits with classic hooks that ur into..sorta see where I’m going with this haha..nice site by the way!!

    • Yeh Eamonno totally agree with you. It’s trying to keep things fresh without total compromise of your style. It is challenging, but can be very rewarding as well! Thats the DJ’s job and thats why we love it!

    • Thanks for checking the site out as well :)


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