Photo by Tim Barber
You know that thing called DJing? Playing records in bars or at stupid art openings for money? Guess what DJing is? The biggest fucking bullshit con of all time! People who get over as DJs are making the easiest money ever, because they've convinced every PR person and club owner in the world that they're doing something only a few natural-born geniuses can do. It's laughable. A 70-year-old blind Ethiopian leper with 10 broken fingers can "spin" just as well as any B-list celebrity at any instore party for some gay snowboarding jeans company. I promise.
And those other guys who do all the little flick-flick, crabby moves on records that are covered with spots of adhesive tape that are supposed to mean something? Those aren't DJs! I don't know what to call them. Nerds, maybe? They called themselves "turntablists" five years ago, but I think that got embarrassing. One thing is for sure, though: Those guys don't DJ on the actual paying gig circuit that I'm on, because no hammered jock chicks or guidos from West Orange, N.J., will dance to an hour-long abstract scratch frenzy over a P-Funk B-side.
I've been making loads of supplementary income by DJing for a few years now, and I can barely even scratch my own back. All you really need is a CD burner, Kazaa, and passably cool taste in music. Here, I'll tell you all about my life as a party DJ:
FLOW: The only slightly ephemeral skill to learn is flow. Have you ever made a mixtape for someone you had a crush on? Then you already know what flow is – the ability to maintain a mood. I was at a party once where the DJ kept playing one danceable hip-hop track, then one undanceable slow classic-rock track, one hip-hop, one slow rock, on and on like that for an hour! We would get up and dance, and then sit down, and then we finally just stayed down and shot him really dirty looks. It was the opposite of flow. To master flow, you just need to not be a fucking moron. Can you handle that?
Segueing from one genre to a totally different one is easy. You just build tiny little bridges instead of taking one big leap. For example, let's go from a hip-hop set to a punk-rock set. You play your last rap song, then a Prince track. Then maybe some ESG. Then the Slits. Boom! You're into the punk before they know what hit 'em.
LCD: This is your audience. It stands for Lowest Common Denominator. You are DJing for drunks and cokeheads, and they need the aural equivalent of safety blankets. What would you rather hear when you're high as fuck in a bar: Journey or some obscure acid-house? (If you're a geek, don't answer that.)
I used to spend all my time collecting the rarest tracks, stuff that when I heard it at home it would totally blow my mind. Guess what? No one cared. In fact, they stopped dancing. Now I stick to playing stuff that I liked when I was a teenager (the Misfits, "O.P.P.," and songs from John Hughes movies) and I'm golden. When in doubt, go nostalgic.
CUEING: This is where you enact the flow thing I just told you about. You have two sides, right and left. When something's playing on the right, think of a song that would sound good after it. Cue that song up on the left by pressing the same buttons on a CD player that you've pressed 1,000 times before (or putting a needle down in the appropriate groove on a record). When the song on the right side is about to end, slide the little thingy in the box between the decks to the left. When you're a little less than halfway over, press "play" on the CD or "start" on the turntable. Congratulations, you're DJing. Can I get a "That was easy"?
LINES: A huge guilty pleasure is cutting the line and marching right up to the velvet rope all casual, going, "Hi, I'm the DJ." I like to go to a gig dressed like a total slob. The nicer the club, the shittier I look. Then I can stroll past all the people who used to spit on me in high school and make a big huge deal about going through the door first.
MONEY: Depending on who you are, a DJ's salary for one night can range from a few free drinks to obscene amounts (for the big shots) that make you hate capitalism. I heard Paul Sevigny got fucking $15,000 to DJ at Sundance. I hope that is DJ urban legend. Most DJs I know are pretty psyched if they get a couple hundred. Art openings should pay more, like $350. And remember: Always get paid in cash on the night of. Within 24 hours all money magically transforms into cocaine blown up some model's ass.
COMPLIMENTS: One of the best things about DJing is when you play a really kickass song and people come up to you dancing, going "I love this song!" You get all proud and pretend you wrote it. You're like, "Thanks!" Yeah, I downloaded "Youth Gone Wild," I rule. It's like being told your air-guitar skills are fucking SICK.
NEEDLES: Those sleek, aerodynamic, $500 fancy-pants needles are the second biggest scam in DJing besides convincing people that DJing is hard. For totally serviceable needles, go to one of those electronics stores on Canal Street and get the cheapest set possible. You can talk them down on the price, too. I got a pair plus some shitty headphones for $90 after I sweet-talked the sales guy for a minute. (BTW, the cheap needles are called hip-hop needles and that's mean against blacks.)
MIXERS: There are a few brands of mixers, but who cares. DJs would like for you to think mixers are all complicated, but they're really about as hard to figure out as a home stereo. I once spun at this lesbian party where I ended up giving girls DJ lessons all night. They were lined up across the room, and it only took me a few seconds to show each of them the basics. As Garfield would say, "Big fat hairy deal." Once I showed them how simple it really is, they were shocked at the big deal that people make about the whole thing. Yeah, there are cute little tricks you can do. If you're playing a hip-hop song, it's fun to cut out the bass after the second verse and then kick it back in full force on the chorus. It's a nifty party trick and it makes girls lose their shit. But you can also just say, "Fuck it," set them all in the middle, and read a book in between tracks.
WHEELS OF STEEL: Please don't call them that. Don't call them "the ones and the twos" either. It sounds like your mom saying, "Homie don't play that."
OOPS: You're going to fuck up. The record will skip or you'll be distracted by some drunk kid telling you how much "Bizarre Love Triangle" means to him or you'll let two Wire songs play in a row. No big whup. Everyone's too wasted to care. You should be too. Just take the opportunity to make announcements. I usually shout out important information such as, "Don't stop the rock, motherfuckers!" or "I need to pee!"
REQUESTS: Try not to cry when people request Missy Elliott, again. Or "Hey Ya!" or "Milkshake." Or Cher when you are spinning Minor Threat. Or simply "hip-hop." Or any genre of music, in fact. You wouldn't believe how often people request an entirely different genre of music than what the DJ is playing. It's infuriatingly rude. You're telling the DJ that you hate his or her music. If you don't like what I'm playing, wait 10 fucking minutes and I'll be onto a new thing anyway.
If you simply must request a song, it better be within the scope of what I'm playing at that very second AND it better be such an insane song that it'll make me go, "Oh shit, yeah, why didn't I think of that?"
True fact: That's only happened to me once out of hundreds and hundreds of requests. The song was "Sweet Emotion" by Aerosmith, believe it or not.
SAVING YOUR BEST STUFF: This is tricky. You don't want to blow your load before the night hits maximum party time, so you squirrel away your guaranteed crowd-pleasing monster jams and you wait, thinking, "Now? Now? Do I drop it?" And finally you're like, "It's time, I'm gonna hit it." And boom! It's a fuckin' nuclear-bomb explosion. A roomful of people you would barely be able to look at in the daytime are freaking out like they just won the lottery, all because you pressed a button. That's why you do this shit. That, and the fact that you are a total fucking spaz.
Published June, 2004