Saturday, December 10, 2011
Dinosaurs, Dodos and DJs. The first two of this alliterative trio are extinct. Based on the chilly reception I’ve seen many veteran DJs give newcomers to the profession, I’m afraid the third could end up the same way.
The optimist in me believes that most DJs truly want to help each other. And I’ve got to believe that common sense prevails when “experienced” (read “aging”) entertainers consider the prospect of a generation of DJs moving on to that big dance floor in the sky without anyone to take their place. And yet despite optimism AND common sense, I often read comments like:
“Why should some newbie get to make the same amount of money as someone who has worked for 20 years??”
“Give me some of the top guys on this board with a lappy and two speakers on sticks over a newbie running U2's touring setup, any day.”
“If you start a group for just 'new' dj's, what knowledge will you be looking to share? It would be "the blind leading the blind”
I have entertained at hundreds of weddings as a singer in a band setting for many years, but as a relative newcomer to the mobile DJ profession myself, there have been times when I’ve felt the cold shoulder from skeptical veterans firsthand. Of course, it is important to mention that I have also been helped by many DJs who are more than willing to help and advise. But I tend to agree with this recent forum post from a DJ who clearly senses a less-than-encouraging vibe from veterans:
“I see a lot of bashing of "newbies" on here.... Has anybody ever thought about being nice to them and giving a few pointers to help them out instead of slamming them on here or when you are around the other DJs that are in the know...I think that it only helps our industry, plus I am just happy to see a youngster doing something with their life instead of sitting around with their hand out like most of the next generation that is at the age to be in the work place.”
Most trades wisely develop and encourage newcomers into their professions. They have to if there is an interest in keeping the profession alive at all. Training programs and internships are part of the healthy growth of just about any profession. Many DJ organizations do work to train new artists as well. Innovative programs like American DJs “ADJ University” as well as a multitude of training resources are all meant to teach DJs new and old. However, the people actually doing the work – the “Master Craftsmen” on the streets, most of whom are independent contractors and not part of a large organization don’t seem interested in encouraging or helping newcomers into the profession. Why?
Common complaints about rookies tend to be that inexperienced DJs will tarnish the whole industry or about fears of too many DJs flooding a market with not enough gigs.
The multi-op company I work for, Jerry Bruno Productions in Cleveland takes the opposite approach. We’re always looking to add new talent to our roster of bands, DJs and specialty music ensembles. We always want to increase our market share. And it works. Our top 4 most experienced and popular DJs (out of a roster of 25 [with an average age of about 40 years old, by the way]) actually saw increases in the number of their combined bookings in 2011 – a year in which we added 4 new DJs to our list. Not only can more quality talent attract new clientele and give clients more options, but it also insures that as time goes on we will maintain a healthy roster of the very best entertainers. The laws of attrition dictate that, like it or not, all veteran DJs somewhere will quit, retire or crossfade into the afterlife (did you know that every time a drunk reception guest requests “Shout”, an angel DJ gets his wings?). Who will take their (our) place?
I realize in some markets it could be possible to flood the market with DJs (or people with speakers calling themselves DJs) outnumbering available events. Today’s technology allows just about anybody to make an investment in some equipment and call themselves a DJ. But isn’t that going to happen anyway? We’re not going to stop technology, nor would any sane entertainer want to. So we might as well harness it and help these would be bedroom DJs become professionals that are going to help the entire profession grow. The alternative seems to be to leave them to their own devices (literally), scaring away whatever potential clients there might have been from DJs altogether. Train them. Nurture them. HIRE them.
But I think there’s something else at play here. Something bigger and scarier. Insecurity.
Most of us are insecure to some extent about different things. For me, I think I have an innate insecurity that is a big part of what drives me to be an entertainer in the first place. Think about it. Constant need for approval/applause. “Please like me, audience. Please clap, laugh, dance. An empty dance floor must mean I’m not worthy, right? Why are you clapping for that DJ more than me? Haven’t you seen how many uplit scrim kings I use in my rig?” Okay, so I’m being over dramatic. But I would bet inner dialogues like that are more familiar than most of us would like to admit. I’m not saying the only reason people love to entertain is so self-centered. But I do think insecurity lurks large in many entertainers. It certainly would seem to in the DJ world. DJs need more lights than the next DJ. Bigger speakers. More computers. Do we really need all this stuff to give clients a great entertainment experience? Or does much of it amount to really expensive chest thumping to ward off would-be suitors to “our” clients? What could be more threatening to this fortress of gear than a younger, more attractive competitor with the latest greatest sound and lighting weaponry creeping around “our” turf? It seems easier for the old warrior to build himself up by tearing this new opponent down. At least easier than (God forbid) helping or (God, God forbid) learning from the young DJ. Our culture is constantly changing and evolving. We have to look to younger generations to help us navigate the nuances of changing music, wedding traditions and entertainment experiences.
Newbie-bashing (could this be a new hate crime?) in a blind flurry of self-ego boosting, can give the impression that veterans must not care about the future of Djing. Not caring about what happens to the profession after you’re done with it, makes about as much sense as not voting for a school levy because your kids have already graduated. It’s about the quality of life for all. The idea is to leave things better than we found them. If you don’t care about what happens to the profession after you’re gone, you probably don’t care about it much now and would probably be better off not being in it. Your clients (or the ones you’re losing to the hungry rookie who does care) probably would be.
I'm not saying we all have to hold hands and sing Kum Ba Ya. Healthy competition is good for all of us and for the profession. But an almost institutional professional culture against newcomers could be as deadly to DJs as the ice age or meteors or whatever were to the dinosaurs. Let's hope our species survives.