What Is A DJ Supposed to Know?

What Is A DJ Supposed to Know?

Last night I was posed a question by a colleague of mine.  This colleague, whom we’ll call “Mr. Silver,” asked “Why do you waste your time writing blogs about The Beatles, when you would be better served writing about things that are more directly tied in to your business?”

My answer was swift and simple… “Because music is the stuff a DJ is supposed to know about.”

As with many things, the answer may seem simple but in fact has many layers.  I think he specifically meant that he felt a Mobile DJ Company blog should focus on things like the awesome event we did last weekend, or exciting new industry trends.  And he isn’t wrong.

The Cutting Edge Entertainment blog does in fact feature stories and articles on events and trends, as well as offering ideas and advice for readers who are actively involved in planning events. Whether it be a wedding reception, a bar or bat mitzvah or a corporate function, this blog is littered with stories, articles and features all about that sort of thing. We also – whenever possible – try to ‘spread the wealth’ by writing about other companies that do an exemplary job offering a wide variety of services to folks planning events. We even offer recommendations on where to go and how to shop for photography, videography, tenting, lighting, catering, decor and other event services.

Yet Mr. Silver seems to think that blogs about The Beatles, or music in general, is pure folly.

Maybe he’s right… maybe.

But it is my opinion that knowledge of music is what is expected from a  professional DJ.  For every profession there is a level of expertise that is expected from a person you hire in that field.  If the DJ is just someone who has big speakers, or someone who downloads a list of requested songs to an iPod,  then the level of service and the finished product are diminished.  Like with  almost anything else – the ‘practice’ of being a DJ is an ongoing learning process, and it is rooted in an understanding of popular music.

No Mr. Silver, The Beatles, and any other music for that matter, are exactly what a DJ should be blogging about.

Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom.  If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.  ~Charlie Parker

Many years ago, a DJ I knew was truly stumped on a title that a couple had requested as an anniversary dance.  The client asked for the song “In Other Words” by Frank Sinatra, and although he searched and searched, he was unable to come up with this particular selection on any list of songs that Sinatra had recorded.   A few days before the event he phoned me in pure frustration – and the answer he had sought for weeks came to me in seconds… “Fly Me To The Moon.”  Not only is “in other words” a prominent line in the lyrics, but it was originally the intended title of the song.  Ironically this DJ friend of mine took the position of “Wow, well how the heck was I supposed to know that?”  My answer…?  “Because you’re a DJ.”

Perhaps I’m showing my age here,  but when I was in college and doing the intern thing I had the honor and privilege of sitting in with some of what I considered Philadelphia’s most knowledgeable radio DJs like Harvey Holiday and Pierre Robert.  Their never-ending knowledge of popular music and  their wealth of music factoids inspired me to not just play music, but to understand it… to make it a lifelong study.

I can listen for hours to radio programs like”‘Breakfast With The Beatles” or “Sundays With Sinatra” because the DJs, or “hosts” of these shows (Sid, Helen and Andre) know what they are talking about, they’ve done their homework and their knowledge of the music they play is as complete as Yoda’s mastery of the force, and to me every bit as magical.

So yes, I will continue to study and write blogs about music  – Beatles and otherwise.  It is part of my never ending quest for knowledge, and the reason why perhaps everyone I know – friends, family, colleagues and clients – phone me at odd hours to sing me a few bars of a song and ask me for the title and artist.   Because it’s my job to know.

Music is the medicine of the mind.  ~John A. Logan

I think I’ll leave the hardcore sales and marketing to the experts, and I’ll stick to what I know and love, the study and understanding of popular music.  Like the Pharmacist (or perhaps I should say ‘Apothecary’ for my friend Mr. Silver), who knows which  medicines can  be taken together, and which – if combined – can have devastating or even deadly results, I believe that it’s my job to understand popular music, and the combinations, variations and ‘mixes’  that are available to bring an event to life.  And I’m confident that this makes me a valuable resource to both my clients and my staff.

-Craig Sumsky

‘DJ Brain’ illustration by Sean Gallo – http://seangallodesigns.wordpress.com


3 Responses

Leave a Reply