Thoughts on swing dancing and Lindy Hop, one word at a time…

Three Ways To Annoy Me As A Swing Dance DJ

Over the last two or more years I have had the privilege to DJ at different weekend events and weekly venues mainly along the East Coast here in the United States. It’s an activity I love doing and the majority of the time I have a blast sharing my collection of music with dancers.

However once in awhile when I am DJing at a swing dance and people say to me or do things that make me just question things such as “Why are you at this dance?” or “Have you been drinking?”.  Without further ado…

1. Asking For Free Music

Once in awhile someone will come up to me and asked me what song I played, which I don’t mind at all. If I have the time I might go into detail what different musicians are in that band and a good place to find the song to purchase. However occasionally as a followup I will have people ask me for the song, or even worse a bunch of music. Manu Smith on Yehoodi’s Swing Nation actually mentioned almost the exact same reasons why this really irks me as a DJ.

The main reason this annoys me is the majority of the time the requests are for newer bands like Gordon Webster. These guys work hard and spend a lot of time to create this amazing music. In many cases I personally have met some of these musicians and actually attended the live recordings of the CDs they produce. For them it is a full time job that creates so much value for our community. For a person to not throw a dollar or two to just download the song online somewhere for all the effort they put in? Not cool.

2. Bad Requests

The running joke that I have for myself as a DJ is that my slogan is, “Requests will be met with loathing and disdain”. While I fully admit I sometimes have borderline pretentiousness in relation to music that rivals the record shop employees from the movie High Fidelity, sometimes I get requests that would make even the most open minded swing dancer go “What…?”.

There are definitely tiers of bad requests, with the the worst tier being music that is completely inappropriate for any kind of partnered dancing. I have had requests for electronica music, hip hop, and believe it or not Mambo No. 5 by Lou Bega. Followed by that is music that are for dances that are not swing dancing such as Salsa, Waltz, and et cetera. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against other dances but if you pay to attend an event advertised as a swing dance and I was hired or requested to DJ at a swing dance… it shouldn’t be too surprising that I am only going to play swing dance music. Lastly is your typical neo-swing requests such as “Zoot Suit Riot”, cliche requests such as “Sing Sing Sing”, or the new electro-swing craze that has been going around.

Regardless this is often how I feel in response to some of the particularly bad requests:

music_taste

3. Telling Me I Haven’t Been Playing X Type Of Music… And Being Completely Wrong

I’ve luckily only had this happen maybe two or three times. Fun fact, when I DJ my laptop keeps track of which songs I played so far. Typically the conversation goes like this:

Random Dancer: “Hey you haven’t played any songs in the medium tempo range.”

Me: “Medium is a subjective term, what do you mean? Like what BPM (Beats Per Minute) or can you give me an example of a song that you’d define as medium tempo?”

Random Dancer: “You know like that one song about cake.”

Me: “I actually DJed ‘I Like Pie I Like Cake’ by the Four Clefs about an hour ago, you can see it right here.”

Random Dance: “Yeah… can you play more stuff like that.”

Me: “Sure…”

The lesson here is if you haven’t been listening to the music in a DJs set… giving them advice on it is probably not the best idea.

Summary

I’d like to reiterate that DJing is awesome fun and 99% of the time I am having a blast and feeding off the energy of a crowd. Just once in awhile I have those moments of, “Seriously?”. Other DJs or event attendees, I would love to hear your horror stories as well.

 

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14 responses

  1. Hounddog

    This is *exactly* why I only have music on my laptop that I would play at a swing dance, so I can say completely honestly that “Sorry, I don’t have that song on here”.

    March 11, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    • Funny you mention that, I do the exact same thing as well. It leads to some interesting comments such as “How do you not have Zoot Suit Riot as a Swing Dance DJ?!”

      March 11, 2013 at 3:39 pm

      • Hounddog

        That’s the worst you get? I get people asking my why I don’t stock blues music, like “Rolling in the Deep” O_o

        March 13, 2013 at 2:40 pm

  2. Teal

    I think my all time favourite request was “Can you play that song that song again? I didn’t get a chance to dance to it when you played it half an hour ago.”

    March 11, 2013 at 3:43 pm

  3. I, thankfully, have not had to deal with too many requests at swing dances. However, the one time I DJ’ed a corporate party with another swing DJ (it was 20’s themed and we were to ease into more modern music as the night progressed) we were bombarded with requests. We got one of those vague sort of requests, like the ones you mentioned, that we were not able to oblige, then the girl asked “Well, what kind of music DO you have?” I answered “20’s, 30’s, and 40’s jazz.” The look of horror on her face was priceless.

    March 13, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    • Same here, especially the look of horror in their faces 😉

      Requests within the swing dance scene are rare. And if there are some, then I answer that I will play the requested song only if it makes sense in my current DJ set.

      It’s much worse outside of the swing dance scene at theme nights (“roaring 20s”, “prohibition night” etc.) where people absolutely don’t care about the theme and just do absurd requests. Not easy to turn them down and keep being confident about the music I’m spinning.

      March 13, 2013 at 11:39 pm

  4. Amanda

    I guess my response to this is a little bit against the grain. I am happy to play the more cliche songs for dancers when they ask or when I feel they are going to move the energy a certain way on the floor. I’ve meet too many DJs who will not play songs THEY are tired of hearing. While I understand that, it isn’t my place as a DJ to say because I’m tired of that song, it isn’t ok for someone else to really like it and enjoy dancing to it. My goal is to help the dancers have a great time, so if playing neo swing, or sing, sing, sing is going to get them all happy and excited then I’m doing the crowd a disservice because of my music preferences. I do have exceptions to this, when the song they are requesting would clear the floor because of tempo or if it isn’t really danceable. Or if I’m headed into a genre shift and it is going to screw with the flow. But generally, I will try and accommodate because some times the song I don’t want to hear ever again will fill the floor and build the energy. Another solution I have suggested to said person who wants to hear Mambo No. 5 is that I am happy to play it at the very end of the night if they want to stick around, but that since it isn’t a swing song it would not be appropriate to play in the middle of the regular set. Just my two cents 🙂

    March 13, 2013 at 8:40 pm

  5. J-h:n

    At a swing dj get-together the other night, a fellow dj told us the story of the greastest request of all time. She was playing a fast Chick Webb tune with Ella singing when a dancer came up and asked: “Do you have anything that’s… you know… a little more SWING?”

    March 13, 2013 at 10:16 pm

  6. We all know these funny little wannabes that want to explain to a DJ what style and music he or she should play – and all these posts seem kind of familiar to me…

    But even more interesting: me playing only 78s shellac recordings, I can only play those on my turntables (speed and stylusses only permit those) and have nothing else in my collection but more than 10.000 recordings:

    the disappointment in some girls’ faces, when some years ago I refused a CD she wanted me to play for her with the new Robbie Williams Swing Album, was priceless…

    “You are just a bad DJ when you do not have the technical equipment with you!”

    *haha*

    Some sportive Jiver “When will you finally put some Boogie Woogie?” – Big surprise: I showed this guy the label of the original Victrola record after the track was finished. It said: “ELECTROLA – Boogie Woogie – Tommy Dorsey und sein Orchester”…

    No need to argue then… but this is VERY RARE!

    DJ Wuthe in Berlin

    March 14, 2013 at 8:53 am

  7. Reblogged this on Generation: Swing and commented:
    As a new DJ, I’ve come across the bad-requests thing. It kind of drives me up a wall. I have a set list for a reason, and chances are I spent days freaking out about it. Please, don’t ask me to change it.

    March 19, 2013 at 9:19 pm

  8. Rob Moreland

    The beginning of your 2nd point reminded me of this 2008 photo from DJ Ryan Swift: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ryanswift/2227269503/

    As for me, I don’t mind getting requests, but I only play them if:
    * they fit the event, the crowd and the energy in the room
    * if I can get from what I’m playing to what they want in a way that doesn’t kill the flow, and
    * if I can stand to look at myself in the mirror later knowing I played those songs

    Amanda, I’m all for making the dancers happy, but I’ll do it on my terms. (I don’t think that’s too different from what you said.) There’s usually a way to avoid playing crap and still get them out on the floor. And if what they want is so far removed from what I’ll consider playing, then either they’re at the wrong dance or the venue/event hired the wrong DJ.

    June 11, 2013 at 7:05 pm

  9. Interesting to read the replies and opinions on here. When I DJ, I don’t have a premade setlist as much as a grab bag of stuff from which my setlist is filtered as I go. It depends on who shows up, what response the last song got, and the mood of the room. I do have a strict rule about not putting anything I wouldn’t play on my computer so that I can shrug and apologize if asked for something strange. However, I welcome and encourage requests.

    A dancer who makes a request of me (if it’s polite) isn’t telling me what I SHOULD play, they’re asking for a song that will make them happy and want to dance. My first goal as a DJ is to play music that does just that for the room. I’ll fit the request into my set, but if it’s at all reasonable I’ll try to find some way to play it. Then again, if they ask for jive music, neo swing, or some such, I’ll take the time to explain to them that I only DJ swing music from the jazz era and bands who follow that tradition closely… and that it’s for that reason that I’m doing the gig I’m at.

    As for music sharing: I swap songs for songs with friends sometimes, but make a point of supporting artists who are still alive and buying food with the money I pay for a CD. There’s nothing more flattering than someone coming up and asking me what the song I just played was though, it tells me that I’m hitting the target with my music and bringing something unique to that person’s musical experience.

    August 5, 2013 at 9:12 pm

  10. Lindsay

    This is a most excellent post. Hilarious. I am usually plagued with the same issues…

    However, the last time I was DJing a new dancer came up to me and asked if I take requests. I replied that I usually don’t because I have a method to my madness but he could give it a shot. He said he is really into Fats Waller and he would love to hear some of his tunes. OMG. I figuratively almost fell out of my chair.

    It was like I was in some alternate universe of DJing. Maybe one day I can go back 🙂

    November 4, 2013 at 3:38 am

  11. Shay

    I’ve seen this happen so many times, it’s a little sad really. Check this graphic out, feels the pain of DJs everywhere http://hhhhappy.com/we-love-djs-who-doesnt-heres-happys-guide-on-how-not-to-piss-off-a-dj/

    November 11, 2015 at 12:43 am

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