Newest Review: ... double act featured a bottle of Johnson’s Baby Oil and <if under 18 please leave NOW> Where was I? Oh yes, one other aspect ... more
I was an accidental DJ
Member Name: JOHNDMR
Date: 03/07/02, updated on 29/07/02 (155 review reads)
Advantages: Good fun for a while - every good night's a party night
Disadvantages: When it's bad it's awful - and you've got to knock it on the head before it becomes a chore
That's right - I became a DJ largely by accident.
□ SELECTIONS FROM MY MEMOIRS (in other words, EXPERIENCE)
Years ago (OK, 1979) I had a resident spot as guitarist/vocalist on Sunday nights at a local licensed restaurant. After I’d been there a few weeks the resident DJ walked out, leaving one of the cooks in charge. Despite my lack of electronic know-how, I’d always thought it would be fun to do a disco. Also I’d just started reviewing records for the local press and receiving freebies, and after a couple of post-gig drinks with his replacement one evening, he let me bring some singles and sit in on the next Saturday night bop. He let me choose records after a while, coached me in the appropriate patter, and so on. A few weeks later he left, and I was running the show for the next year – Saturdays 9.30 p.m.-2 a.m. for diners and the public, plus extra nights in the pre-Christmas party season, wedding receptions and other private functions – until a different management took over.
After that I went back to the guitar/vocal bit, but I’d so enjoyed being a DJ that I was desperate to get back into it. Starting from scratch running a mobile roadshow didn’t appeal, but some three years later another local pub opened a club on Fridays and Saturdays (9 p.m.-1 a.m.). As soon as I knew it was setting up, I was regularly on the phone and dropping round over a period of several months. Maybe they just said yes to stop me pestering them – persistence paid off. That lasted two and a half years, surviving a change of management.
What it didn’t survive was the second landlord’s inability to take a firm line on two or three well-known idiots who were banned from nearly other pub in the area for getting drunk and causing trouble, as well as letting in 16-year-olds. The club’s licence was suspended for a month, just before the Christmas and new year season, after
which we were allowed to bring back the disco, but closing at midnight. By then most of our clientele had gone elsewhere, and soon the place closed.
I was allowed to take the equipment (twin record decks, speakers, lights) in lieu of a night’s wages. Even though it needed overhauling and the speakers were practically shot, it was a good bargain. Once I’d taken the back seats out of my Citroen, there was just enough room for everything – including records – and myself, so I decided to go mobile after all. That lasted for nine years.
Now I no longer had the comfort of doing the same venue every week and using their equipment; getting business in the big wide world was a whole new ball game. I answered an ad in the local press, placed by an agent building up a database of DJs and cabaret acts, and he got me a steady flow of bookings, public and private functions. I had some cards printed at work, handed these out liberally, and obtained extra engagements through word of mouth and personal recommendation by friends.
All good (and sometimes bad) things have to come to an end. I’ll explain further down, but after eight years I bowed out.
□ RESIDENCIES OR MOBILE?
Let’s look at the different aspects of being a DJ in more detail, plus the pros and cons. My two residencies were the most fun. Despite starting both with a slight lack of self-confidence, I learnt on the job, soon warmed to them, and after a few weeks I was more or less living for that magical moment each Friday or Saturday when I would walk into the venue, switch everything on, and just go for it.
As equipment was provided and owned by the clubs, that was one responsibility less for me. On rare occasions when lights or decks refused to function, it wasn’t my red face – “I only work here, folks” – they paid for any repairs. In both cases I inherited a small pool of singles and a
lbums, and part of my job was to keep them updated. My review freebies helped, and I negotiated with the landlord to buy a few singles each week, for which he reimbursed me on production of the receipts.
I soon got to know most of the regulars by name, which records they liked and danced to (beware of bar props demanding ‘Stairway To Heaven’), and had a good idea which records would pack the floor (provided I kept them until the place was fairly full) or alternatively clear it. It was really like spending the evening with friends, getting paid for it, plus a few free pints into the bargain! I’ll admit I sometimes took risks in the alcohol department that I wouldn’t now. These residencies were within two miles’ drive of my front door, and while doing the second one I realised it was better to leave the car at home and get drunk on the job with a clear conscience.
The disadvantage with residencies is that you can’t expect to get paid so well at the same time. But I was enjoying myself and had a 9-5 job at the same time, so I looked on it as pin money.
The mobile disco paid better, particularly on new year’s eve, but on balance I enjoyed it less.
First of all, those cosy nights of going to run a show partly for friends a few minutes’ drive or walk away were a thing of the past. Loading everything into the car and driving maybe 20 or 30 miles away to some unknown pit which was murder to find on my street plan in the semi-dark, then having to dismantle everything after closing time and arriving home well after midnight (not forgetting I had to unload it all when I got back, if I was working again that morning), was not a lot of fun.
Some places were lovely, some downright unfriendly. One which sticks in my mind for all the wrong reasons was a social club where most of the punters were very middle-aged or more. One or two wanted the odd bit of rock’n’roll, one
(who said he was on the committee and must have been 60ish) was furious because I wasn’t playing non-stop quicksteps and ballroom stuff, and then a guy of 20 or so kept suggesting Iron Maiden. Sometimes there’s no pleasing anyone. I couldn’t wait to pack up, collect my money and get the hell out.
After eight years of mobile work, I’d had enough. The meagre profit I was making didn’t compensate for playing music I’d got bored with – I was losing interest in the current charts. The last straw came one night at a pub where the landlord complained about everything; I was playing the wrong records, I hadn’t got everything he wanted, the bass didn’t sound right. After an hour, much to my relief, he told me to pack up, paid me £10, gave me a long lecture about how my agent and I were losing him money…that did it for me.
On balance, though, I’d rather remember those magical nights where just about everything I played got a packed floor, and produced plenty of verbal compliments afterwards, to say nothing of people asking me for a card afterwards in case they wanted to book me for a private party. It didn’t happen that often, but it was lovely when it did. And there was a stag night at the club, in which the climax of the evening’s entertainment was provided by two lovely young ladies whose double act featured a bottle of Johnson’s Baby Oil and <if under 18 please leave NOW>
Where was I? Oh yes, one other aspect of DJ’ing – the fun pub. One where I worked for about eighteen months, having got to know the owner through a friend, had its own in-house radio station, ‘Bank FM’, 8-11 p.m. every evening. A small glass-fronted room clearly visible from the main pub housed a complete console (purchased secondhand from a local ILR station which had recently updated its equipment), with two turntables, two CD decks, a cassette player and c
artridge player for jingles. These included idents for the pub, adverts for a few local businesses, and a personalised jingle or two for each of us DJs on the team. Mine consisted of a snatch of Mungo Jerry’s ‘Alright Alright Alright’ and some dialogue from a Laurel & Hardy film (Ollie wakes up screaming – “I’ve just had a most terrible dream – “ [other voice] “John Van der Kiste on Bank FM!”).
I did one night a week there and, as the emphasis was on background listening rather than getting people to dance, it meant a more eclectic selection of music. I wasn’t restricted to non-stop charts and familiar oldies, but had a chance to ‘share’ a handful of little-known but much-loved old singles and album tracks. To slip in the odd bit of, say, Little Feat or Elmore James instead of non-stop Michael Jackson and Phil Collins was fine by me. My colleagues told me that I was known as Bob Harris behind my back - nothing to do with the teeth or lack of hair, more my quietly-spoken, (hopefully) informed introduction of some of my favourites!
Before taking the plunge to become a DJ, try and make friends with other local DJs, who may not want a partner or understudy, and may regard you as being pushy if you’re too persistent. Check out local venues, preferably in person rather than by phone. Several times, I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.
Be prepared to learn, and learn fast. When I started, I had quite a comprehensive knowledge of current and recent charts, but I was rather introverted and not particularly self-confident. I learnt from the guy with whom I was working to adopt a more outgoing, showbizzy manner, quite apart from the importance of split-second timing, pre-fade listening on headphones to cue discs up so they started at exactly the right second, segueing tracks together, and so on. Don’t
be afraid to steal other personalities’ catchphrases, be prepared to send yourself up, don’t take yourself too seriously. And don’t turn the volume up so loud that you can’t hear requests, be they for a particular record, a dedication, or for you to stop deafening them.
If you’re taking over a residency, or helping out as part of a team, check before you start how much you will be paid. This is a matter for private negotiation between you and the boss. Be prepared to haggle, unless you’re happy to accept pin (or beer) money. Check to find whether you’re expected to supply new records at your own cost, though with luck, some of them should be supplied by the management. In which case, be careful to keep your own records separate!
Even if you’re working within walking distance of the venue, resist the temptation to get too drunk. You have to keep your wits about you, and you’re working in subdued lighting. Once I lost my balance, put my hand out on the table, slipped and gashed my arm quite badly. Another time a barmaid put Scotch in my pint, and the following night she complained that I’d been too loud and talked too much. What did she expect?
If you’re going to be a mobile DJ, I’d recommend getting a residency first if you can, simply for the experience. Once you’re mobile, remember you have all the equipment and maintenance costs. You’ll get paid more – and you’ll deserve every penny.
Acquire a fairly thick skin. You’ll meet mouthy punters with an inferiority complex coming to tell you you’re rubbish, or trying to catch you out by asking for deliberately obscure stuff for the hell of it. Don’t let ‘em get to you.
Finally, unless you can really command good fees, be prepared to see it as a hobby which will only pay handsomely if you stick at it. At the risk of sounding negative, this could
be long after you’ve stopped to enjoy it. I was glad to give up the mobile business, and pleased to get a few short-term residencies after that happened. I’m still asked to do new year’s eve parties at the village hall, own records with equipment provided, even though last time it proved a near-disaster (long story, their fault not mine, he said defensively). But some you win, some you lose.
□ HIRE OR PURCHASE?
Buying the necessary equipment is a pretty substantial investment. Hiring a package of decks, speakers and lights for one night is one way of getting round it. Purchasing secondhand, as long as the dealer is reputable and prepared to include a guarantee, or take everything back if it proves troublesome, is another. Costs vary so much that quoting prices is meaningless – there’s no substitute for getting out and having a look at what’s available in the shops near you, once you know more or less what you want.
□ ON THE WEB
Most DJ-orientated sites are (a) American, (b) ads from DJs falling over themselves for your custom. But if you want to find out more, www.no1djs.co.uk/ is worth a look.