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Why Being a DJ Has Made Me A Better Band Leader

by vaughn skow June 08, 2011 3 min read

At the tender age of 15 I got my first real regular job, as a DJ at KKOJ, our little home-town radio station.  I worked three days a week after school and pulled two long week-end shifts; often I would sign the station on at 5:30am after having had a 9-1am band gig the night before.  I was young and it was awesome!  After graduation I worked another year or two as a DJ at several stations in Minnesota and Iowa.  I also started doing some mobile DJ gigs, mostly wedding dances.  In the last few years I have traveled back to the future, and through the purchase of a large mobile DJ company, Mobile DJ’ing is once again a part of the complex musical fabric that adds up to a living for me.  Lately I’ve been acutely aware of just how much being a DJ has made me a better musician and entertainer.  That’s what I’m going to talk about this week.  Read on!

By the time I landed that first radio job, my band had already been giging for a couple of years, and I thought I knew it all where music is concerned (classic teenager syndrome).  At that time, my band was more or less playing all the bar-band stuff that every other band was playing.  KKOJ was a broad-spectrum Country station with a music library larger than any record store I had ever seen, and the labels sent them all the new stuff.  That was where my real music education began!  At the station, we got the new stuff before it even hit the charts or the record stores, which allowed my band to learn new tunes before any other band in the area.  Cool.  Also, through that huge music library, I was turned on to some awesome artists and tunes that no other local band was playing.  Cool again!  I also paid close attention to which songs were being heavily requested; if a song was getting hundreds of request a day, I knew that song MUST be in the band’s set list.  Sometimes that meant us learning and performing tunes that we maybe didn’t like that much, or that stretched our comfort zone.  But that was the beginning of real learning for this young grasshopper.  See, the point is this:  it ain’t all about you !!!  It’s about the audience, darn it.  They are the "customer" ... and the customer is always right.  I mean, what’s more fun, playing artistically cool songs without an audience, or playing simple songs to a huge, rockus, appreciative audience?  Personally, I’ll take the latter.

So, what has being a mobile DJ taught me?  Well, apart from learning even more about what kind of music people really like to hear live, it’s taught me two very important things:  First, if you are on stage, you NEED to be entertaining, and to do that, you need to connect with your audience; second, everyone’s musical tastes are a little different.  Guitar players, don’t just stand there looking down and playing; unless you’re Slash, that just plain ain’t gonna get it for any audience members!  If you just happen to be the front man/woman, then darn it entertain your butt off!  Connect with the audience, get to know them; talk to them; make it clear that you know that THEY are there, and that it’s all about THEM.  Now on to the second point:  I personally don’t like urban music, but right now the average 10-25 year old does!  Ignoring that music entirely is a recipe for failure with that audience.  Figure out a way to incorporate a (maybe highly altered version of) Black Eyed Peas, Lil Wayne, or Ke$ha tune or two into your set list and watch the audience catch on fire.  Then when you kick into that Stevie Ray Vaughn tune, they will think that you, and the tune they have probably never heard, are both very cool.

That’s all for this week.  Next week I hope to be back with some 2-12 combination comparison videos.  It’ll be awesome!     emailvaughn    About Vaughn Skow

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