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3 Approaches to Making the Most of DJ Requests

From its infancy in the 60s & 70s playing primarily in dance clubs, the art of DJing has since become one of the primary means by which people enjoy, listen to, and dance to music in public. From private clubs to corporate parties, weddings to birthdays, DJs account for a large degree of music presentation within the performance economy, and with this growth has come a corresponding degree of skill, specialization, and individuality. For many clients, the most appealing aspect of a DJ is the ability to heavily request material and cater an event’s musical selection, as opposed to a live band that generally must work within the songs and styles they know how to perform. But alongside this ability to make requests and event personalization comes a degree of necessary thought on the client’s behalf; making a request is an act of teamwork with a hired professional, so what exactly is the right amount and right method? This is a question that has no truly correct answer, but here at GigRoster we’re here to help clarify these details to make sure you know exactly what approach to take when hiring a DJ for your special event!

The first order of business is often one that many people don’t often consider - making sure to hire the right DJ! This doesn’t infer finding the individual with the right skill per se, but rather finding a DJ that has the right taste to suit your event. As with all musical professionals and people in general, every DJ is going to come with their own sense of musical taste, preferences and knowledge base. Some DJs have a wonderful ability to scan top 40s music spanning 50+ years, but may have no clue whatsoever when it comes to Latin American favorites like bachata, cumbia, or salsa. With every gradient of musical preference there are a slew of DJs able to cater best to that taste, but it’s up to the individual planning the event to find the right person for the job. Luckily, as DJs have attained a higher level of professionalism over the years many in the market will make very clear what their specialization tends towards, so it should be no problem at all to find the DJ that most perfectly fits your event.

Once a DJ has been decided on, the next step is to figure out exactly how you as a client wish to handle requests. There is of course a gradient of how in-control you as a client wish to be as far as the music selection, but generally speaking there are three primary approaches: total control by the client, “freeform” full control by the DJ, and guidepost requesting.

  1. Total Control-  For some situations, a client may find it appropriate to delineate most or in some cases all of the music selections that they want a DJ to supply. These are most often specialized or planned out proceedings, like a wedding, stage or fashion show or religious ceremony. For such events, the DJ is acting more in the capacity of soundsystem provider than music curator, which is completely OK but definitely needs to be communicated with the DJ beforehand. This can likely be alleviated if the aforementioned action of thoughtfully pre-qualifying a DJ, as some individuals consider part of their skillset to be song-choice, room reading, etc, and may take slight offense at an assumption that their client has a better ear for selection than they themselves do; in essence, being hired as a human iPod. There are certainly instances where this approach is perfectly appropriate, it’s simply worth considering beforehand your specific setting and how much musical freedom is appropriate and what could amount to over-oversight on behalf of the client.
  2. Freeform- In stark contract, it is also fully within the client’s prerogative to decide to leave 100% of the music selection up to the DJ. If an individual saw a DJ at an event and was impressed by their great taste in music direction, then it may seem the obvious choice when hiring that individual to let them again take the reigns. This approach is especially appropriate when directed towards a setting such as a dance floor, where room reading is a huge portion of the DJ’s job and excessive requests may stifle their ability to properly execute their skill. For someone planning a large or multi-faceted event, it may come as a welcome relief to simply hire a DJ and let them do their magic without requiring effort to put together song requests, allowing themselves more time to handle other matters. If you decide to go this route, do keep in mind that upon relinquishing song control one also gives up some right of disapproval if the song choice is not exactly what you want. AKA, don’t say they can play whatever they want if they can’t actually do that! A good safe bet to stick to is to leave individual song choice up to the DJ, but consider some style or detail specifics that you would like respected, such as “I only want 80’s and 90’s hip hop,” or “current popular music but no swearing.” This keeps song selection out of the client’s hands, while also giving the DJ just enough footing with which to find the best song choices for the specific event and audience.
  3. Guidepost Requests- In between these two options, often the best choice is to offer a DJ “guidepost requests,” or a modest selection that establishes what songs the event simply must have and a window into the kind of music that the client would like to have more of at the event. A single event could have a hundred or more songs played, but even just ten selected songs can give the DJ a near total image of the ideal song-selection. For example, what if a client asks for a spanish-language DJ, but the song requests are exclusively cumbia? Any professional DJ will take note of this. What if hip-hop is stated as the style of choice, but not a single song request is older than 2010? Likely not the crowd for Rapper’s Delight. Using song requests as a tool in this way acknowledges the professionalism of the DJ being hired, and can often result in an even better musical setting than if a higher number of songs are selected. One of the best perks of a DJ is the element of surprise that they can deliver to a crowd, bringing up songs that no one in attendance may have seen coming or even heard before yet perfectly match the moment. This effect can be pivotal to a great DJ experience, and song requests presented in a guidepost fashion can be a perfect way to assist the DJ to deliver this kind of experience.

As mentioned, there exists a full gradient between these options by which a client may interact with and give direction to their hired DJ, but taking a moment to think about which approach best fits your situation can in the end be as important as the individual tracks chosen. Though not a live performance per se, a DJ is still a unique individual capable of greatly influencing an event, and thus deserve to be worked with on a meaningful level. Here at GigRoster.com we have years of experience working between such parties, and are happy to help with your event, provide request forms, and much more. Reach out today and let’s make the most out of your DJ booking!

Riley Kennedy-Keys

Riley Kennedy-Keys

As an active musician in the Seattle area, Riley maintains an in-depth insight into the workings of the local music scene, as well as the ins and outs of what it means to work in the music industry.

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3 Approaches to Making the Most of DJ Requests
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