A DJ is a DJ is a DJ
I’ve wanted to be a DJ my entire life, and I’ve been one in every sense of that incredibly loose term. I started out playing CDs at my own middle school dances and handing out mixtape after mixtape that I painstakingly taped off of the radio for crushes in high school. I DJ’d in clubs and bars once I moved to Boston, and I got to spin tunes before and after Red Sox games on Lansdowne Street right next to Fenway Park with some of the most raucous crowds imaginable. My favorite and most memorable moments in college was working at the radio station, and then I landed an internship at a classic rock radio station in Boston and thought it couldn’t get any better than that - until they actually put me on-air. Now I've been doing it every afternoon digitally on the internet at (shameless plug incoming!) Boston’s indie617.com, Even though my path has been twisty and diverse, I can honestly say the purest and most enjoyable DJ experience i’ve ever had is on the all-new TT.FM .
It’s got all the best of parts of the DJ experience (the real-time sharing of music with the masses along with its unrivaled freedom and breadth in terms of music discovery, which are only a few of the many many reasons I love it) with none of the potential nightmares (nobody’s going to spill a drink on your expensive equipment that you have to lug everywhere, and you get to chat with everyone else about the song as it’s playing without having them screaming in your ear - Thanks, chat window!)
I’ve been a DJ in the traditional sense, as a FM radio host at some of the best terrestrial radio stations from Boston to Bakersfield; but I’ve also DJ’d at business conventions, dance clubs and music halls, and I’ve even helped out a buddy for a wedding one time. (NEVER AGAIN, I felt SO dirty playing the Chicken Dance.)
Sharing music with real people in real time is an AMAZING feeling (especially if they like what you’re playing) and Turntable gives you that in a way I always wished terrestrial and other forms of radio could. When I was working an overnight shift early on in my radio career in a tiny cramped studio at the aforementioned classic rock station all by my lonesome, I’d get the odd listener call in the 3AM hour, but you could go an entire air shift without knowing if anybody was digging what you were playing - thanks to that big green thumbs-up button, I can get that satisfaction instantly when the bassline to the latest Japanese Breakfast or Thundercat jam hits and everyone in the room starts bopping along.
There’s many little things about the freedom and feedback Turntable gives you that make it superior to old-school DJing - but there’s still some stuff I learned along the old analog way thatI thought I might share in hopes to help others become the best Turntable DJ they can be and get you that avatar with the gorilla rocking that huge swag chain drip.
So if you’re hoping to stay up on the decks and spin for maximum bops, here’s some tips to become a better DJ (Turntable or otherwise):
This one’s the most important, but also the hardest to quantify. Basically, you want to keep the party going, but also feel where it’s coming from and move it forward - That means knowing what kind of music to play at that specific party; nothing sucks the fun out of as room than someone who crashes in with a death metal / My Little Pony mashup in the middle of a really good run of electro-pop - you wouldn’t play dubstep at a wedding (sorry, drunk groomsmen); so don’t play it in a Jazz room. This seems like basic “DJing 101” stuff, but sometimes it’s really hard to fight that urge if there’s a song you REALLY want to share - but you can’t just shoehorn it in there. Same goes for regular ol’ radio DJing - I wouldn’t have been a classic rock DJ for long if I ignored what we’d been playing and just tossed on some Kenny G or Beyonce “just to switch things up”. Those other avatars in that room might be other DJs, but they’re also your audience too, and no one likes it when they get a trainwreck like that, especially if they had established an extended groove they had been enjoying.
A simple way around this is to find or create a room that fits what you want to play, even for a song or two - there are SO many options and genre-specific rooms on the new Turntable - and you shouldn’t be afraid to go check them out and share that song with them - they’ll be much more receptive to it.
It's always a good idea if you’re new to a room to try to feel out the vibe before you start DJing. If you want to lead, it helps to first learn how to follow a vibe - and if you go into the popular rooms, you can get a pretty good feel for how it’s done. Some of the best rooms and communities on Turntable feature regulars in rooms who know how to tell STORIES with the music, complete with day-long themes (female-artists only, or special events - like playing nothing but love songs for Valentines’ Day, for example). Being flexible and pliable while listening to and working off of what others are enjoying can help you enjoy YOUR picks even more; and helps build that all-important VIBE.
MAXIMIZE YOUR MOMENTS
You might REALLY be into that trap-remix of an obscure EDM b-side from an artist you saw once in A fresno warehouse rave, but the others in the room might not be ready for that just yet - people are more willing to give you a little more lee-way if you don’t just drop a digital needle on whatever YOU want to hear, whenever you want to hear it - sometimes it’s better to go with the flow for a few rounds to build up some good karma to let ‘em know it isn’t just a one-way street. It’s a lesson radio (and also my kids, in a much more brutal way) taught me - if you want people to listen to you, they’ll be much more apt to do so if you bother to listen to them, too. Sure, if it fits - by all means, drop it in there - but don’t cram it in there because you can’t be bothered to take your audience into account.
BE PROACTIVE AND REACTIVE.
The chat window in the Turntable rooms is a godsend - you can find out SO MUCH about a room and your fellow bears, pioneers and DJs there. All sorts of clues are just waiting to be discovered - if someone’s all chipper because it’s their birthday, it MIGHT not be the best time for that screamo track (unless they ask for it along with some eyeliner for their birthday). But if someone is talking about their dog in the chat, you can’t go wrong with playing a song for the dog; or at least with the dog in mind. Putting a personal touch like that on your music selections help you stand out, and we’re all here to have fun and share music, aren’t we?
Other DJs are sharing what they’re sharing for a reason; let them know you’re listening to what they’re playing and try to build on it - Oh, they’re playing The Weeknd feat. Ariana Grande “Save Your Tears?” Well, if we gonna do two 2021 titans teaming up, maybe we should follow that with Gwen Stefani and Eve to throw it back to when that really became popular, or even Snoop and Katie Perry - maybe I should hit them with something that might have inspired it, or sounds like it, or builds on the tempo, energy, the beat, the sample… the possibilities are endless - but the GOOD ones are linked to what came before - add to the vibe, don’t try to change it or hijack it. Don’t drop David Bowie’s god-awful duet with Mick Jagger - different genres, different decades, different vibe entirely - there’s a place for that, but it’s NOT in a room that’s trying to get a groove going.
Being a guy who’s worked as DJ for a Marconi-Award Winning Station and also a 10-watt community college radio station,, there are different vibes and different rules for every occasion, and Turntable Rooms are no different.
Don’t hop up and then go AFK - it's not really fair to the other DJs who are listening to each other just to get something random from your Cue to be thrown in the mix because you can’t be bothered to listen and choose one that fits and builds off what they painstakingly chose - trust me, it makes the experience SO much better for all involved.
Hey, it’s going to happen - someone is going to hop on the decks and play something in the room that you don’t like, or even despise. (They might not have been lucky enough to read this primer yet - don’t hold that against them). Don’t immediately hit them with the thumbs-down button. Give them and their song choice a chance - and please don’t forget the cardinal rule of DJing - not everyone is going to like that you’re playing. Put yourself in their dancing shoes for a second - they chose something they wanted to play, so they obviously chose it for a reason - tearing them down and ripping them in the comments because they don’t share the same distaste for Nickelback as you do isn’t going to make you any cooler. You can always try to steer the vibe back with a song choice of your own, or you can just ignore it (provided they didn’t throw down a 13 minute Phillip Glass art-piece in a hip-hop room). I’m not saying to not use the thumbs down button either, but I usually wield that power with caution; I usually try to chat up the DJ who doesn’t quite have a feel for the room and help them with some constructive feedback and maybe as little hint or a nudge (“This one is really something, I’d definitely listen to this when I’m not in the mood for some more house-party-type beats - they’d love this one over in the Ambient room!”). If they don’t pick up on that and then drop Dark Star from Pink Floyd next time around, well then yeah - I’m going to be hammering that red button.
There are a million other tips and tricks out there I could type at you, but the best way to get better at DJing is to actually do it - you’ll learn a lot just by trying out different things and checking out how others do things - with the added bonus of being exposed to music you might not get a chance to hear otherwise. That’s what makes Turntable so great