Photo by Libby Lewis
The term “read the crowd” is one that gets thrown around quite a bit in the DJ world. But what does it mean, exactly? Unfortunately, all too often, it means whatever the DJ wants it to mean. In otherwords, as we’ve all seen, an inexperienced or arrogant DJ reads into the crowd, deciding what he thinks the crowd wants to hear, and then delivering what he thinks is best for that crowd.
I think, though, that a crowd should be read like a book, which is to say that it is what it is, so why try to make it something else? A cookbook can never be an auto manual, and an idiot’s guide to tantric sex will never be The Great Gatsby. In other words, a crowd, like a book, is fixed. Sure, you can read between the lines all you want. Interpretation is critical for a DJ, and without good interpretation skills a DJ is nothing but a glorified jukebox. But trying to bend the crowd to your way of thinking by “schooling” them in whatever your latest musical obsession might be, is a quixotic endeavor, and the results can be disastrous. Like the “free bird” in the Skynyrd song, you can’t change it, and by trying to do so, you’re only going to fail to engage it, possibly even enrage it.
By respecting your crowd as a complete whole, and not some diamond in the rough that “needs to be schooled”, the smart DJ works with the crowd, acknowledging and celebrating their personality, giving them something they like, and letting them know their tastes are appreciated and valued. By working the room from the inside, a good DJ earns the trust of the crowd. Once the trust has been established, and the DJ’s got the crowd comfortable and engaged, THEN the fun begins, and the DJ can show his stuff by taking it to the next level.
Without engaging and respecting the crowd at the outset, the inexperienced or arrogant DJ may find himself in the uncomfortable position of playing to an empty dance floor. And, tempting though it may be to make excuses, he’ll ultimately have no one but himself to blame.