As someone that has been DJ-ing for almost 20 years, I've been able to DJ just about every type of event you can think of.
From weddings to nightclubs to fashion shows to pool parties, I've been able to DJ for all types of people in a variety of settings.
People ask me for requests all the time and most times I'm able to play the requests but there are also times when I just can't. When I tell people I can't play their requests they usually ask why. I usually tell them why, but sometimes I just don't have the time to explain it to them.
And so, in this blog post, I will explain 7 factors that decide what song a DJ plays to help you understand the thought process that goes inside an experienced DJ's head.
1. Guidelines from the person paying the DJ
Whether its the bride or groom, the general manager at a nightclub, the owner of the restaurant or the mother of the birthday boy, the person paying the DJ is who we listen to above EVERYONE else. Most times the person paying us will give us general guidelines or a music playlist to stick to. Many times when I'm DJing weddings people will request a song from a genre that my client has specifically told me not to play (no hip hop or no country are common examples) so I tell them that. There are also times when I'm djing at a nightclub or lounge and people will ask for songs from a genre that I'm simply not allowed to play because if I did, I would get yelled at by the owner or general manager.
2. Energy Level
As a DJ, it's very important to choose songs to match the vibe and energy level of the crowd. For example, during dinner at weddings I typically play softer, more mellow styles of music. I then save all the high energy music for dancing. Sometimes people will request faster, high energy dance music during dinner so I always tell them that I will play the song later on once the dance floor is open.
3. Time of The Night
This is one of the biggest factors people don't realize whenever they request songs. When I DJ at nightclubs and lounges for 4-6 hours my job as a DJ is to gradually build the vibe and energy in the room. I never, ever, play the most popular music in the first hour. When I do get requests for the current hit song of the moment in the first hour I always tell the person that I will play the song once the venue fills up and the mood is right. I almost never play a song more than one time a night. That's one of the unspoken rules of a professional DJ.
4. Familiarity of a Song
When DJing it's absolutely critical that you play songs that the crowd knows or at the very least songs that will get them dancing. If I'm DJ-ing for a group of people in their 50's, I definitely won't be playing any new current Hip Hop, unless they specifically tell me to. At weddings it's my job to play music that the majority of the people will dance. There are also times when my wedding clients will specifically tell me to play some songs that they themselves know that nobody at their wedding will know because those songs mean a lot to them. They even tell me they don't care if the song clears the dance floor, which is fine by me since they are the ones paying me (factor 1).
One of the most important things as a DJ is being able to the read the crowd and play songs that you know will get the dance floor going. Years of experience helps greatly with this. Consistently DJ-ing for different age groups and different ethnicities is what helps a great DJ read any type of crowd. If I've DJ-ed for a particular crowd or group before, I will know what songs will really work best for them and I'll also know what new songs could work well for them as well.
6. Playing Classics
As a DJ, your music knowledge is one your biggest assets. When DJing events, there will always be times that dropping a classic song will add even more energy to the dancing. Many times at weddings when I'm playing new songs for the younger crowd I'll throw in some older, timeless classics that I know even the younger crowd will appreciate.
7. Closing Time
One thing that is always in the back of my mind towards the end of a wedding or club night is how I'm going to close out the event and what songs I will finish with. I always have some songs prepared and ready to go depending on what direction I feel the crowd wants to go. Sometimes I finish with high energy dance songs, sometimes I will finish with some slower classic songs. For example, just recently I DJ-ed a Mexican wedding where the bride & groom asked me play 3 classic slow songs by the legendary Vicente Fernandez for the final 10 minutes. When I DJ at bars & lounges I almost always finish off with some classic 80's or 90's songs like "Wonderwall" by Oasis or "Careless Whisper" by George Michael.
So there you have it. An insight into the mind of an experienced professional DJ and some of the factors that can decide what song they play. There are definitely more factors but those are some of the main ones. Hopefully you or someone you know will consider those factors before they request a song from the DJ.