|It's a dog's life behind the decks these days...|
This is richly ironic to radio guys; they've already got that particular t-shirt. Mostly, radio doesn't allow any choice at all. Jocks wind up blanking out the music they play, which is deeply unhealthy. You would too if you had to play the same stuff every day for months on end.
So it seems club DJs may be following the path many radio DJs have already gone down. I really wasn't expecting that, but maybe that's because of the company I keep. I'm lucky to know a few club DJs of the absolute highest calibre. Talking with them, the deal is that they can turn their sets on a dime and go where the audience is. Radio stiffs can't, because radio can't read audiences so intimately.
The beauty of club work is that all sorts of gorgeous micro music climates can flourish. That's not something radio can afford to even think about. You can do your own flavour of edgy radio by yourself, of course, and easily too, with today's super-cheap kit... but just try and find a way to make it pay. Your internet radio jewel will go out to a few dozen listeners at best; your biggest chore will be to tell everyone you're out there doing your groovy creative thing. Bands face the same problem: that level playing field is so bloody big you can't see the end of it.
For years it's been clear that if you want a life of creativity working with other people's recorded material, pop radio isn't going to be the place you need to be in.
So why now club djs? Well, entertainment venues don't actually prize creativity; mostly, they want bums on seats and cash across the bar and they want the easiest route to get there.
Which brings us to audiences, the market and the challenge of reaching out. We now live in an age where everything is available online. I love that. I can go find what I want, fast, and carry it around on my phone or my tablet. I love the mechanism; I hate the results. The trouble is, easy access means people can pump out a ton of trivia. It feeds a growing appetite for stuff you don't have to think about.
What online can not do is to guide you the way radio used to... the way the best of today's club jocks can do. Of course, there are software packages and algorithms to read your listening patterns and suggest stuff. Last-FM's Scrobbler, for example. Spotify will also point out things for you. In my experience, both of these devices, while admirable in principle, are woefully bad at telling you what you might like, or what might surprise you in a nice way. This week, Spotify invited me to check tracks picked by my favourite footballers. Yes, those useless overpaid plonkers who blew it in Brazil. There are so many levels of fatuous in that concept it's hard to know where to start.
YouTube works a bit better, but that's Google for you. They probably know every song you've got. They definitely know every song you streamed.
So in our online world of endless choice, we actually struggle to find the new. We still go to trusted people to recommend things – pals on Facebook, a reliable playlister on Spotify, a club guy who knows his stuff, the rare and excellent jocks who still flourish on radio. Outside of that we get the humdrum, the predictable, the familiar, the stuff with big money behind it.
In a more innocent age, with less outlets, risk-takers could get decent platforms. I very much doubt that John Peel would have got a job in radio if he was starting out today. But, back in the day he did, and informed by his first experiences in US top 40 radio, he set out to do something very different. I remember Radio 1 shamefully doing its very best to squash him (at the height of Smashy and Nicey), before accepting it had a national treasure on its hands. Now, those DJs who honour his principles have a whole station to work on in 6music, and some splendid specialist outlets on 1, 2 and 1xtra.
The rest? Hundreds of stations playing very limited repertoire. And courageous and/or self-indulgent (you choose) shows on tiny stations that hardly get heard, online or terrestrially. Risk-free programming is the safe option in a hyper-competitive market. Even those stations that cater to the commercial end of club music are risk averse.
It's interesting to see how conformity has crept into club programming. I listened through two hours of cutting edge House at Oobleck in Digbeth last month, waiting for a live act. It was sort of OK, once I got into it. Being completely off my face would have helped a lot, but, hey, I was driving. But it was also kind of … boring. And dated. And hidebound. Maybe I missed the subtleties; I am extremely ancient. But it looked like the rest of the audience did too, because they were busy shouting conversation at each other. Or texting. Nobody danced. That's the kind of pressure that pushes club jocks to pump out the floor fillers.
All this is so circular. Pop radio started out playing super-tiny libraries of 50 songs or so in rotation. That's where Top 40 came from. Now they're back to those library sizes in some US markets, and that's coming here, guaranteed. I'm also noticing online club mixes fronted by all sorts of wacky voice clips and sound effects pulled from 50s movies. That reminds me of those kerrazee zany DJs of the 60s and 70s, who couldn't leave jingle packages and sound effects alone. I hated those guys. They wanted to be noticed, but they didn't have anything to say. So they screwed perfectly good music up with audio irritation.
Pulling this all together, it looks like many live DJs may be in the same media-driven death spiral that much of music radio is in, because of the web and tech-powered competition. There's tons of new stuff out there but there's no time to listen to it. There's vicious competition for gigs, and that means you gotta do something, anything, to get a slice of the action.
Cue safety net programming._______________________________________________________________________
DJ Zimmie's original post
DJ Zimmie's original post