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Thread: The eternal playlist conundrum

  1. #1

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    Default The eternal playlist conundrum

    We all operate in a service industry. That is to say we provide a service to discerning customers who have a particular vision in mind when they book us.

    Our customers vary, though some of us are aiming for different kinds of customers - some are looking for specialists in a particular field, some are after something a lot more general.

    In the more general (and to some extent specialist) area a few of us have noticed a trend in customers wanting to take ownership of the music of their entire event.

    There are probably valid reasons for this beyond the customer being selfish & literally wanting everybody to dance to their tune.

    The 'generic disco' has become something of a dirty word in recent years. Words like 'boring' and 'predictable' are bandied around. Some people can think of nothing worse than hearing the same tunes that their older relatives enjoyed in their heyday. As the people who've been playing 'classics' as long as we have we can possibly relate to a customer who wants something different.

    There seems to be a growing trend though, to issue a dictat that all requests from guests must be ignored. This is slightly troubling in that it's a commonly held belief among us that it's these very people our customers rely on to make their event possible. I mean, if nobody shows up, or people don't stay, an event can't possibly flourish.

    We can point this out to customers and yet they are resolute in the pursuit of their goal. They may be right on the money, or they could end up eating humble pie two thirds the way through the night leaving us to pick up the pieces. Some DJs argue they'd refuse to comply incase they come out of it looking bad in the guests' eyes. It's also considered bad form to 'throw the customer under the bus', aka tell everybody you've had restrictions placed on you (unless the customer asks you to make that abundantly clear).

    There's anecdotal evidence that total control playlists, even exact running orders can work in some circumstances so who are we to judge? We're there to do the customer's bidding. That's one point of view anyway.

    We all are, to varying degrees masters of our own destiny. We can choose to ignore the customer (not recommended) & do as we see fit anyway, or pull out of the booking if we don't see eye to eye. Rest assured though that if we do pull out (aka 'let them down') they'll find someone else who WILL do what they want.

    I experimented for a while, stating on my site a customer could have as much or as little control of the music as they saw fit. Guess what? I got playlisted a lot. Not just to the point where I was given twice the amount of music for the event but the exact running time of the event meaning I could only choose the order myself. These events were, by all accounts a success in the customer's eyes but from where I was standing weren't a patch on how good they could've been, never mind how little fun was had by the DJ doing it.

    I've since revised my website & am taking a different approach. Some could call it prescriptive. My stance is that it's the guests who make an event a success. Yes it's all about the customer to a degree but there are limits. If they alienate their guests by taking things too far, all bets are off.

    In cases where far more music is listed than there's time to play you might think yay, I can cherry pick the ones most likely to make a 'win' but beware.. I've been pulled for not playing an entire 9 hour list for a 5 hour party before. I naively assumed the customer was going to be logical & reasonable about it (whoops).

    Obviously communicating with the customer is absolutely key but not everybody reveals what they want you to do until it's too late to do something about it.

    In today's world I can only see this trend growing. We've not all got work coming out of our ears & not everyody has the luxury of being able to pick & choose the gigs they take.

    What's your spin on this?

  2. #2
    Benny Smyth's Avatar
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    It's all about managing expectations from the off. If you sell your services as someone who will iPod for anyone and everyone, then you give your clients carte blanche. I, personally, make it clear from the off that the way the process works with me is that I will work with my client - I won't dictate to them and I have 'joked' a fair few times in the past that if they hand me six sheets of music, it'll go straight in the bin as I have neither the time nor the inclination to go through it, especially since I really want to zero in on what they and their guests like and not read through '1000 greatest wedding hits!', or the list of everything they have on iTunes.

    I often get asked in the lead up to a consultation "What do we need to bring!" and I always reply with "It's just a nice, relaxed chat over a cuppa, so I'll need you to bring absolutely nothing. Just brush up on your timings and have a think about what you want to hear on your wedding day." They'll see from the chat that we've worked out how to incorporate what they like as well as involving their guests and I've found that, with some exceptions, I don't tend to get a follow up email with songs and when I do, it's a handful of tracks.

    I think clients don't know what to expect and try to cover for every eventuality. You often hear at weddings a guest suggest to a 'tog about how those two trees could make a nice frame for a snap of the bride and groom, unaware of the fact that the 'tog has already spotted it, but is waiting for golden hour. The guest/client didn't know that, but they're trying to get best that they can.

    If you make it clear on how you work and manage their expectations, it's a better working relationship for both parties. Sometimes it's just as easy as a smile and saying "Don't worry about it - that's what you're paying me for."

  3. #3
    Dinosaur Excalibur's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nakatomi View Post
    We all operate in a service industry. That is to say we provide a service to discerning customers


    Mod Note: Time for your pills, Peter.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nakatomi View Post
    There are probably valid reasons for this beyond the customer being selfish & literally wanting everybody to dance to their tune.

    The 'generic disco' has become something of a dirty word in recent years. Words like 'boring' and 'predictable' are bandied around. Some people can think of nothing worse than hearing the same tunes that their older relatives enjoyed in their heyday.
    We can point this out to customers and yet they are resolute in the pursuit of their goal. They may be right on the money, or they could end up eating humble pie two thirds the way through the night leaving us to pick up the pieces. Some DJs argue they'd refuse to comply incase they come out of it looking bad in the guests' eyes. It's also considered bad form to 'throw the customer under the bus', aka tell everybody you've had restrictions placed on you (unless the customer asks you to make that abundantly clear).

    There's anecdotal evidence that total control playlists, even exact running orders can work in some circumstances so who are we to judge? We're there to do the customer's bidding. That's one point of view anyway.
    You're absolutely correct, the concept of " another standard disco " is abhorrent to many customers. Mayhap that's because they've seen some pretty dire offerings, and think that left to our own devices, we'll revert to the same tunes we play every week at every function.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nakatomi View Post
    We all are, to varying degrees masters of our own destiny. We can choose to ignore the customer (not recommended) & do as we see fit anyway, or pull out of the booking if we don't see eye to eye. Rest assured though that if we do pull out (aka 'let them down') they'll find someone else who WILL do what they want.

    I experimented for a while, stating on my site a customer could have as much or as little control of the music as they saw fit. Guess what? I got playlisted a lot. Not just to the point where I was given twice the amount of music for the event but the exact running time of the event meaning I could only choose the order myself. These events were, by all accounts a success in the customer's eyes but from where I was standing weren't a patch on how good they could've been, never mind how little fun was had by the DJ doing it.

    I've since revised my website & am taking a different approach. Some could call it prescriptive. My stance is that it's the guests who make an event a success. Yes it's all about the customer to a degree but there are limits. If they alienate their guests by taking things too far, all bets are off.

    We've not all got work coming out of our ears & not everybody has the luxury of being able to pick & choose the gigs they take.

    What's your spin on this?
    The bold line says it all. Customer wants, customer gets. Simples. We'd all like gigs where we love every single song we play, but that's an unreal expectation.
    Sometimes, Justin, the client knows their guests very well, and the list is pure gold. Other times, it's toilet paper, and you won't necessarily know till you start.

    Quote Originally Posted by Benny Smyth View Post
    It's all about managing expectations from the off.

    If you make it clear on how you work and manage their expectations, it's a better working relationship for both parties. Sometimes it's just as easy as a smile and saying "Don't worry about it - that's what you're paying me for."
    Still being serious, so I see where you're coming from, and to be fair, many clients tell me " you're the one who knows, we'll just rely on you ", so that's right up your street, I'd say.

    On the other hand, I picked up a wedding from a hotel recently, simply because the ( new ) resident disco basically offered twenty tunes of your choice, a pick of fifty standards, and no deviation from the " McWedding " fare they offer.

    I'm very amenable to playlists, and I'm sure I've had the " human iPod " scenario before. I think the word we're all looking for is " Communication ", because I feel that the extremes of rigid playlists, or carte blanche for the DJ aren't ideal. If we can open a dialogue, and get an idea of what the client is seeking, we can use that as a basis for a great gig.
    Excalibur. Older than the average DJ.

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  4. #4
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    I think we've all had that 'human iPod' scenario before...
    I actually played on that a bit when I was in Hampshire and doing weekly nights at my local pub. I came up with a night called The Request Fest where I went in with a blank canvas and left the playlist up to the punters in the pub. The nights were always very enjoyable with very, very eclectic playlists...

    But....bookings such as birthdays and weddings etc are a totally different ball game. I think sometimes, you have to be blunt with the enquirer or confirmed customer and tell them straight. IF they think they know best and want to hire sound equipment so that they can plug and play (which a few have done over the years, and no doubt regretted it afterwards), yes they will save a bit of money, but they won't have the experience they want, or deserve. IF they want to pay for us professionals (who DO know better), yet still want to have full control over what is played and therefore you are the human iPod / jukebox again for their important day or celebration, they are really just paying for a more expensive iPod.

    I've had a few instances over the years where I have had to jump in and save a function that was going downhill because the customer's ideas were simply not working. Having a room full with 100+ guests and 90% of them are sat down, because a handful of the (for example) Bride & Groom's close friends are headbanging to Metallica, or attempting to recreate a scene from a rave is not much fun. Being told stuff like "Please do NOT play any Abba by any means necessary", is magic to my ears and that's all great, BUT.....(and this isn't being stereotypical.....it's true), that alienates a whole group of the older generation who probably (wrongly) expect Abba to be played. They sit there, wondering when it's coming on. They saunter over to you with a confused look on their face, and then the words come out "You haven't played any Abba yet?".

    In my mind, I want to answer something like "Is there a rule that Abba MUST be played?", but I refrain from being sarcastic, and usually apologise to them and pick up my sheet of requests with the do and don't plays on it....shake my head and say "I'm really sorry, but the Bride & Groom (for example), don't want to hear any Abba this evening. The confused and disgruntled guest usually shrugs their shoulders, walks off back to their friends and all of a sudden......I'm / We're the bad men who won't play their song for them.

    I ALWAYS used to advise the customer that a great way to get everybody involved, was to ask for 3 requests from their guests when they send out their invitations, chuck them all on a spread sheet and then send it over to me a week or so before their event. That always worked well, but then again....you don't know if the customer has cherry picked because they've seen songs they don't want played. When it comes to the night, Auntie Maureen who requested an obscure Cliff Richard song saunters over and asks when you're playing it..... "But it's not on my list" I reply.... "I don't have that on my system. Had I known, I'd of made sure I had it".

    At the end of the day - I think the customer should realise that when it comes to this job, we DO know best. That's not being egotistic whatsoever, it's the truth. We have years of experience with many different bookings and genres of music. We're not that customer who is having music at their function, and suddenly decides that because it is their function, they can, or should have everything that THEY like. Yes, of course....they can have what THEY like. They can have it all night...it's not a problem at all IF everybody else likes the same thing. More often than not though, they don't............do they?

    I get sick of having to justify to somebody why a song isn't getting played, or why their request is not wanted by the customer.
    When I was doing it as a full-time job, I'd simply do what the job entailed. If it meant standing there all night with hardly any interaction and I was just pressing buttons, so be it. It may have been boring as hell, but I was getting paid well enough for having to endure the torture.
    Nowadays, I can pick and choose. I will still advise, and if I think the job is not going to be my cup of tea, I simply won't do it.

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Excalibur View Post
    On the other hand, I picked up a wedding from a hotel recently, simply because the ( new ) resident disco basically offered twenty tunes of your choice, a pick of fifty standards, and no deviation from the " McWedding " fare they offer.
    Good use of the word "new" there, being that I was the "old" one (in more ways than one)! Not only did that "resident disco" only offer that limited choice, but it wasn't actually the DJ offering it. Merely the agency who are based over 60 miles away and have no physical contact with the B&G or venue whatsoever. Presumably, near the day, they just send their DJ the list and tell him or her to get on with it.

    One of the pet hates working for a venue - at least until you can rein them into your way of doing things is how they present you with a playlist. Having just taken over at a new (for me) venue, I have done 7 weddings there and only 3 have had playlists forthcoming. The reasons are that the former DJ company operating there had the playlists (obtained through a website based thingy) and refused to release them to the hotel to pass on to me.

    So the most recent two weddings, the B&G were told the reason and were asked to supply their playlists directly to the venue who in turn would pass them on to me.

    Works in theory, but the venue decided to give me them on the night. After I had started. Including the first dance which was due in 45 minutes time. Which I didn't have.

    So, armed with laptop and Amazon (other rain forests are available) I successfully purchased said song and fed it into the player. Thakfully, with about 20 minutes to go I decided to check it and cht-cht-cht-cht, that track would not play. Tried plan B, a different USB port (on my Denon DN4500mk2 CD player). Same thing occurred. Listened to the original download on my laptop, that sounded OK, so I found the appropriate lead and connected the laptop directly to the mixer.

    I do have two CD players running alongside, so was still running on the number 1 unit.

    Nobody was any the wiser, apart from the tog, who watched me almost self combust (decent bloke though - he didn't laugh). Once all wsa done and the buffet opened, I did a little bit of fault finding in the bowels of my flight case and discovered that the connecting cable between controller and drawer unit of the denon was slightly loose, so though I was getting some response on the display and from certain buttons, it was not playing the track.

    Shoved it firmly in and surrounded it with a bit of blue tack for added support and went the rest of the night without issue.

    Back to play lists though. The wedding on Thursday I am covering for a friend on paternity leave have sent him a playlist with 113 songs on. The play time is 4 from start to finish, including a buffet break. Looks like around 50% disappointment then. Unless I only play a minute or so of each song.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by mattydj50 View Post
    ...sent him a playlist with 113 songs on. The play time is 4 from start to finish, including a buffet break. Looks like around 50% disappointment then. Unless I only play a minute or so of each song.
    I have the same this coming Sunday. A 14 hour playlist (something like 240 requests so far) for a five hour set, not allowed to take requests on the night and only important announcements on the mic. Should be a nice easy one then (to be fair, there are some real bangers on the list and I'd have been playing those anyway). The client by the way IS aware that nothing like the number of tracks he's put on there will go anywhere near the PA system on the night (he apparently didn't realise how long the list had got), so this one is going to be a case of cherry picking from some very good suggestions.

    I don't limit pre-requests. If they want to dictate the entire night's playlist that's what they get (they're paying the piper after all). The only thing I absolutely WILL NOT DO is play songs in a certain order. And I'd much rather have a massive list of "please play" requests as opposed to a huge list of "do not play".

    To be fair, I've had fully playlisted nights where the b&g or birthday boy/girl have known their crowd so well it's just worked. I've also had entire night's playlist where unbeknown to me, the B&G have collected requests with their RSVP's and bunged them on my system....they also work really well.

    As long as the customer and their guests are enjoying the night, I'm not too fussed who's picking the music.

    The real problem comes when the customer picks their own music according to their tastes and it flops. I've had weddings/parties where this has happened and been told quite rightly to abandon the list in favour of stuff people actually want to hear, and I've had nights where I've had to plough on....regardless of a completely empty floor.

    Do they look bad on me? Depends on how you look at it I suppose. For a start, only the person that's hired me actually knows who I am (well maybe the venue does in some cases as well but they're always made aware of the situation upfront anyway). It's nice to have a full dance floor, but I also remember who's actually paying me to be there. I'd rather see a full dance floor (I've seen many where I could have done so much more), but it's also important to keep the boss happy...because THEY are the ones who are going to complain when you go away from their instructions.

    Should it be this way? Hell no! There was a time when the DJ was entrusted to get on with the night without so much of a whisper of "don't play this" or "avoid this genre" in favour of letting us get on and create a party atmosphere.

    There IS a trend here though.....and it's quite easily summed up with one word. MILLENNIALS!

    Of the parties that are most likely to be playlisted, it's from this age group. Of the parties where requests "must be played next" - guess who?
    It's something I NEVER experience with the older groups such as older weddings and 50th birthdays.....and it's noticeable.

  7. #7
    Ezekiel 25:17 funkymook's Avatar
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    So now weve established its an issue for some DJs - whats the solution?

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    I think people have different impressions of what being a DJ is about. Requests vary from NEXT! to 'if you can possibly fit it in somewhere I'd be very grateful thanks'. We've probably seen all extremes but there's growing indications things are veering towards the former ever more. Blame technology. Blame attention spans.. But there's no denying it's a factor & it isn't going away.

    It isn't just the millennials who are at it either. If anything the opposite is the case.

    All that said, the current majority is just fine. I've met loads of customers who just want a great party & for the dj to do their job. One upcoming groom bless him is a metal fan & he even told me to ignore he just said that & concentrate on everyone else! (in that case I said pah.. If you can't have a bit of metal on your own wedding day there's something wrong somewhere).

    I hope the doom sayers are wrong, because I don't want to DJ in a world where DJs are nothing more than a customer's SKIP button.

    Quote Originally Posted by funkymook View Post
    So now weve established its an issue for some DJs - whats the solution?
    Well, we could just skip these playlisty gigs & let some other dj do them. But when it comes down to the wire & more customers are doing it, those djs are gonna find themselves out of work.

    The nature of djing has changed immeasurably over the years. I remember way back when doing a wedding & the customer just said 'play something nice & romantic for our first dance'. When my parents got married, people didn't generally have much of an evening reception let alone a first dance.

    Now, it's.. This special track til 45 seconds, then this, then stand on your head... This is what they call progress apparently!

    No, choice is great but it comes with drawbacks.

    The recent gigs I've done for mates were really easy going, no pre gig lists that amounted to anything... And all for less than I'd normally go out for (but they were new venues to me & exposure is good)... So maybe it's a service level vs expenditure issue... I'm clutching at straws here though.

    Quote Originally Posted by funkymook View Post
    So now weve established its an issue for some DJs - whats the solution?
    A tickbox on the contact form...

    Are you a...

    No. I can't say that on a public facing forum.
    Last edited by Excalibur; 14-08-2018 at 03:05 PM. Reason: merged posts

  9. #9
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    Coming from an educational background where how you frame things is very pertinent and I come at it from the angle of:

    If I'm spending the night with my head buried in a spreadsheet or screed of A4 paper then I can't be as engaging or responsive to your guests and the dancefloor.

    I also have limits on DJEP which I point out are based on my experience of what gives couples plenty of input but doesn't tie my hands too much.

    Generally that works and, without blowing smoke up my own hole, most of my clients are booking me with the expectation that I'm not going to be e, but with the odd one that slips through the net - I have a couple later on in the year who despite my best efforts are determined to have nothing but metal all night... - in that case all you can do is run with your clients wishes, make it as clear as possible that this isn't your song choices and do the best you can regardless of how bad it might affect the night.

  10. #10
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    I don't think you can blame it on the millenials, well....not just the "play this", "play that", "next" etc etc....because, from my experience...everybody can be guilty of that and come across as rude and demanding. The 'wouldn't say boo to a goose' (never quite got that saying) brigade suddenly turn into rude, obnoxious and demanding idiots when they've had a few sherberts too many, and think that you are there just for them, to play what THEY want.....It doesn't matter what age they are.

    I was going to say that it is the millenials you can blame for almost lack of interest, no matter what you are playing, but I think everyone can be blamed for that too. How many times have you looked around a room when you've been DJing, and there are people with their heads down, almost hypnotised by their mobile phone screens? I once counted 10 under 18's sat around a table at a wedding when I was playing chart fodder. Every single one of them had their head down and was looking into their phone. They weren't even communicating with each other!

    Technology is a brilliant thing, there's no getting away from that BUT (and this will make me sound very prehistoric), I absolutely hate the way things are at the moment, especially when it comes to this job. I could be the best, most sought after DJ in the world and the lack of interest would still be there, because many people just can't seem to go 5 minutes without their phone. There's lack of communication too. I've had people come over and shove their phone in my face and ask "Do you have that?" as I look at the track they have selected on their phone. If you say you haven't got it, they ask you if you can play it from their phone (no thank you, definitely NOT!). I've even had people cut out the talking and they come up with a pre-written text asking if I have a particular song. It is beyond pathetic in my opinion.

    People are quick enough to tell you that what you are playing is rubbish (or not to their taste).
    It seems that the days of booking a DJ and actually trusting them to use their experience and skills, are gone.
    When I first went full-time, I was a firm believer that the customer is king. What the customer wants, the customer gets (or should do). Thankfully, I can't count too many times where customers have been adamant about their playlists not being tampered with. I have only really had to stick to a (rather large) playlist and play it in the exact order it was created just ONCE over the years. It wasn't enjoyable, it created a whole load of hassle for me on the night as people were asking for music that wasn't on the list, and they were moaning at me because I couldn't veer away and play what they wanted through fear of grief from the Bride & Groom.

    I think one of the main problems is that we want to keep the customer happy. We don't want bad feedback. The customer is the person that pays the wages, and their feedback is important, no matter what the booking is. If it wasn't that, many of us would probably just say "I don't care what they want, this isn't working and I need to save it from being a disaster" and bin the playlist. I've advised people before that something isn't working. Some have listened, some haven't.
    For the most part, the job is enjoyable (or was)..... but the way things are these days with the attitudes some have, I can see lots of decent DJ's throwing the towel in.

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