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9 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Party DJs

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Where would a wedding or a bar mitzvah be without the DJ? Disc jockeys provide more than the playlist—they set the mood, get people dancing, and sometimes even emcee the reception. But there’s plenty of work that goes on behind the scenes, too. We talked to a few DJs to find out more about how they work, what they do and don’t want to see at a party, and what to know before you hire one. 

1. DJS PUT IN A LOT OF WORK BEFORE THE PARTY STARTS. 

Although some people think that DJs simply show up to an event with a laptop and press play, being a DJ actually requires a ton of work behind the scenes. DJ Jeffty, who spins at parties in the San Francisco Bay Area, explains that paperwork tasks such as drafting contracts, processing venue/vendor agreements, getting gate codes and parking access, and filing tax and insurance forms is a time-consuming requirement. 

“A lot of what I do is involved with pre-planning, and curating the playlist for each event,” he says. “For a wedding, pre-planning can be anything from site visits, lighting design, being involved with the rehearsal, coordinating/sound checking with performers, or practicing pronouncing the names of the bridal party!” 

DJs must also arrive early at the venue to coordinate any extras such as lighting, props, dancers, and video projectors. Setting up, and later breaking down, equipment can also take a significant amount of time and effort. 

2. SO THEIR FEE MIGHT BE HIGHER THAN YOU WERE EXPECTING.

The fees for DJs are all over the map, from a few hundred dollars to more than a thousand. Most DJs stress that you get what you pay for—a cheap DJ may only work a few gigs per month and not have quality equipment. More expensive DJs usually have more experience, professional equipment, a large music library, and are licensed and insured.

3. MOST DJS HATE CARPETS, BRIGHT LIGHTS, AND DRY EVENTS.

DJs prefer working in venues with a wood or tile dance floor, rather than carpet, because carpet isn’t conducive to dancing—it just feels awkward. DJs also like to spin in a dark room, since most people are too self-conscious to bust their moves in glaring lights. Finally, alcohol loosens people up so they hit the dance floor without inhibitions.

4. THEY HAVE MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT TAKING REQUESTS. 

The last thing DJs want is a dead crowd. To encourage people to dance, DJs play a variety of well-known songs, switching up the genre and time period frequently to appeal to the most people. Good DJs also intuitively sense any lulls in the crowd’s energy and play a different song to get the party back on track.

Some DJs are loath to take requests because they know that certain songs will kill the vibe on the dance floor—and after all, they’ve already spent a bunch of time putting together the perfect playlist. However, other DJs will encourage requests.

“I am well aware that many DJs do not like to be approached while they are working an event,” DJ Jeffty says. “But personally, I believe that requests are essential to getting a read on what the crowd likes. I don't play every request I receive, but I do welcome the interaction with the crowd. In the end, the event is not about me ... it's about my clients and their guests.”

5. KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PART- AND FULL-TIME DJS. 

For some DJs, spinning is not their full-time gig. These DJs may work as a freelance contractor for a company that takes a percentage of the fee. Because big DJ companies rely on volume for their business, you may have little say over which DJ you actually get for your event. Other DJs are independent, working for themselves or running their own company. For most successful independent DJs, it’s their full-time job—they spin at parties on the weekends and evenings, and they run their business during the day. Price points and levels of professionalism vary, so you should speak with potential DJs to get a sense of how well they would fit for your event.

6. THEY WANT FOOD, BUT WILL PROBABLY DECLINE A DRINK. 

Party etiquette dictates that the photographer, videographer, and florist should get a meal during an event … and don’t forget about the DJ. Whether or not they’re emceeing your party, they probably also need to eat at some point. However, they may not want to drink.

“I think that every DJ should get a meal … Please feed your DJ! As far as drinking, I choose not to drink alcohol. I want to always put my best foot forward for my clients,” DJ Jeffty says. 

Vaughn Wooster, a.k.a. DJ Von Woo, a DJ in the Bay Area, stresses that every event is different, and in some cases it may be acceptable for DJs to discreetly eat their vendor meal at the booth, “in case any unforeseen changes in the music happen.” 

But because alcohol can hinder a DJ’s ability to perform at his or her best, Jerry Laskin, a DJ and owner of Jerry Laskin Enterprises, which serves New York and surrounding states, says that alcohol “should never be an option for the DJ or entertainers booked.”

7. THERE’S MORE MONEY IN BAR MITZVAHS THAN IN WEDDINGS.

2015 data compiled by job listing website Thumbtack showed that on average, DJs charge 32% more for bar and bat mitzvahs than weddings. According to Joel Macht, president of SpotlightLA, the DJ/emcee for a bar mitzvah “will be out and involved with the crowd, running games, setting up the photo montage, explaining how the candle-lighting works, and so on.” Entertaining a group of young teenagers requires more interaction, energy, and skills than entertaining adults. Bar mitzvahs are also more likely than weddings or birthday parties to feature dancers, special lighting, and audio/visual techs, which all add to the cost. 

8. TAKE THE AWARDS AND REVIEWS ON SOME DJS' WEBSITES WITH A GRAIN OF SALT.

The wedding services industry brings in $60 billion of revenue annually. To differentiate themselves from the competition and attract eyeballs, some wedding DJs put awards on their websites. Russ Messick, a DJ who specializes in weddings, writes on his website that DJs who pay for advertising get an award to display: “It's quite the joke. DJs love to tout their ‘awards’ they claim they have been bestowed … A bit misleading, but brides and grooms don't know it.” 

Messick also reveals that he spends $800 to $1400 per month to be featured on wedding sites, while other DJs post their own fake, positive reviews on wedding sites to try to get more clients. “There is no real way to know for sure whether reviews are real or fake,” Messick says.

9. WORD OF MOUTH IS THE MAIN WAY THEY GET MORE GIGS.

DJs who have done a great job spinning at parties say they get more and more clients via word of mouth. Former clients will recommend DJs to their friends, and every guest who attends a party is a potential client. Laskin says his company’s best recommendations come “from former satisfied clients as well as repeat customers, venues, caterers and decorators who have enjoyed our work, as well as event planners and orchestras. A smaller percentage comes from our online ad campaigns and social networking blogging and channels.”  

All images courtesy of iStock

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Food
How to Make Miles Davis’s Famous Chili Recipe
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Miles Davis, who was born on May 26, 1926, was one of the most important and influential musicians of the 20th century, and changed the course of jazz music more times in his life than some people change their sheets. He was also pretty handy in the kitchen.

In his autobiography, Miles, Davis wrote that in the early 1960s, “I had gotten into cooking. I just loved food and hated going out to restaurants all the time, so I taught myself how to cook by reading books and practicing, just like you do on an instrument. I could cook most of the great French dishes—because I really liked French cooking—and all the black American dishes. But my favorite was a chili dish I called Miles's South Side Chicago Chili Mack. I served it with spaghetti, grated cheese, and oyster crackers."

Davis didn’t divulge what was in the dish or how to make it, but in 2007, Best Life magazine got the recipe from his first wife, Frances, who Davis said made it better than he did.

MILES'S SOUTH SIDE CHICAGO CHILIK MACK (SERVES 6)

1/4 lb. suet (beef fat)
1 large onion
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground veal
1/2 lb. ground pork
salt and pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin seed
2 cans kidney beans, drained
1 can beef consommé
1 drop red wine vinegar
3 lb. spaghetti
parmesan cheese
oyster crackers
Heineken beer

1. Melt suet in large heavy pot until liquid fat is about an inch high. Remove solid pieces of suet from pot and discard.
2. In same pot, sauté onion.
3. Combine meats in bowl; season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, and cumin.
4. In another bowl, season kidney beans with salt and pepper.
5. Add meat to onions; sauté until brown.
6. Add kidney beans, consommé, and vinegar; simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
7. Add more seasonings to taste, if desired.
8. Cook spaghetti according to package directions, and then divide among six plates.
9. Spoon meat mixture over each plate of spaghetti.
10. Top with Parmesan and serve oyster crackers on the side.
11. Open a Heineken.

John Szwed’s biography of Davis, So What, mentions another chili that the trumpeter’s father taught him how to make. The book includes the ingredients, but no instructions, save for serving it over pasta. Like a jazz musician, you’ll have to improvise. 

bacon grease
3 large cloves of garlic
1 green, 1 red pepper
2 pounds ground lean chuck
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 jar of mustard
1/2 shot glass of vinegar
2 teaspoons of chili powder
dashes of salt and pepper
pinto or kidney beans
1 can of tomatoes
1 can of beef broth

serve over linguine

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music
New AI-Driven Music System Analyzes Tracks for Perfect Playlists
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Whether you're planning a bachelorette party or recovering from a breakup, a well-curated playlist makes all the difference. If you don't have time to pick the perfect songs manually, services that use the AI-driven system Sonic Style may be able to figure out exactly what you have in mind based on your request.

According to Fast Company, Sonic Style is the new music-categorizing service from the media and entertainment data provider Gracenote. There are plenty of music algorithms out there already, but Sonic Style works a little differently. Rather than listing the entire discography of a certain artist under a single genre, the AI analyzes individual tracks. It considers factors like the artist's typical genre and the era the song was recorded in, as well as qualities it can only learn through listening, like tempo and mood. Based on nearly 450 descriptors, it creates a super-accurate "style profile" of the track that makes it easier for listeners to find it when searching for the perfect song to fit an occasion.

Playlists that use data from Sonic Style feel like they were made by a person with a deep knowledge of music rather than a machine. That's thanks to the system's advanced neural network. It also recognizes artists that don't fit neatly into one genre, or that have evolved into a completely different music style over their careers. Any service—including music-streaming platforms and voice-activated assistants—that uses Gracenote's data will be able to take advantage of the new technology.

With AI at your disposal, all you have to do as the listener is decide on a style of music. Here are some ideas to get you started if you want a playlist for productivity.

[h/t Fast Company]

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