Things you need to know as DJ for couple dancer's music...
Many people have a feeling for what a DJ is or should be but what is a DJ exactly? Let us recapitulate.
There is no official "DJ training" that leads to a certified license or graduation in any institute or country that I know. Consequently, DJs have a very broad spectrum of what they are able to do, should do and actually do.
This article will concentrate on the main purpose of a DJ and skills that I find important to achieve as a -so called- DJ,
especially in a Latin/African Couple Dance Scene like Salsa, Bachata & Kizomba.
Normally, one distinguishes between DJ and Producer.
A DJ mainly plays multiple recorded songs for an audience and in most cases, alters them in certain ways by mixing one into another, combining them, substracting and adding frequencies and effects to make a "whole" work out of single songs. In addition, he or she should react to the audience 's need of dance mood and style.
A Producer takes time at home or in a studio to remix single songs in a proper way or also to alter songs on a high level to fit different genres, moods or create a totally new ones out of existing ones.
Most DJs which you know are probably not producers. However, many of them would like to be and try "producing" at home with the time that they normally spend in live sessions - obviously, this cannot be crowned with much success.
Generally, on parties with dancing people, there are two different groups that parties want to attract - as well as a mixture of both which is mostly a very hard job to realize: "party people" and "dancers".
Let us first consider the workflow of a club DJ on a Pop / Hip Hop / R'n'B party for "party people".
The main task is to feed an audience with songs which they know and love so that they can get drunk, enjoy music and sing to all the refrains even if they cannot sing at all, get together, make out (to later make fucking an event) or just feel like kids again, etc. Organizers have to make sure that pretty young women are attracted (with Ladies nights, free entrance...) which in return attract customers that buy a lot of drinks to be able to hit on the ladies. DJs have to make sure that the quality of catchy music is transfered onto guests which in most cases do not have any musical education and are far from the quality of artistic people to impress any woman by skills - or vice versa.
This transfer is done by several techniques.
First, they mix songs in a way that only the core piece of song, namely the refrain as well as a bit before and after, is used per track. Practically, if you think about a song taking 3:30 min and only 1:00 min is the well-known core of the song, that makes it possible to play triple the amount of known songs for people.
In most cases, these tracks are then fit into a bigger package to make the mix more homogeneous (nobody wants to listen to completely different songs each 1:00 min which takes energy instead of giving energy), e.g. first a Pop set with 4 Pop songs of a constant beat, 4 Hip Hop with a different beat and so on...
Most times, these sets are also enhanced by optical means such as colours with light show pulses or video clips, fog, confetti,....
This workflow makes totally sense for this kind of party and audience.
One can transfer this idea of DJing for general Latin-Pop parties meaning: Reggaeton Merengue and partially Bachata where "having fun", drinking and fucking are main goals. This is the most common "dance culture" in Europe.
Secondly, let us consider (in "ideal case") the opposite: a Salsa DJ.
The main task for a European Salsa DJ is to feed the audience not only with song they know and love - this could only work for Latin Europeans that are strongly familiar with language and songs.
For a mixed-race European audience (which therefore can not rely on identification with this specific Latin Culture) songs have to please people in another way, e.g. people that enjoy music from a technical and emotional point works and want to use their learned skills how music can be used to transfer it into something visible. For sure, there are also a lot of excellent professional Hip Hop / Pop / .. dancers but it is very rare that they would show up in a common "social" club party. Rather, they would perform on a stage because there is nothing like a "social dancer's" dance party.
Actually, when I heard that on Hip Hop Dance Festivals there are a lot of dance classes but not parties to dance and practice dancing, I found that really sad. Maybe that is also the reason why dance battles evolved in the Hip Hop genre.
On a Salsa party, people want physically and/or musically connect.
Thus, DJs have to concentrate on music that is right by speed to address beginners as well as professionals, means of capability to interpret a song. Also, they have to make sure that people are not only following a track of moods but control their physical abilities with music speed and intensity. That is also why good Salsa DJs would not dare to mix songs because you cut introduction and outroduction which are crucial elements - not only musically but also for dancers:
- the introduction serves time finding a dance partner, identify the mood of the song and to understand how the dance level and personal character as well as preference of your dance partner is
- the outroduction is necessary to close a couple's dance with a proper ending usually executed by dips. Nobody cuts the end of a movie, who would dare.
Therefore, this workflow is totally different for that kind of party for "dancers".
Of course, there are also skills that should be followed by both groups of DJs like musicality in general, song choice, mood change.
In addition, there are also many "fake skills" that DJs learn and are not understood by them. I just add some of them:
- it is not recommendable to push the "DJ Eddy Awesome" button every five minutes, that does not only annoy people but rather disturb them in their dance flow
- in general, drops and fillers should not be used too often and placed on meaningful spots. If they are used, musicality is a prerequisite again not to disturb the song
- cutting frequencies and sweeping them is a nice way to introduce a mood change but again, it has to be understood when it is fitting and when it is not. One should practice before going on stage which is also a necessity for each artist of any kind
- think about music that is used. Why do you think a composer chooses a certain speed? Because he thinks it fits best to the song he created. Why do you want to alter this speed? Ah yes, because you need to mix it to fit songs. So simply - do not mix, then you do not have this speed problem and at the same time avoiding to cut beginnings and ends, makes sense, does it not? But what are you then getting money for? That is right, searching and chosing the right music of compositoral and dance quality which takes hours and hours! If DJs have a library of thousands of songs, they probably do not have criterias yet to distinguish good songs from bad songs for their purpose. Now, if they want to play with this excellent music,they are free to do so, if they are capable of - but if not, they should skip it and play with music at home.
For social dance DJs, mixing is a fake skill.
However, it is a necessity for common party club DJs.
So what about Kizomba and Bachata?
According to style of mixing and dancing, one can put these dances for many criteria in the same order:
Salsa - Bachata - Kizomba - Reggaeton/Merengue/HipHop/Pop
The more an organizer wants to attract party people with less or no skills learned for dancing, the more on the right side in this order music is set. More profit, less standard of dancing. People use less musicality, less complex structures. That is also why mixing songs is more and more used in this direction of order. Of course, some Kizomber@s will cry out how high their level of dancing and musicality is but I do not discuss the possibility of dance level but rather the effect of music style, how DJs use it and how dancers can interpret it in average. Kizomba is a wonderful dance to use musicality in slow, simple and relaxed structures. Nothing needs to be complicated to be beautiful and meaningful.
Speaking of the left end, I am also not a big fan of Salsa dancers because most people do not even know what they are doing. In principle, Salsa is very complex where a lot of dancers only pretend matching this style of music by simply repeating complex figures which do not fit music at all. Sometimes it is ironic because the Salsa music played is that bad, flat and spiritless that it actually fits these dancers in a random way.
Bad features about Bachata and Kizomba are their good features at the same time: With taking in remixes and attracting people that do not know how to dance in a couple at all, theses dances increase the total number of couple's dancers when at the same time accept the average dance level to fall. Still, there is no better way to grow dance culture. It is always a compromise. However, this compromise can only be counteracted by taking classes in highly technical dances e.g. Salsa classes which are (in average) technically far best between mentioned dance styles (due to their extrovert orientation).
So it seems, all these dances have their positive effect on dancing and require different skills of DJs. In the end, DJs should be aware of this richness of couple dancing and support it. The best way as a DJ to understand this is of course to be a couple dancer yourself. Then you should realize first hand what is important in your own dances.
Mixing and Remixing
If you intend to mix Bachata - please forget this idea immediately.
If you intend to remix Pop songs for Bachata - please forget this idea immediately.
Unless, you have a strong will and a lot of time to invest:
Understand bachata rhythms, learn bachata instruments. Learn how music works. Learn how Pop songs work. There is no other way.
Even if you made it through and followed all compositoral rules of Bachata, you will realize that not each song can be remixed due to multiple reasons such as speed, mood and original compositon itself.
Leave these songs to other genres such as Zouk or Kizomba with the right timing or setting.
Otherwise, play original songs. Since that is what people want to dance on.
With original songs, I mean each genre as well as Pop / Hip Hop / RnB/ whatever is danceable. And declare your party as Bachata / Pop party.
No one needs Bongo and Guira to name it a "Bachata remix" because
it is not and will never be. People need to learn how to listen and dance to original songs without a pumping bass kick. That is what defines dancing anyway.
"But DJ Vamp, you remix yourself with Bongos and Guira, isn't this a contradiction?"
Actually yes and no, because at the moment dancers and organizers force people to remix to be able to declare it as Bachata on festivals and parties. People will not start dancing if they do not listen to these rhythmic instruments and effects (which is sad in my opinion).
Besides, I like to do it, too, because it is creative work and I try to enhance the song if possible. Otherwise I do not remix and unfortunately cannot play the song on a "Bachata party".
I hoped to help in explaining some major differences between DJs, Producers, Mixes and Remixes as well as some guidelines in my professional view.
DJ plays Music for an Audience
Producer in a Studio
Party People enjoying Life
Urban Dance Performance
DJ Mixing and Performing
Dance Crowd enjoying Music
Performing Salsa Couple
Attract People to strengthen a Scene
The dancing DJ
Songs around the World - close to Infinity
Photo Rich Jones CC2BY
Defining and explaining Notions