Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Buyer Beware: Scammer DJs

Back when I wrestled, there were a lot of bullshit 'codes' they taught us. Tests, if you will, to see if you knew the business and deserved the respect of veterans.

For example: it was frowned upon the be a fan, or 'mark', of the sport. Now, in the wider entertainment industry, this code exists but on a more practical level, i.e. if you're a relatively inexperienced actor working with a big star, you want to be respected as a peer or equal and, thus, don't act like an excitable fanboy around them. In pro-wrestling, even by admitting you watched it in your spare time you ran the risk of you being black-balled from the business and written off as a 'mark'. If you wore wrestler t-shirts or attended live WWE events, forget about it.

These codes made some kind of sense back before the truth about the business (i.e. that it was pre-determined) was out in the open. They were a test to see if you had been educated, been told the big secret, and had thus gone through the necessary steps to be put in the ring with the big boys. After all, they needed to put their life in your hands every night. But all of this didn't apply as much in the 21st century now that pro-wrestling was a worldwide phenomenon and documentaries like Beyond the Mat, along with the rise of Internet, had all of the trade's secrets on full view for anyone who could walk into HMV or use Google.

However, there were certain codes that I did appreciate. One such example is that it took a certain amount of time, effort and achievement to be able to tell members of the general public proudly that you were a professional wrestler. You shouldn't be able to just walk into a training school, drop $1,500 on the table, do sweet fuck all in sessions for a few months, then be able to boast to women in clubs that you were a pro.

There was a very simple way of exposing people who claimed this, and I remember in particular doing so beautifully once with a male friend of an ex (I also had a sneaking suspicion he was trying to get stuck in, which made it all the more sweet at the time). I asked him who he had been trained by. The answer was, of course, that he had trained himself. I think this was supposed to impress me. Instead, it showed him up to be a nothing more than a wannabe backyarder (slang for someone who breaks the 'Don't Try This At Home' warnings and consequently breaks a bone or several at a later date). Nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that he's putting the lives of himself and other dumbarses at risk, but he wasn't a wrestler and I politely informed him that, if he was, he'll then know that he needs to have an accredited trainer. This also allowed me to plug the training school of the company I then worked for, which was extra sweet. Cha-ching!

To earn  the distinction of being a pro, in any field, there has to be a learning curve, a respect from your peers, an ability to get booked and paid by respected companies and so on.* There has to be something to separate the men from the boys!

This is one thing that I feel strongly about and tried to take with me when I made the leap from wrestling to radio and DJ-ing. I was a good year-and-a-half getting paid for regular gigs (by which stage it was my only steady income) before I could bring myself to comfortably say "I'm a DJ" instead of "I do a bit of DJ-ing every now-and-again."

Unfortunately, the rest of the world doesn't play to my beat (far fucking from it!). Especially when I play a club, I'd have at least 5-6 people approach me on a given night and say "I'm a DJ myself!", failing to realise that any self-respecting DJ would never approach a guy mid-set and try and spark a long conversation about what 'savage chewns' are filling their iPod these days. These guys then usually give me some obscure song request, as if to catch me out**, by a so-called 'underground producer'...they probably know personally. Because he makes tracks on Soundcloud that have about 12 hits. And then they go back to their mates and brag about how they know more tracks than the DJ does.

It seems that every Tom, Dick and Harry with access to a laptop, a couple of thousand songs and free downloadable DJ-ing software calls themselves a DJ these days. And, unlike my previous life, nobody seems to question or have a problem with this. I can't ask these guys who has trained them, because there's no set training scheme in place or benchmark of skill that one must have before they work on a professional basis.

Again, this fact doesn't personally offend me. It's the way of the world.  The only problem I have with it is when people buy into their bullshit and start paying out of their pocket, not only taking potential earnings away from me and other deserving DJs who don't see this as just a hobby or a handy way to earn a few bob, but ruining their own special nights and having to cough up cash for the privilege to do so.

It pisses me off because it happened to me. I spoke about this on my Facebook before, but my 21st set me back €350 for a bloke who arrived late, didn't play requests, didn't/couldn't mix and just generally took the piss. I know that sinking feeling. And, as someone who now gets a massive kick of making someone's night memorable, to know that people I know have had this done to them irritates the ever-loving shit out of me.

The most recent example of scam DJ-ing that I've heard about was when a guy I know, who had booked me for his girlfriend's 21st, informed me that the last party the family had had was ruined by a style of conman DJ that would shock even the most well-travelled of jocks: the YouTube DJ.

Yep, this guy showed up to this young lady's party with a laptop, a mobile broadband connection, a busker amplifier (yes, one of those portable speakers buskers use on the streets) and then proceeded to play songs not from his personal collection, but from YouTube. You may have already copped the following, and to answer your question: yes, that did include videos that had a bit of idle chatter at the start, and yes, the music did stop dead at certain points because the song hadn't fully loaded at the time. And he was booked all because he gave them the lowest quote and they thought they were saving money.

Of course I'm going to think that you and your friends should book me for every special occasion you have in the future (and, hey, if you live in Ireland why don't you check out my latest offer! #CheeseyWink #CheapPlug), but even if you exercise your consumer right to consult all of your options and decide on someone else (you idiot), for god's sake make sure you know who you're booking and don't let the offer of a ridiculously low price tag allow you to get conned.

Many believe that all a DJ does is spin a few tracks. Press stop on one and play on the next. Anyone could do that sure! This notion is untrue. Sure, maybe that's what a BAD DJ does. But I presume, if you're organising a party for you or your friend/family member, that you don't severely loath either yourself or your friend/family member. So you've no intentions of deliberately booking a bad DJ.

With that in mind, I've gone ahead and compiled a list of what you should look for when booking a DJ. I could have simply said, "His first name is 'Rick'. And his last name is 'Nash'," but that, while true, would've made for an anti-climactic blog. Instead...

When booking a DJ for a special occasion you should ALWAYS check the following:
  • References: do they have them? I very rarely get asked for references, though I can offer a ton from venues and satisfied party customers from the past. I regularly work parties having never met or spoken to the organisers beforehand. And I'd love to be able to do so! But for all they know, I could be anyone when I walk in the door (big shifty eyes on me). The best I can do, without them asking directly, is leave some of my references tagged in the above link so that potential customers can get in touch with them directly to verify their kind words about me. And while I hope that I've never left anyone unhappy at the end of the night, I can't speak for others. Know who you're booking and check out their background. You have every right as, no matter what price they charge, you're still going to give them a decent amount of cash for the job. Ideally look for a professional reference from a pub/club etc so you can ring a company directly and know you're talking to someone in an official capacity. But, if you can't, at least quiz the person in-depth on their night to make sure it's not just their uncle lying that little Tommy was a top jock.
  • Where have they worked? Can they provide pictures and so forth of them performing? While you also shouldn't get caught in the delusion that only club DJs are worth booking (there are many, MANY chancers in clubs also), having a decent list of venues you're familiar with is generally a good sign that they can run a good night.
  • What is their gear like? You don't have to be an expert in the latest controller hardware on the market, or be able to capably weigh into the argument on Digital vs. CD vs. Vinyl DJ-ing, but you should know that they need: 1) something to mix the music on (laptop/CD or Vinyl decks); 2) speakers to play the music loud enough for all to hear; 3) a mixer/power amp to connect the mixing equipment to the speakers (the two have completely different functions but I won't confuse you with too many details); 4) a microphone, ideally a wireless one; 5) lighting equipment to give the night a party atmosphere. Make them explain their gear in full to you and, even if you don't understand a word coming out of their mouths, see if you can at least sniff for bullshit along the way.
  • What sort of music do they play/what type of gigs have they done? Here, a lot of DJs will try and blind you with genres ("house, funky house, tree house, metro-electro, trance in your pants, dizzy dubstep and tighty-whitey techno"). But, instead of asking can they play this and that song (of course they'll say they can), make them tell you what type of gigs they've done in the past and what style do they specialise in so you can see if they're a good match for you. I would, personally, go one further and ask them how they'd lay out a typical night similar to mine, giving examples of song choices along the way, but I'm a bastard like that. All you need to know is that you're not going to be booking a guy who sees himself as too credible/trendy for 21st birthdays and gives your grandparents a headache with all the latest deep techno tracks from DJ U.M.O.A. (stands for 'Up My Own Arse').
  • Can/Will they mix? Like I've said, DJ-ing isn't just about picking a song and pressing play. But it's also not about a DJ getting booked to do a 40th then prioritising his 'skillz on the dex' above just playing the track that known artists have been paid millions to make. To me, and other DJs can feel free to chime in via the comment section if they wish, mixing at a party should allow you to hear the song as you know and love it, but at the same time smoothly transition into the next song without distraction. While you obviously can't ask them directly if they can mix, because they'll tell you they can, most DJs today have samples of their work on the likes of Soundcloud or will have megamixes that you can listen to if you so wish. You're perfectly entitled to ask to hear them.
  • Why should you use them instead of other DJs? Again, a fair question. And, if they can't give you a convincing answer to it, then you probably shouldn't. As stated above, there are a million and one other DJs out there today. You're not stuck for choice here. This is a great question because it lets you know so many different things: if they give you a "use me or not, it's up to you, I don't care!" attitude then you can assume they're not going to put that much effort into your night. If they start basically pleading with you or slashing their prices rapidly out of desperation, then it shows that perhaps they need the gig too much. In that case, maybe you need to call their alleged experience into question and make sure you check their references thoroughly.
  • Does it sound too good to be true? If the answers to all of the above are in the positive and you're getting quoted €50 for a full night's work, something is up. I don't consider myself a rip-off, but if I did gigs for €50 every week it would cost me money to play. In other words, it'd be more sensible to just mess around in my bedroom. Quality DJ-ing gear required for a gig is expensive (my last upgrade, a few months ago, cost me €3,000 for example). Most of us aren't millionaires, so this as well as other costs (transport, food/drink, accomodation if we are required to travel far etc) means that we must charge a certain amount before we even start to make money for our time and work. You aren't getting a great deal if you are getting a guy for next to nothing (unless it's a friend doing you a favour), you are letting yourself in for a nasty surprise...
It bothers me that the industry that I love is being destroyed by these chancers. It eats away at me that the average Joe/Josephine only realises this after it's too late, when their party is ruined.

Ultimately I, like all other respectable DJs, just love to play great music and give people a memorable night. And, since you've been kind enough to read this lengthy blog that didn't even have a few cheap dick jokes to amuse you along the way, if you ever require a DJ and are insane enough not to think I'm the man for the job, at least now you'll know how to ensure that you get another quality jock and make sure yours is a night to remember.

And, if you remember one piece of advice from this blog for future reference, make it this:

Nobody...not one person...books one of these scammers, has their special night ruined and thinks at the end of it all "Well it was a massive waste of money and I had a really shit night...but I saved 50 quid on the music!"

*For the record, I would say that in my four-and-a-half years in the sport, I just about scraped the ability to be able to call myself that by the end of it. Many might argue and say that I would need to double my experience in the ring and earn a semi-comfortable living solely from it before I could do so, and they might have a point. But just to show the amount of 'paying dues' that was expected.

**In my brief period helping men out with dating and confidence building, one of my main resources for material (the 'pick-up community'...don't let the cheesey name put you off...) referred to this behaviour as AMOG-ing. This is when a guy tries to 'outdo' you by showing their vast knowledge on a subject, or alternatively make fun of/even intimidate you. Eventually, you realise it's like a back-handed compliment. If they didn't covet your respect or see you as a threat to begin with, they wouldn't even bother doing this. But it's still a nuisance when they're, technically, the 'customer' and you have to play nice with them.

***I'm a young-ish fella myself (mixing 8ish years, doing paid gigs nearly 4 now)...there's probably some older jock out there who'd have a problem with me calling myself a DJ. In turn, I'd probably accuse them of being past their sell-by date. It's all a part of the fun and games involved in being an independent contractor in something you're passionate about.

Rick Nash is a DJ, podcaster, and now, evidently, a blogger. He is also a former professional wrestler. So he can kick the shit out of you if you slag him for being a blogger. Or at least pretend to.

Add Rick on Facebook or Twitter for updates on new blog posts, mixes, upcoming gigs and why he feels confident he's going to be Kim Kardashian's next husband.

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