*Listen to this while you’re reading because I mixed it and you will enjoy it.
“Where’s the entertainment? How do we know you’re not using Facebook with all that clicking you’re doing? Those Beats headphones expensive? No thanks, I’d rather hear a LIVE band.”
It occurs to me that as much of a rockstar as the modern-era deejay has become, most people have no idea as to what purpose a deejay serves. That and I should get around to telling you what I was doing on cruise ships for 400 days.
Deejaying from a mainstream, non-insider perspective is only what you see; the stereotype as it were. Lights, camera, hand-waving motions. But what most people don’t see is the backstage work; sorting through songs, determining what songs are going to get the best reactions that evening, what songs the crowd is going to like, what could be left out. You COULD make the case that planning the musical course of a night is kind of like a sports playbook. Something like this.
I refer to how I’m going to play that evening as “getting my point across”. My point; I’m good at this, not everybody with an iPod and the most popular songs can do this night/day in and night/day out and you’re going to enjoy yourself while I work. The obstacles; I have no idea who these guests are, nor their tastes in anything (if they have any). If they’re not having fun with it? I’m basically playing for myself and not doing what I was hired to do. That lowers my chances of getting re-hired or expanding my influence.
So, what do I do?
Get people to dance their asses off. As close to “my way” as possible even though at the end of the night we all use the same songs. That’s what.
How, you ask?
– By mixing popular songs with some of my personal selections (it’s a give and take).
– Playing the popular songs in an order that makes thematic or musical sense.
– Encouraging crowd participation without coming off as desperate or overbearing (you can always tell who’s authentic and who doesn’t care enough)
– Keep song transitions or combinations smooth. Like any good magic trick, when it works it WORKS.
There’s also the “keep it fresh so that guests don’t complain about hearing the same songs day in and day out (even though they request the same songs day in and day out)” and “keep your sanity, creativity and enthusiasm for this job intact” factors to be included. We cruised for 7-12 days at a time, eventually you get tired of things and start experimenting in a fit of insanity and boredom. Miraculously, people GO for that kind of thing after a few days on the ocean.
In my particular case, it’s a LOT of juggling to do when playing with the objective of making people dance, encouraging bar traffic and being (mostly) unable to tell them “no” or “buzz off”. Most of the time I can pull it off; other times I have to sabotage my game plan (the songs I’ll use that sound good to me and have a good chance of keeping a dance floor moving if not completely packed) in order to keep someone happy and not crying to guest services about how terrible the music is even though the dance-floor is full and people are throwing money like fastballs.
Yes, people turn from adults to infants on a moment’s notice and it’s the deejay’s fault… too often. Usually due to a request for a line dance or some musical territory the people already got tired of 5-15 minutes ago. Gotta love late people, right?
A regular tactic amongst cruise ship deejays is to use a line dancing song to get everyone on the dance floor and create or encourage a party/carefree/vacation atmosphere. It brings people together in strange ways; yes, couples have been made and broken up by a “Wobble” or “Cupid Shuffle”. Weird to me because Miami (my city) has never played that kind of music but again, this isn’t about me.
Some will chain them (meaning play two or more line dances consecutively). I’m more of the “nuclear option” kind of guy; coming from a deejay background where mixing is critical, I tend to stay away from line dance songs unless it’s the ONLY way to get people off of their seats (this happens too often for my liking). They’re also good for group activities like parties on the poolside deck and catering to pretty much everyone willing to try them. Personally, I could do without playing them EVER but I understand that this job isn’t about me, but for the people around me and the people who inadvertently paid me (or they’re pretentious enough to act like they’re the thing standing between myself and greatness or myself and living out of a shopping cart). So I make my concessions and have some fun with it; if I don’t give off the appearance of having a good time, it throws my credibility as a party-rocking dj off. These are my people, this is their party. For good or “uhhh, honey… I think I’ll stay in the cabin tonight because this ain’t for me. Have fun shaking your ass with and on your friends!”.
It takes a lot of patience, observation and some well-timed people skills in order to get a party going on a cruise ship. Many nights you’ll just rotate the kind of people on the dance floor like you would at any party anywhere else; according to people’s tastes or the theme (if there is one). Then there are times that no matter how “good” the song is, people will still not do anything but look at the glowing dance floor in a state of hypnosis. We had a disco dancefloor. When in Rome… reach out and grab somebody.
As in you walk up to a person or couple, grab them out of their seats, lead them to the dancefloor and get them moving which creates the domino effect of getting more people out. We did this on a ship once in an act of desperation previously unseen by the eyes of man. In an ideal world this wouldn’t be necessary; experience has shown me that there is a subculture of people who can’t or don’t know how to relax and enjoy themselves unless ordered to. Yet they end up in the one place that’s as good as any to let loose and get wild. A floating circus. I’m the ringleader. Hello.
Next up, things you do when you’re on the open seas for days at a time, staff versus crew and the benefits of being a seafarer.