1. Dance blues.
Okay, sure, there are some well-known blues DJs who don’t actually dance. And they are successful, right? Well, sometimes. However, it makes DJing blues MUCH easier if you actually do the dance yourself. You get a feel for what makes a song “danceable,” and what rhythms are interesting to dance to and which are not. You learn which songs are your favorites to dance to, and which songs make you and your friends want to leave the dance floor. It’s also good if you can try dancing to your own music that you are going to DJ – you can test it out and see if it is fun to dance to, and then if it is, maybe sneak a dance or two during your own set while DJing! Double the fun.
2. Get involved in the community.
Get to know the organizers of the venues and help them however you can. Invite friends to go dancing. Get to know your local blues dance DJs. Make friends in the community. If you have friends on the dance floor, it makes DJing a much more fun and comfortable experience.
3. Collect music, and know your music.
This is the obvious one, of course, but it is something that you have to take your time doing. And by time, I mean hours upon days upon weeks upon months. Research what blues music is defined as, and what types of blues music there are, as well as what styles of blues dance people may want to do to each kind. When you hear a song you like and you don’t know its name, find out what it is and write it down. Search for it later and download it. Use sites like Pandora to discover new songs that you might not have heard on the dance floor before. Find a way of organizing your music files to be easily searched and browsed. And listen to your music A LOT. You need to know your music inside and out, so that in a pinch, you can whip up a set without any prep time.
4. Learn the ropes.
Like I said above, get to know your local blues dance DJs, and if you can shadow a friend who DJs, this will help you learn things that you need to learn before actually DJing other than how to pick out songs. There are knobs to be turned and wires to be familiar with. Of course, each venue will have its own set of those that you will have to become familiar with, but it does come into play every single time. Being familiar with all the technology you need to use definitely helps in keeping a set running smoothly.
5. Ask to DJ!
Once you’ve collected a lot of music, gotten comfortable with it, and done some practice sets at home and at friends’ houses or house parties even, ask around at venues to see if they will let you DJ a short set. New DJs usually don’t get paid much if at all, so don’t expect much for a while, and you probably won’t get much more than a 15-minute or half hour set starting out. Take what you can get, and remember, stay humble and thankful for the opportunities you get! Even though DJing is work, it is work to be earned. Once people see that you know your stuff, you’ll be asked to DJ more. And don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and just ask! Venues are often looking to keep a good variety of DJs.
6. Know your dance venue and its expectations.
If you are going to DJ at a venue that always just plays traditional blues, then ONLY play traditional blues in your set! If you’re DJing somewhere that allows you to play some blues and some alternative stuff – turquoise, fusion, whatever you want to call it – take that freedom, but also follow what the venue outlines for you. If they ask you to play half blues and half fusion, keep track of how many songs you’re playing that are fusion and don’t go overboard. If you are DJing at a venue that you know lindy hoppers frequent, choose some blues songs that might also be appropriate for lindy. It’s all about knowing your venue and knowing the dancers.
7. Watch the crowd.
DJing takes constant vigilance. Watch the expressions on people’s faces, watch how they are dancing. This is when being a dancer yourself also comes in handy, because you know what people’s facial expressions or body language during dancing might mean. Watch to see what kind of mood people seem to be in, and whether they are into the more energetic, jukin’ songs, or if they’re feeling a more subdued or slow-drag mood. That said, it is important to also change things up and not stay in one song type for long. Choose songs that share one or two elements to be played next to each other, but make sure there is also enough variation and contrast. Keep it interesting, but not jarring! This is when knowing your music is very important.
8. Ask for feedback.
Ask your friends who were on the dance floor what they thought, and ask for a completely honest opinion. People will like your music or not, and you will have to get used to people talking about your sets behind your back. Hopefully they will talk to you directly and let you know if they really enjoyed it, but if there were songs that weren’t so great and you didn’t realize it, you won’t necessarily find out unless you ask. Get on blues DJ forums or groups online, so you can test out songs on blues dancing audiences before taking them to the dance floor.
9. Have fun!
If you are not enjoying DJing or playing blues music, or if you decide that you just hate sitting around playing music instead of dancing, then maybe DJing is not for you. It can be stressful at times, and it is work, but if you breathe and take every hiccup or failure as a learning experience, DJing will get easier and more fun with time.
Go to other towns and visit their dance venues or dance events. DJ or don’t. But it is good, regardless, to get yourself out of your comfort zone, and out of your local scene, where you can hear some different music and see how it’s done elsewhere. Learning different perspectives and meeting more people will help you relate with your crowd more and understand better how to DJ in different scenarios. Don’t be afraid to ask in advance, if you know you will be travelling somewhere, to see if you can DJ at one of their local venues for a set. It’s refreshing to be the “out of town” DJ and be surrounded by different dancers who might respond differently to your music. Proceed with caution, but have confidence in your knowledge of your music and ability to read the crowd.
Last words: It is a combination of humility and confidence that can help you succeed in anything, so keep that in mind. It is very important to have both of these as a blues DJ!