What is DJing all about and what is really important ?
This is a difficult question. Surely, you have to know the technics, the music, some strategy and the codigo, but what is the most important thing? I have seen guys with just an apple computer doing a great job at milongas and some guys with futuristic audiovisual equipment creating an epic fail, because they didn´t focus on dancers needs. Others are doing a great job with stone age equipment (old turntables with vinyls), on the other side I have seen very knowledgeable people failing because they couldn´t deal with the sound system or with the CDs they used for DJing.
In my humble opinion, the DJ is in most cases just a black box with a simple connection to an existing sound system at the venue. This black box has to play Tango music and look after the dancers.
I as a Milonguero feel served best, when I can have my fun dancing to good music and when I only notice the DJ for his deserved final applause. I want the DJ to care about me in a very unpretentious way, serving my dancing feet to the best without performing a show. I like the knowledgeable DJs with a sophisticated command of music and sound without being promoted as a world class DJ playing shellacs on a pure digital sound system with gold cables. The DJ is a fellow Tanguero who serves to the community and not a super star.
So here are just a few final words of wisdom, I would like to present:
- Sorry, but you have to know the music
Without a good knowledge about Tango music, the big orchestras and some history and culture of Tango, you may be a DJ, but not a Tango DJ.
- Playing the right music is more important than playing at high quality
For a Tango DJ it is important to play music. We surely want good quality music, but anything that is above good quality is not really important. So discussions about pure digital audio chain, 96 kHz sampling or audiophilic speakers are not essential to the Tango DJ.
- Know how to dance and know the Codigo
As the DJ you have to find out, which Tangos are danceable. Without being a good dancer you can´t. As a DJ you have to know the Codigo of a Milonga to adjust your work because you have to be the role model for your community (and not the dictator).
- Be a DJ and do the DJ work
If you are a DJ, do not run a playlist on auto cruise. Do it manually, know what is happening at the dance floor and adjust your music. Do not dance and do not spend the evening chatting with other persons. Know the sound quality and gain at the dance floor and adjust the sound system accordingly. Follow the rules of workplace safety, check the safety of the place (f.e. electrical safety, fire safety, unsecured cables etc.) and keep an eye on maximum sound levels and speaker positions. Check the stability of speaker stands. At any time observe the dance floor and not your mobile phone.
- You will never make money out of Tango DJing
Unless you are one of the few international professionals, there is no chance for you to earn even the money to pay for your CDs, computers and the sound equipment. DJing is an expensive service to the Tango community in terms of money and time. Do not complain, if you feel uncomfortable, stop doing it. Sometimes you will get a little bit of money for your service, humbly accept that just as a little contribution.
Do not expect to be rewarded for your service. Normally, the crowd will give you an applause at the end of the Milonga, but you may get lots of complaints for things like playing too much golden age, not enough golden age, not enough neotango etc. Some months ago a lady complained after 60 minutes of a normal monthly Milonga that I haven´t played Neotango yet and requested that immediately…… Use all these complaints to reflect on your performance, but understand, that these are typically personal problems and not necessarily mean that your gig is/was bad.
- Don´t pirate Tango music
Buy your music to support the modern labels in order to keep the flow of quality restored recordings. Don´t use streamed music for live performances.
- If you are a beginner don´t worry and seek help from the pros
In the first blog, I stated that at a Milonga there are 100 DJs just looking down at the one poor guy who is pushing the sliders. Nobody is perfect and it is more important to learn by doing, so forget about rules and fire away.
Try to find an experienced DJ who can support you by doing some mentoring (reviewing your playlists, teaching you about the secrets of the sound system etc.). In exchange do not steal the gigs of your mentor. Use the resources on the Internet and if you have a question forward it to the TangoDJ forum on Yahoo .
- If you are a pro, mentor the next generation
Forward your knowledge to the next generation of DJs and share gigs with your students.
- Enjoy your work
If it is fun to DJ, do it. If it is no fun for you, stop doing it.
- Don´t be boring, there is more Tango out there
Stay creative and experiment with new music and different styles. Be liberal in terms of Tango (dancing and music) styles. If people do Milongas differently from Buenos Aires originals, be liberal and open minded, but if anything can be done better it is your responsibility to propose changes in order to support the organizers of the Milonga.
- Serve as a travelling DJ, wherever possible and do not ask for money.
If you are out there, offer your service to other communities. They are usually happy to get fresh music. But communicate with their DJs and work together. Don´t steal gigs.
- Your musical taste is important, but it is not the centre of the universe.
Your musical taste is very important in order to pick good quality music and all the “Evergreens” people want to hear at the Milonga. But please, do not let your liking of some special music “hidden treasures” dominate the Milonga. Take back your personality and be professional.
This little tutorial should be seen as a help for beginners and not as a manual for international top DJs. I do not claim to be one of the top DJ, but I know what I am doing and during my >15 year carreer of Tango and Ballroom DJing, I have always tried to improve and now I want to return my knowledge to the next generation of DJs. So this tutorial is a help to get into the world of tango DJing and not a manual to be used to criticize the work of other DJs. If you listen to a fellow DJ and you think the result is poor, please just wait a moment and contemplate whether you really could have done that job better. In many situations, I haven´t been sure that I would have been much better in that certain situation, but I always was able to learn, and that is what makes a professional DJ.
So ! This was my final thought on Tango DJing. You will find out that there is a lot more than just that, but you will learn while you go. Have fun and if this blog was useful for your work, please drop me some lines, buy me a drink or tell me where I can improve my personal service.
-Richard (DJ Ricardo)