Having DJed for nearly 17 years, I’ve witnessed first-hand how the industry has evolved, and I must say this is an exciting time to be a DJ. One thing that I don’t find exciting, though, is the lack of knowledge people have about music nowadays. Indeed, to be honest I find it very disappointing. I don’t ever recall a time when people were so unsure about song titles and artists, and nowhere is it clearer than when people try to give DJs song requests. If you’re a working DJ and you’re reading this, then I’m sure you can relate to my point.
I'll bet you’ve had someone come to the booth and say something along these lines: “Um, do you have that song; it’s really popular right now?” or, “Do you have the song with that guy in it? I forget the name.”
I've often wondered to myself, why the heck is this happening? Has the general public always been this clueless about music and I’m just noticing this now?
In answering this question, the first clue for me is that this happens mostly with the current top 40 as opposed to with songs from the past. I’ve come to the conclusion that the uncertainty people have during song requests (apart from the alcohol factor, which is nothing new) is related squarely to how the general public tends to obtain and consume music nowadays.
The majority of people download their music (legally or illegally) and then it gets stored on their computer, iPod, or whatever media platform they choose. Then, they listen to it and forget about it. And really that’s it.
How things used to be
In the past we took a much different approach. Listening to music was a complex procedure and it started with music shopping.
You would have to leave your house, go to the local record store, and search for that album or single. After finding it you would buy it (if you could afford it), take it home, listen to it, share it and store it.
The music that you bought was on CD, vinyl, cassette and, if we go back far enough, eight-track cartridge. Each of these audio formats eventually dominated the previous one, but they all had one thing in common: A physical presence.
Let’s take vinyl for instance. You can hold it, touch it, physically play it; and while listening you have liner notes and pictures to absorb you visually. (This is for me the ultimate listening experience and I find it a bit of a shame that many people have yet to partake in this musical journey.)
MP3s are great, but they've got side effects...
This brings me to the point of this article. For me, as "things", MP3s don’t offer the same level of overall musical listening pleasure and engagement as their predecessors, and so don't allow people the become as invested in the music.
I DJ digitally myself and listen to music on an iPod as well, so I understand it’s much more practical to DJ this way, not to mention the endless amount of features available in today's DJ and music software.
I’m also no audiophile so I’m not trying to bash the MP3 for sound quality, either - that’s not what this article is about. But I do think the MP3 has contributed to the general public’s lack of knowledge of musical artists and titles. I hate to admit it but at times I fall in this category as well. I own a lot of music and sometimes I forget what I have or forget titles and artists - but I've realised this didn’t happen frequently in the past.
I began DJing when the shift from vinyl to CD occurred, and back then I was using both audio formats. Therefore, while flipping through my records and CDs searching for a song, I would see the title / artist name and usually notice some sort of picture on the cover of the album.
Furthermore, I would notice the record's information the whole time it was spinning on the turntable, so not only would I know the title and artist but I would know the record label the artist was on.
Perhaps this is the main reason why we wouldn’t forget the name and artist of a song when it came to asking a DJ to play it for us in the past - even with a drink in our hand!
• Chris Mihas aka DJ Kitcho is a DJ from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and is currently writing a book on DJ culture. Visit his website at cmentertainment.net.
Do you experience this more nowadays than previously? Do you forget the names of songs in your collection yourself? Can we blame digital culture or do we just all have less attention and worse memories nowadays? Please share your thoughts in the comments.