So you’ve been asked to DJ an office Christmas party. Maybe you got the gig through a local hotel, restaurant or social club that booked an event for a big company in your town, and then had to go and find a DJ. Maybe you actually work for the company throwing the party. Point is, you’re probably not a full-time mobile DJ used to this kind of gig. This is a bit out of your comfort zone. So what do you do?
Unfortunately, a depressingly large number (easily the majority) of DJs booked to play office parties do a terrible job of it. Nobody dancing, the music just annoys everyone, a box ticked but the job done badly.
Truth is, DJs who do a good job of this kind of gig are few and far between. Maybe it’s because nobody expects any better. Maybe it’s because the DJ is an afterthought, or there’s not much budget left. Whatever the reason, it’s a fact (ask anyone you know how good the DJ was at their last three office parties).
So in the spirit of educating you if you’re a relatively new DJ who’s been asked to do this kind of gig, or if you’re not, in the hope that writing something like this can raise the atrocious standard of DJing everyone’s come to expect at this kind of event, here are a few mistakes second-rate DJs who play office parties make over and over again.
Get just a few of these right, and you’ll deliver a better set than most. Beauty is, the bar is set so low that it honestly takes relatively little work to do well.
7 things average DJs do wrong at office parties
1. They fail to talk to the organiser
Sure, the venue may tell you when you’re meant to start and stop. But what about anything else? Office parties tend to have speeches by CEOs, maybe a few awards to be given out, usually a buffet or more formal meal, maybe a novelty photographer or other sideline entertainment. Running-order wise, then, they can have the complication factor of weddings (with the stakes lowered considerably, of course).
How, then, would the organiser like you to fit in around all these things? Is there anything they need? Any special music you can add to make it more fun? Talking to the organiser both in advance and on the night shows you care, and allows you to do a more professional job too. (It doesn’t hurt either that if you were booked by the venue not the organiser, you get the chance to swap contact details for direct bookings in the future.)
2. They play too full-on, too early
This is not a rave. There are a hundred other things going on both in the itinerary and the minds of everyone there. It’s no surprise free bars, welcome drinks and wine on tap with meals are an integral part of most office dos – it takes extra time and booze to bring down the barriers of office politics and the wariness between bosses and workers before people start even wanting to be there, let alone dance.
Play a long game. Smashing out EDM number ones within an hour of everyone arriving assuming everyone will miraculously dance is a deluded tactic.
3. They don’t play a wide enough variety of music
So you realise you can’t play cutting edge deep house, trap or hip hop all night – you know your audience are mainstream, not clued-up clubbers. Well done. But deciding instead to play dance remixes of the top ten from the past 18 months all night long assuming that’ll be mainstream enough to do the job while still allowing you to show off your DJing amazingness is honestly only marginally better.
Firstly, nobody cares about your dance remixes, so wise up early, and admit you’re only playing them so you can at least practise your hallowed beatmixing – and then stop it. Play the originals, the ones they all hear on the radio. Save the beatmixing for another time. This is about playing songs people know, and that’s it.
Secondly, you have an age range probably from 18 to 60 to play to. That’s four of five decades of music to choose from. Widen your palette – considerably. We’re talking familiarity, singalong, and fun – nothing more.
Thirdly, remember as we said that nobody really wants to dance, at least not at first. So switch things up. Often. The more often you can get a different section of your audience thinking or saying “oooh, I like this one!”, the sooner you’ll bring everyone to the point where they’re ready to have a dance. Playing one style all night, however mainstream you think you’ve made it, won’t work.
4. They don’t use the microphone
A few words every now and then can work wonders. That’s all that’s needed. Just introducing sections of the night (“let’s play some great songs from this year”, “let’s go back in time, for the bosses!”, “this one’s for X, who also has their birthday today”) is the kind of thing that breaks down barriers, gets people feeling friendly towards you, and encourages them to dance a bit more.
Pretending you’re a club DJ, and staring moodily at the audience as you attempt to mix in another track that’s similar to the last ten you played without meaningfully trying to engage the people in front of you at all, will have the opposite effect.
5. They distort the provided sound system
Often you may be asked to use the sound system in the venue provided, especially if you’re that “afterthought / low budget / I-work-for-the-company” booking. And I’ve got a home truth for you: Chances are that that sound system isn’t great. You simply have to work within the confines of what you’ve got. That means keeping everything out of the red, and monitoring closely how it sounds around the venue as the night develops.
Distorting the audio by pushing a sub-standard sound system won’t ever make people dance, it won’t ever make the vibe better and it won’t ever make you look good. It’s just unprofessional. The volume available is what it is. You cannae, as Scotty said in Star Trek, change the laws of physics. So don’t try. Instead, get everything sounding as good as you can, and stick within those limits, even if it means the music is lower than you’d like.
6. They take their mates
There’s only one thing worse than a don’t-want-to-be-there, moody wannabe club DJ doing a bad job of DJing an office party that he or she didn’t really want to play in the first place, glaring at a nearly empty dancefloor or checking their phone every 30 seconds from behind their consumer DJ controller – and that’s two or three such characters behaving in the same way.
Come on, you’ve been asked to do a job. If you took it, respect it and do it properly. That means turning up alone, and trying hard to do a good job, without the distraction / support / extra entertainment of your friends. At best, you’ll look like you’re treating the event as a warm-up for a social night out. That’s not good enough.
7. They blame the audience for the dancefloor being empty
It’s never the audience’s fault. You need to accept responsibility. The audience (to alter a well-known retail saying about the customer) is always right. And remember, just because not many people dance, doesn’t mean you didn’t get as many people as were ever going to dance dancing – you may just have done the best job any DJ could have. DJing is about setting a vibe and improving an event – any event. And it’s not possible to fail at that, unless you start “blaming ” people for things not turning out how you imagined.
Do the best job you can, learn from anything that isn’t quite right, and try and improve next time – but always be humble and grateful. That’s the kind of DJ who gets re-booked – even on “bad” nights.
Maybe the biggest problem at this type of event is that the DJ is typically an afterthought. But that can be turned to your advantage. Maybe that’s the only reason you got the gig. And maybe you do sincerely want to do a good job. So the trick is to accept what you don’t know, do your prep and homework, and treat the gig for what it is.
Like any type of gig, there is a good way and a bad way of doing it. And for the sake of the success of the thousands upon thousands of office parties that will be going on over this festive season, if you’ve been booked to play one of them, try to avoid the mistakes that average DJs make at this type of gig. Be better than that.
Are you playing an office party this Christmas? Have you been to one? How was the entertainment? Any tips you’d like to add? feel free to contribute in the comments below.