Your Questions: What Does A Bar DJ Do When Nobody Dances?

Phil Morse | Founder & Tutor
Read time: 2 mins
Last updated 8 November, 2017

Bars aren’t always about getting everyone dancing; they’re often more about getting everyone drinking…

One of our Scratching For Controller DJs students, Peter, writes: “I do bar DJing and I have a couple of questions I’d just like a second opinion on, really. Firstly, what the hell do you do when audiences just aren’t responding to anything? And secondly, I guess moving on from that, what do you do if half the audience demands, say, country, but the other half hates it?”

Digital DJ Tips says:

My immediate thoughts on these points are: Firstly, in bars people don’t always dance, or they don’t always dance all night. It’s the territory. Trying to make people dance when they’re not ready / not in the right place to is silly; in these instances, your job becomes one of playing background music and keeping people feeling good and comfortable, so they buy more drinks.

But this can be a good thing: You can play stuff you maybe wouldn’t play to a full dancefloor. A good DJ adapts to the situation, doesn’t try to make the situation adapt to him. A good trick is to leave your DJ area and go and hang at the bar for half a song, just to get the feel of the vibe in the place. See it from the “punter’s eye”; this is never a bad move.

Secondly if you’re in a venue where people like two or more different types of music, try playing those types in blocks. People will soon “get it”; just because someone doesn’t like a type of music, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to bottle you for playing it! As soon as they all realise you’re giving everyone what they want some of the time they’ll wait until their taste “comes around” again.

I recall a club in Sheffield, England, called The Leadmill, where at the very moment house was breaking into the mainstream (’88 – ouch!), they used to play 20 minutes of indie rock and 20 minutes of house on rotation, all night – and those nights were awesome! Again, it comes down to having the balls to decide what the venue wants, then trying it. If it fails, learn from that and try a different approach next time.

A DJ can only do so much; you’re not a saviour of the whole night, and there’s lots that’s out of your control, so try and do the bit you can control well, and be sanguine about the rest. In bars, making the best of the situation is pretty much part of the territory – this type of DJing is not seen as a rite of passage among DJs for nothing!

I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially if you do this type of DJing and face these types of issue too. How do you cope? What are your tactics? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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