There are different types of DJs for many different occasions… and, though not entirely universal, one thing that most of them want is a crowd of people dancing to the music they are playing. But sometimes, it just doesn’t work out that way. There are a number of factors which keep people out of foot-shuffling mode and standing on the sidelines.
Club and wedding DJs, especially, often judge the quality of the night by how many people left the venue with sweat on their brow and a smile on their face. When this doesn’t happen, DJs often feel one of two ways: either they think they didn’t play good enough music, or they think that they just had a bad crowd.
But, it’s not always that black and white. Let’s look into 8 reasons why you might run into an empty dance floor.
1. You’re Just Not That Into It
I’m not one of these people that claims that you absolutely have to directly interact with your crowd in order to have a successful night. After all, much of the rave and club scene in the 90s survived just fine with DJs sitting off in a hidden corner of the room somewhere. John Digweed is a zombie on the decks, but he manages to absolutely destroy it everywhere he plays.
But, many people like a show… or, they at least like to know that you’re having a good time. Especially in a smaller venue where people are not automatically arriving in flocks and dancing their way into the door, it’s up to you to draw them in. People will feed off of your energy, whether it’s good or bad.
This doesn’t mean that you have to bounce around like a maniac to an empty floor (but, hey, that does work for some people!) But people can tell if you’re playing with passion. And if they can tell you’re having a good time doing it, they have one more reason to be caught up in the moment.
2. You’re a Negative Nancy
If you are in an intimate venue, and you do get the attention of one or two people… interact with them! Feel free to talk to them. Ask them if they are having a good time, and if they like to dance. You’ll be amazed at how far simply being nice to people will go.
But if you look like Oscar the grouch on stage, people will immediately be turned off by your “stand off” personality.
This is especially helpful in your home town, or places where you play often. I’ve gained a few local fans who will come out and see me play simply because I took the time to interact with them… either before, during, or after my set. When they feel like your friend, they are more likely to come back. And the cool thing that I’ve noticed is that these are normally the first couple of people on the dance floor.
3. You’re Not Paying Attention to Your Demographic
Be careful with this one. I do not mean to imply that you should base your musical selections solely on some stereotypical view of a social or racial group that you’ve built up in your head.
However, it is extremely useful to pay attention to the types of people that are the main catalysts in your venue. What does your crowd look like? Are they sober, drunk, or otherwise? Are they dressed like old-school ravers, rappers, or hipsters? Straight or gay? Which of these groups seems to have the most “crowd influence”?
A while back, I wrote about a fun night that a friend and I were throwing. It was a very fun lounge gig that we ran for several Saturdays in a row. Recently, however, we decided to call the night off entirely. Why? Because they had a very strong Latin crowd, wanting Latin music… which is not the kind of stuff we play or are knowledgeable about.
It makes sense, as the place is technically a Peruvian restaurant with a South American owner. When we would arrive, they would have things like salsa music playing… and the crowd was obviously enjoying it. We didn’t feel right killing the music that was working for them, in order to force our “deep house and jazz” agenda. So, as fun as the night was, we thought it was in everyone’s best interest to call it off and focus on other things. Though, it would have been just as valid an idea to educate ourselves more about the music the crowd wanted.
4. You’re Not Hunting
This is the number one reason why the non-superstar (or non-trick/performance based) DJ’s best skill is his or her ability to read the crowd.
When I say “hunting”, I’m not necessarily referring to music shopping (though that can be part of it). What I’m actually referring to is the psychological game of pivoting your set until you find tracks (or, really, styles and musical elements) that catch the attention of the prime movers at your event.
Way too many DJs do one or both of the following: they either pre-plan their entire set and play it like a robot, completely disregarding the reactions of their crowd, or they play tracks that are all very “samey” and don’t try introducing anything fresh.
Doesn’t that sound boring? Isn’t it much more fun to “hunt” until you find the thing that gets you a positive reaction? Isn’t that what’s best for all involved?
It doesn’t mean that you have to slam all kinds of random sounds together until you find what works. You can do it with class. This is what separates you from the average DJ or iPod.
5. There’s No Groove
Groove… it’s a hard word to define and it probably means something a little bit different to everyone.
So, I’ll describe what I mean when I say groove. I mean finding the right tempo, the right amount of shuffle/syncopation, the right elements, and the right progression that leads to that infectious “I can’t help but dance” feeling. Groove is a musical philosophy that commands your crowd to dance with an iron fist, without directly coming out and saying it.
Groove is about subtlety. It is what switches you from an average bored patron into someone who is tapping their feet while talking to their friends. It’s the patient approach to musical progression that causes people to not their heads, even if they arrived at the venue in a poor mood. It’s a rhythm-based anti-depressant.
Groove is a weapon.
6. You’re Not Contributing To Your Own Crowd
It’s not a new idea to get all of your friends together to come out and support you on a night out. The more people that walk in to see you specifically, the better it looks for the person that hired you.
But are you just blindly spamming your events to everyone in your contact list and Facebook page? Or are you actually trying to think about how to provide some level of value to them? Support and charity is only going to get you so many attendees before it runs thin.
Try to think of ways to not only get a group of friends out, but how to make them feel special. Can they be put on the guest list? Automatic VIP if they say the secret word?
What kind of music are your friends into? What makes them dance? Have you ever thought to ask?
One more thing. The age-old recipe for a working dance floor, put in its simplest terms, is: get girls dancing. Guys will follow. So, figure out who amongst your female friends and fans are the social butterflies that love to dance, and bring them all out. Then, sit back and watch the magic.
It’s not fool-proof, but everything helps. It’s important to remember that bars, clubs, or music venues are not charities. Don’t guilt your friends into attending… make it so that they want to.
7. It’s Too Light in the Room!
This one hits home for me because it directly applies to me. I’m one of those people that loves to dance, but not as an exhibitionist. I don’t do it for the people watching (nor should I). I do it because it makes me feel good, it’s good for me, and it gets me into the spirit of things.
If it’s too light in the room, sometimes people simply feel too embarrassed to dance! Not everyone is there to show off.
It’s a simple, but practical tip. Try suggesting to the promoter, club owner, or bride that you bring the house lights down a bit. Make people feel like part of the night instead of a spectacle.
8. They Just Aren’t Dancers
Not everyone dances, and that’s okay. Sometimes people just want to hear the music, tap their feet, hold up the wall, or talk to potential dates.
That doesn’t mean that your job as a DJ is irrelevant to them. You’re still contributing to their night, and they will still exude signs of how much they are enjoying the night.
If you run into a crowd that’s not dancing, but they are smiling, cheering, fist-pumping, head-nodding or giving any other similar signs of approval… don’t consider the night a failure. You still put a smile on someone’s face, and that’s the best thing any DJ can do for his or her audience.
And if all else fails, just start dancing yourself!