Showcases can be a big highlight of swing dance events – a chance to see the teachers and other great dancers showing off their amazing skills.
And there’s usually someone sitting in the background playing the music. This sounds so easy – just sit there, start the right song when they’re ready, stop it when they’re done, surely? In actual fact, it can be surprisingly stressful, and there’s any number of things that can go horribly wrong. So here are a few of my hard-learned tips on how to make sure they go right, and how to add a professional touch to your show DJing.
Tip 1: You Need a Coordinator
You need a coordinator – someone to act as a liaison between you and the performers. You’re going to need music, a running order, any instructions on when to start playing (will they take positions on the floor then give you a nod? Will they all come running in once the music starts? You need to know, and have it written down – well in advance)
Even gathering music from performers can be a time-consuming task, especially as the performers will have other things to concern them – they’re probably teachers, they’ve often just had a full day of teaching workshops, they may have to rest up, or plan for the next day, practice their routines, social dance… any number of things that can make them hard to find. You need someone – one of the organising team – who can do all this for you, especially as you’ll have your own things to do in the run up to a show (often playing a social dance set)
Usually event organisers will assign this role to someone, or it could be the MC or the main organiser – but you need to make sure that someone is on top of this.
They may be old hands at this, and know exactly what’s needed. Or you need to brief them on what you’ll need – but if someone is doing this job it will make your life much, much easier – because without a coordinator, it will fall to you.
Tip 2: Get the Music Well in Advance
Music for performances can arrive in a variety of ways. Here’s a few of the ones I’ve encountered:
- On a USB stick. Make sure you copy it from the USB to your hard drive!!! Dragging the track straight into your music player might not copy if you’ve not set it up that way (looking at you, iTunes) – leaving you with an embarrassing lack of music once you remove the USB stick.
- On a CD (thankfully rare these days, as most of us don’t have CD players)
- By email attachment (of course – you need some internet access, which may or may not be easy)
- Track name / artist / recording details (for a track I may, or may not have – I’ve found myself before now buying music online with a a few minutes to spare before a performance)
- On someone’s phone / iPod / iPad / MP3 player (that generally needs plugging into the sound system. And sometimes needs re-unlocking just before the performance)
- “You know what I like – just choose something. good”
- “Let me choose something from your collection“
All of this takes time – and there can sometimes be problems with the music you’re given (see below) – so the quicker you get it, the longer you have to sort out any issues.
Tip 3: Check The Music
You need to make sure you can actually play each piece of music. I’ve been given MP3s before that I couldn’t play, for example. Or – as described above, forgotten that dragging music from a USB stick into iTunes might not put the music on my hard drive.
Check it. Make sure it plays. This will give you some peace of mind.
Then, make sure you play it to each performer before the actual show. This will give both you and them some peace of mind. It might not sound necessary, but it really can be a life saver. To illustrate:
I was once sent a version of Hound Dog for a group performer at an event. The choreographer / group leader sent it to me, so I just assumed it was right, labelled it appropriately and put it into the playlist for the show – but come the actual performance, the music started, the group started dancing, then stopped in confusion – and the leader shouted out “Wrong music!”
They’d sent me the wrong one. Luckily, I had the correct one in my collection anyway – so we managed to get the show back on track – but it wasn’t a great look (and it will always look like the DJ’s fault) – and could so easily have been avoided if I’d just got that confirmation.
More recently, an event team member gave me tracks for two performances, but accidentally switch who was dancing to which. This time around, I did catch the mistake in advance, by playing the tracks to the performers in advance so I could get that confirmation. I live and learn.
Tip 4: Amazing Pro Tip
Elevate the musical presentation to the next level! A few years ago, I was lucky enough to DJ for an full show by Flavia and Vincent (for those unfamiliar, they’re ex Strictly stars, and Argentine Tango specialists)
Vincent gave me a tip that I’ve applied ever since – after each routine, during the applause, he suggested that I fade the routine’s music back in while they take their bows after a routine and keep playing it until after they’ve left the floor, and the applause has faded. I’ve done this ever since – it adds enormously to the atmosphere, and makes a show feel slicker and more professional.
It does take a little practice to do it well – you have surprisingly little time between the end of a performance, and the taking of bows and general applause dying down, but it’s well worth learning to do.
See this method in action at this year’s Hullzapoppin’.