Song requests: buzz kill or floor filler?

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a disc jockey behind the decks and an empty dancefloor in front of him
Fill your floor before your pocket

DJs, let’s face it—a request from the crowd or a client can be a buzz kill, a ticking time bomb.

Just this past spring, at a wedding in Denver, DJ Ken received a request for a song that neither he nor most other DJs would ever consider playing. “There had been dancing all evening,” he says, “with lots of pictures being taken and overall a great party.”

Suddenly, the father of the bride came up to Ken and asked for a song that the DJ hadn’t heard requested since he first started DJing in 1978—the mother of all non-playable songs: “Stairway To Heaven.

“I could tell he was serious about it,” says Ken. “Because I knew he’s a level-headed kind of guy, I decided to trust him and work the tune in after two more songs.”

The result?

“I couldn’t believe it, but the song packed the floor. Even when this song ‘picks it up’ toward the end, people kept dancing—and some even started swinging to it!”

Maybe it was the booze, but whatever it was, the party was a total success—in part because of the song that the DJ initially deemed unworthy.

“Reading a crowd includes listening to them,” says DJ Ken. “This was simply another successful celebration, with a wide variety of music spanning five hours and several decades, and I consider it business “best practice.”

Oh yeah, and a floor-clearing song from 1971—but then again, sometimes it doesn’t matter. In the end, for a DJ, it’s a unique combination of experience, skill, and knowing which suggestions to heed that make or break an event. But it’s important to remember that winning isn’t everything, because sometimes you can’t win.

Last winter in San Diego, DJ Frank was DJing a company holiday party whose organizers were planning to give out prizes to their employees. Nothing out of the ordinary there, as most corporate clients seek to reward their employees with nifty door prizes. On this night, however, the client wanted to give out all the prizes at once—at the beginning of the night. To DJ Frank, that seemed a bit unusual.

“Of course, I suggested that the company should spread out giving prizes throughout the night,” says Frank. “There was a 25-inch hi-def flat screens to give away,” he says, “and I thought most of the guests would stay throughout the evening if we gave the TV away later. My thinking was to play interactive games throughout the party.”

What Frank wasn’t expecting was for the company’s HR director to tell the DJ that their guests weren’t likely to stay all night and that the DJ should give all the prizes out early. After thinking about and re-discussing his point with the head honcho—and losing the debate—Frank decided to go ahead and give out all the prizes at the beginning of the night.

Imagine his surprise when, in the end, the client knew best. “The party ended up being the best this company ever had,” Frank says. “The HR director complimented me on the way I performed that night, stating that this was the most people who ever stayed that long for their party. The company is having me back again this year, and I was told that I charge too little and we would discuss a new price for next year.”

Needless to say, it was yet another example to Frank that, by combining great entertainment skills with suggestions from the client (who likely knows the guests best because they work with them all week), a DJ can sometimes learn a little something from the host.