I talk a lot on this blog about my opinions regarding what makes someone a “good DJ“, how to present yourself, ways to give back to your community and audience, and ways to perform your craft with passion and purpose. If you're observant, you'll notice that I rarely talk about these things in the context of “hard skills” such as beatmatching, phrasing, scratching, juggling, controllerism, live remixing, sampling, etc.
To me, technical skills and party tricks are fun, and impressive (when done well)… but I tend to rate DJs based on more psychological aspects. Their “soft skills”, as it were. There is one key skill to me that sets a DJ above the average. What is it, you say?
The one DJ skill that sets you apart is your ability to predict the future.
No, I'm not into mysticism or tarot reading. So what am I talking about?
As you may have already predicted (see, look, you're doing it already!), this is tied in with your ability to read the crowd. It's your awareness of the effects you are having, particularly on the patrons of the venue whose atmosphere you've been put in charge of. It's the “macro” or “meta” side of things. How you manage the dance floor (or social event, or what-have-you). But how do you put that idea to good use?
Imagine this: you're playing a set, and as you look out into the crowd, you start paying attention to someone who has been dancing enthusiastically all night. As you finish a transition, you notice this person slow down for a moment and take a quick glance around. Whether he realizes he is doing it or not, this is a social cue. Was he just taking a quick look around to see if his friend had left him? Is he thinking about heading to the restroom? Or is he starting to lose interest in the music. If he is losing interest in the music, how would you react in order to “reel him back in”? There's a fairly easy way to test your hypothesis… re-introduce elements into your set which are reminiscent of the parts he was rocking out to, and see if his demeanor changes. (For example, maybe you've noticed that putting a hold on your four-to-the-floor beat in lieu of some breakbeats has been doing the trick. Maybe it's just a killer vocal line that moves him.
Is that group of girls standing in front of the bar chatting only there because they heard it was the place to be? Or are they waiting for the music to take a turn into something more funky? Has anything that you've done so far gotten their foot tapping?
Of course, you're never going to please everyone always. But, that's not the point. The idea is to start paying attention to people's social cues and try to translate that data into usable results which help guide the direction and flow of your set.
Once you have taken notice of what is working for the individuals in your crowd, you can translate that into what kind of music will move the dance floor as a whole. You can then make educated guesses (predictions) as to what is going to get people excited. This doesn't have to be some boring exercise in psychology… honestly, this part is really fun for me. Making predictions, and seeing results, is one of the more satisfying aspects of DJing (in my humble opinion).
Hopefully this post is helpful in shedding some light on the idea of intuition when it comes to DJing. Feel free to leave your own thoughts on the matter!