As I write this, I just got home from my new weekly gig at an upscale restaurant and bar in my town’s historic district. This is the type of recurring gig that I’ve been interested in doing for as long as I’ve been playing. It’s a place where I get to focus extensively on providing a good atmosphere, using subtle cues to build the musical selection for the night.
Don’t get me wrong, I love playing ravey dance music in dirty warehouses, mixing techno at our local club “EDM” nights, and rocking out house parties… but there’s something about playing head-nodding music to a laid-back crowd at a bar or on a patio somewhere that just suits me.
As I wind down for the night, I figured I’d write some of my thoughts on the subject.
There are a lot of advantages to playing in a more “lounge” environment. It gives you the opportunity to take advantage your musical tastes… to play around with some of your more eclectic interests. You get to experiment a lot and see what styles of music work with your particular crowd. When I play at a night club, usually there is some sort of expectation… a preconceived notion about the type of music people will expect (depending on if it’s a top 40 club, a hip-hop night, a techno bar, etc.) But I find that I quite often get to experience the “pleasantly surprised patron” at the more lounge-style gigs, because all of those expectations go out the window. I’ve given out way more business cards and had way more “whoa moments” at these kinds of gigs than I typically do at a night club.
I like the fact that I’m more in charge of the musical direction of the night as a whole. Not that I have a problem playing with other DJs, but the “guest slot” often comes along with some jarring changes. In my case, this particular night is between me and another DJ (whom I am already friends with), and we are very in tune with each other as far as how the musical programming should go.
Outside of this weekly, a lot of the gigs I’ve been targeting lately are more along these lines. A lot of the one-off events that I play are very similar. I sporadically play at a hair salon, a consignment shop, and a local street fair… they all kinda fit into the same category. I play stuff that’s danceable, but not so “in your face”. I get to play to a lot of different kinds of people and I almost always get a positive reaction… someone almost always comes up to me and compliments me. That’s always pretty awesome, and I have no doubt that a lot of it has to do with the fact that they didn’t even know someone would be there playing music.
There are some definite differences that you have to keep in mind, though. In a night club (or, say, a wedding)… everyone typically arrives around the same general time, hangs out, dances, gets drunk, whatever… and then leaves at last call. It’s easier to tell how to build the energy for the night. In a lounge, outdoor patio, or other type of non-club gig, people will come and go… the crowd can build and drop at any time. You have to be prepared for this. Just because it’s a lounge doesn’t mean people might not want to dance, so sometimes it’s appropriate to build the energy a bit. However, if it clears out, you don’t want to be left playing higher-energy dance music to an empty floor. People will walk in and be turned off by the DJ slamming loud music in their faces.
The lounge gig also doesn’t typically run as late as a club gig. In my case, this is the place where people meet earlier in the night… either to “pre-game” to go somewhere else in town, or to just have a few drinks before calling it a night. When I wrap it up, I still have time to go out on the town, hang out for a bit, or just get home early if I feel like it. Sure, it’s fun to shut a place down every now and then… but for a recurring gig, I can’t say I hate having options!
Lounge gigs also teach you a lot about paying attention to your crowd. It’s important to pay attention to people’s social cues. How many people are nodding their head? Tapping their feet? Has the owner of the establishment noticed that people stay longer when he hires a good DJ? Do they spend more at the bar? All those psychological aspects really come in to play. And I love those aspects of DJing.
Anyhow, just wanted to give a few thoughts on this as a wrapped up for the evening after playing at a laid-back, but fun and classy establishment! Do you have any experience playing these sorts of nights (whether it’s a restaurant/lounge, a sunny patio, a beach bar, or any other place where you need a chill vibe)? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section!