Why am I a DJ?
I think that’s a good question to ask yourself from time to time no matter what your profession is. A little critical career evaluation can be great for perspective and help remind you of why you do what you do in the first place as well as help improve the things you don’t like about it. As a DJ and a singer, I’ve thought a lot about this and maybe you have too. I love DJing but honestly there are times when I walk away from a DJ gig feeling less than fulfilled. For me I think the reason why can be summed up in one word: applause.
I don’t know how normal people do it. Going about their lives totally satisfied to be inconspicuous. Virtually un-famous in any way, in their little cocoons of security. Not needing applause at all. Not only not needing it, but being totally fine without it….and still feeling fine about themselves. How is that possible? I just don’t get it.
You see, I’m an entertainer. I guess a more accurate way to describe myself is that I’m an applause junkie. Just ask my wife. Believe me, she’ll be happy to tell you all about my addiction. I’ve always been happy, but definitely insecure. I was always the fat kid who felt awkward growing up. But I had talent. I could sing and I wielded that talent like a broadsword against any horde of invading embarrassment or insecurity. I learned to equate applause with approval. I mean, applause IS approval. People generally don’t applaud for things they don’t approve of. For me, that approval – those fleeting seconds of clap noise that my brain tells me is the sound of being worthy – provides an emotional high. That’s the other thing about “normal” people – they don’t seem to need approval from others in their normal day to day existence. That self-assuredness must be so comforting, like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night. I’ve always believed that one of the things at the core of performing artists is some sort of insecurity. An innate soul hole dug deep decades ago by the shovels full. These psyche diggers could be huge bulldozer-sized shovels like abuse or neglect. Or they could be little emotional garden trowels that stick with you for life like the embarrassing time you walked around middle school all day with your fly open. But performers are also blessed (or cursed depending on your perspective) with a powerful tool to try and fill the holes back up.
But try is the operative word. Because, of course, like any addiction, the challenge is that the holes never really can be filled up. The applause that shovels validation back into the hole evaporates with the end of every performance, leaving behind a chasm as empty as it was before the curtain went up. Which means of course we have to immediately find our next fix. So off to the next gig we go. Another challenge with relying on applause is that it’s often nothing more than a polite gesture that may say nothing about the actual quality of a performance. I’ve certainly politely clapped for a performance that made my ears bleed. And even if the applause is genuine, it still isn’t applause for the real me, personally. A great example of this is Sally Fields’ infamous Oscar acceptance speech when she declared “You like me! You really like me!”. No Sally, we don’t. We thought your movie was good. Two different things.
Sure, there are artists who don’t need outside validation or applause. And soothing the little boy-Geoff who sometimes takes up residence inside my brain sucking his thumb in a fetal position is certainly not the only reason I perform. I also happen to love doing it. It does fill my soul even if I’m just singing in the car on the way home from work. But I would venture a guess that at least half of us do need outside validation and the other half are probably lying. For us admitted clap-heads, validation that lasts even a few seconds feels like a high and we’re hooked.
But what about DJs? They certainly are “entertainers” in the purest sense of the word. But they’re not performers per se. At least not most mobile DJs. Not all DJs even want to be performers. Most of the clients I’ve spoken with would prefer them not to be. They’re not supposed to get applause are they? What I mean is that the mobile DJ’s job is to keep the spotlight on her clients and their guests – not be in it herself. The applause junkie can’t imagine that scenario. In fact, I bet many artists would take a free gig performing in front of an audience in a starring role over a paying gig DJing for event guests that may view her as a glorified server.They might call it “more artistically fulfilling” or something like that. In many cases what they mean is “why would I do anything with no chance of applause?”.
Of course applause can take many forms, many of which the DJ can and should enjoy. A full dance floor, tips. referrals, glowing reviews and solid bookings are all real forms of validation. Virtually all of these benefits last longer than the clapping does after a band plays a song. These are substantial, business-building ovations that are worth striving for as opposed to the fleeting sounds of hands smacking against each other.
So whenever I start feeling less than artistically challenged from DJing, I think about why I do it. Not for a quick applause fix, but for a chance to use my entertainment experience and creativity to sculpt music and light into great events for my clients. It’s helpful for me to realize that if I’m DJing for personal applause, I’m in the wrong profession. If you’ve ever seen a happy bride crying tears of joy at a reception you were the DJ for, you know that’s as good as any standing ovation. And the tips and referrals don’t suck either.
Then maybe I can say “They like me! They really like me!” and mean it.