How To Get DJs To Play Your Song Requests
We see you standing next to the DJ booth with your phone in your hand. It is an unmistakable look that every DJ can recognize. You want to request a song, but do not realize that the Redskins have better odds making it to the playoffs than you do hearing your song request. Not all hope is lost as you can help improve your odds. The key for anyone requesting a song is to know when and how to do so appropriately.
To understand how to get DJs to play your song request we must first understand why so many DJs hate taking requests. The below video clip is my favorite depiction of a DJ in any motion picture for it so well dramaticizes DJs that hate taking requests. In it we see the aptly named DJ Request (Craig Robinson) in "The Goods". Take a look.
Why do so many DJs hate taking requests?
With any performing art, to include a DJ performance, there is a deliberate nature of the craft that requires freedom to express one's creativity. For very dynamic crowds the DJ needs to control the crowd as best as he can to be effective. So when a professional DJ has been hired for an event, he is expected to render expertise in music delivery as - put simply - a professional DJ. Too many requests during an event beg the question of why the DJ was hired in the first place. And while the format of the event will dictate the type of music to be played, some DJs take it very personally when someone requests a song. They may feel like they are losing control, that freedom to express their creativity, and ability to do their job. Some DJs may even feel insulted. They may perceive the song request as an attack by an inexperienced outsider telling them how to do their job. So know that whenever you request a song the DJ may interpret the action as though you are dissatisfied with the music they have been playing whether you intended to convey that or not.
It is also worth mentioning that if your request is for a very popular song (one that many would expect to hear because it is a hot track or tradition for the format), the DJ may especially be offended. Why? Because the DJ already plans to play your song in his set (or they may have just played it) and you have wasted valuable time they should have spent cueing up their next tracks. To illustrate this with a personal example, I was DJing a bar gig several years ago when someone in all seriousness requested the song that was currently playing. My response was full of concern for her well-being.
After getting harassed week after week for requests by very rude people, some DJs can present with minor PTSD-like symptoms whenever anyone walks up to the DJ booth with phone in-hand. Since few people know when and how to appropriately request a song it should be no surprise to learn that experienced DJs can dismiss song requests with Jedi mind tricks. Practice makes perfect! Like many DJs, I have had several hundred people request songs over the last decade and would say only 10% of them were played (this is a generous amount by the way). To identify the many ways a DJ will dismiss your request, read the wildly entertaining,
12 Ways That DJs Avoid Spinning Your Request by DJ Louie XIV - and yes, I have used all of these techniques and more in my DJ career. Sorry, not sorry.
How to get your song request played
So you now understand why DJs hate taking requests. Let’s learn how to get your favorite song played. Pro Tip: consider a combination of these approaches to greatly increase the chances that your song request will be played.
1. Treat the DJ like a human being
The number one reason DJs will not play a song request is because the person was disrespectful. We get that you may have a favorite song (and maybe had too much to drink), but there is no excuse to ever be rude to anyone working at the venue for your benefit. This applies to bartenders, servers, bottle girls, photographers, and anyone else at work for you to enjoy the evening. After so many people requesting songs as if they own you, DJs can get hardened. So be different and stick out by waiting for the DJ to signal you that it's okay to come up and talk to him (entering their workspace) and try something like:
"I really dig the music you have been playing and am having a great time. If you get a chance tonight, my friends and I would love to hear anything from 50 Cent. Thank you so much!"
Not only will I try to play 50 Cent if it fits the format, you respected my space, my time, dignity and gave room for discretion as a performing artist. You were kind and I will be sure to fit in my exclusive G-Unit routine just for you.
2. Request your song early or late in the night
DJs play for their crowd. So at the beginning or end of an open format set you and your friends may represent a larger percentage of the crowd when compared to peak attendance. E.g. if the club or bar event starts at 10pm, it is not going to get packed until closer to midnight. As such, the DJ usually plays feel good tracks to warm up the vibe for those who arrived early. Towards the end of the night the crowd will naturally thin out and those left are trying to find someone to take home. Again, your request will have more weight when you represent more of the crowd. An extreme example would be if you and your friends were the only group of people at the bar or club - perhaps no one else is there yet. In this scenario there is a better chance that the DJ will entertain your requests. Conversely, you should understand that when the venue is at-capacity, the DJ will be fully engaged in the mix and should not entertain any requests since they will serve as a distraction to the focus requires to work a live crowd.
3. Recognize the event format
Every event that a DJ performs at has a format. The format is the music direction that the client sets for the particular venue, occasion or night of the week. This may be 90s Dance, Deep House, or Current Club + Trap, for example. Professional DJs do their homework on the event format when they advance the date with their client in order to prepare music crates beforehand. I am an Open Format DJ which means that I am comfortable playing multiple genres during a single performance. Still, even though I can mix multiple genres, try to put yourself behind the turntables and think about what you would play given the crowd at a given moment. If you are at a 90s Dance party and you think that your favorite throwback song will bring about a rush of nostalgia to all then go ahead and request it. To illustrate the converse, one of my close friends is a Techno DJ in San Francisco and guess what? He gets booked for techno gigs at techno venues for crowds that expect techno music. You are wasting your and his time to request anything other than techno during one of his live sets. So in this same vain, never request country music at a hip-hop party (or just don't request country music ever).
4. Be the life of the party
In the entertainment industry, it is no secret that promoters hire dancers, pay for party starters, and even guestlist people they know are fun to have at any event. The reason being - they want to enhance the vibe for everyone in attendance so that people stay longer, buy more drinks, and order more bottles because the party is so fun. In a private party setting we see this too - the bridal party usually goes nuts and becomes the heartbeat of the crowd. The DJ can tell if you and your group of friends are having a blast, singing to every hook. We know that your energy and vibe is contagious. So if you are having a ton of fun and want to even further enhance the vibe together with a specific song that will get you and your group to climax energy - I want to know that secret weapon for your group and will mix it in when the time is right.
5. Tip the DJ
While never professional for the DJ to accept tips at a private event, you can probably get any DJ to play just about any song if you tip them accordingly at a bar or club gig. To illustrate this, I have created a chart that shows the minimum tip amount needed for most DJs to play certain requests during an open format club set in DC.
How NOT to request a song
In this closing section I will breakdown the most common, real-life song request approaches that you should NEVER attempt. Again, these are examples from my own experiences.
"My friends and I are leaving in a few minutes so you have to play my song!"
Indications: She will present with a phone in her hand that has a Spotify song displayed on the screen. She will be very rude.
Breakdown: For starters, you have ruined your cause by sharing the fact that you are about to leave. Open Format DJs play for their crowd so if you are not going to be part of the crowd in a few minutes there is a slim-to-none chance that your request will be played. Our job is to create a fun vibe that keeps guests happy, buying drinks, and being social the whole night. Even if the DJ were to entertain a request that demanded such immediate attention, a professional DJ has his or her next few songs queued up so that the mix and transitions have a purpose. Fitting in an impromptu song request as the next song can dramatically alter the vibe for worse. Entertaining this type of request is very high risk for little reward.
Indications: Age 5 to 85, all demographic groups. They are the type to say "I love music and listen to everything".
Breakdown: Please refer to the chart under section 5. "Tip the DJ."
"Yo, this song sucks! Play something by [insert Artist Name]!"
Indications: Usually someone very opinionated about their music taste (obviously). They may even be wearing a t-shirt or tank top of an indie rock or rap artist (probably a tank top).
Breakdown: This is the friend in your group of friends that is never happy. When they drink, they wear this difficult to satisfy character trait like a badge. Not only is the song most likely inappropriate for the format, they were very rude and won’t be happy even if the song is played because of their own underlying issues. They should seek professional help at their earliest opportunity.
"I am the [insert relationship to client] so you should play this song."
Indications: Usually seen at private parties, like weddings. These individuals are often heavily intoxicated.
Breakdown: This is a tricky one that is very context sensitive. Why? Because as a service provider, you aim to please your client. So in some cases if the paying client or promoter requests an immediate song or format change live then it should be seriously considered and the adjustment made as soon as appropriate. This is why it is tremendously important to advance the music format with the client - the DJ should not have to guess what types of music their client expects to hear. With this type of song request, the requestor is not the actual client. They are trying to extort the DJ by way of their relationship to the client. Not cool, please grow up.
In conclusion, always be nice and don't request "Despacito" unless you can afford it.