There always seems to be a struggle and divide amongst DJ’s when it comes to playing big rooms versus smaller and sometimes “intimate” spaces. We’ve heard all of the arguments on why many DJ’s don’t like playing the small rooms and bars i.e. “they don’t pay a lot of money”, “there’s no dance floor”, “it’s only 50 people”, “no one’s paying attention to me”. But we’ve also heard the opposite end of the spectrum when playing larger spaces i.e. “there’s no vibe and connection to the crowd”, “it’s just a room full of people that are there because it’s where they go on Friday nights”, “I have to play what the crowd wants to hear” “I’m getting paid to play music I don’t like so I’m gonna do it”. There really is no right or wrong on playing either spaces and more of a personal choice of each DJ. As someone who has played in spaces of varying sizes, I absolutely love each one in a different way and it’s not necessarily the space you’re playing in, it’s the audience that makes the experience special.
When playing larger venues, I know my lane. I can play any genre but I choose not to take gigs that lead me down the path of having to play music that I don’t particularly like. Some of the funk, soul and disco nights that I’ve played (not counting festivals) are for crowds of 500+ with the next night the venue hosting more of a commercial music night with an equal amount of people. There’s no difference except for the DJ, music and crowd, it’s just all where you choose to fit into. On the other hand, I’ve played in the more intimidated middle size settings that might fit 150 people and still get the same energy from the 500 capacity, why? Because I know who my music and brand attracts and it’s those people who love being in that space for that experience. As we head further across the spectrum, we have the 50+ person bar setting which honestly, I love playing for. Some of the gripes that I hear is “the money isn’t that good” and my response to that is maybe you aren’t that good to get booked elsewhere that pays better. Maybe you should try renting out a space, printing flyers, renting equipment and throwing your own party and see how many people actually pay to come out to see you. How much money realistically do you think is in paying a DJ to play for a bar that holds 50+ people with no dance floor? If you have a name and draw, I’m sure management wouldn’t mind sorting you out a bit better. If not, you don’t have the obligation to stay playing there. Here’s what you should focus on instead, it’s these types of settings where you can go in an “break” records or test them to see how people react. If you can have a good number of heads bopping in a bar while inquiring about certain records that you are playing then you’re on your way. It’s easy to play in a full room of 200 that payed their entrance fee but harder to keep a room of 50 entertained and wanting to stay.
But keep in mind, it’s not always about the music. We’ve all seen “famous” or well known DJ’s play absolute shit sets with the same cliche’ songs and people are jumping out their seats but when lesser known DJ’s play those same exact songs, the reaction isn’t the same. Here’s why…. people are more geeked on that famous DJ than they are on the fact that he’s dumbing them down and taking the lazy route out for the paycheck. It’s not about common vs. rare, it’s about quality and if you’re paying to see a DJ then they should be giving you their all, not the same set they gave the crowd the night before in another city.
If you’ve never traveled to other countries, small rooms and bar settings are some of the best nights that I’ve played or heard other DJ’s play, some with big names. In Japan and Korea (especially), Germany and Switzerland, it’s those types of spaces that have the best vibe and energy in the room where people don’t mind packing in just to hear what the DJ will be playing. But that’s not an easy task especially if you don’t have a following. So many people want the big pay but let’s face it, DJ’s are a dime a dozen and you’re money value is worth not only your skillset, but also your draw so you have to have something special that separates you from others. If you’re a small room guy, don’t stress the big room hype, hopefully you’ll get your opportunity to play them and note that even some of the big name DJ’s suck at playing big rooms and only do so because of their name and status in the game. All that glitters isn’t gold.
Choose your lane, bring what you bring to the table and keep it moving. I’ve played for 5, 50 and 500 people and each of them get the same effort as the other.