The Art of Handling Requests as a DJ

A DJ can usually spot a request coming.
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The Art of Handling Requests as a DJ

If a room is small enough, a DJ can usually spot a request coming. There’s a very clear sequence. Someone in the venue begins typing on their phone before whispering and nodding to a nearby friend. Suddenly, they’re headed to the booth faster than Tekashi 6ix9ine snitched to federal prosecutors, ready to show you a track on Spotify they want to be played. 

There are countless ways to handle this situation, but here are the five best:

The Hard No

Requests can feel a lot like someone telling you how to do your job, which means a "Hard No" policy might be your best move.

If this is your preferred approach, grab a “No Requests” sign or sticker for your laptop and point to it as needed. 

If I had taken this approach early in my career, I likely would have burned a lot of bridges that ultimately lead to more opportunities. On quite a few occasions, the person making a request was a fellow DJ, promoter, or regular attendee of the venue—all of whom could have helped me secure future gigs if their request is reasonable. 

Are you in a position in your career where you can afford to miss out on those types of connections?

Editor's Note: One incredibly petty trick is to change the track info of a song to say “No Requests.” When someone peeks over at the booth, load it up to a spare deck, point to your screen and ask “Is this the right song?” Be prepared to throw hands accordingly.

The Soft No

You don’t want to give people the impression you’re a jukebox. You absolutely shouldn’t take every request and will have to learn to say no to a lot of people. But a “soft” no gets the same message across without burning a bridge. 

Usually, the best way to justify not playing a song is to be respectful and to have a good reason. Offer a genuinely thankful introduction, and follow with something like:

  • “I don’t think I’ll be able to play ["Name of Song"] without disrupting my set, but I’ll keep it in mind for the future.”
  • “I don’t have ["Name of Song"], but I’ll be sure to add that to my list of songs to check out. Thanks for the tip, I love finding new music.”

These responses are less cold, and if the person happens to be a DJ or in the scene, they should understand your logic and respect you for taking time out to speak to them.

Considering Requests While Setting Expectations

In most scenarios, a DJ can give a somewhat neutral response to a requester and still get that individual back on the dance floor. In these cases, you likely haven't said "No" but you also didn't make any promises. The key is to set honest expectations and to offer positive acknowledgment. 

For example:

  • “I love that song, but I have to play records when the time is right. I can’t make any promises.”
  • “The vibe isn't quite there right now, but I’ll keep that one in mind!”
  • “That song is great but it doesn’t really fit with the set I prepared. If I find a spot where it could work, I’ll make sure you’re still around.”

This approach is usually better than a hard or soft no because there’s less risk of the person feeling disrespected. If they’re with a group, they have a better story to tell their friends than, “The DJ said 'No,' let’s leave.”

Additionally, you will also have room to adjust as needed based on the rest of the night. If the person continues to bug you, escalate to a soft no. Conversely, if they end up staying and dancing, you can play the request later in the evening/event. 

Nothing is better than hearing your favorite song after you think the DJ blew you off. It’s the classic “under promise and over deliver” move. 

Using Requests to Your Advantage

Instead of trying to figure out how to best deal with requests, simply use them to your advantage. Sure, taking requests can feel like receiving feedback you didn’t ask for. But sometimes that’s exactly what we need. In most industries, direct feedback from the people you’re trying to please is an invaluable resource. Major brands pay big bucks to know what pleases their audiences. Why not apply that mentality to your DJ career? If someone gives you the cheat code to get their group to start dancing, why not use it and try to build up the rest of the floor from there?

Another way to take advantage of requests is to ask for them directly—just do it when you’re not DJing. Consistently ask your following on social media what songs you should add to your sets. Hit up your friends and peers and ask what they think would work well. This is a great way to organically improve online engagement and will keep you in constant contact with your peers. You're also guaranteed to be introduced to some new songs.

When possible, acknowledge when people make great, timely requests. If you drop something that a friend recommended, get a video clip. Post it to Instagram the next day and tag them. These gestures not only create great organic content, but they will also improve the odds of someone supporting your future events. 

Everyone wants to be able to say, “I told the DJ to play this song!”

Taking Requests in Realtime

Up until recently, most major DJ software couldn’t access streaming music. With TIDAL and SoundCloud integration becoming standard, everything is changing. If you have a phone that turns into a hotspot, you can search for requests you don’t have on your computer, and spin them in seconds. Just remember that streaming music integration is a new and developing feature in most DJ software. I always advise minimal usage until the kinks are worked out with new technology. Test it thoroughly at home before trying it in the real live setting.

TL;DR

Requests are always going to feel weird, there’s no way around it. But DJs are hired to deliver a service, and sometimes that means dealing with criticism. 

Different scenarios will call for different responses, but remaining respectful is a rule of thumb that will always help your case, no matter what route you decide to take. 

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