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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Breaking Into CT's DJ Scene
Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The other day I was hanging out with DJ Halo, a Bridgeport turntablist who has toured the country twice and even opened for Ice Cube at SXSW in 2008, and my mind wandered a bit to a few of the other local DJs I know who have done some big things, including touring regionally and winning some major DJ battles. A question started to nag me - why don’t I see these DJs at any of the local clubs? Rather than let that question hang in the air, I hit the streets to find out what it takes for a DJ to break into Connecticut’s club scene.

For those frequent the local scene, sometimes it may seem as though the same five DJs are at almost every club in the area. Mark Rolland, owner/operator of Lady Luck in Bridgeport, says that isn’t just our imagination. “I would say in our county it’s probably pretty true that you’re getting in the realm of five or six guys who get most of the gigs. I wouldn’t say it’s that way in the whole state, but in this county it is.”

Opportunity for DJs is almost entirely dependant on the club in question. Frank Patrick, who is the manager of Bar in New Haven, hired an entirely new staff of DJs a year ago, while Kelly Robertson, who is the general manager of the Black Bear Saloon in SoNo, notes “we’ve had some DJs who have worked here for eight years.” The DJs, to many club owners, are much like the bartenders and wait staff in that they are fixtures, people everybody knows by name and looks forward to seeing week after week.

The Black Bear is under the umbrella of Post Road Entertainment, which also runs The Thirsty Turtle, Hula Hanks, Kelly’s Pub and 84 Park. Thanks to this set up the establishments actually share a lineup of DJs, an arrangement that is extremely appealing for a DJ once they’re in the loop.

Even though it may seem as though there’s a giant moat in-between the DJs who want local gigs and the local gigs they want, opportunities do occasionally arise. When those opportunities start knocking DJs need to be prepared to entertain a very specific audience. All three club managers agreed that adaptability and flexibility are a necessity here. “As much as a DJ’s style is important,” explains Robertson, “you still gotta play what people want to hear.” This is where a lot of DJs run into problems.

While it’s all well and good to be a Hip-Hop DJ, or a House DJ, being a single genre DJ isn’t going to fly in Connecticut. Clubs don’t want one genre DJs because club goers don’t like just one genre of music. If you’re a DJ and you’re at a loss as to what a local crowd might like, try turning on a Top 40 radio station for an hour (Lord only knows we have enough of them - 92.3, 100.3, 101.3, 103.5, 106.1… did I miss any?). According to Patrick, “in Connecticut it’s tough. People want their Hip-Hop and Top 40 music and if you stray from that they’ll complain.” Robertson seconds this, saying “the people that come (to Black Bear) want to hear Top 40 and the old school sing-a-long songs.” Variety is also the spice of life, as Rolland adds switching up one’s song rotation is extremely important. “You don’t want to hear the same closing songs every night.”

Once a DJ has figured out the musical selection they have to work with in order to rock a Connecticut crowd the next step is having some real mixing ability. Beat matching is an art. Well, it used to be an art, but thanks to Serato it’s pretty much idiot proof now, so there’s really zero excuse for not being able to match a beat, even for a relative novice. This is why, according to Rolland, “if someone mixes like an iPod we can’t move forward with them.”

The crowd a DJ brings with them is also a very important factor when it comes to their hire-ability. Rolland explains that while it’s great to have a following, making sure it’s a “quality crowd” is equally important. What he means by this is “a crowd that won’t cause problems,” noting “there are certain DJs where you know if you book em there are going to be fights.” And nobody wants blood on the dance floor… unless we’re talking about the classic Michael Jackson song from 1997.

So you have the skills and a great crowd to match? The next step is to do a little networking with the current crop of DJs that are running the scene. Both Rolland and Robertson find fill-ins by getting recommendations from the DJ who will be giving up the slot for the night. “DJs know DJs,” Robertson explains, “so trust in what you already have.”

Networking, however, does not mean handing someone a CD and saying “I’m dope, put me on.” If, however, you have a residency at a spot in CT that the DJ in question doesn’t normally rock at, or even better, if you have a regular gig in NYC, try offering them a set during one of your nights. Work it out so that they’ll get a set at your spot and, in turn, you can get a set at theirs, which will allow you to show your skills to the locals and if you don’t already have a strong following in the state you can start developing one while also helping the local fave expand his own audience.

The moral of the story - Connecticut’s DJ scene is not an easy one to break into, but if you can make it happen you’ll be busy for quite a while.

Story originally ran in the FairfieldWeekly.

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