Tuesday, 27 October 2009

DJs and demos, the short term and the long

DJs are cheap, and demos are expensive.

Music is the most important thing to good dancers, or at least dancers who've had a lot of practice. Demos, with some honourable exceptions, are more important to dancers who haven't had time to get bored with them yet.

Inexperienced dancers learn what's important mainly from how other people behave.

If you get a good DJ, you give the DJ a booth or table in a prominent, high-status position with a view of the dance floor, and you expect and enable the DJ to attend to the the music for the benefit of dancers, you are acting as though the music is important. And, with luck, you deliver good music. You attract good dancers, because to be a good dancer you need some appreciation of the music. They attract OK dancers (like me). You convince the less experienced that music is important, and you give them experience of good DJing which they can compare with poor DJing, to your benefit. You influence people to dance better, and specifically in a social way because that's what makes sense when the music is strong. The dancing gets better and the dancers are happy, also to your benefit. The cost is relatively low.

Ten out of every dozen demos probably drive away those who can tell the difference between the professional and the good. They convince less experienced dancers that social dancing is a watered-down version of stage dancing, and that they should get a performance for their entrance fee. They influence people - ten times out of a dozen - to dance worse, and specifically in an antisocial way, which drives out better dancing. They are mostly one-offs by visitors, and don't create loyalty. And they are relatively costly. None of this benefits the organiser much.

What's wrong with what I've written above?

Specifically, why are there more Boring Performances than there are outstanding DJs, and why doesn't the price of an outstanding DJ rise to approach the price of a Boring Performance?

Well, for a start, most of this is mere assertion and I could be just wrong. I'll leave that aside.

One guess is that it's availability; being an actually good DJ takes a rather high level of knowledge and skill, getting there takes a lot of time and a lot of collecting music, and there's no money in it currently, so it might not seem worthwhile to do the work of becoming really good. You can't hire an outstanding DJ if there isn't one available for your location and night.

Another guess is that there aren't enough dancers who care enough about the DJ to get the process of influencing other dancers started. There certainly are some, and they're remarkably consistent about going to places that are pricey, uncomfortable, and weak in other areas, for the sake of DJing that by all accounts (I'm no expert) is only marginally better than average, and far from reliable. But there are probably far more dancers who want to see a performance, even a bad one, and who seek it out rather than staying away. If the short-term survival of your milonga depends on numbers, then you have to go for numbers over quality. And while long-term survival is all very well, the problem with the long term is that the short term comes first.

Or I could be just wrong. Maybe pouting, knickers-flying, beat-molesting demos don't influence people to dance like fools, maybe they do create long-term loyalty, and maybe nobody turns up for good music. I can't measure these things. But I doubt it.


Game Cat said...

Thought provoking post. I empathise.

Turn the question on its head - where do all the good people who care about the music and dancing socially (e.g. floor craft, respect LoD) go in London?

Have said it before, but worth saying it again - critical mass, that's what we need. Then a milonga that suits those above will have to emerge sooner or later. But how do we get critical mass on a consistent basis?

msHedgehog said...

You have a point. I had started to write a post about the "salon room" project at 33PP, but I realised (in fact I think either you or TangoEnElCielo persuaded me) that because the people who care about that also care about DJs, the project was incomplete without a suitable DJ. So this post had to come first. I'll do the other one later.

Simba said...

I agree 100% about what you write about the dj.

Show, don't tell

It is very hard to tell people that the music is important and have an impact. We were fairly successful in doing something like what you describe in my local community (actually starting to use/train local djs and hire djs for bigger events). And music awareness has definitely increased, while there still is some way to go.

The performance issue is more complex, and an issue for a post of its own, but no time for that now :-)

ghost said...

I think you're wrong about the relative costs of DJs and demos. DJs are certainly well paid - not quite lawyer fees, but certainly above most people's hourly rates. So if you run a quiet milonga it makes financial sense for the teachers to DJ.

If you look in most milongas the majority are in the beginner to ok intermediate stage. There's a massive drop-off after that. Often if you don't count actual teachers there's no-one! But they're the people who care most about the music and are in a position to do something with it in their dancing. Which exasperates the problem. I watched a skilled but tired guy be cajoled into doing a demo last night whilst he complained he was getting too old for all this! He danced with great musicality in a way I actually haven't seen before, but if you stripped it down I could have danced all the "moves" he did. It was the way he did them that was streets beyond me. But if people like him aren't there, dancing like that, then instead you see the guys doing flash nuevo and think that's what to aim for. So the demos do that. And to be fair they usually get applause and "Brava!" for nuevo and silence for skilled musical walking.

But yeah - I'm toying with straying from Negracha (which I only went to because of the nuevo music) and good music is definitely on my list...

@ Gamecat
Apparently they go here. (So I'm told. And let's face it I doubt inconsiderate dancers read this blog so hopefully it'll remain safe)

Stéphanie said...

Great post as usual Ms. Hedgehog!

I must say I am sick and tired of demos! Meanwhile we don't have enough good DJs here in Montreal. We have between 15 to 20 milongas a week and perhaps 5-6 real DJs. The other DJs deserve to get their iPod twitching hand ripped off and get beaten to death with it!

Social Dancer said...

Unfortunately it has become common that those who are terrible dancers but still like to stick around milonga business they tend to be given the job of DJing for the evening.

Most places just stick on a playlist on a laptop and regardless of who is there or not just shuffle the the tanda sets around.

To add to the above: there are a few pretentious "talentless" ones who often play the most obscure tangos for us just to make a statement about themselves, and then on the side of this "talentless" coin we have those who don't have a clue other than playing the most boring safe sets and claim to know they know it all because they have been doing it this way for the last 10 or more years!

It seems to me that almost like everything else in Tango business there are organisers, experts and teachers and DJs aplenty, some of whom foolishly express extremely high opinions of themselves publicly when there is no justification for these other than that they have been around for some years more.

I always vote with my feet. If a venue and its DJ don't make me feel good then I won't visit that place again for a few months, simple!

Vote with your feet if you are discerning enough!

Mari said...

Thank you thank you thank you for posting that, MsHedgehog. I was beginning to think I was the only one not "getting it" as far as these performances go. Watching flailing, disconnected, "angry tango" leaves me completely cold. All I end up thinking about is that this is eating into my dancing time. Yet everyone around me is consistently enthralled with these performances.

I make once exception, actually, now that I think about it. i had a chance to see one of teachers and a fellow student do an amazing demo that was not only very musical and graceful - it was appropriate on a social dance floor. That was refreshing.

Our local dj's are not paid - they volunteer. Some load their playlist and hit "go" - some watch the floor and really tailor the music to the mood, the dancers and the space. It's an amazing talent to dj well and not valued nearly enough.

Simba said...

I think djs are often volunteers in smaller communities, except maybe for larger events, don't know for larger communities.

One thing you can do in addition to voting with your feet is to give some positive feedback to the dj (and/or organizer) whenever you like what they are playing. Whining isn't very productive, methinks.

msHedgehog said...

Indeed. Going elsewhere only works if there's an elsewhere to go that's obviously better at the thing you care about.

Telling the organiser "get this DJ again and I'm here" seems like a Very Good Idea.

Lots of people say lots of things; if people experience different results, they tend to find those more convincing.

msHedgehog said...

@Mari - you may look as enthralled as they do. Try making a few satirical remarks to trusted friends and see what happens ;) I'm totally with you on it eating into dancing time.

ghost said...

Interestingly the converse has started happening at Negracha. Usually about 20 mins before the actual performance, someone comes downstairs and announces it and the floor mostly clears as people head upstairs to watch.

Which means there's a now a pretty empty floor downstairs for a good 40 mins...

Ironically it's one of the few times leading "show nuevo tango" actually makes sense because you've got so much room to do it in.

It's also one of the few times you can dance tandas in peace and quiet thus providing the best of both worlds.

Chris said...

Simba said
> It is very hard to tell people that the
> music is important and have an impact.

Sure, and in the UK that's because it's largely untrue. The music is not important to most people in the milonga - they're class-goers who quit tango before regaining the freedom to appreciate the music. Though many that pass this test do appreciate the music, the pass rate is only about 10%.

msHedgehog said...

I'm sure that's very true, and influences the tradeoffs between short-term and long that happen in a community. 10% sounds like a pretty good hit rate, though, for an activity that's quite demanding.

Captain Jep said...

Hmm late to this debate but thought Id add to it anyway.

In my view DJing in tango is incredibly difficult. You simply cant please all the people all the time. Some want all trad, others want trad and "a bit of nuevo" , still others want "mostly nuevo". Well thats their starting position. But I think most people dont actually know *what* they want.

People who like trad often only really like the smoother more rhythmical music - too much early music or Biagi/Pugliese puts them right off. And with nuevo some people love the electro tango while others are actually more interested in dancing to modern tunes from other genres.

How then can you please everybody? Answer : you cant.

msHedgehog said...

@CaptainJep: I think you have a very good point there - and the point is that trying to please everybody is a mistake. The attempt doesn't make any sense. I think it's much better to develop a clear idea of what you think is right, and do that thing properly. It's the only thing that can carry people with you - in other words, what you have to do is give a bit of leadership. And that is NOT easy.