About a month ago, I co-played a gig with three other DJs in which I was the mentor. Even though I have been doing this for less than a year, it just worked out that I was the most experienced of the group for that night. In fact, two of the other DJs were performing for the very first time after their graduation recital.
I was playing the first set (10pm) and the fifth (midnight). For the first set, I’d planned a kind of loungy house vibe reminiscent of the first hour at my first solo gig. For my second set, I’d planned some early nineties dance music (think Black Box and CeCe Peniston and Crystal Waters and Technotronic).
Because I was playing such an early set, my mom came down to see me (although it’s not really her kind of music!). She was still using a cane following her knee surgery; after my first set, some of my friends drove her home so she wouldn’t have to navigate the icy sidewalks and drive herself.
The evening went well, with one exception. At one point, when one of the newbies switched from one turntable to the other, the sound that came out wasn’t music but a loud flat tone. She quickly switched it off, and I jumped up to run over to her, since I knew exactly what that tone meant. It’s what happens when you try to play digital music but the setting is on vinyl mode (vinyl as in actual real vinyl records as opposed to mp3s played on a laptop and fed through a mixer). It had happened to me in practice a few times, and freaked me out so much that I will never forget the meaning of that particular sound.
It was a beautiful moment in a way, because all the DJs involved in that gig immediately went up to the front to start troubleshooting, as well as another DJ from our group who was just there in the audience. It was a very “collective” moment, and I was pleased and proud that we all reacted that way.
I was the furthest from the front, so by the time I got there, the others were already hovering around the mixer trying to figure out the problem. Since there was no music at all playing, I advised the DJ whose set it was to start up some tunes on the “good” side so the audience at least had music. She was too adrenalised to process what I was saying, though. I asked the “audience member DJ” (who has her own gear and knows a lot!) if she had already checked the vinyl mode / USB mode switch and she said yes, which immediately flummoxed me. I was 100% certain that was the problem! How could that not be the problem?
By this time, people had their cell phone flashlights on and were troubleshooting cables and connections. There had been maybe three minutes of dead air, so I talked again to the current DJ and said again that she should put on some music. I was trying not to be pushy and bossy, but if my past experience in event organising has taught me anything, it’s that whatever goes wrong behind the scenes should affect the audience as little as possible! She could hear me this time, and was glad to be able to DO something, I think, so she got the music going again. Then I asked one of the other DJs by the mixer if she had checked the vinyl / USB switch, because I just could not imagine anything else that would make that noise! And she said yes, it had been checked.
Now even though I was the mentor for that night, I was feeling doubly constrained. First of all, I have a tendency to be convinced that I’m right, and I can be kind of snotty about it, so I was trying to be very conscious of this being a collaboration of equals, not a place where I could elbow my way in and boss people around. Secondly, just because I was the most experienced of that group does not mean I am an expert! So I was doubting myself, but my little voice told me that I should check for myself.
So when I saw my chance, I politely asked if I could “just take a peek at the mixer for a sec,” and leaned in to examine the knob at the far top of the mixer. It was turned to vinyl mode. I switched it to USB and asked the set DJ to check her headphones. Her face lit up. I waved at the others “We have music!” and walked back to my table. I had too many feelings to stay up there: Frustration that I had asked two different people and they both said that setting had been checked. Disappointment in myself for not pushing my way in earlier to check for myself. A bit of pride for not being that bossy bitch. Irritation that I hadn’t trusted my first instinct. And most importantly, satisfaction that I had known right away what the problem was, and that I had (eventually!) solved it so the sets could go on.