After hours of setup, everything is ready. The lights, the machinery, the dance floor — it’s all set for partygoers. The setting could be an art gallery, a club or even someone’s basement. Wherever there is a demand for music, there is demand for a DJ. Yet what exactly it’s like to be the man behind the music remains a mystery to most. Two RIT students, second year Motion Picture Science major Mike Richos and 2011 RIT graduate Naim Hakim, helped provide some insight into the world of the DJ.
ichos is fairly new on the DJ scene; though he has always loved music of all varieties, he never really thought about making his own mixes until last year. At that time, he became interested in mixing after hearing music at parties and events and thinking, “What if this happened?” He got his hands on some hardware and began experimenting with making mixes in his free time. Nowadays, he is frequently hired to provide music for events, both on campus and in the
In contrast to Richos’ relatively newfound talents, Hakim grew up surrounded by music, and learned how to make mixes on a classic turntable when he was 12. Two years ago, he helped popularize the idea of having a DJ for house parties here at RIT; before fall 2010, it was rare for DJs to get hired for private house parties. Now, RIT is hiring them to perform at public functions and fundraisers. Since graduating, he has been keeping up his DJ work on the side in his hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Both Hakim and Richos prepare for their shows with a large amount of research, which can make preparing for a single gig take hours. Picking out music, preparing mixes beforehand and making sure all of the equipment is working right must be done carefully. The type of music the crowd wants varies based on the location of the venue and the demographic of attendees. The popular music of the time must also be taken into account. If a certain song or style has been getting a lot of attention, it should probably be included in the mix if it fits the party.
Trends change as well, which means the DJ needs to keep his music up to date. When Hakim began getting involved with the performance world, dubstep was the most popular sound. “The main vibe that people are looking for now is that ‘jump up and down’ kind of music,”
The crowd will almost certainly request songs, said Richos. He tries to incorporate these if he can find them and blend them into his mix. He recognizes that getting a request played will make the crowd happy, but if he can’t make it sound good, he won’t use it.
Hakim stresses that a DJ must “play to the crowd, and find the best middle path between what you want to play and what the crowd wants to hear.” When he works, he makes sure to keep an eye on the crowd. The music sets the mood, and he sets the music. If he wants people jumping, his tunes need to have a good beat.
Hakim also plans the order in which he presents mixes. The most energetic mixes are typically saved for a little ways into the performance so that the crowd has time to warm up. If the crowd looks like it’s getting bored or tired, it may be time for a calmer mix. Riding the swells of the crowd’s mood and occasionally nudging it in a new direction is what he aims to do.
According to Richos, the DJ also needs to be creative about what they play. People will love new and unique versions of the songs they know, so Richos says he tries to find “something they can sing along to that sounds a little different.”
Richos considers the biggest challenge of working as a DJ to be the misconceptions people have about the job. The amount of preparation takes time to do right, and most people don’t realize that. Sometimes, people will call him and ask for a show to be prepared immediately. “If you want that,” he says, “just plug in your iPod.” Misconceptions aside though, the work has brought good memories to those who do it.
Hakim recalls the house-shaking parties he used to throw at his apartment back when he lived on-campus. Once the room was so crowded that he couldn’t reach his equipment, so he crowd-surfed across his own house to get to it.
Richos’ favorite memories deal with the people he has met through his work. The loud, the funny, the slightly tipsy — he has seen it all. He loves weird requests too. “I get Spice Girls requests all the time,” he says.
If you ever visit a Brooklyn venue with a DJ, take a good look: it may be Hakim up there. Richos gives a performance around RIT practically every weekend, so keep an eye out for him too; his next big event is a Phi Kappa Tau fundraiser this weekend.
For Richos and Hakim, the job of the DJ is to connect people to music. A lot of work goes into every show but, for them, the fun that everyone gets out of it makes all the effort worth it.