Open Mic: Do DJ’s Have A Responsibility To Play ‘Commercial’ Music?

nick-warrenDJ and producer Nick Warren had his set cut short over the weekend……because it wasn’t commercial enough.

Here’s what he had to say about it:

Apologies to everyone on the full dance floor last night in Seoul.

Someone who had booked a table had complained to the club that I was not playing commercial music, so the club told me to stop after an hour.

Words can not explain how i feel about that, to be honest.

For reference – here’s a Nick Warren mix, celebrating 15 years of his Hope Recordings label:

Do DJ’s have a responsibility to play ‘commercial’ music? And what’s the right balance between just ‘playing the hits’ and exposing unfamiliar tracks – or aiming for more of a live remix that takes familiar tracks into new territory?

54 thoughts on “Open Mic: Do DJ’s Have A Responsibility To Play ‘Commercial’ Music?

    1. It’s sad to think that one rich d-bag can shut down the show, when it sounds like the crowd was getting into it.

      I can’t imagine any other type of music show where this would happen. If I went to the show to see Warren, I’d be pissed.

      1. What’s to say it was just some entitled rich guy? How do we know it wasn’t a representative of some commercial music who has a financial interest in big clubs playing the same shit? Like a kind of reverse payola…On the other hand we only have Warren’s side of the story maybe he was stinking out the joint with chin stroking B.S. and the complaint was legit.

        1. So you’re saying “what if it wasn’t a rich guy, but some representative of the rich guys”, either way, screw the money men, they won’t rest until music is dead and they will pose with their foot on it.

  1. This is an inevitable consequence of EDM going big(ger) money. The only way to stop this sort of thing is for big name DJs to start putting clauses in their contracts to apply large penalties for this sort of BS. Start blacklisting big clubs that do this, and separate the DJ as artist/entertainer from the dancing monkey for the rich.

    1. Actually, no. When I’ve paid to hear a DJ it’s because I trust them to play a decent selection of tunes and if I’m not enjoying it I’ll leave the floor. Like Nick Warren (and likely many of the crowd who paid to hear him) I’d be pretty pissed if someone sitting at a table got my set cut short.

      1. Then the club owner made a mistake misjudging his audience, if that’s what it was. Most times these things come down to poor booking. If you don’t do your own contracts/booking, then make sure your manager/booker understands you, your style, and what you intend to supply as far as entertainment.

      1. who can argue with that statement? 5 unlikes????

        turn on the radio/ your tv if you want to listen to commercial dribble, I paid a premium for that drink in my hand plus cover to listen to this crap with a group of strangers…

  2. Yes and No. A DJ should always cater to the crowd they are playing for, but at the same time they should not sacrifice creative freedom just to appease a select few. Any half ass DJ can put together a decent top 40 commercial set. An amazing DJ will take you on a journey from the top of the mountains to the depths of the underground and every else in between.

    In Nick warren’s case, the booking agent should have been clear with him about what kind of music he was expected to play and the promoter should have been clear with the customer about what the DJ should will be playing.

  3. promoters and management have an obligation to do there job right as to avoid situations like this ‘ if they booked nick warren as a promotoer they should of know enough about who they were booking ‘ they obviously had no idea what they were doing and are completely responsible for what happened . if you book nick warren know who your booking and what to expect .

  4. i think this is what’s going to be the death of the creative dj (or at least the booking of creative djs). too many people think of a dj as a party fuel or a trained monkey to play those tracks that make the slutty girls get wasted and the d bags fist pump harder. when a dj steps up to the decks he is expressing himself through the mix of tracks and emotions that he feels is best suited for the dance floor. when richy rich arrives with his bottle service and 10 money grubbing girls he is expecting a certain type of commercial bs not self expression. conflict of interests i suppose. i would certainly trust the music taste of a man who has dedicated his life to music over the man who has dedicated his life to douchebaggery.

  5. I Think:
    >>> it mostly depends on the Deal.

    A DJs Responsibility (when it comes to business) is to make clear who he is, what he can offer and what he wants, to the one booking him.

    though Problems and Surpizes will always be there…

  6. hang the DJ, who plays bland shit for idiots.
    Keep music fresh , freaky and educational.
    The whole genre of techno/house /acid came about through experimentation. Those of us
    who are into keeping that going really have no place in dull establishments.

  7. Any venue promoter/booking agent who hires a big name DJ like Nick Warren, DJ Shadow, Mark Farina or Dennis Ferrer (all have been booted from the booth) should know who they are booking and what the artist does. These guys aren’t neighborhood top 40 DJs. You book them because it is them, playing their sound. Not to mention they’re all producers. The 80% of the crowd that shows up on that night will be their fans who paid the extra money to see that particular marquee DJ.

    If you want top 40 mixes then you can hire the best top 40 DJ from your area, or get Pauly D & Paris Hilton, they’ll probably bring more people to your club anyway.

  8. I just had the pleasure to see Nick with Herrnan Cattneo in NYC, I was neither drunk no high and i can tell you Nick has still got that magic mixing wand on his hands. Of course Cattaneo was great too. But Nick Warren always has that deep progressive sound he can move mountains slowly through a vortex and then pull you along with it. Forget about these stupid EDM Lady Gaga Armin Van Poser Twerkers. They don’t know what this music is about. Nick , your always on your game…You need not apologize to anyone for what you do…

  9. Reminds me of my cover band days years ago. Some gigs offer more latitude than others, but in the end, any live performer in a club situation is really there to sell alcohol. Make people dance, they get thirsty, they drink more, and the establishment has more money at the end of the night. The gig isn’t for you to be a star. It’s for you to earn your employer more money. And there is always a line of people behind you ready to do what you don’t if you let comfort or ego get in the way of always remembering that. Take the dance club away, and DJs are just another bedroom producer trying to get someone to listen, no matter how good they are.

    1. To sell alcohol? To earn employer more money?

      How about to bring some beauty into the world and make people’s evening better and a world – though slightly, – a better thing? How about to make someone dance, enjoy and expose them to the new stuff they’ve not heard before? How about doing what you believe in?..

      Dude, I believe your life priorities are seriously fucked up, it’s plain insulting to read things like that COMING FROM A MUSICIAN.

      1. I’m with Xtopher on this one. I would DJ every now and then at an alternative club (with synth/EBM music, the crowd was synth, gothic and some hardrockers) with 3 floors and my floor was small and cosy with couches and my set would be gothic rock, neofolk, noise and industrial and I’d play a lot of stuff you never hear out at clubs. A couple of times I’d conceptualize my set with video and had a TV there playing on repeat the old film Häxan and another time Tatsumi Hijikata’s butoh performance . So I did my best to introduce the crowd to new, old, known and unknown music surrounding their alternative scene. But the price was that there was not much crowd. And when there was no crowd, there was no point opening the floor as early as the others and keeping it open until closing time (at 5 AM) and having a staff of the establishment run the bar there. Other people I shared the booth with would play the “classics”, what people wanted to hear. The same old The Sisters of Mercy and Rammstein tracks which I would set aside in favour of other tracks/bands. That resulted in people coming to the floor and drinking and the floor/bar would keep open longer.
        So that’s artistic integrity for you there and trying to be a bit more special. Of course it was always nice when people came over and asked what I was playing and I’d write it down for them to check out later, but those moments were rare. The fact is especially in the alternative scene that promoters of a club (which is often a concept, rather than a physical location) usually rent an establishment and the establishment makes its money on alcohol sales and wardrobe primarily.
        So yeah, maybe if you’re planning a power noise evening a better place to ask to host it in would be an art gallery. People at clubs just want to drink and dance to familiar tunes.

        1. As a long standing member of the Goth Industrial scene in Toronto (over 20 years now), I have seen many many clubs close due to lack of people.

          The sad truth is that the “popular” tracks like Headhunter and stuff by DM and Siouxie and the Sister of Bauhas etc… would pull in the people to the floor, but the avante garde stuff wouldnt’.

          The problem is that in the real world a club is a business that needs MONEY to stay open.

          My friends and I often said that if we over won the lottery we would open a club and play all the tunes that we loved and that would be the only way to have it go on without catering to a crowd.

  10. Perhaps he was doing too good of a job.
    Instead of sitting and buying drinks, people were up and dancing.
    The manager wanted drinks sold.
    Maybe a DJ can be SO good at what he does that people don’t want to sit down?

    Nah… just kidding.
    I think DJ’s are frustrated musicians who want the glory, but don’t want to learn how to play or perform.

    “Wow honey.. did you see that? That clever fellow just beat-matched two songs and crossfaded. THIS will be a night to remember!”

  11. Surely they knew what they were getting themselves into when they booked Nick, or any other name DJ for that matter. If they wanted the DJ to play the Electric Slide & Katy Perry all night, then they should have gotten a different type of DJ…

  12. God only knows what the right answer is and according to Faithless, he is a DJ himself. I wonder what his set is like….probably some northern soul or classic disco in there I reckon.

  13. I already like nick warren form some of his GU series, but this just made him one of my favorites. I hope he does not change his style due to someone being shallow. I hope to be able to see him soon… keep it deep and pure nick

  14. The promoters role in choosing the music should be deciding who to book. The dj should make any choice he / she likes after that. Like it or lump it. Imho!

  15. DJ’s, when they are hired, are just mercenaries. They have to play what the club want.
    That’s the reward for playing in commercial clubs.

  16. I was in an experimental improv group that was asked to stop playing a lunch time gig in a well known London theatre, because the people in the room did not like it. We said, if you give use our free we will stop.

    They gave us our fee and we stopped playing.

    The person who booked us had left his job the week before we played. I think he know that they would hate out music.

  17. I DJed a Nurses Xmas party a few years back and was playing big house tunes but this guy kept coming up to me and asking me to play Frank Sinatra my way, in the end i gave in and played it and completely cleared the floor, point is you can only please the majority, if most of the crowd were happy then i dont see the problem, if this person at the table had this much influence maybe he should book the DJ’s instead

  18. It is really annoying, but finally it is a matter of contract and a clear briefing. Have you been contracted as a human jukebox or have you been contracted as an artist? And if you have been contracted as an artist and they start telling you how your art should sound like, it is time to stop by yourself and say “No. As I am a brand I do it my way or we stop here.. If you contract was written in the right way, still it is an unpleasant experience, but ok: shit happens but you didnt damage your image and at least they cant cut your paying for the short performance.

  19. No. If you are booked to play at a certain night playing a certain genre of music then whoever the complainant is does not have a right to complain! They should know what kind of night they are going to before paying the entry fee. I have had people drunken and verbally abusive (women mostly) asking me to play R&B, less dark, something with vocals in etc etc. My reply is always, why the f**k did you pay to get into a techno night!

  20. I think stopping a DJ for not playing commercial stuff is like asking Bon Jovi to play Death Metal. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s disrespectful of the artist himself…If I want some death metal then I don’t book Bon Jovi. If the guys wanted commercial stuff why didn’t they call David Guetta instead?

  21. if you don’t like it go to another club, that’s is how it should work in my opinion. A table in a club? Come on go sit in a restaurant with your rich spoiled …

  22. If you love the music, it shouldn’t matter where it came from. Was it a big label hit? Was it something you made last night? This only matters to people who are invested in hearing their big label hits promoted. If your contract didn’t stipulate that a quotient of the performance be from label X Y or Z then they have no right to shut you down.

    It’s like radio, the big labels will try to squash you if you don’t play their stuff.

  23. it’s the same story over and over which is making it sound fishy…They blame it on a small well-off and influential minority at the club ( the bottle crowd with tables and trust-funds ) but we never hear from people that actually attended these nights or from the clubs themselves. I respect the art of the DJ but, i also respect the professionalism of the Mobile DJ. Bad mouthing clubs and making those type of allegations without backing them up with any evidence might create hype around your name as an artist but could also be considered highly unprofessional. Let’s hear from some people that were there. Was it dead and did people look bored or were they there to sweat it out on the dance-floor. If the first scenario accurate it’s really hard to take the side of the DJ and even harder to respect their intentions and aspirations as any type of professional musician or artist and i think gives a bigger black eye to both the artist DJ and the Mobile Club DJ. All this stuff about the clubs booking managers should of known better is just dribble. I’m sure Nick Warren has a manager also and unless we get a play by play on what was contracted between managers it gets a bit dicey. What exactly was he hired for and why and why wasn’t he aware of what he was hired to do i guess is the main question here.

  24. Clubs exist to make money, and if the money is being shoveled out by tasteless boors, then the music has to be tailored to the tastelessness of the boors. If enough self-respecting performers start refusing to return to those venue, and the overall culture drops to that of a hopped-up disco with much snorting of powder and knifings in the back alley, then eventually that culture will deteriorate and fade away, to be replaced by smarter and trendier venue in other scales of town. It is the evolution of culture and there will be casualties.

  25. i don’t get it… don’t clubs listen to demo’s of the dj’s they book anymore? at that point, shouldn’t a person going into an event should know a bit about the headliner to see if it’s the type of music they want to send money on? sounds like another juiced up douche-bag in the progressive house room.

  26. House based music of all types is commercial, which is why djs like this get paid top dollar, because a lot of people want to dance to it. So it doesn’t make sense at all.

    Nick warren, like the other prog djs play commercial dance music, it’s that simple.

    Anyone can Dj these days, just sync the pioneer cdjs or use Traktor and off you go!

    Not an honourable trade with any skills these days.

    Bring back vynil and use simple mixers and lets see the skill without hiding behind the damned lo pass filters everytime you fade:)

  27. I think that it depends upon the club you have been booked at. For starters, the club promoter that booked you should have known what “style” of night it was before they booked you. I certainly wouldn’t book “DEEP DISH” for a HipHop night.
    I would not take offense to the people that were there complaining about the music… rather I would be upset with the promoter, and hopefully you had a contract that you still get paid— then I would sit back and enjoy a night out, at a club in a country I hadn’t visited much and laugh my way to the bank.
    In regards to this DJ mix above….. I would be bored out of my gore if I heard this at a club. It lacks energy and has ZERO cohesive-ness which would be fine, other than they aren’t mixed well to flow together. One cohesive thing about it is that it is in consistent. This is something I would expect to hear from a newbie, local/non touring DJ from Salt Lake City, Utah.

  28. Agree with Brent above RE: the mix above – dull, lacking any energy, etc. (in my opinion) so if he was booked on a night where they weren’t expecting that type music all night no wonder they asked him to step down.

    But of course that is not his fault. I’m sure there are plenty if other people at other venues who would have loved it. The promoter/club should have done a better check on who they were booking basically, like many others above have said.

  29. There’s an episode of “Brain Games,” where they set up some ropes and form a line for absolutely nothing. People start lining up with, for nothing. The longer the line gets, the faster people start lining up. Eventually the line leader takes the line of people on a sort of conga adventure, then leaves.

    The masses are mindless, as a DJ I would never entertain their desire for music that means nothing.

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