When Ephs want to party hard, they can count on First Fridays to give them a good time. Though the themes, decorations and venue may vary every month, there’s always one thing that remains constant – people want to dance – and it’s the DJ’s job to make that happen.
Working the music at First Fridays is a paid campus job, but the process of hiring a DJ is not always a formal procedure. “[All Campus Entertainment’s First Fridays Co-Chair] Rani [Mukherjee ’15] and I are good friends, and she knew I was into music and have a background in music composition, so she persuaded me to DJ,” First Fridays DJ Nathan Miller ’15 said. DJ Henry Bergman ’15 was also recruited by Mukherjee to DJ her events: “She is my friend and knew I like music and that I DJed in high school, and so she asked me to DJ a dance one weekend during Winter Study.”
For some DJs, preparation for First Fridays starts about a week in advance. “I start collecting songs, making sure that every song I know people want to hear is on the playlist. I end up with almost 500 songs, 30 of which I know are essential songs for the night,” Miller said. Bergman takes a different approach, partly due to the fact that the First Fridays he worked at was themed. “I was the DJ for the Candy Shop First Fridays, so I built my mix with [50 Cent’s “Candy Shop”] as the flagship song,” Bergman said.
Each DJ has his own idea of what partygoers want to hear. Miller says his songs fall into “three main genres, either rave, hip hop or pop-music you can jump up and down to, music you can grind to, and music you can sing along to.” Bergman, on the other hand, likes to play what he calls “nostalgia hip hop – music people recognize from high school,” choosing what he feels are the best ten songs from each of his middle school and high school years. For the Candy Shop First Fridays event, Bergman selected songs from his library that evoked the image of sweetness and sugar such as Trick Daddy’s “Sugar (Gimme Some)” and Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” to keep with the theme.
After going through their libraries, the next step for the DJs is familiarizing themselves with and arranging the songs they’ve chosen. “I listen to the songs over and over again, paying attention to how they started and ended,” Miller said. For example, Miller says he notes whether a song started with drums or vocals, and uses a music mixing program on his computer that shows the tempo and pace. Miller also marks off three cues in each song – the introduction, the vocals and the chorus. “If I want the songs to fade into each other, I use the drum intro. If I want a break effect, I find the cue for the chorus,” Miller said. He also keeps a tentative list of which combinations of song pairs blended well together.
The night of First Fridays, DJs arrive on the premises anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes before the 10 p.m. official start time. “We [the hosts of First Fridays that week] set up until roughly 10:30 p.m.,” Miller said, and he and the crew verify that the sound system was working. Until the lights are turned off “I play oldies to try to keep the security guards entertained,” Miller said.
What happens for the first hour and a half or so of the dance is a mystery to most students, who tend to arrive at First Fridays much later than 10 p.m. “Normally when I go to First Fridays, I get there around midnight. No one wants to be the one starting it off, everyone wants to come when everyone else is there,” Miller said. In the beginning of the beach-themed First Fridays he worked at, Miller said a lot of people came for the smoothies and then left. “I still don’t know how [Goodrich] got filled up.”
When the dance finally gets moving and Ephs start dancing, the DJs adjust the volume according to the song, and, using headphones, listen to the next song they’re planning to play. Sometimes, partygoers come up to the DJ station requesting songs, and the DJs must use their judgment as to whether or not to comply. “If I had the song, and it fit with the mood, I tried to play it within the next four or five songs,” Miller said. “The worst part of DJing is drunk people making bad requests. I was playing hip hop and some intoxicated guy requested Blink 182. There’s a reason why the DJ plays for the whole night,” Bergman said.
That’s not the only thing drunk attendees have done at First Fridays. “Once, a girl, for whatever reason, tripped and slammed my computer closed, cutting off the music temporarily. That girl really killed my vibe,” Bergman said.
DJing First Fridays is more art than science. “From 10 [p.m.] to 2 [a.m.], my job is not to intellectualize or overthink but just feel what song feels right, and there isn’t anything more to it than that. You have to read the crowd. It’s not just making a playlist and hitting play. The technical aspect is something anyone could learn to do, but developing an ear and being aware of the crowd is what makes a DJ a good DJ,” Miller said.
Whether it be at the back of Goodrich or elevated on Greylock’s stage, the DJ is always positioned in a place where he or she can survey the dancers. “You know after two seconds – after the first beat – whether it’s the right song. It’s a vibe. You can see if people on stage are excited; it’s pretty evident. It feels good when you play the right song,” Miller said. “You can feel the energy go down or grow based on the song,” Bergman said. DJ Doug Kim ’15 echoed Miller’s and Bergman’s sentiments. “I love getting the whole crowd into the party. There is a wide variety of music tastes on campus and everyone wants to hear the kind of music they like themselves. So it’s pretty hard to reach out to your whole audience, but when you do you definitely notice it. That’s the most fun part,” Kim said.
DJs feel largely accountable for how the night turns out. “You have a responsibility because people chose to come to First Fridays. It’s what they decided to do for the night. They get dressed, they pregame – it comes with an experience. If they have a bad time, it’s my fault, and if they have a good time, it’s also because of me,” Miller said. “The most difficult part [of DJing] is how much music you have to cover. You need a wide array of music, and you can never let [the dance] get stagnant. All it takes is a bad song and a half for someone to leave,” Miller said. To accommodate that, Miller plays as many songs as possible when he sees that people are starting to leave. “They usually say ‘We’ll leave after the next song,’ but if the next song is a song they like, they’ll stay for that much longer,” Miller said.
Both Miller and Bergman enjoy DJing more than dancing at First Fridays. “I’m not exactly sure why I like DJing more. I know I’m going to have a really good time if I DJ but not necessarily if I go dance” Bergman said. Evidently, thanks to the DJs, people have a good time at First Fridays, too, as the event is always packed each month.