Why You Don’t Need To Play Timber For “IT” To Go Down
My friend Jay Spring has been giving me grief for weeks about not playing the Pitbull & Ke$ha hit “Timber.” Spring insists that myself or any other DJ would be crazy for not playing the track which is currently the number one song in the U.S. Well, he’s half right at least. While I don’t play “Timber” I don’t judge or begrudge any other DJs that do. In fact I think they are 100% right for playing the track. It’s a number one song, and a lot of people dance when you play it. But he took his argument a step too far when he said that me and other DJs who don’t play “Timber” give other DJs a bad name. He’s wrong about that and here are 7 reasons why. Let me preface these arguments as my philosophy on club DJing where I do 95% of my work, I would not hold the same philosophies in a bar, tailgate party or a private event.
1. I can make “IT” go down without playing Timber.
In the music world we throw the pronoun “it” around a lot. “It” goes down, “it” gets killed, but “it” never gets defined. “It” is kind of like the music & club world’s version of “The Force.” “It” cannot be seen or touched, but you can feel “it” and know it’s presence when “it” is there. What we do know about “it” is that it’s good when “it” goes down and I have no problem making that happen without playing “Timber.” I currently have six residences in three cities, I play 5+ gigs a week. Every one of my current residencies is a rotation with other DJs and I get told all of the time by light techs, bartenders, security, barracks, management, photographers, etc. that more people dance, the energy level is higher and people seem to have more fun when I’m there. One bartender once told me she only liked it at the venue when myself or Enferno was there, which was an extreme honor and humbling to hear. Another bartender said to me just yesterday “when you’re DJing even if only 60 people show up I know that 55 will be dancing.” I know for a fact that most of the other DJs at these venues do play “Timber.” I’m not saying in any way playing “Timber” is hurting their dance floor or energy level, simply showing that the absence of it is not hurting mine. My homie DJ Ku ( out of Tampa is one of my favorite DJs and he kills “it” all the time without playing “Timber.” One of my best friends DJ Hypnotyza possibly said it best, “if a chef doesn’t like mushrooms, but can cook amazing food without using them, what’s the problem?” I agree.
2. Pit don’t kill my vibe.
So you might ask me if playing “Timber” doesn’t hurt the dance floor and people like it, why not play it. The easy answer is this. It kills my vibe. As a club DJ I am the leader of the party. I am taking the crowd on a journey by creating an energy & vibe for the evening. I am extraordinarily passionate about what I do. If you’ve ever seen me play in a club I quick mix, I scratch, I do tricks & word play, sometimes I do live blends, I shoot CO2 guns, dance in and even on top of the booth and program my sets really well for that crowd that is there. I don’t talk much to anyone. I almost never look at my phone. I am in the zone, DJing the entire time. I feed off the crowd, if a crowd has good energy, even if it’s small I get even more hyped and more into my set and when I play my set I program based on feeling. I don’t look at a crowd and logically with my mind say, they want to hear Calvin Harris, I vibe what track us going to work, sometimes without even looking at the crowd. If my vibe is killed it will clearly show negatively in my music selection (I’ll start thinking instead of feeling.) It will also show in my energy level which will in turn detrimentally affect the party. The energy and passion I usually have in my sets will be gone and the night just won’t be the same. Have you ever watched a musician or singer “phone it in” and play a show they just weren’t into? It’s pretty awful. On the flip side I took my wife to see Barry Mannilow last year, she loves his music and while I must admit I’m not a big fan, his energy level was high, his vibe was great, he was happy to be performing even after all these years and his passion showed through and because of this even I had a great time, even without necessarily liking the music. This is why it is totally fine for an DJ who wants to play “Timber” to play it, because the crowd loves it and it works with that DJ’s vibe. The crowd reaction probably enhances their vibe in fact. My man Kid AV who is an amazing DJ plays “Timber” and I’m totally cool with that because he wants to and enjoys it and it works with his vibe, just as any DJ should be okay with myself and others omitting it because it doesn’t work with our vibe. Let me end this point with advice from Laidback Luke, “only play tracks you really like. If something’s the most popular track ever and I don’t like it, I won’t play it.”
3. It’s a country song & I don’t play country in my sets.
Before you even think to try to dismantle this argument here are a few facts that might surprise you. Until the age of 13 I literally listened almost exclusively to country music. I like country music. As a matter of fact there are some country artists and songs I downright love. My favorite artists growing up were Restless Heart, Alabama, Brooks & Dunn, Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Vince Gill, Trisha Yearwood, Southern Pacific, Ronnie Milsap, Shenandoah & Sawyer Brown. Most likely if you’re reading this you don’t even know who half of these artists are. Trust me I know country and “Timber” is country both musically (harmonica anyone) and lyrically (“swing your partner round & round”), albeit not good country by any standards. And I don’t play country in my club sets period.
4. Club DJs can still be tastemakers
Exhibit A: Fatman Scoop: “Be Faithful,” a song that myself and others were playing in the 90’s that got essentially no radio play and can still be one of the biggest songs at any club or party in 2014. After he gains notoriety through club DJ support Scoop goes on to rap on Mariah Carey and Missy Elliot tracks. Exhibit B: LMFAO: “I’m In Miami Bitch becomes huge hit over a multi year period with support from club DJs and the group is put on the map. “Shots” increases their popularity again via the support of club DJs and they release one of the biggest songs of the past decade and perform at the Super Bowl. As a club DJ you have more power as a tastemaker than you realize, even in 2014. Use that power to help shape the musical world around you for the better. Don’t be a jukebox, in doing that you are lowering yourself and lowering your profession. That may be what a bar DJ was designed to be but not a club DJ. If you like “Timber” by all means support it, I have no beef with that, but don’t compromise your integrity and support music you don’t believe in. As a side note, always do support music you do believe in, even if it isn’t popular quite yet.
5. Ain’t no future in yo frontin
This point closely ties in with my previous point. DJs, especially club DJs, often complain about the quality of music nowadays, with “often” meaning 10 times a day 8 days a week. “Timber” is a song I know a lot of DJs hate and complain about yet still play. If you don’t like it don’t feed the beast. Don’t think an individual can’t make a difference. It took 69 million individuals to vote our president into office. Yes one individual DJ may not be able to change the state of music on their own, but we get to 100 DJs or 1,000 DJs or 100,000 DJs one individual DJ at a time. If you don’t like where music is vote against it with your playlist. Don’t complain about it then play it like so many others do. Food for thought, in the prehistoric age of the mid 90’s when I first worked in clubs as a light tech (you used to have to work your way up to DJ, no one knows about that anymore) there was essentially no radio music played at the clubs, just house that clubbers only knew from hearing it at the clubs (no mp3s, iTunes, smart phones, Youtube, Pandora, satellite radio etc. existed) and the club goers raged and danced even more so than they do today.
6. It would be bloody boring if every DJ played the same songs.
I had a DJ friend of mine who was a very good DJ who used to walk up to other DJs and question why they chose to play a certain remix of a song. “Why aren’t you playing the Jump Smokers remix instead of the Cosmic Dawn remix…why aren’t you playing the Joe Maz remix instead of the Jump Smokers remix, you know that’s the best remix of this song” One day I said to him that’s the great thing about all the remixes we have access to, that we all don’t play the same remix of the same song. That way clubbers can go out every week and have a similar but still different experience. Clubbers are going to have their preference of what remix they like just like DJs and just like DJs that preference will vary from person to person. Back when I was a young whipper snapper playing (non-control) records, a song at most might have three remixes, some songs would have one or none. Back then people often complained about a lot of DJs sets sounding the same. I never hear that complaint anymore. The same that holds true for remixes holds true for songs. What would be the point in going to see different DJs if we all played the same songs. How could you have a favorite DJ? It would definitely kill our pay scale. Every club would target the identical demographic which would be horrible for business. I’ve watched DJ Nugget (Pittsburgh family) who is one of my favorite DJs play for the same crowd / same room as I’ve played for and absolutely kill it playing no more than 20% of the same songs as I did. I think that’s awesome that there is enough good music out there that the same crowd can have fun two weeks in a row hearing very little of the same music. That will make the night more exciting and less monotonous to the crowd and help extend the life of the club/party as it won’t get stale fast. Would you like there to be only one TV station? Would you like every restaurant to have the same menu? Sounds kind of Orwellian and that’s not for me.
7. I’m a business, man.
I own my own business. That business is DJ Digital Dave. I’ve owned that business for 19 years now and I am damn proud of it. It has been successful enough that I’ve managed entertainment at 3 different nightclubs, I’ve managed 4 entire nightclubs as a GM, I’ve gotten a lot of DJ work for my friends and I’ve played in clubs and on radio stations across the U.S. I pay attention to every detail about my business from product (the music that is played) to marketing to social media to what other businesses (DJs) I’d refer my customers to. My formula works for me and it works well. I market myself as an EDM and/or hip-hop club DJ, not as a pop DJ, not as a Top 40 DJ. I market myself as a DJ who is edgier. I also have a philosophy that when I’m on the decks I want everyone to leave happy and as such my sets have a carefully crafted balance between popular music and what I believe is very good music. To again to quote Laidback Luke “play 50% for the crowd and play 50% of what you want.” I want some 21 year old girls to have fun singing along to Icona Pop and I want some music lovers to walk away saying I was the first DJ they hear play the new Diplo track in the same night. I believe where most DJs fail is they go all pop and lose the music lovers (which often includes the promoters, managers & owners as well as guests who might review the club or DJ) or they play completely to the music lovers and other DJs and lose all the girls that want to sing along and dance to Gaga. My philosophy is to make both crowds happy. To do that not only do I play music for both crowds, I also specifically omit music for both crowds. I do believe that there are songs that can completely alienate one part of the crowd or another. For instance a music lover may not like Icona Pop but would tolerate them however a song like a “Timber” or “Call Me Maybe” could lose them to the point that it ruins their vibe for the night. Equally so a 21 year old girl might not love “Revolution” or “Watch Out For This” but they have a good beat and vocals and are accessible to an extent whereas dropping 5-10 minutes of instrumental trap or moombahton totally could kill their vibe for the night. So my business philosophy for my business that I own is to send everyone away from the club happy.* I do that using a formula I have crafted and fine-tuned over the years, and it works damn well for me. Why should another business owner have any right to tell me to change it or if he does why would it make any sense for me to listen? Does Wendy’s tell In N’ Out what to do and if they did would/should In N’ Out listen? Why would In N’ Out care if it gives Wendy’s a bad name if it’s preserving it’s own good name?
I want club DJs reading this article to take away two things from it, that it’s completely ok to play “Timber” and that it’s completely ok to not play “Timber” as long as you are doing you.
— Digital Dave
DJ Digital Dave has been DJing for 19 years and is based out of Pittsburgh, PA. Coming up outside of Pittsburgh you can catch him at Julep Bar in Boston Saturday Feb 8. You can download exclusive edits & remixes of his at ClubKillers.com & cop his mix sets & remixes, including his Pitbull Remix of “The Fox” at www.soundcloud.com/djdigitald Holla at him or holler at him @digital_dave
*sans the people that want full control music programming for the evening they’re never gonna be happy.