Yes DJs are very busy, and yes they get sent lots of promos – but that doesn’t excuse DJs leaving a ‘downloading for…’ response. Attack Magazine’s Harold Heath takes on the issue of DJ promos and the “downloading for…” phenomenon.
Imagine a producer. She’s in her studio, working on her craft, creating art. She thinks about how to communicate emotions through her chosen medium – sound – how to produce something that is authentic, real and the very best she can do. She’s practised her craft for years and is confident she can produce something great this week, so she works dedicatedly, doggedly, until it is done: a completed piece of art, a product of human creativity – a banging techno track has been created.
She finds a label who like her music, they offer to sell it for her. They send it out free to some of the top names in the biz to try and generate some interest in the larger marketplace. This is where it gets weird. Having been gifted a piece of unique audio art, many of those who receive it choose to respond not with thanks. Not with observations about how good the piece of work is. Not even with a critique of why this piece of work is not for them.
No. Today, the world is upside down and when you get sent a piece of unique art, the produce of someone’s soul, it is now de rigueur to merely confirm that a transaction has taken place: to get some poor intern to cut-and-paste a standard “downloaded for [insert DJ name]” response. That, apparently is how we are conducting ourselves in the music industry today.
It begs the questions, does your tour manager plug your USB in for you as well? Perhaps you have a dedicated headphone nanny, a sleeve-tat valet, or a vinyl under-butler? Can we really not find time to feedback properly?
I get it – some DJs get sent a lot of promos. And I get it – some DJs do post their playlists to promote the music they play – but only some. And it appears to be a depressingly small quantity of DJs who return their setlists to royalty collection agencies that might channel some funds to the producers down the line too. There are even rumours of DJs who download the tunes they’re sent but pretend that it was their ‘staff’ who actually did it, presumably to try and bask in the truly infinitesimally small amount of kudos that could arise from being believed to have an unpaid intern open your emails.
Promos used to be a transactional arrangement which benefitted both parties. The record label sent a free pre-release copy of the music to some DJs. Hopefully some of them would like it and chart it, play it and provide some feedback, some of which could be used in marketing. The DJs got free, upfront music, the labels got pre-release advertising in the form of club play and chart listings. If enough DJs played a pre-release promo and enough gave some decent feedback, a label could generate a bit of hype and maybe nail some decent sales. That was the idea anyway.
But over the last two decades we’ve gone from promos being a handy little business arrangement to the current situation in which many ultra-rich DJs are getting wealthy from playing other peoples music, whilst scarcely bothering to even acknowledge receipt of the music, let alone say thanks, let alone provide any kind of constructive or useful feedback.
The elevation of the DJ role to part-celebrity-children’s entertainer, part-pop-star-with-no-guitar certainly has been a factor in this. The gradual increase in DJ self-importance and the slow inflation of the DJ ego over the last couple of decades has led to the idea that the person delivering the music is somehow way more important than the person who made it. Like I said, the world is upside down.
Oh, but DJs are so busy. Oh but they get sent so much music. Oh but it’s so time-consuming. No it isn’t. Learning to write music, building a decent recording studio, understanding compression, panning and EQ, mastering the craft and then creating finished pieces of music – that’s time-consuming. Likewise, A&R, artist management, mastering, artwork, promotion and all the work that a label does in getting a release to arrive in your in-box – that’s time-consuming. Feeding back to free music via email takes literally seconds.
DJs: spare a single, momentary thought for the producers who made this audio gift that you’ve just clicked on. Give a seconds’ consideration as you move the cursor through to the first breakdown, to just how much effort went into the tunes that will make up your set. Have a fucken heart.
Because getting sent free music isn’t a chore, it’s a gift, a privilege. If you think it’s a chore, you’re in the wrong business. A DJ is nothing without new tunes – and you don’t get new tunes without having producers and artists to make them – so pay them credit. Feedback properly. Submit charts to retailers, publish your setlists and make sure you return your live setlists to collection agencies. Be an actual DJ, not just someone who’s turned up to take something from the scene. Take an active part in building the kind of community we want – one where everyone gets fairly acknowledged and remunerated. And for the love of everything that is good about DJing, clubbing, dancing together and our 4/4 religion, DJs: let’s put an end to “downloading for…”. Listen and feedback to your promos yourself, it’s literally your job.
Harold Heath is on Twitter.