A topic of hot debate in dance music circles is the quality and flow of DJ lineups, whether it be festivals, warehouse or club events. It seems, in today’s climate, everyone is an aspiring DJ; a prime example of this is Hodor in the hit fantasy show Game of Thrones to former NBA basketball player Shaquille O’Neal are now on the DJ circuit.
With jostling for positions on lineups more prevalent than ever, there is a knock-on effect on how the program is curated. Arguably, there are more and more line-ups thrown together haphazardly than ever before. They tend to be a who’s who of DJs from across various genres, with little thought as to whether the music will flow seamlessly or complement the preceding DJ set.
Some may argue it is what the public wants, but this isn’t always the case, and surely as a promoter, you do this for the passion of hosting parties with the music you like, right?
Therefore, first and foremost, it should be about creating a strong brand identity where customers trust your curation skills to craft a well thought out lineup with a musical flow that sets you apart from your competition. Rome wasn’t built in a day; like anything worth doing, it takes patience and hard work.
However, it must be noted there are many factors at play when curating a lineup. Here are some of the key influences on what helps:
Artist Profile – as a promoter, it is about finding the balance between picking artists you love, those who have enough of a profile to sell tickets, versus the size of their fee. In other words, if you book a headline artist for £2k at a 300 capacity venue at £10 a ticket, provided you sell out, that is £3k generated, but almost 70% of your budget goes on a headliner and 30% on marketing, this isn’t a viable return on investment and is a hazardous strategy when marketing budgets for successful events tend to be higher.
This is why it can be challenging to balance your ideal lineup versus your budget limitations; it can affect your curation. It is better to start by creating a clear mission statement and music policy for your event. Whenever an obstacle like this presents itself, refer to your statement and policy to ensure you stick to this and keep curation aligned.
Too many assume booking a big name will guarantee tickets; you still need to put the hard work in and build a promo strategy to ensure the public hear and see your event. It is no good booking a name and sitting back, assuming everyone will know about the event.
Crammed Lineups – a trap way too many seem to fall into is cramming as many names as possible without thinking about whether the names complement one another musically. While this is just opinion, DJ sets, generally when you ask people, tend to be better the longer they are, as DJs are given the freedom to express themselves, build a flow, tell a story and take people on a journey. If you have eight DJ’s playing one hour each from 10 pm – 6 am, it stands the risk of disrupting the music flow.
While going with the approach of trying to please everyone by booking a lot of DJs, you actually stand a greater risk of not pleasing anyone at all by lumping a whole host of DJs from various genres and sub-genres with little clear musical identity. A distorted message will leave prospective ticket buyers feeling disillusioned and unconvinced to buy a ticket to your event.
Mini Sets – We’re now seeing the emergence of DJ sets under an hour, which seems ludicrous all to fit more DJs onto an event lineup. An event identity should never have its mission priority as “sell as many tickets as possible”; this is essentially the approach of throwing everything at a wall and seeing what sticks approach. Once again, risky and no clear way of telling what works and what doesn’t.
What DJs can really give their best performance in such a short amount of time?
Booking Agency Monopolies – this is maybe not obvious to most. There tends to be a handful of booking agencies representing the top tier artists in terms of their profile and likelihood to sell tickets; they also hold a lot of influence on promoters of all sizes. If the agent quotes a high price for an emerging artist, a promoter may feel pressured to pay it for fear of losing the chance to book one of the larger artists on their roster. It really can be a minefield and involves a duty of care on both sides to try and be as fair as possible; it could be the difference between the promoter hosting another event or going bust. On the other side, promoters must realise their budget thresholds and realise when to walk away from the negotiation table. No agency will make or break your event if you build a strong brand identity not centred around crammed lineups or headline names.
The above demonstrates the minefield promoters face when booking DJs. But those who tend to stand out are the events, festivals or venues that build a strong brand and, above all else, curate killer lineups. This will involve being brave and standing by your convictions, not just buckling to the temptations of booking a bunch of big names with guaranteed ticket selling ability or because a big agent is pressuring you to book their artists.
With music events more prevalent than ever and a higher volume of talent due to the easy access to music production software and DJ setups, it is harder than ever to sift through talent, but this is why you must trust your own ability and approach to curation rather than allowing external factors to determine your names choices. This will make your job easier to promote as enthusiasm and passion sell. Also, if it’s authentic to your tastes, there are likely others out there with similar tastes.