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Starting Out as a Tango DJ

Have you ever wished that more of your kind of music was played at milongas? Maybe you'd like to try being a DJ? Today's DJs tend to be tomorrow's organizers and it's always good to have a number of experienced, confident DJs in a dance scene.

As far as gathering music is concerned I regularly check demos on YouTube, not for the dancing but for the music. If I like it I'll check my collection in case I've missed it and then buy it from iTunes. I like to pay for my music and iTunes has mountains of tango music now.

The great thing about online music is that you get to sample the first minute for free. I only listen to the first 30 seconds, usually, because I want my dancers to be enthusiastic and if they're not captured in 30 seconds then it's probably not going to happen.

You'll be able to spend happy hours sifting through Donato, Pugliese, Canaro, Troilo, Biagi, Rodriguez, Calo, D'Arienzo...there are soooo many great songs!

The big thing is to use some kind of music database. I'm an Apple guy so I use iTunes and am happy with it except for a volume level bug when playing off my iPhone.

You need a database in order to manage the music and to create playlists. Work your way gently through your library rating each song (iTunes has a 1 to 5 star rating). It takes a while so don't try to do it all at once, it'll drive you crazy. Just do 10-20 minutes every couple of days.

The benefit is that building a playlist becomes really easy and fast eg for a vals tanda a simple search based on vals, Pugliese, 5 star, will result in a range of great songs ready for copying and pasting to the playlist. I trim the ones that I don't want in order to get the right feel for the tanda and then i move on to the next tanda.

I generally have 7 playlists at any one time and tune them so that they don't get stale. I only run a dance every two weeks so no one really gets a chance to become accustomed to the playlists.

Some DJs like to build their playlists 'live' in response to activity on the floor and the mood, but as I'm a DJ/host I don't have that luxury, and I'd rather be dancing anyway. I love almost all the songs that I play and so I want to dance every tanda!

I used a Windows freeware application to build my cortinas in the past but now that I'm in Apple world 'there's an app for that'. I created 6-8 cortinas of 30 seconds each, excerpts from the Princess Bride soundtrack, Robert Plant, my sister's piano recital...Some people use themes for the evenin's cortinas but I just use cortinas that are gentle on the ear but are obviously different to the music on either side of the cortina.

It's important to have an arc structure ie peak energy in the middle of the night tapering off as people get tired ie no high speed milongas late at night but there's nothing wrong with slow 'character' milongas and valses at that time.

A big deal, though, is the tanda sequence and numbering. I use 4 tangos-4 tangos-3 valses, 4 tangos-4 tangos-3 milongas, 4 tangos-4 tangos-3 nuevos., and repeat This sequence puts nuevo at a disadvantage, usually there's only time for one nuevo tanda per night, but at least it's getting some airtime and that's important for some of your customers.

The reason for only three of the non-tango songs is for two reasons:

  • Four milongas or valses will tire out most of your customers. We don't want a sweat bath.
  • Many nuevo songs are slow-paced but last for two or three times the length of tango songs. It's wise to try to keep the tandas to similar lengths so that people who don't like a particular tanda don't have long to wait.
A sequence such as tango-vals-milonga-nuevo (and repeat) will kill your customers or limit the dancers to multisport athletes.

A sequence like tango-tango-tango-vals will probably grind people down, valses and milongas do a great deal to lift the mood when tangos get too melancholy.

Having no sequence at all means that people who don't like the song playing RIGHT NOW have no hope for the future. I'll stumble through a dreadful song if I know that the end of the tanda is only one song away.

Having no cortina at all, as in many places overseas, has the same effect. The DJs that I enjoy the most have a structure and song selection that I feel I can trust. Having no cortinas suggests to me that the guy has no taste, thinks every song in his collection is faaaabulous, and has no concept of how to build an atmosphere.

Random play, anyone?

Lastly, one can worry too much about pleasing your customers. You need to be able to play songs that you adore because if your customers eg want to hear nuevo all night, and you're me, you may just go outside and shoot yourself before 11pm.

If the music that you're playing doesn't fit the dancers who are your market then you can try to educate them by mixing in The Good Stuff with eg nuevo, but you need to remember why you're doing it, and so avoid the need for you to take matters into your own hands before midnight, as above.

If your market doesn't like your music perhaps, like all truly great artists, you are simply ahead of your time. Smile bravely and step back from the front line...or leave town and set up elsewhere!


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