Rock DJ part 1: You don’t build communities

Rock DJ part 1: You don’t build communities

DJ's Nightspot - GosfordYou may or may not know this, but throughout the ’90s, I worked as a nightclub DJ. No, it wasn’t all duff-duff and techno. My realm was ‘rawk’ and underground and alternative and black and studded leather. Beat mixing The Offspring into Joy Division isn’t easy, but it’s possible!

I lived for the decks and strobes and bass bins. I lived for the smell of stale beer in sticky carpet and tales of bouncer trouble from the door. I lived for the too loud music and the crush on the dance floor. Sure, my hearing suffered and I now have asthma from all the then legal cigarette smoke, but it was a fantastic period of my life.

The Pit was a regular Thursday night in the imaginatively named DJ’s Nightspot in Gosford – a small club not significantly unusual or different to any other small club in the ‘burbs. Yet, over ten years since the last CD faded out, there is still a Facebook page set up by the Pit regulars where they swap photos and stories and arrange occasional reunions. The Pit was responsible for a number of meetings that later became weddings. Bands formed over beers and a few months later would have their first gigs there as well. A community formed around those Thursday nights. Yeah, that’s pretty cool.

I learned many things in my ten years as a DJ; from the novice being taught how to beat mix vinyl in my UK student days to the club DJ looping CDs, sliding faders and flicking lightshows without missing a beat. Yet it has occurred to me that some of those lessons are relevant when talking about online communities as well. So I thought I’d share some of those lessons over the next few days.

Here is the first and most important of those lessons.

1. You don’t build a community

Communities already exist – you can’t make them. They already know what music they want or how they want to entertain themselves. Before The Pit came along, the same people were meeting in smaller groups at each other’s  houses to listen to music and drink beer. The Pit brought all those small communities together as one big one, but it didn’t create the communities in the first place.

To place ourselves at the centre of those communities, we need to provide the content they’re looking for – even if it isn’t our first choice. And we need to do it better than anyone else. There’s another nightclub just around the corner and another blog, forum or Twitter feed a mere click away.

Providing the right content to bring those communities to you requires a few things:

  • Understanding the content (in this case the specific music choices) the crowd wants
  • Ensuring this content isn’t already provided perfectly well elsewhere. Is there a need? If there were already clubs providing this music it would have been far harder for me to break in. Niche is always better.
  • Providing this content better, and more efficiently, than the competition if and when it comes along (and it did)
  • Being consistent. That meant being there every Thursday, no matter what. Or blogging regularly. Or replying promptly on forums.
  • Letting the right people know how to access the content. As this was the age before home internet, this involved a lot of leafleting, posters on poles and adverts in Drum Media. It also involved a large amount of word of mouth without which no community can survive.

This may all seem pretty obvious to many, but I saw too many DJs, nightclubs and bands over the years unable to grasp how to build a community around themselves.

How many Twitter feeds have you come across that are just too self-centred but still wonder why no one follows them? How many businesses have started forums or blogs to preach their products and their agendas only to watch them whither and die because the community doesn’t exist that would be interested? How many campaigns fail to grasp that word of mouth is the most important component and a massive advertising blitz means nothing if you can’t harness buzz?

Not as easy as it sounds, is it!

Rock DJ Part 2: Free is better than a cover charge

Rock DJ Part 3: The show must always go on