RDU Blues Guidelines for Prospective DJs
Our goal at RDU Blues is to help people learn and enjoy blues dancing. To help facilitate that, we aim to play a variety of quality blues music for our dancers. We would love to help you do the same.
On this page, we’ve included a few guidelines for DJing at Dance Blues Friday. We’ve also included a sample set list and a few suggestions for finding new music.
If you’re interested in DJing for us on a Friday night, contact Dave Warner at email@example.com.
Guidelines for DJing at Dance Blues Friday
In your DJ session, the vast majority of your songs need to be blues music. “Blues music” includes music you would find in the “blues” category of a music store. This includes, for example, the following styles:
- Delta blues
- Texas blues
- Chicago blues
- Electric blues
- Piano blues
- Jump blues
- Acoustic blues
You can find examples of these genres by listening to the genre stations by the same name on Pandora.
The blues songs in your playlist could also include the following genres:
- Gospel Blues
- Blues Rock
- Traditional Jazz with blues elements
There is a huge variety within the genre of blues, so feel free to explore the full range of blues staying within the genre.
Your DJ session can include a small number of songs (up to 2 in a one-hour set, or up to 3 or 4 in a 90-minute set) that aren’t necessarily blues, but are in some way related to blues, such as soul, funk, slow lindy, or other “blues-adjacent” styles of music. This is not at all a requirement — a 100% blues set would be appreciated — but we don’t want to deny DJs a little wiggle room if they have a non-blues song that gets people dancing. However, we do ask that blues DJs avoid any sort of Top 40 music or electronic music that lacks blues elements to them, as that would be more appropriate for Dance Fusion Saturday. (Blues samples in an electronic song does not necessarily make it blues.)
In addition, we encourage DJs to play songs that have good sound quality and don’t sound scratchy or crackly. While the song itself may be excellent, poor sound quality makes it difficult to hear, which makes it harder for dancers to find the beat.
The bottom line of these guidelines is that we want DJs to play music that makes people want to blues dance. This dance took its shape from its music, and we want to use music to help dancers understand the roots of this dance. Make people move, DJs, but do so with some respect for the tradition of blues dancing and blues music.
Common Musical Elements in Blues Music
Blues is a very broad and diverse genre, with many subgenres. The best way to learn what is and isn’t blues is to listen to a lot of blues, as that will improve your ability to distinguish between blues and other genres. Check out allmusic.com and some of the other resources listed below to figure out what to listen to.
To help you know what to listen for, here are some elements that show up in many blues songs. Not every blues song will have all these elements, and some non-blues songs do have some of these elements. But if you don’t hear at least a few of these elements when you listen to a song, it probably isn’t blues.
- A classic blues chord progression: I, IV, and V
- A 12-bar pattern in the song
- Percussive rhythm, a definite beat that can be clearly heard
- A shuffle feel to the rhythm
- A song structure that uses repetition, especially AAB repetition in the verses.
- Instruments like guitar, piano, harmonica, slide guitar, and brass instruments (especially for New Orleans blues)
- A rhythmic quality of “lag.” Lag means that not all the instruments are playing strictly together. The vocals, guitar line, or another instrument may lag a little behind the rhythm section.
- Call and response
To help you prepare and to give you an example of a good playlist, we have included a sample playlist below. Click here to listen to this sample playlist on Youtube.
- Nina Simone, “Blues for Mama”
- Magic Sam, “Easy Baby”
- John Lee Hooker, “Frisco Blues”
- Muddy Waters, “Rock Me”
- Chris James & Patrick Rynn, “Black Spider Blues”
- Koko Taylor, “I Got What It Takes”
- Hubert Sumlin, “Don’t Go Further”
- Jimmy Johnson, “Strange How I Miss You”
- Aynsley Lister, Erja Lyytinen, & Ian Parker, “Mississippi Lawnmower Blues”
- Ray Charles, “In The Evening (When The Sun Goes Down)”
- The California Honeydrops, “Rain”
- Sue Foley, “Big City Blues”
- Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns, “I Ain’t Got Nuthin’ But The Blues”
- Ruthie Foster, “People Grinning In Your Face”
- B.B. King, “I’m Moving On”
- Dr. Michael White, “Dark Sunshine”
- Di Anne Price, “You Help Your New Woman”
- Dave Gross, “Crawling The Walls”
- Teresa James and the Rhythm Traps, “Sunday Shoes”
- Janiva Magness, “Do I Move You?”
How to look for new blues music
A good DJ is always searching for new music, but where does your search begin? Try some of the suggestions below. Blues music is a living tradition with new releases coming out regularly and lots of fantastic artists keeping the genre alive. This should help you find them:
- Start a Pandora station from any of these songs, or one of your other favorite blues songs.
- Check out the “Discovery” feature of allmusic.com, a fantastic resource. You can explore key artists, albums or songs in different sub-genres of blues.
- Look on iTunes or other music services for blues music podcasts, many of which play new releases regularly.
- Pay close attention to some of the labels that release blues music regularly, such as Alligator, Black and Tan, Blind Pig, Delta Groove, and Stony Plain. Compilations from these labels are a great way to discover multiple artists at once.
- Ask your favorite DJs who their favorite artists are right now, then look on Amazon, iTunes, eMusic, Spotify, YouTube, and other music sites for similar artists.
- If you have a favorite song, look for different songs by the same artist or versions of that song by different artists.
- Spend an afternoon at your favorite local music store, previewing CDs from the blues section.
Other helpful tips for prospective DJs
- We ask that DJs arrive at least 15-20 minutes prior to the start of their sets.
- We recommend using songs that stay between 60 and 150 BPM. (Between 80 and 120 is usually the sweet spot for blues dancing.) Try to avoid playing too many slow songs or fast songs in a row, unless your set is specifically tailored for that in conjunction with our beginner’s lesson.
- Keep all your music on a hard drive or flash drive. Don’t rely on streaming services! Internet isn’t always reliable and could cut out in the middle of your set, which really disappoints dancers.
- Having a backup device on hand can be helpful if your primary device crashes. Several of our regular DJs keep their music catalogs on their phone and can play from there if necessary.
- Having a playlist ready before the dance — or at least a solid idea of what you want to play — is usually helpful. If you’re coming on after another DJ, however, make sure you’re not duplicating what they played, and have alternative songs ready just in case.
- DJ sets at Dance Blues Friday are usually 90 minutes long, but be prepared to cut one or two songs out of your set if it goes a bit shorter than the allotted time.
- The standard way people connect to the sound system at Triangle Dance Studios is with a headphone jack. Make sure your device can accept a headphone input.