Austin may be the live music capital of the world, but that doesn’t mean the DJ scene isn’t thriving. Two top-rated Thumbtack event DJs, Doug Harwell of GTL DJ Services and Ryan Busch of Alexander Sounds Entertainment give you the inside scoop on the music scene in Bat City.
Both Doug and Ryan provide music for weddings, private parties, charities, and corporate events—not to mention sound equipment and party lighting. Ryan says there’s something about really great lighting and flashing colors on the dance floor that helps people get over their inhibitions and just dance.
What’s the DJ scene like in Austin?
From the bar and club scene to weddings and events, Austin DJs play it all. Doug is more of a country man, and typically gets requests from clients who want country as their main genre, but in Austin, he says, there’s always a little bit of everything mixed in. City-wise, he says the music scene is so diverse that you can find any type of music you’d like here.
Ryan is just digging into the local Austin DJ scene after arriving from Vermont two years ago. He DJ’d as a passion in his home state, but in Austin began learning the ropes at a local wedding DJ company before launching his own wedding DJ business. He loves going out at night and observing local DJs and how they interact with people at the bar, watch how they handle requests, what types of songs they play at what time of night, and how their personality and song choices influence the vibe.
Where’s your favorite place to hear music or dance?
I mostly go to the country dance halls for dancing, says Doug. Two of his favorite places are Mavericks and Wild West because the DJs play a good mix of music and the dance floors are great.
Hip hop and R&B get Ryan moving. He likes checking out shows at the Empire Control Room, Austin 360 Amphitheater, Frank Erwin Center for major acts, The Parish, and local music festivals like ACL and SXSW. Whenever he’s at a big show, say at the Frank Erwin Center, he pays attention to the opening DJ and the ways they get the crowd warmed up before the act.
What are the different music scenes in Austin?
Austin has a very diverse music scene, reiterates Doug. Austin holds the second largest music festival in the United States called South by Southwest, and so it’s also a mecca for all types of DJs. On 6th Street, all the bars provide different genres of music with either a DJ or live band.
All genres are relevant here, says Ryan. He’s still getting acquainted with the country scene but says you don’t have to look far to find what you want. The city is such a melting pot of cultures and interests, that you can be in an old school country bar, then walk across the street to a hole in the wall hip hop bar, then cross Highway 35 and check out a reggaeton bar. Everything is relevant here.
What’s your favorite part about being a DJ in Austin?
First, let me say I have been DJing for 20 years, says Doug—he started in a country dance hall in Washington and has DJ’d in California and Minnesota. He loves music and dancing, so to be able to entertain clients and get them to dance and have fun is a great experience for him.
As a wedding DJ, Ryan likes to connect with the couple as personally as possible. All DJs have access to the same technology and music, so he differentiates himself by the connection he builds with clients. He loves having that rapport, so clients know their wedding day is in good hands. It also makes his job easier, because he knows the client’s personality and what they might like, so making music selections in the moment comes easier. It makes for an overall better event.
Any tips for hiring the perfect DJ?
First, really read their reviews, all of them—not just the good ones, suggests Doug. Second, ask them for references and call those references and get their opinion. If you have the option to meet them in person, I recommend that because that will really give you a good sense of what the DJ is like, says Doug. Don’t let the DJ necessarily make decisions for you on how they think the night should go, it’s your night and you are the customer. Make sure you share your ‘do not play’ list. There might be songs or genres of music you don’t want played at your event, especially your wedding. Be sure to communicate that ahead of time so you only have good memories of your event or wedding.
Don’t pay attention to who has the coolest DJ toys or fanciest equipment but (specifically for weddings) it’s about the connection, says Ryan. Technical skills are important and should be your baseline, but personality should make your decision. You want a DJ you would be proud to introduce to your whole family, because this person will be associated with most important day of life. It’s important they have a respectful personality and will be friendly to you and your guests.
Can having the right DJ make or break your event?
Yes, says Doug! No matter what, the event depends on a great DJ. If the DJ is making poor music selections or wrong song choices, the event can end very quickly. If the DJ talks a lot on the microphone, more than expected, people can get annoyed. If the music the DJ is playing is slow and not upbeat he/she can put the crowd to sleep. The DJ is the person that can make the event a great success or failure. A good DJ will interact with the crowd and read the crowd to ensure your party is a success, says Doug.
Events can be made or broken by the type of music being played, opines Ryan. If the crowd isn’t’ feeling the DJ, the vibe can go sour. You don’t want anyone to make a wedding DJ jokes about your wedding DJ. Let the DJ know the demographics of your guests. Let them know the things that inspire you. Let them know the soundtrack of your life from highschool, college, party days, and romance days. A good DJ will take that info and build a playlist to spark your event and build great memories for the future.