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TIKTOK TALK: KEEPING UP WITH THE KIDS
MIAMI MUSIC WEEK 2020 ISSUE
By Stu Kearns
We recently spoke to DJ Chris Bartosik from Raptor Productions in Baltimore. He’s been in the business for decades, but has a particular talent for remaining young. To that end, we asked him about how he uses TikTok (the mega-popular, youth-driven, video-sharing, social-networking service/mobile app), and inquired about other ways to appeal to a younger audience. DJ Times: How are you using TikTok? Chris Bartosik: I actually use it a good bit, along with other tools when it comes to school dances. Like for this past Saturday, I mixed into Sales’ “Chinese New Year” – just the main TikTok part – from Metro Station’s “Shake It.” Then, I went into the psy-trance TikTok remix of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” What most DJs don’t get is that TikTok is only a minute-long video, so most of the time the entire song is way too much. Besides, it’s 2020 – controllers are cheap and everything is digital – why can’t you mix it live or even pre-record it? If you get out there and do the dance with them, it’s like gold. It’s no different than when I did clubs in the ’90s. I would use record pools, U.K. charts and more to find those songs before they were pop. Just today everyone has access to almost everything. The “For You” page on TikTok is one great source of what’s hot – how else can you use TikTok to find material? That really depends on your client base. It’s much different for younger kids than it is for adults and clients at weddings. Can you break it down? Kids like newer stuff and it may be short-lived; adults will like stuff that has more staying power. Example – “Old Town Road,” kids are done and over with it, but adults are going to ride that train thanks to the Doritos commercial. You can also search trending hashtags on TikTok and see if there is a common song, such as #coolranchdance featuring “Old Town Road.” I usually go through the Sounds section, Trending, New Releases, Featured and Greatest Hits. From there, I listen and see how many videos of each are made. One of the challenges in selecting music for kids is picking the 15 or 20 seconds of the song that has gone viral. Also, you have to check the real song and find out if it’s even a playable song, or a special TikTok edit, just like “She Wolf” going around now – it has a sample from the HBO show “Euphoria.” That’s pretty hot right now. That can be a tough one, because it can fail miserably if the kids just aren’t into it. We do high-school events throughout the year and communication is key. We will never be able to make everyone 100-percent happy, but we find out what they liked and didn’t like the year before. We also inquire on their taste. Many do say that it’s TikTok songs. That doesn’t always mean it’s going to be the newest song. “Shake It” from Metro Station is still a great one because the chorus is the viral part. Another one I got from TikTok was “Payphone” because many videos had them lip syncing. A current one is “Woah” from Krypto9095, which is actually on the trending list. Songs like that we never play all the way through. Ever play a TikTok song that’s trending and there are ton of videos for it, and it still fails? Nothing is fail-proof. One can kill at one school and fail at another. No matter what one does, it won’t always hit 100-percent. I do try to test the waters with a more familiar viral song going back to the Vine days. Spotify has many TikTok lists and I usually look for the ones that have the most subscribers. Then I check with my record pools to make sure they are available. Is there crossover from old Vines to Tik Tok? Actually yes. Some of the dances are the same and some of the kids, now, actually had Vine and TikTok’s earlier version – Musical.ly. Many of the Vine posters are now on TikTok, too, so if you follow the ones from L.A. or New York you can usually get some music ideas from them. They have a reputation and following, so they don’t usually use junk songs. There will never be just one list to serve all; when it comes down to it, one must use all the tools available. Some of the hits I got from TikTok before they were hits include “Dance Monkey,” “The Box,” and “Ballin’.” That was your DJ experience, knowing they’d work? Yes, I look for something catchy, either a hook, beat or melody. The beginning of “The Box” is unique – it sounds like a squeak. That’s what got me hooked on that... same with “Dance Monkey.” How about slow dance stuff? For those, I need to keep up with the charts. Lately, we have been using Daniel Caesar from a year ago and some Dan + Shay. The charts will be better for those songs, as you’ll end up playing more of it. I’ve noticed that brand new songs, for them, isn’t always best. It needs to be familiar for a slow song, as you want the couple to enjoy it. The old rule of playing for the females still applies – guys will follow if you get the girls dancing. With all our high-school events, we still do plenty of the classic singalong songs, too, mixed with current rap, pop and TikTok songs. Anything else? Another great tool I have used are other DJs in my network. I have some that are really good friends. We are all working DJs and some of us DJ every week in various casinos, nightclubs and bars. A non-mobile gig is a great place to try something new – you don’t have a client to worry about and you can see how they react right then. It can be tougher to try new stuff at a school dance, wedding or other social event. Another great source is movies and TV – “Momma Mia,” Queen and Elton John movies helped to make them popular again. “Glee” is great for bringing back old songs. In today’s world, there is no sure-fire way to find the next hot song. In the end, it’s still a guessing game. You’ll have better odds by using these tools and DJ intuition.
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