Nightclubs as Research Labs

This week, we’re featuring a TEDx talk by a researcher and friend of DJTT, Yale Fox. Yale focuses on studying the sociological elements in nightlife, and more specifically within nightclubs. This talk is a fascinating exploration of the factors at play and motivations that exist in club environments, click through to watch the talk and read an exclusive article on his work by Yale himself!

The Researcher In The Nightclub

My work focuses on how we can examine nightlife as a means of understanding society. Nightclubs are my research lab for a few different reasons.

First and foremost, there’s a different set of social rules within a nightclub. They’re known “mating grounds” where it’s more acceptable to step out of your regular character and approach members of the opposite sex. If you see a good looking individual at a grocery store you may not be obliged to walk up to them and say something, but the opposite is true in a bar or nightclub.

Secondly, nightclubs are accepted site of altered behavior – alcohol and other substances are consumed which have a powerful effect on the nervous system. Our biology is built up of drives that have evolved over millions of years to enhance survival. Similarly, on the other end of the equation is our sociology. For example, a primal urge could be violence, or to fight, despite knowing this can hurt someone and that it’s probably not the right thing to do. These two forces push against each other. In a nightclub environment, the push and pulls of these systems are manipulated.

Alcohol removes many of the top level, cognitive functions – stuff like manners, what we say and how loud we say it. The dis-inhibition of these functions makes the mechanisms of our prehistoric brain more pronounced, making nightclubs perhaps one of the most efficient machines for observing people.

You’re a DJ, Not A Scientist

It’s important to take the above factors in to account when crafting a DJ set and reading a crowd. It’s not only how much fun the patrons have throughout the night, but how they remember it. The use of alcohol and drugs effect not only how we experience the night, but how it is physically transcoded in our minds. Additionally, their mood going in and out of the night is drastically affected by the music.

Here is some evidence; Pay attention to the direct causal link between the stock market and what’s hot in the pop charts. Sure, it’s referencing the Billboard charts. Try to think more about the music and less about the content or what many people may consider as the “cheese.”

What is it that makes a song popular?

  • One in a million talent
  • One in a million timing
  • One in a million marketing

Until Next Time

Our mood and the music we listen to are directly linked. This talk hopefully has shed some insight in to the meaning of why we listen to music as a species. This is one of the few studies out there made for nightlife using empirical evidence. Please keep in mind, this is data based on aggregation and is not necessarily explicit to every situation around the world.

Editor’s Note: We’re excited to feature Yale’s work here, and we’re already in talks with him about writing a piece on cognitive states relating to music – with a DJ perspective in mind, of course. Know of any awesome DJ appropriate research or TED talks? You know where to share them – the comments! 

science of DJingstudying nightclubsted talktedxyale fox
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  • Anonymous

    long story short make sure your audience is drunk lol

  • Seville Lilly

    DJing like this is like running a really good cover band. The money’s much better and more consistent up front than if you play artistically. The trouble is, the most polished, professional cover band in the world is restricted by default to a regional market. Because you’re pandering to the crowd with music that everybody has access to, there’s always plenty of other cover bands/ bar DJs doing the same thing with the same material in the next market. Your bookings, your pay, your reputation and your job satisfaction will start higher and stay more consistent, but it won’t be growing by much.For an artistic DJ playing creatively, who’s introducing a crowd to new music in a unique way, the pay essentially begins at zero, but the upside is enormous. DJs and original artists who have the talent and confidence to teach their audience what to like, who cultivate themselves as a trusted intermediary between the creators and their audience, who help their fans discover new music instead of just playing music they already know, can tap into the true power and mystique (and earning potential) of the global DJ. So purely from a financial standpoint, playing the hits and working the bar is safe and consistent money, but you’re only going to make so much and you’re rarely going to play outside of your hometown. Playing only the music YOU like, finding the like-minded audience for that music and building their trust instead of pandering to their requests may never get you farther than playing for free in your neighborhood, or you could end up jetsetting the world for tens of thousands of dollars a gig. The upside, while rare, is virtually without limit.

  • Rnsaudio

    so if every dj decide to play hip hop for the next month would the dow crash?

  • Frank112916

    I’ve seen this previously. This talk was way too psuedo scientific (especially the way in which he presented his findings and conclusions) and I’d take it with a serious grain of salt.

  • Anu

    He looks like a heavy set Atrak………

  • nico

    That was somewhat interesting until he started speaking about dresses. I didn’t understood in why it tied into what he just said. Looked like he needed to fill the remaining of his presentation. 

    First part didn’t tell much that wasn’t obvious either, but it was okay to say it if you were going to use it to make a point after that, but IMHO, he just didn’t.

  • Abbey Mui

    More information needed attended cause these goin’ only this idea,
    More Stereotype comes out.
    I think music just music.Touch,Feel,Dancin’,,,,Behavior.
    And who wannabe survive only music, (Needs money about cost,knowledge,etc)
    efected on the’Music’.Is it good ‘weapon’ for the people.
    Buisinness,Politics(Propaganda) use with that weapon,
    the Results,,is it good for life?
    I wanna be Musician, but think about history, next generation,I must work some different job(If you wannabe a Dj,workin’ the Store of instrument or software or record shop,i teaching and learnin’ working the school) and concern about music in my apartment. 
    Musics effected to people to High,Low even if is just the weapon.
    is Not good for Musics behavior…. 

  • R3Bonaire

    DJTT come on, don’t get me wrong i am a big time fan but please back to Midi controllers and DJ-ing. I simply can’t believe that Dow jones can influence the mood of party rockers or the hit charts. Alcohol and drugs, yes it can..or major or minor  chords ,happy or not happy, i guess it lies with the DJ or producer to use skills, effects and equipment and a good choice of music and flexability to make a club rock or create a hit…If there is one person so depressed by the economy or bad stock market he should not go out to party..Maybe he should listen to grunch metal or smoke some dope at home.


    • Joseph Chang

      It was an analysis regarding nightlife which if anything has a huge influence for DJ’s. I am thankful they bring this information to light. Don’t be so narrow minded. 

    • Chiebs

      good post! I’m trying to come up with ideas for venues that music will make its way into.  “From the mp3 player to the supergizmo connected to a maximum of 6 people that shoots signals up directly through the “listener’s” genitals

  • Adam

    Since “We” don’t really know how alcohol affects us (video 2:39), I would suggest checking out this page called wikipedia. They have multiple pages devoted to how alcohol affects humans. eg.

  • Adam

    I think this article pretty much captures the essence of Dr. Yale’s “research”… 

    Yale, For the love of music and science. Please stop…

  • JohnRtucker

    So, alcohol makes us talk. Okay… people like sex. yes. You will die if you don’t like music. aha. Short skirts are better then long skirts. Let me tell you what a minor chord does. Here is a major chord. aha. A little recap from other TED talks… okaaaaay. And now what…? Silence… Ehhh. WTF. Did he tell us anything we didn’t already know? 

    • Chiebs

      no, just trying to back up obvious shit with science

  • Diego

    What is he talking about … ????

  • Dandyrandy88

    he needs to do some more research hahahaha he’s missing a lottt of important information

    • Greg Miernicki

      You’re right… he didn’t say much but he brushed about 50 topics gracefully.

  • Pwebb

    I have to disagree to an extent on the major chord-happy, minor chord- sad dichotomy. I like to think of it more in terms of tension and release, like the resolution of a chord. songs in a minor key tend to create more tension, while songs in the major keys tend to resolve more often, and stay in a sort of “resolved state” sound for longer. This is not to say that songs in minor keys don’t have chord resolutions or major keys don’t create tension. But I do like, particularly in a progressive house set, to create a tension through songs in minor keys, and “resolve” the set (or part thereof) in a few major key songs. Even within that, some songs resolve more often and some less, which you can use to build towards that “happy,” resolved sound from a “sad,” tense, minor sound

    • Misterfaust

      The dichotomy is a cerebral quality. It is absolutely true in a general sense (music theory) but at the same time you can’t always apply general rules to a club. It’s like saying every girl likes flowers.

  • Isobar

    The perceived link between the stock market and what’s hot is a correlation, not a causation.

  • Thanatos

    don’t see the point of this bullshit in a blog like this one.. if you want real sociology try Sarah Thornton Club Culture for a deeper view of club music rooted in history, cultural studies and french bourdieu sociology

  • Djz Bortolotto

    hmmm… dj tech tools…. totally irrelevant and I usually love your posts!!! what matters in the club is that you can keep people on the dance floor having a good time. I usually do this and just because a song is in a minor chord does not mean that people will not dance to it. 

    • Spacecamp

      Sorry that you found this totally irrelevant – personally, I think that knowing of observations and theories concerning the people who you’re trying to keep on the dance floor is incredibly apropos for a site all about giving DJs tools and resources to help them have successful sets, careers, etc. 
      That’s why we ran with this one – but if you’ve got something you’re dying to see us cover, please let us know on our User Voice article suggestion page! 

  • Deecodameeko

    Interesting..this sort of ties into the book I’m reading. “This is your brain on music” By Daniel Levitin…well worth a read for anyone who’s interested in the relationship of music and how our brain works.

    • MLJ

      That is an absolutely fantastic book. I also highly recommend it!

  • Jonny Beach

    Well, of course moods from our day to day Life effekt our needs and i
    would shurly say listening to Music is a need 🙂 — But i doupt that most
    of the people @ my club check there stockmarkets on daily bases or feel
    bad when the stocks go down for a few weeks.

    I think for example Weather, or maybe a big war, or a big desaster, or
    christmas home lone situations might have a bigger effekt one the moods
    of the crowed.

    but it shurly depends on you crowed – working in a Club in Manhatten the dow jones might be a good moodmesurement ;P

    • Anthony Woodruffe

      I wouldn’t take the Dow Jones theory quite so literal.
      From what I understood, what Yale was referring to was we feel the effects of the stock market without having to study it.
      Here in Germany fuel prices have hit an equivalent of over $6,70 per Gallon. That hits your pocket hard, especially when you’re paying 19% VAT on everything you buy too. To the average club-goer who is still in education or just left, and are now coming to terms with the big shock that having a flat (even if shared with others) has a far more devastating effect on your disposable income than living at hotel-Mama. Add a low paid job, extortionate fuel prices and hundreds of thousands of people in exactly the same position as you and it’s not all that difficult to see that this will effect buying patterns of a culture who are predominantly purchasing popular music today.

      As a DJ paying attention to current affairs may help in you selection of tracks.
      If times are good then Major tonic, lower tempo, 120-126 bpm music could have more people on the dance floor. If everyone is feeling the economic pinch then Minor tonic faster tempo music could be in order.

      However here’s the mind blower….
      You won’t need to think beyond your normal routine of selecting tracks anyway because just like the club-goers you are most likely subconsciously feeling the effects of the markets too, so you are probably without realising it, going to naturally pick tracks that favour that particular market.

      So; no we don’t need a degree in sociology to be a DJ
      We just need to carry on doing what we do best.
      Read the crowd and and feel the vibe or more scientifically put; oxytocin.

  • Ronald Edwards

    Awesome! I’ve been trying to build a “Color Wheel” of emotions and some basic rules of audio layout in addition to simply mixing well and spicing up my “audible stories.” I’d really like to work with someone to develop the spectrum of emotions.

  • Trysmile

    I’ll just go check the dow jones to see what music I should be into this week.

    • Ronald Edwards

      I’m pretty sure that the Stock Market reference was more of a weather vane rather than a “go here for directions” thing. Using the Stock Market as your only reference is like looking at the most popular people in the club and playing only to them… more often than not the most popular people drive the trends but the club can be happening when the popular people aren’t dancing or “feeling it”, that’s why they’re called trends.

  • Anonymous

    The research is on point, however, you should give credit to the original researchers of the Dow jones vs. top 40 charts and tempo correlation.  Has been around for a bit, and is published in journals.  Just my $.02 since there are other references to scholarly work.

    • Guesty

      You gotta remember DJTT is a frat house not a shining example of correct journalism, they prove that every week… if you need buttons to mash and mapping this is the place, Polished blog entries not so much.

    • Yale Fox

      This was the first study pertaining to key although tempo was also included. Also, where other studies showed correlation this was the first to illustrate my particular theory on causation 🙂