Posted on December 24, 2016
An Approach to DJing Seriously
Disclaimer: This is really not the simple approach, but they’re the rules I’ve chosen to abide by. This is in all likelihood the laborious approach but is ultimately, what I would imagine to be the most satisfying, if you really love the art and craft of DJing and making people dance. Much of what I say here can be taken lightly, although nothing I’ve said is at odds with what the all-time DJ greats have said already. I take my cue (no pun intended) from the masters, that’s just how it works.
Play what the others won’t and do it in ways they wouldn’t even dream of.
Ditch the drugs and the afterparties and instead catch up on sleep.
Or… finish playing and go do your homework i.e. what could have been done better, what went wrong.
Explore all kinds of music to add to your repertoire. Because restricting yourself to a genre in 2016 is not just dumb, it’s also pretty shortsighted.
Forego the half-dozen conventional sources to buy music. Everybody does that. Dig deeper. Go weirder.
Research where music comes from. I’m baffled when people don’t know techno came from three black dudes in Detroit, and that house music first proliferated in the gay clubs of Chicago.
Remember this: Blue-eyed, blonde-haired white boys from Europe did not originate this music. And while some of them appropriated it fantastically (DJ Harvey), some desecrated it completely (too many to name).
Don’t play for free (unless it’s your best friends wedding).
Find a residency. Anywhere. Just so you can get time with decks to experiment.
Read about stuff like the Format Wars / Loudness Wars. That doesn’t mean googling the term and reading the first three sites that show up. Those loosely-worded propaganda pages are paid for to show up in the first few results, generally by somebody who will benefit from “proving” one is better than the other.
Remember: The audience doesn’t care about whether you’re playing a file through computer software or a 180-gram polyvinyl chloride record through a pair of Technics 1200s. You serve the audience, and they’re there to dance and/or listen, that’s about it.
Read books on the art and the craft instead of blindly believing what people say on Facebook. Facebook is 10 percent real talk, 90 percent sales pitches (just like this article you’re reading).
That said, take marketing seriously. If you choose to whore your art out on Facebook, do it well and do it in style. Make mommy and daddy proud. Using Snapchat to look like a dog or a fucking strawberry is just embarrassing.
Make DJ mixes and upload them to your Mixcloud or Soundcloud. That is your ammunition and moreover, your online legacy (for now).
If you’re wondering how there are DJs out there who don’t have anything online and still get booked week-after-week, that’s either cause they’re really pretty or they’ve got an agency doing their bidding for them or they’ve been doing this long enough to cultivate an actual following. Either way, if they’re still playing the same shit month-after-month, year-upon-year, ignore them and find better, more interesting DJs to look up to (or hate on).
Avoid using software like Mixed In Key as a crutch or an excuse to not learn how to mix or recognise musical keys by ear. It’s really not as hard as it sounds. Most of these mellifluous, in-key mixes are BORING, but that’s just to my ears.
Speaking of ears, you’re a DJ. Your ears are likely to encounter long hours of loud music on less-than-great sound systems. Protect them and protect them well.
Know your music inside out. Every phrase, bar, drop and every space in between.
Be nice to club owners. Not just to get booked to play, but because some of them actually respect you.
Be even nicer to club staff. They don’t enjoy the benefits of your pay grade and usually work five times as hard.
Practice. Every day or every time you get a few hours to yourself. It’s the only way to get better.
Think long-term stability instead of short-term reward i.e. think of your DJ career as a 12-round boxing match instead of a 5-round MMA fight. Be prepared to go the distance.
Think of your DJ sets the same way. Pacing is essential, so is allowing the music to breathe.
Quit smoking pot all-day-long for fuck’s sake. Tech-house is shite even when high. Plus you’ll want your brains when you’re 35.
Be bullish and proud of what you do. Some might call that having an attitude, but it’s also called being confident and having faith in your abilities.
Dance and enjoy the music. Your energy is contagious and it’s more important than you might think.
Finally, context is EVERYTHING.