Archive for the ‘ DJ Competencies ’ Category

Hi! We need this instead

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There will be a time where you will face the unexpected “Hi! We need this instead”. If you’ve already encountered this, great you muscled through! Or did you? Without knowing how you handled it I can venture a guess of what it caused. But let me back up and define what I mean by HWNTI. It’s the day before or of your gig and a last minute change in the lineup, or the party, has caused a situation where you need to adjust your set to fit said change in situation. Any DJ worth their salt looks at it like a challenge, but deep down inside rest assured there’s a bit of concern <panic>. Never fear, you can handle this. All it takes is a count to 10 and get to work attitude! You don’t have time to resist it or complain about it. If you happen to be a DJ in the position of pushing back then I say do it, but carefully. Most really good DJ’s have already sussed out whether a gig is right for them or have an arsenal that can accommodate but, shit happens (too much in my opinion). If you’re dealing with a major shift in genre, figure out the common thread musically that can transition into what you want and you’ll be fine. Believe it or not, things never play out the way your anxiety thinks it will.  How many times have you dealt with an unknown and it all ended up ok. So keep in mind that it’s a party, you want to make people happy, and they’re usually amenable to deviations in musical expectations. Your job is finding the fine line of connecting between what is expected and what they don’t know they desire. There can be a big enough difference in the two for you to play with. Be comfortable with the unknown and the challenge, that’s usually where the magic lies.

HOW TO HANDLE PRESSURE

Pressure is not something to be taken lightly.  Well, let me back up.   There’s different kinds of pressure.  Pressure you put on yourself and pressure others put on you.   The pressure I want you to pay attention to first is the pressure you put on yourself.  That you don’t take lightly.  For a second, forget about everyone else, doesn’t matter who they are.  One thing I know about DJs is that you will obsess to no end on the littlest details and efforts, you are perfectionists and your own worst critics.  Sometimes it can be a vortex you get sucked into, a never ending loop of questioning and doubt and that’s just what can happen in your own studio!  Pressure can manifest itself in many ways, from obsessing to full blown anxiety.  Guess what, that’s ok!  It’s ok to have standards and push yourself, it’s ok to get a little nervous before a gig.   The problem is when the pressure is so paralyzing you are not moving forward, getting out of your own head, or being relaxed enough to get into the flow.  You have to maintain perspective in the face of pressure.  Some DJs go into things thinking ok, I know something is going to happen – it always does!  Then somehow they magically chill out.  It’s a quick fix though and doesn’t help with the long term grind of being a DJ.

Handling pressure is one of the biggest tools in your DJ arsenal.  Remember the openness of your mind and your heart directly affects your creativity.  The point is to pre-empt pressure before it becomes so acute you get twisted up and tangled in your own situation.  You need to stay ahead of pressure.  That means not procrastinating, knowing what you’re doing, working out ideas as soon as you have them, being organized, and reducing distractions (do you really need to be the 39th comment on a Facebook post?).  If you have your internal pressure valve on balance you will be able to handle the other kind of pressure, the pressure from others.

Everyone has a stake in your game at some point – regardless of your level.  Venue owners, promoters, agents, producers, labels, other DJs, to name a few.  All of them have expectations and in a lot of cases rightfully so.  How you handle pressure from others is nothing short of knowing what your priorities are at every turn.  You may want to consider the agent a priority because you’re at a certain level and want to be part of an agency, so making sure you’re responsive to them is your priority for the moment.  Venue owners, have to get above that bar guarantee!, may need some extra assurance so promoting may be your priority.  It all depends on your situation and what is most important to you.  I didn’t mention the audience or your music (your music can be an entity in of itself) because those will always be your priority depending on your DJ philosophy.  I’m just talking about the extra chatter and needs of others that you may perceive as contributing to pressure filled situations.

Above anything else you need to get to a state of comfort and confidence.   If you are on top of the noise inside your head first then anything else should be a breeze.  Pressure will always be there whether it’s internal or external, it’s part of the DJ vocation.  The thing to remember is that you can’t be everything to everyone, including yourself.

HOW TO FIND YOUR DJ STYLE

Credit: John Matthew Photography Flickr

I’ve posted some DJ exercises in the past that hinted on developing your style as a DJ.  I’d like to write a more comprehensive piece for you.  Hopefully this will provide you the mindset to think more broadly about your style.

 
Your style starts at birth, I really believe that.  If you think about your entire life, everything you have done, everything you have seen, everything you are contributes to your style as a DJ.  For better or worse everything in your past and present directly contributes to who you are as a DJ.
Considering though that DJs love tips and lists, I have compiled a series of questions to ask yourself.  Dig deep I always say!

 
1) Growing up, what did your parents listen to?  Whether you liked it or not, you absorbed that in some way.  How is it manifesting in your musical choices?  This includes if you played a musical instrument.  Based on my research most DJs played a musical instrument at some point in their life. Get back in touch with all of that.

2) What is your role in a group or social setting?  Are you the quiet observer or the instigator (hopefully in a good way!)?  Are you the confidante, do people automatically tell you their life stories?  Figure out the role you play when you are with people and chances are that’s the type of presence or vibe you should have behind the decks.

3) Obvious! Who are your DJ and musical heroes? It’s more than that though.  Really study and experiment with different techniques and equipment.  Stretch yourself to the max.  Don’t be lazy and find what you’re really good at (are you good at drops, cuts, long blends, creating music on the fly, empathy with the crowd) – that should point you in the right direction.

4) Who are the people around you? Are you in touch with an artist community aside from other DJs? Understand that inspiration and style can come from many different places.

This is about finding your uniqueness and if it’s one thing about DJ’ing, you need to stand out and be authentic.

If you haven’t seen the DJ exercises I mentioned check these out:
The Zen DJ Challenge: http://behindthedecks.org/2012/01/26/the-zen-dj-challenge/

The What’s My Sound DJ Challenge: http://behindthedecks.org/2012/06/28/the-whats-my-sound-dj-challenge/

The Out Of My Element DJ Challenge: http://behindthedecks.org/2012/04/06/out-of-my-element-dj-challenge/

WHOSE OPINION MATTERS?

I get insights from the strangest places.  Case in point Seth Godin, who is a marketing and publishing guru.  He wrote a brutally honest article called “Is Everyone Entitled To Their Opinion?“.  As a DJ, you have a huge circle of people that believe they are entitled to have an opinion about you: the audience on the floor, promoters, family/friends, other DJs, fans, record labels, the outside world, even Simon Cowell to name a few.  So I can understand why it’s hard to be authentic and true to yourself with all this noise.  Turns out, there is a way to cut through the crap – read the following.  Enjoy!

The most important opinion of all is YOURS, don’t forget that.

Is everyone entitled to their opinion?

Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean we need to pay the slightest bit of attention.

There are two things that disqualify someone from being listened to:

1. Lack of Standing. If you are not a customer, a stakeholder or someone with significant leverage in spreading the word, we will ignore you. And we should. When you walk up to an artist and tell her you don’t like her painting style, you should probably be ignored. If you’ve never purchased expensive original art, don’t own a gallery and don’t write an influential column in ArtNews, then by all means, you must be ignored.

If you’re working in Accounts Payable and you hate the company’s new logo, the people who created it should and must ignore your opinion. It just doesn’t matter to anyone but you.

I’m being deliberately harsh here for a reason. If we’re going to do great work, it means that some people aren’t going to like it. And if the people who don’t like it don’t have an impact on what happens to the work after it’s complete, the only recourse of someone doing great work is to ignore their opinion.

2. No Credibility. An opinion needs to be based on experience and expertise. I know you don’t like cilantro, but whether or not you like it is not extensible to the population at large. On the other hand, if you have a track record of matching the taste sensibility of my target market, then I very much want to hear what you think. People with a history of bad judgment, people who are quick to jump to conclusions or believe in unicorns or who have limited experience in the market–these people are entitled to opinions, but it’s not clear that the creator of the work needs to hear them. They’ve disqualified themselves because the method they use for forming opinions about how the market will respond is suspect. The scientific method works, and if you’re willing to suspend it at will and just go with your angry gut, we don’t need to hear from you.

IS THE FILLER TRACK AN EXCUSE?

I was having a conversation with Mustapha Louafi from Dope Underground Beats about his trip to WMC.  In between filming and spinning he caught some parties and was filling me in on his experience.  He was explaining to me how he was blown away by some of the sets he saw but that there were other sets in the same line up that weren’t as impactful.  I thought this was interesting.  So I decided to probe deeper and I asked how can you tell the difference between the DJs that brought it and the ones that didn’t?   His take on it was preparation and focus was the deciding factor.  That he could tell the DJ who really took the time to put together a killer set (knowing the DJ they were spinning after, time of the set, etc) and a DJ who just got up there banking that they had something to play.  I still felt there was more to understand so I asked what made one set different from the other? And he said something I hadn’t thought about for a long time.  He said, the DJ’s sets that were just ok used a lot of “filler tracks”.  Eureka! My definition of a filler track is it’s basically a neutral track in relation to the set style as a whole.

Some DJs feel filler tracks are necessary and some feel they are the mark of an unimaginative DJ.

I have backed myself into a corner musically in the middle of a set with no idea how to get out of it.  I am a multiple genre DJ.  It really is a sickness that I am compelled (read: stubborn) to spin tech house, breaks, electro, and deep house all in one set.  When I am adamant that the next mood match has to be breaks and I’m in the middle of deep deep house flow, I know I need something to bridge that vibe.  I have used a filler track to transition from one genre to another or from one mood to another.  It’s a way to reset and clear the slate to launch into another direction.  I also have spun 6+ hour sets and let me tell you, if you spin that long you will need to balance out peaks and valleys with filler tracks.  DJs also feel that filler tracks are a great blank canvas on which to do other things – lay over vocals, synths, effects – it really allows them to play around.

Now, there is an opinion that filler tracks are a thing of the past simply because way back when there was a low level of production and you had to use what was out there the best way you could and the big name DJs were the only ones who had the storming tracks.  Nowadays there is tons and tons of music because we have decades of it and because the production process is more accessible and people are producing and distributing music at an accelerated rate.  So is the question, is the filler track an excuse, a legitimate one?  The fact that now DJs maybe spin for a couple of hours also influences the answer to this question.  If you only spin for a short amount of time do you even need to use filler tracks?  I think it depends on your situation but it seems to me that no, you really shouldn’t have to use filler tracks – if you’ve prepared yourself well and brought your A game.  In that respect, it is your duty to spin the best music you can.

So I think really it depends on how you look at filler tracks and make sure you’re not hiding behind them.  All in moderation and use the filler track for a purpose and not as an excuse for your lack of pushing your imagination and preparation – you are more creative than that!

THE ZEN DJ CHALLENGE

The DJ Exercise series on BTD is meant to challenge and inspire DJs to get out of a rut, try something new, get the synapses firing (and create new ones), teach you about yourself and overall something to have fun with! 

Inspired by the blind kung-fu master, I came up with . . .

THE ZEN DJ CHALLENGE

Close your eyes, open your discography in a way that you can point your finger/grab and choose tracks WITHOUT looking. Pick 5 tracks, fire up the decks, and mix ONLY those tracks. No cheating – work with what you have  – sharpen those creative skills. Post your Zen DJ Mixes in the comments section within this post and talk about the experience if you’d like. Good luck – you can do it!

Fail At Interesting

Dave Pinter

I was watching a program ( one of those Iron Chef cooking competitions – don’t ask ) and one of the judges, Simon Majumdar a world renowned food critic, said when critiquing a dish “I would rather someone fail at interesting than achieve mediocrity.”  Something about this struck me enough to share it.  If you think about this statement, a number of things can be revealed to you as a DJ.

We all want to be interesting artists, re-envision a genre, make epic transitions and mixes, laser focus your performance so that when someone hears you they know without a doubt it’s a set from you.  It’s a journey to get there.  But how? And what are the risks?

I think failing at interesting can yield a lot of valuable information about yourself and is critical in your DJ journey.  Of course, you don’t want to be mediocre and yet sometimes you make concessions one way or another – whether it’s modeling too closely to your DJ idol thinking that’s a fast track somewhere, completely losing your voice and approach letting the audience completely dominate you, chasing the top 10 ( see Getting To Know Your Tracks ), and many more.  This is what I think leads someone to be mediocre – making too many concessions.

Here is an interesting example of failing at interesting.  I read this article about The Bunker party’s ninth anniversary and Bryan Kasenic aka DJ Spinoza talks about how he incorporated different elements in his party aside from The Bunker’s usual techno format.  He admits it wasn’t a complete success ( there weren’t as many people as he had hoped ) but I would say based on the feedback he got – he did something really interesting.

“I was trying to experiment on that night,” Kasenic says. “I’ve been getting into this new wave of synthesizer experimental music where they seem to be going for this meditative yet super-psychedelic sound. It’s rooted in the super-DIY noise scene: Somebody playing this beautiful old synthesizer, with a broad spectrum of sound, out of a guitar amp. It’s really brightly lit, and there’s somebody DJing punk rock songs between bands. I really wanted to see that music presented properly in New York, just to see what happened. There weren’t as many people as I’d hoped for, but the people who did show up [said]: ‘This is amazing. This is what needs to be happening in New York.”

For more about The Bunker’s history and future go here:

http://www.villagevoice.com/2012-01-04/music/the-bunker-turns-nine/

Now, I’m sure Bryan learned a lot from this experiment but most importantly he gave it a try.  Expecting to be perfect all the time is a fool’s pursuit.  So if you know that nothing is perfect why not at least make it interesting during the process!  The point is that we need more DJ’s who are different, who are pushing the boundaries, who are interesting and the only way to get there is to try even though failure is a genuine risk.  What Bryan did was contribute energy, uniqueness and new ideas to the New York scene – will he do it again, yes, even though his last endeavor there weren’t as many people as he hoped ( which is a minimal consequence in relation to the accomplishment ).

So remember: would you rather fail at interesting? Or would you rather achieve mediocrity? If the answer is the latter – than you are DJ’ing for all the wrong reasons.