Archive for the ‘ DJ Competencies ’ Category

What Does It Take To Be An Amazing DJ?

Take a look at this photograph.

Thousands of adoring fans worshiping every move you make and you don’t have to share that moment with anyone other than the crowd.  It’s pretty powerful.  These images get served to DJs and non DJs alike all the time.  If you are a DJ, and you play out enough for long enough, this is what you get to experience.   What no one really tells you is that in order to be like this guy, you have to be amazing.  I know I’m stating the obvious but it’s really important to remind ourselves that to get to this level of achievement requires exceptional qualities. There are DJs whom I don’t particularly care for their genre of choice, however I would never discredit what they did in order to get to where they are.  I respect any DJ that achieves the moment the DJ in this picture does because I bet that it’s the culmination of a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and soul searching.  That’s not all though . . .

What does it take to be amazing?  Believe it or not it takes three things to be truly amazing.  I’m going to use the word amazing a lot because it’s not good, or great, it’s nothing short of amazing or beyond that – mindblowing.  So now that we have our spectrum of greatness down let’s talk about being amazing and how to do that.  We actually can take a note from the master painters on this one.  Picasso, Braque and the art of Cubism.  “Creativity happens when someone does something new that is also useful or generative or influential.  Useful means that the new thing solves a problem.  Generative means that the new thing leads to other ideas or things.  Influential means that the new thing changes the way people look at, or listen to, or think about, or do, things like it.” (Stokes, 2006, 1) Picasso and Braque changed the entire landscape of painting by introducing a new way of looking at the world and interpreting it through Cubism.   “Their new thing, called Cubism, changed how some people (critics, dealers, collectors) looked at and thought about representational painting, and it changed how some other people (artists) painted.” (Stokes, 2006, 1)

In other words if you are useful and serve a purpose, lead DJs to other ideas, and change how people look at their life or listen to music – you are on your way to being amazing.  Now there are plenty of other things that make a DJ amazing but in my opinion these are the three essential things that contribute to a DJ’s amazingness. Let’s break it down a little further.

Being Useful

Most people, if not all, have issues in their lives.   The need to let go is central to the whole point of going out and having an experience.   The DJ is the maestro, the architect – of escape and meditation.   Based on your purpose, being useful, you are there to help people work through their problems.  You are the therapist and music is your mode of therapy.   Your purpose is to help someone deal with the fact they got fired, a lover left them, and to celebrate the beauty in their lives.  That is your job.   Once you understand this purpose you are on your way to being amazing.

Being Generative

Amazing DJs bring something new to the table.   A different way of interpreting music, engaging with it, and participating in the expression of it.  Amazing DJs generate new ways of looking at the craft.  It’s not necessarily just technique or exploiting the latest technology though.  It’s also about voice.  Picasso and Braque presented a new voice in painting.  They abandoned all notions of literal representation of the real world and truly experimented with a different way of looking at things.  Amazing DJs push the boundaries of the craft, and of themselves, and take the art to the next level.

Being Influential

There’s such a thing as a bridge DJ.  A bridge DJ is someone who is able to reach out and induct the uninitiated into their world.  The interesting thing about bridge DJs is that they don’t necessarily cater to mainstream or certainly that is not their aim.  Whatever it is they are doing enables others to truly see their point of view and create a bridge between themselves and their audience.  To the extent that it is futile to resist that DJs effect on you.   An influential DJ refuses to give up on the fact that they are trying to teach and educate as well as facilitate an experience.  Influential means breaking boundaries AND being able communicate them in a way that hits people right in the gut.  I’ll admit, for a long time I did not get techno.  I had heard enough techno ( probably bad techno ) from my early raving days and if I never heard it again I was fine with it.  Then through the insistence of a friend, I listened to a Carl Cox live set and then I got it.  I got techno.  From there I branched out to other related artists and realized there was a whole world of techno that I had never been exposed to.  Carl Cox was my bridge DJ for really good techno.  Now I don’t spin techno predominantly but Carl Cox did affect my discography in some way as I settled on mininal techno as an important supplement to my deep house, electro and breaks genre choices.  That’s influence.

I can’t tell you how to be useful, or generative, or influential – I can only tell you that I truly believe these are the qualities you must possess to be amazing.  It’s up to you to define those things for yourself and work hard to get to the level you set for yourself.   I encourage you to ask yourself these questions as your go through your creative process: is what I’m doing purposeful, is what I’m doing unique, is what I’m doing changing mindsets?  Once you can confidently say yes to all of those questions – you have tapped into amazingness.

Now go with your amazing self – you can do it!

Recap: Amazingness is not just about hard work.  Be useful – help people work through their stuff.  Be generative – bring new thoughts and ideas to the craft.  Be influential – create a bridge to your world, inspire to look at music in a whole new way.

Source: Stokes, Patricia D, Creativity From Constraints: The Psychology of Breakthrough, Springer Publishing Company, Inc. 2006.

Patience as a DJ

There’s a few types of DJ patience in my opinion.

  • Patience with the art
  • Patience with yourself
  • Patience in a situation

Patience with the art of DJing:

I read a startling statistic on how long it takes for an artist to be recognized as an expert within their domain.   I won’t leave you in anticipation:

“There is extensive evidence that around 10 years of active involvement appear to be necessary before anyone, even the most talented, are able to reach an international level of achievement.” (Ericsson, 1999, 331).

That’s right kids – 10 years.  10 years of practicing and playing out and working on your art and striving to be the best you can be as a DJ is how long it takes to be recognized as an expert in your domain.   Now let’s talk about what happens in those 10 years if you think it takes a shorter amount of time.  First off, you need to develop your process, function at a highly creative state, and integrate a creative habit that is conducive to active involvement in your DJ’ing.  Secondly, you need to develop your point of view and your style and that takes time with your music, knowing it, studying it, opening yourself up to be influenced and consistently challenging yourself.  Thirdly, you need to know yourself as a person, work on your issues, develop your philosophies, experience life and people.  And finally, you need to share your craft with others, get feedback, get experience, collaborate, expose yourself as an artist. With all of that said, do you think that takes two or three years?

I’m also going to say something controversial.  I don’t want to hear about luck.  I hear a lot of DJs say, that DJ got lucky. Luck is an open door and either you’re ready artistically and skilled enough to make an entrance that sticks and elevates you, or you aren’t.  Blithely saying that  a superstar DJ is where they are because they got lucky is an insult to that DJ and also allows you to cop out from the hard work you have to do to get to where you want to be.   Even if you see a DJ that has a prime slot and you know they are not ready or doing a good job – remember people can always tell.  The cream rises to the top – I truly believe that, and it has nothing to do with pure luck.  There, I said it.

Patience with yourself:

There may come a time in your process and development where you are just so frustrated you want to toss your gear out the window.  Before you toss yourself out the window with it, let me remind you that being a great DJ means knowing you will go through this.  You will make mistakes, you will spend hours and hours listening to tracks and nothing sounds good to you.  Don’t force it.  Be patient with yourself.  This also means not rushing into something your gut is telling you isn’t right for you or you’re not ready for.   If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.  Now, there’s a disclaimer with this.  It’s important to challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone – this is important for your progress and sitting back saying “I’m just not ready” all the time may be a symptom of anxiety or another creative killer – perfectionism ( I talk about perfectionism in my paper here ).

Patience with a situation:

Let’s say your playing out and the dancefloor is just not responding – if it’s empty you should know how to handle that.  But let’s say you’ve been on for a while.   Instead of going straight to a more aggressive track or copping out and playing a favorite – patiently listen to what you are already doing and really think about a creative way to deal with the situation.  That takes patience.  Try a solution that is more subtle and progressive and see what happens.   Changing things drastically in your set will only temporarily fill the void.  You need to be absolutely sure you’re doing it for the dancefloor and not to manage your anxiety or ego because the dancefloor isn’t throwing their hands up in the air over you.  The dancefloor is an organism and you shouldn’t shock it or be fake with it, you need to nurture it and be patient with it.  You need to build a dancefloor in order to sustain a dancefloor.  It is also your job to sustain the night even if you’re not spinning the entirety of it.   If you can set up a rager for the next DJ trust that you will be acknowledged ( hopefully you are spinning with wonderful collaborators who will appreciate the send up ).  And even if no one acknowledges you did it – YOU know you did it.  It takes a patient attitude to not get praised for something you did.  Patience with a situation is key to learning and reinforcing your creative process.  By stepping back and evaluating the situation you increase the chances that you will take the proper course of action.  Be mindful of rushing to cop out like behavior – this is temporary and not helpful to your progress.

I’m sure there are more ways a DJ can be patient.  I would love to hear from you what you think makes for DJ patience.  The bottom line is that the more observant and patient you are of the art, yourself and the situations you are in, the better you will be to handle what comes your way.

Recap: It takes 10 years. Don’t throw your gear and yourself out the window.  It takes patience to build a dancefloor.

If you found this interesting and want to share your thoughts – drop me a line!

Source: Ericsson, K. “Creative Expertise as Superior Reproducible Performance:  Innovative and Flexible Aspects of Performance.” Department of Psychology, Florida State University, 1999.