Archive for the ‘ DJ Creative Process ’ Category

DJs – Listen!

It’s very rare that I will ever discuss what I listen to.  The reason is that I want Behind The Decks to not be about genres but to be about DJing and the creative process.  However, I had to write about an experience I recently had that inspired me to write about what it means to listen to music as a DJ.  I recently received the Plastikman Arkives LP box set.  The first thing I have to say is that this is a work of art. A truly challenging musical experience unlike anything I’ve heard in a long time.   When you get something like this, you have to just sit and listen to it.  Get your favorite chair, fire up the system, and just listen.  This made me think about how we listen to music and if we still listen to it enough to appreciate it.

These days it seems we’re either in two camps, we reminisce over sounds that just aren’t produced the way they used to be ( the “everything is crap” opinion ), or we breeze through tracks, make a mental note, put a few tags to them and then leave them ( the “I must build up a massive library for that just in case moment” ).

But what if you set up an “audio campfire” and just listened.   Following the movements and sounds and discussing how that music makes you feel – not what it will do to the dancefloor or at what point you’re going to drop it in your set or what other tracks it goes with.  Paying attention to the construction of the piece and trying to understand what the producer’s point of view is.

It’s the DJ equivalent of stopping and smelling the roses.  Something like the Plastikman Arkives box set comes around once in a blue moon and it’s a game changer in my opinion.  It is a series of real compositions that Richie Hawtin has made his life’s work and allows the remixers like Moby, Carl Craig, Green Velvet and Dubfire an opportunity to really play and extend themselves as artists ( you will not hear the usual from these guys on this album, trust me ).  It is only right to sit and listen to it without imposing my thoughts on what I would do with this material.  I actually felt smarter afterwards not just because it is an incredible piece of work but due to listening deeply.

DJ EXERCISE: I want you to go into your discography and create a playlist that challenges you.  I’m sure you have music that at some point you realized was special, one of a kind, and unable to be categorized.  Make a playlist like that and then sit and listen around your “audio campfire”.  You may have the beginnings of another threshold of musical understanding – and that’s what’s required of you as a DJ.

Recap: Take the time to create an “audio campfire”.  Listen for the point of view of the DJ/Producer.  Create a challenging playlist and extend yourself musically as an appreciator.

DJs – Feeling Stuck? Constrain Yourself. (Wait, what did she say?)

Milon Townsend

DJs are really good at giving themselves a framework from which to work with.  Especially when preparing for a gig. There are a few considerations already built in to help you make musical choices – what gear you have, the venue, the crowd.  But let’s say you want to work on a mix or experiment with production and you’re feeling stuck, what do you do? It’s hard to have any direction when you have an open road in your mind.  Believe it or not if you set up some rules or constraints you can actually be more creative.  It’s a paradox, set up a mental box, so you can think outside of it.  Your mind can only effectively process a certain amount of information.  So, if you have an infinite amount of options to work with in your mind, you can go into a state of paralysis.

Let’s talk about what some of the symptoms of feeling stuck are.

  • Loss of passion – you actively make excuses to NOT practice or touch DJing.  You do not make creative time for yourself.  This could also be viewed as BOREDOM.  Everything just bores you – music, the scene, your process.
  • Frustration – this is obvious but I’m talking about banging your head on a wall anytime you make an attempt at practicing or trying something new.
  • Negative voices – you start getting down on yourself.  Thinking you can’t do it, or that you’re not creative.  You start asking yourself: why am I doing this?
  • Feeling overwhelmed – you’re having trouble starting something, it’s just not coming to you, or your eyes glaze over when you look at your discography.

If you are experiencing feeling stuck you might want to try setting up a tighter framework for yourself. There are a few kinds of constraints that might help.

Goal Constraint: If you don’t have a deadline, then you have all the time in the world to put something together and it be perfect right? Wrong.  The problem with not having a goal puts even more strain on yourself to have a direction, and you can make excuses or allow other distractions to creep in.  Look at a goal as more of this is what I want to do, in this amount of time.  Also ask yourself, what is my priority here – for example, is it exploring different sounds and making them work or is it working on your sound or style ( I have an exercise at the end of Why Do You DJ? that helps in defining your sound )?  It is something that if you were to accomplish it in a certain amount of time, you will feel you have advanced in some way.  I know some DJs who purposely tell people they will produce a track or have a mix for them just to give themselves a deadline, the pressure for them is the greatest motivator.

Subject Constraint: This has to do with the subject matter of your work. This can be genre or mood. It depends on what you want to experiment with.  Currently I’m preparing tracklists that express a certain feeling.  Things like romantic, dark, revenge, brightness, 7am.  Based on certain words that express a feeling or context, I choose tracks that only define that feeling for me.  Some DJs already do this and it’s an easy way to get yourself out of a rut.  Brainstorm some words for yourself and then see what hits you.  Then collect the music ( and dig deep here – from memory and your “crate” ) – stay true to that expressive word, then work it out on the decks and see what happens.

Task Constraint: Another way to set a constraint for yourself has to do with the tools you use.  Your gear and technique are your tools. Let’s say you challenge yourself to beat match by ear, or use effects ( or scale back on effects ), incorporate scratching, or use a feature in your gear or software you’ve never used before.  Whatever it is you are NOT doing, then add it as a constraint and do it.

So if you are feeling stuck you can set up a constraint like this:

A mix, 5 tracks, breaks only ( the kind in a track or the genre ), Blue, holding the mix for 20 seconds each transition, in two weeks.

The more complex you set up your framework the more your mind has to work with and wrap itself around.  Really challenge yourself – you can do it!  At least, if you do not accomplish the goal in the time you set, you will have learned something about yourself and would have ingrained that experimentation in your mind for future use.

Let me know how it goes!

Recap: Your mind cannot create without a framework.  Constraints are a way to give yourself rules to work with.  Goals have to do with what you want to accomplish.  Tasks are the way you get to that goal – whether they are musical themes, technique, or gear constraints.  The more complex your framework the more creative your process and output will be.  Challenge yourself!

Source: “Creativity from Constraints: The Psychology of Breakthrough”, Patricia D. Stokes, Springer Publishing NYC, 2006.

DJ Meditation Technique – Visualizing The Perfect Gig

'Headpone Meditation by Illusive Mind'

One of the things creative experts talk about is meditation and how it can bolster your connection to your creative self.  We all fantasize about the perfect gig ( and if you’ve already had one – well done! I still encourage you to do this exercise regardless – I’m such a task master! ).  What I’m going to walk you through is a visualization/meditation exercise that will allow you to play out in your mind a gig gone well.  I will throw some curve balls in this so as to mentally prepare you for things that can go wrong – but in this exercise you defeat all obstacles!  The point is to already work out in your mind triumphs and tribulations you will experience playing out.   What this does is allow yourself to experience your feelings in advance so that when the time comes to actually perform these reactions have already been incubated in your mind and you can recall very easily solutions and reactions on the spot.

The best time to do this meditation is a couple of days before a gig and a short session prior to a gig if you have time.  I also suggest that you do this meditation on a regular basis – it is your time, your safe space to reinforce in your mind what is important to you as a measure of success as a DJ.  In the beginning, if you have a partner, friend, or fellow DJ that can read these prompts to you so you don’t have to open your eyes to read them, that is ideal.  At some point you will no longer need the prompts below and you can do this on your own so that you can easily move through the exercise.

IMPORTANT: In order for this to be a productive exercise you need to try and be as specific as possible in the details of the experiences in this meditation.  Note sights, sounds, smells, and feelings very clearly in your mind.  Let your mind stop when it needs to if you want to focus on a moment, but don’t skim through anything.   This is a basic framework to get you started, hopefully after some time you can advance on your own and meditate through situations as you see fit.

Here we go!

First, you must find uninterrupted time to do this.  Shut off the phone, turn off the computer, put the mental Do Not Disturb sign on.  Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and take five deep breaths.  Take your time.  When you are ready visualize and feel the following:

1. You are preparing for your gig.  You are diligently putting your playlist together.  What music are you selecting?  Listen to that music in your mind.

2. You are packing up your bag.  Visualize all the things you bring with you to the gig.  See yourself crossing everything off your DJ checklist.

3. You get a phonecall, your DJ partner or headliner is bailing or the venue owner has double booked the night.  Breathe through this moment.  What are you feeling? Visualize your adjustment to the situation.  Keep breathing, visualize getting back on track and being ok.

4. You are going to the gig.  See yourself getting there.  Take your time with this visualization – how do you get there? See yourself being early and ready.

5. You are setting up or just arriving to the party.  This is for you to choose how you enter into your gig.  What is your ideal situation?  What does the venue look like?  What’s going on in the dancefloor?  What do the people look like, what does their energy feel like?

6. The gear doesn’t work.  Breathe through this moment.  What doesn’t work?  What are you doing to fix it or adjust to the situation? See yourself getting through this and making things work.

7. You’re on.  See yourself playing your first track.  What is it? Listen to it in your mind. What is going on around you when you play this first track?  Stretch your mind and your desire on this one – let it be the moment you want it to be.

8. You are in the middle of your set.  How are you feeling?  What is happening on the dancefloor?  Challenge your mind when you feel more advanced with this exercise ( don’t always go for the easy fantasy of a raging dancefloor that worships you ).  See yourself building the dancefloor.  See yourself connecting with people.  Reach out to them with your emotion and energy.  Try to mix a few tracks in your mind – see them working seamlessly, what does that sound like?

9. You are winding down, the next DJ is up or it’s the end of the night.  See yourself making a final impact.  What tracks are you playing? Listen to them in your mind.  See yourself packing up your bag.  What do you do next? What are your feelings at the moment that it’s over.

10. Visualize the afterwards.  How are you feeling?  See yourself reflecting on what you did.  Did you learn anything? What are you walking away with that will make you a better DJ?

11. Exit out of the meditation, five more deep breaths.  Sit and reflect on what just happened, write a few thoughts down about the experience (you may have come up with some new musical connections in this exercise, don’t let them slip away from you!)

Now that you have experienced a gig in your mind, it’s time for you to see it come to fruition.  You are a wonderful creative being – now go show the world!

Recap: Visualization is an exercise that has been touted by many experts as a way of drawing out higher creative functions.  This DJ meditation exercise will also help you ascertain your feelings about gigs and any challenges you may face.  Do this exercise a couple of days before a gig or as part of your preparation right before a gig ( ideally do this exercise as part of your inner creative practice ).

Getting To Know Your Tracks

A reader wrote to me about a topic that he has been experiencing and seeing coming up in a lot of conversations with DJs.  I will quote him and then expand on the issues he raises.

“FINALLY finished your thesis.  Loved it. It really got me thinking about some of the problems of having an analog (DJ) mind in a digital (DJ) world.  For example, the idea of spontaneity and creativity I love.  And I never plan my sets more than narrowing down a list of songs from 500 to 50 for example.  The problem I encounter is one that comes up a lot from my conversations with DJ’s – not enough time to really learn your new music.  A recurring theme that seems to be out there is that so many DJ’s want the newest tracks all of the time.  But if you’re always looking for new stuff, you’re never really learning the “old” stuff (and by “old” I mean the tracks from last week that you already played at a gig.) I feel like things are happening so quickly from song concept to production to release to the DJ to the next gig that one of the important arts of being a DJ gets shafted – know your tracks!!  When you buy records you read grooves, listen to the track and really get to know it intimately.  But because of the turnover in music in the digital realm people get just aquainted enough with a track so they can play it once and toss it.  Does that make sense?”

Yes, that absolutely makes sense.  Let’s break down some of the issues raised by this reader.

1) The acceleration of the music production process and distribution

2) The mental model of digital vs. tangible

3) Having time to learn tracks

The acceleration of the music production process and distribution

With the proliferation of production tools, production becoming more ingrained in the DJ career trajectory, and the boon of digital music as a business model for music vendors, there is a vast set of resources and channels for digital music.  The acceleration of the music production queue in the past few years has posed some challenges and new reactions for DJs.   What this uptick in the production/distribution cycle has done has forced DJs to feel more burden on their track selection and preparation process.   Instead of listening to a hundred or so tracks a week, DJs listen to a few hundred tracks a week during their selection process.  Bear in mind that it’s the production process that is in high gear, YOU don’t have to be in high gear with it.  Stay centered and focused on who you are as an artist and filter your track buying process through that lens. You see it’s the music vendor’s business to sell you the latest tracks and have an accessible inventory or back catalogue.   DJ charts, the Top 10, exclusive productions for the site, fire sales – there are a myriad ways to entice you into spending money with them.   What’s happening in your mind is that you convince yourself that you must have the latest tracks in order to be or stay relevant or to emulate a superstar DJ.  I encourage you to rethink that.  Where is that pressure coming from exactly?  Is it really from your audience?  Do you really need to have the Top 10 downloaded every week? What does it really mean to have the latest tracks in relation to what you already have in your discography?

The mental model of digital vs. tangible

There is an interesting way people view the digital world vs. the tangible world.  People perceive ( and this happens with anything that is a tangible product that is also available in the digital realm, like newspapers or magazines for example ) digital products as much cheaper to produce and buy than a tangible product.  The expectation is that it must be less expensive for digital.  It is a well known fact that records are more expensive than digital music simply because digital music is cheaper to produce – there is no vinyl to press or ship and house at a warehouse.  What happens with the mental model of digital music is that because it is less expensive to buy, it is also disposable.  As in, it only costs a buck so I can take it or leave it.  I insist that this mental model is clogging up your creative process. You become accustomed to filtering your track selection process based on a disposable construct instead of a creative construct and you are left with a bloated discography that isn’t much use other than giving yourself the false sense that you have a lot of tracks to draw from.  Quality over quantity people!  Whether you shop for vinyl or digital music is irrelevant – the way your decision making process is executed is relevant.  Pretend the digital track you purchase cost 5 bucks instead of a dollar and see what happens then.  Is it a track that fits who you are?  Is it a track you genuinely love? Don’t buy it right away because of a bassline and it’s price – really think about it and take the extra time to listen repeatedly or revisit the sample in a couple of days.  If you still feel excited about it, then buy it.  A DJ said to me, looking at his flash drive: “You know, this flash drive is worth $2000, I have 2000 tracks on it.” So if you think a dollar here and a dollar there doesn’t add up – it does – and maybe you’re not even utilizing half of that.

Having time to learn tracks

One of the larger concepts I want DJs to understand with the Behind The Decks project is that creativity must be a habit.  You must touch it every day.  If you are truly committed to growing as a DJ you must do something every day to keep progressing as an artist.  One of the easiest ways to do that is to listen to music.  If you feel you have fallen out of touch with your discography or need to learn your new tracks, build time every day to listen to them, take them with you on your commute, or play a few records every day.  Don’t be lazy!  Don’t think because you know the track or you’ve listened to it once, you REALLY know it.  You need to constantly be refreshing your mind with input in order to make the proper connections musically.   It’s just that simple, make the time.  Listen to a track a few times before you move on to something else.  The point is that you MUST make time to do this exercise, and do it every day in order to really know your tracks.  “You’ll never crush your own mediocrity working only a few hours a week.” – Robert Bruce, poet.

Recap:  The industry is accelerated, don’t buy into it.  Do not treat your decisions as disposable.  Learning your tracks must be a habit.

The Next Level

 

There’s a high level concept called The Liminality that I think is very interesting and relevant for DJs.  I will try to explain the concept and then talk about how it relates to your creative work.

The limen is actually the sliver of light that peeks through when a door has been opened.   So in essence when you open a door you are hit with a light, a break in the threshold between the door and a wall.  The concept of The Liminality is the point you reach when you have mastered established rules and then cross over, experience a liminality, and you begin to operate within a new rule set.  “During a liminal experience, you are moving from a time when you know the rules and the expectations, to a time when you must create new rules for yourself and expect the unexpected.” ( Moote, 2005, 91 )

There are times when a DJ crosses over – some of those times can be thrilling and some of those times can be frightening.  You don’t know what’s on the other side of that door yet you are excited by this new light ahead of you.

Here are some exciting liminalities:

1) You’ve had a breakthrough on a new genre

2) You’ve had a happy accident and are challenged to recreate it and run with it

3) You’ve reached another level or a new set of emotions during your “zone” moment

4) You’ve garnered a response from the dancefloor with something you put on that you never expected would resonate

Here’s what can be frightening:

1) You don’t know what to do with this new information

2) You’re afraid it might change you completely or affect all the hard work you’ve been doing in one set of rules

3) While the new set of rules have presented themselves, you have anxiety on mastering another threshold

Don’t be afraid!  This is growth! DJs wish they can get to the next level whatever it takes.  You have to embrace your liminality, you have to walk through that door.   Believe it or not you can usher in the liminality by doing some things that can help you see the light.

The first thing you need to understand is you need to be open to risk.   Following the established rules of DJing only helps you get a foundation for creating.  You  must let go at some point and explore.  “Everyone creates with the same tools, the same supplies.  There is no need for risk.  Just do it like the teacher (or DJ guide) says.  Read the product guide or pick up any number of magazines that have been created for artists.  And then you wake up one day and think, ‘I’d like to try . . .’ You create something new, just for you.  Is it safe? Will it fit in? Do you care? You are on the threshold of new territory.  If you keep exploring, you might find yourself in the middle of a liminal experience.” ( Moote, 2005, 92)

So now we have established what kind of mindset you need to have in order to embrace a liminal experience.

Here are some ideas on how to recognize and facilitate it.

1) Get Rid of Dead Weight

In my post on Why Do You DJ? ( here ) I talk about having passion for your discography and questioning what it contains.  Now,  I’m not suggesting any DJ gets rid of their music EVER  ( don’t EVER do that ), but it may be time for a little housecleaning and storage.   This is getting rid of some of your dead weight.  Other dead weight could be some of the people you hang around with, people that don’t believe in you, don’t understand or will never understand your passion.  This is not to say dump these people ( some of them may be your own family and I don’t condone dropping relationships with family and loved ones over DJing ).  What I mean is being mindful of who you share your passion with.  You want a supportive and understanding DJ circle.  Seek out those who salute you, not rebuke you.  Finally, dead weight could mean a residency or gig that is just not working for you.  I know it’s hard, but think about the time you could be spending working on you instead of a soul and creative sucking gig that gets you nowhere.

2) Set Aside the Time

You need to block out time to be creative.  That’s a fact.  Whether it’s listening to tracks, exposing yourself to other art, practicing, or going through your DJ ritual ( I talk about ritual in my paper here ) – that time must be free of distractions and not rushed.  In order to do that you need to work that time into your life somehow.  You need to close the door on the outside world if your liminal door is going to open.   Removing the intrusive nature of daily life and stress allows you to meditate more closely during your creative process.  Call it your “DJ Time” and own it!

3) Record Yourself

A lot of DJs swear by recording their practice and live sessions.  I know a lot of you don’t do that.  I know why.  You’re afraid of hearing the mistakes, of the potentiality of how awful you may be.  I’m going to tell you that in every practice/live session there is a liminal moment.  When you listen back to your session you will discover something new, something positive, something that will draw you to crossing over a threshold.   It may take the form of one mix that is perfect, or an effect you place that works – you will draw at least one thing that you can build on.  Who cares if the rest is crap – all it takes is just one moment in the whole thing that can inspire you to embrace a new rule set.

4) Reflect

Reflect on everything you do as a DJ.  That means after a gig, thinking about what you did RIGHT.  A lot of times, DJs beat themselves up about what they did WRONG.  Try and change your mindset.  While it’s important to think about what you did that contributed to the bad situations that happened during a gig ( or a practice session ) – reframe to what you did RIGHT, what worked, what zone moment you had, and try to trace back what you did to get there.  There may be times when nothing went right in your opinion.  Ok, then think about how you can learn from that experience.  This is important: reflecting inserts new thoughts and ideas into your mind.  Those thoughts and ideas get processed and recalled for later moments.  This is about constantly refreshing your mind with new thoughts so that you can recognize in the future a liminal moment.

I know it’s a lot to consider and for every DJ their thresholds and the moments they occur are different.   Recognizing that these thresholds exists, when they happen, why they happen and what you can do about them will help you greatly in your creative process.  You can’t force a liminal moment, but you can recognize it for what it is – an open door to the next level.

Recap: Liminality is a threshold.  Don’t be afraid of it.  Drop the dead weight, make the time, record and reflect.

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

Source: “Seeking Liminality: Making the Most of Threshold Experiences”, Cheryl Moote, Inspiring Creativity, 2005.

Why Do You DJ?

I first read “How To DJ Properly” about 10 years ago and was inspired by what Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton said in the introduction.  “You need to know that DJing isn’t really about celebrity, or money, or pulling power, it’s about music.” (Brewster, Broughton, 2002, 16)

First of all, I love this book, it has been my go to book over the years when I get stuck or just when I need to remind myself why I do this.  I have told many DJs they should have it in their library – it’s mandatory in my opinion for any DJ, experienced or not.

The essential thread in the book is that loving music is the foundation for any great DJ.   I would like to add to that.  It’s about passion.   Nearly every creative process book I’ve read so far talks about having passion for what you do.  Frank and Bill nail it down to passion about music.

You see passion is what gets you through the TRAINWRECKS of the creative process, and trainwrecks in general.   Passion is what lifts you when you face rejection after rejection, or empty and non-responsive dancefloors, or just feeling stuck.  Passion is what directs you to listen to yourself when you need to try something new or keep going when you’ve discovered something is working.   Passion is what gets you up in the morning to practice. I’ve had DJs tell me they get up an hour early before work just to practice some mixes or listen to tracks – they must touch Dj’ing in some way to get them through the day when they are not DJ’ing – that’s passion!  Every human being experiences passion at some point in their lives – it’s one of those universal human emotions.  If you connect to it, you will help others connect to it.  That’s what your audience wants from you.

Also, if you are passionate, others will see that in you – it’s something that spreads like wildfire.  I have seen the difference in energy on dancefloors when you can feel a DJ is passionate about what they’re doing and when a DJ is unsure, or tired, or unresolved, or genuinely unhappy about the situation.   Now DJs share their passion in different ways.   Some are laser focused, lovingly directing their passion in what they are doing – you can still tell the difference between a DJ that’s focused and loving, and one that is apathetic.  Some DJs want to connect to the crowd more directly – dancing, eye contact, smiling, throwing hands up in the air – when they genuinely are having a great time. You can tell the difference between a DJ that is really loving the music and what they’re doing and a DJ that is just throwing their hands up in the air.   The bottom line is people always can tell so you need to be sure, deep down inside about your passion point.

Passion also forces you to stand behind your music.  Bruce Tantum said to me, “I never played a record I didn’t like”.  That’s powerful.  Think about it, look at your discography – how big is your secret stash in comparison to the rest of your collection.  In Bruce’s case his entire discography – all 3000 records – IS his secret stash.   If the percentage of your discography is not close to at least well, all of your secret stash – you may have trouble getting to that passionate place in yourself.  What I mean is if your discography, your go to box of music, is filled with tracks you are not passionate about, how can you drum up the passion to practice and to share your creativity.  Now some of you need or want, “just in case” tracks.  I understand that, every DJ understands that.   Some tracks are “bridge” tracks that you know you can drop to help you transition between genres or dimensions.   But if a significant portion of your discography contains “just in case tracks” you will be a “just in case” DJ – that limits your passion and the passion you express to others.

Here’s an exercise for you:  look at your track collection and pick 10 songs that you cannot live without.  Don’t just pick songs you got recently, really dig into your “crate” and pick ten songs.  Songs that if you were stranded on a desert island you could listen to for the rest of your life.   Don’t evaluate them yet, just pick them out.   Now, pretend those are the only tracks you have – forget about your collection.   Now, listen to every track once.  Don’t think you just know them because they’re your favorites.  Listen to them, really listen.   Now you can evaluate them – but evaluate them in terms of what they signify about you.   What are the elements of these tracks that are similar?  What sounds are you hearing that may be consistent through all of them?  Is there one theme or word that describes all ten?  These are your passion tracks.   If you have identified what makes these songs resonate with you – and this exercise may take some time and  you may need to revisit it – then you have identified your passion sound.  Now, when you listen to new tracks you will evaluate new tracks in relation to what your passion sounds are and this will help you build a discography that you are passionate about practicing and playing out with.   You may have noticed that I did not say genre in this exercise.  I want you to be genre agnostic – I want you to go deeper than genre, I want you to be passionate about sound.

Recap:  It’s about the music.  It’s about passion.  Passion is what gets you through the TRAINWRECKS.  Passion is expressive.  Passion is your filter for sounds.

Did you find this interesting and want to share your thoughts – drop me a line!

“It’s Not What You Create, It’s THAT You Create”

One of the things that I’m discovering is that DJs put so much pressure on themselves about a mix, that sometimes it becomes about the mix and less about having fun and enjoying the process.   I know that a lot of times, it’s hard work, but there should be enjoyment and exhilaration during that work – passion!  It’s supposed to be satisfying. hard. work. So what is really going on here?

“Miriam Webster’s defines creativity as “to bring into existence something new”.  The crucial point is that creativity is not defined as the new thing produced; it is the act of bringing it forth.” (Quinlan, 2005, 8 )

The definition focuses on the act of bringing, not the thing that is brought into the world.  How does this relate to DJ creativity?  A lot of your creating happens when you’re by yourself – you need to focus on you and that’s important.  The downside of that is you are also alone with your thoughts and anxiety, that’s part of the creative process.   However, that anxiety will put pressure on your mind and you will focus on an end game. You can’t judge who you are as an artist solely on what happens as the result of your creative process. You will have enough people judging you in your mind, don’t do that to yourself.  So if you focus on the act of creating, you will be in a better position to listen to yourself when you feel you might be going in the wrong direction, or know when you’re hitting a wall, or feel an illumination happening – if you’re so focused on the mix ( or set or the end game of whatever you’re doing ) you’re missing out on important creative cues that can lead you to very interesting paths. You need to experience your art WHILE you are making it.   Let yourself make mistakes – forgive yourself for them – it’s just you and the decks. So your mix is your creativity in a final form, it is not the only representation of your creativity.

Another aspect of this is perspective about yourself.  You are not your mix.  The mix is YOU.  You are other things as a DJ – there’s a spectrum of characteristics you embody that are outside of that sixty minute download.  Who knows MAYBE there are other things at play that are causing mistakes, a bad recording session or even a happy deviation. So what if you’re practicing and your beats are galloping over and over.  That doesn’t mean you’re not creative – that means you’re having a frustrating moment with technique and you will get it if you keep trying.  See the difference?  Don’t let yourself spiral!

It’s a DJ cultural thing, I think, that puts a lot of emphasis on the mix.  It makes sense as that’s the main way a listener can understand a DJs point of view.  I don’t think culturally the emphasis should change, but I believe you should consider reflecting on how that emphasis impacts you while you are creating.

Some of you work from themes – something overarching that you want to communicate in your mix and some of you start more from within, with one track and build out.  Understanding your approach and immersing yourself in it will help lessen the impact of what that mix will be while you’re putting it together.  It’s more about keeping things open-ended and fighting off rigidity.  What I mean is that sticking to your original plan may not be where your DJ muse wants to take you. You need to let things happen, and you need to learn from them.  Doing so allows for your essence to come into the process which ultimately makes your mix and what you put out there more individual and unique.

“It’s not what you create, it’s THAT you create” – Kathleen Quinlan

Recap:  Creativity is the act of bringing forth, not the thing.  Experience your art while you are making it. The mix is YOU.  Know your approach.

Did you find this interesting and would like to share your thoughts?  Drop me a line!

Source: Inspiring Creativity – An Anthology of Powerful Insights and Practical Ideas to Guide You to Successful Creating – by Rick Benzel