Archive for the ‘ DJ Culture ’ Category

The Metropolitan Museum of Art – DJ Spooky

DJ Spooky courtesy of The Met

DJ Spooky courtesy of The Met

I am absolutely thrilled about DJ Spooky’s artist residency at The Met.  This is PROOF that if you channel your creativity as a DJ, have an open mind when it comes to being influenced, play with different mediums and genres, you can do powerful things!  It makes me so happy that an established artistic institution is recognizing DJing as an art form.  This has made my year!

Here is more information about the residency:

As part of The Met Reframed, Paul D. Miller, a.k.a., DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid (www.djspooky.com), engages Museum visitors through performances, panel discussions, conversations, workshops, and gallery tours. Highlights include a newly commissioned work inspired by the upcoming exhibition Photography and the American Civil War, a gallery talk led by DJ Spooky in the Oceanic Galleries, and a participatory concert using DJ Spooky’s iPhone/iPad app.

DJ Spooky’s recorded output includes remixes of music ranging from Wu-Tang Clan, Metallica, and Bob Marley to classical/new music legends Steve Reich and the Kronos Quartet, and he has performed as a DJ at major festivals, including Bonnaroo and Power to the Peaceful. His work as a media artist has been featured at the Whitney Biennial, Venice Biennial, and Miami/Art Basel; and his first collection of essays, Rhythm Science, was released by MIT Press in 2004, followed by Sound Unbound, an anthology of writings on electronic music and digital media (MIT Press, 2008).

The Met Reframed is made possible by Marianna Sackler.

Need DJ Inspiration? Go To The Movies!

 

Photo Credit: Stereo Club of Southern Californa

I’m a firm believer that you need to know your history to get a sense of your present and see the patterns that can help define your future.  I do want to comment though that the idea that things will be the same again, like the way we used to do it, is already a closed chapter.  The conditions and environment and tastes and music are just not the same to completely recreate the vibe of the past – enjoy the nostalgia for what it is.  Innovation is taking the best from the past and bringing into the present as a fresh perspective.  Which is why I think you should schedule yourself some DJ inspiration movie marathon time.  Beatport has come out with a list of the best Detroit Techno documentaries ever made.  This doesn’t have to be about techno, there are a ton of hip-hop, house, and rave documentaries to mine for inspiration. DJ Tech Tools has a regular column devoted to DJ/Producer documentaries.  The point is to get to know the heroes that made it happen and if you were one of the lucky ones to go through the experience while it was happening, see what you can do to honor it.

The 10 best Detroit techno documentaries ever – Beatport News.

Even More Documentaries for Producers and DJs – DJ Tech Tools

DJ STEREOTYPES

DJ Pauly D For SK Energy Shots

<begin rant/>

I’m heading into very controversial waters here but something has been nagging me for a long time.  In the past few years I have noticed an increase in the use of the DJ image as a prop or selling tool.  Far be it from me to stop the machine from promoting what we do but the executions are such trainwrecks it begs the question of what’s the point?  Brands, typically, like to target a certain demographic of people – usually young usually hip.  So if the current zeitgeist is DJ friendly you will see DJing everywhere – in commercials, in print, in movies, on billboards, in advertising in general.  My issue with this is that brands and their marketers really aren’t very savvy when it comes to profiling DJing in the work.  Have you ever noticed a commercial where you can just tell the person is not a real DJ and just an actor.  That burns.  There are so many DJs out there, why not use a real one!  Or how about the major screw up in the Smirnoff campaign where there is a dude hunched down in an exaggerated DJ pose (of course there’s a gorgeous lady looking intently at him) and there are NO slipmats or needles on the decks.  Google it, trust me, MAJOR screw up.

When I see these things I think of that scene in Goodfellas where Joe Pesce keeps saying to Ray Liotta, “What am I fucking clown? Am I here to amuse you?”  I really feel we are here to amuse people sometimes.  There is stereotyping going on and whether it’s a caricature or not it gives people a really mixed message about what DJs are and what they do – which is a HUGE complaint in DJ culture – the lack of understanding from mass audiences about what we do.  So in essence, these messages are perpetuating an idea that we are props and in some cases the clown or party jester.  It’s nice to know that we are considered the embodiment of cool in a social setting, but do it right!

I will say there are some instances where it is done right.  Case in point, is the Blackberry campaign that profiled The Martinez Brothers in quite a thoughtful and sweet way.  They showed them playing their own music and just talking about what they do.  Sure were they shilling for a gadget, of course, but I don’t think it’s wrong for a DJ to endorse a tool that makes their lives easier (whether it’s for real or not).  The point is that it felt authentic, not a send up, no hype, real artists.

I was lucky enough to consult on a video shoot that had a party scene for a popular website.  The producer, Maryann Rounseville, took great pains in wanting a real DJ not only to capture in the video but also to play real music during a full day shoot because she knew the value of a real DJ and keeping the energy of all the actors and crew up and happy.  That’s rare and I applaud her for that approach and sensitivity.

Finally I just to want leave you with the image above of Pauly D.  I was walking in Times Square and this huge billboard was up.  I have mixed feelings about it.  Again, I do not want to fault a DJ for endorsing a product but is this the best way to show who we are with illustrated decks, cutesy musical notes, hands in the air with no crowd and just product product product?  I’m thinking no.

Pay attention to what’s going on if you aren’t already.  You’re going to start noticing it and the next time you ask yourself why don’t people get it, you may want to consider stereotyping as a possibility.
</end rant>

THE ADDICTED DJ

The physical toll of DJing – disrupted circadian rhythm, back pain from being hunched over, standing on your feet for hours on end, jet lag, headaches and tinnitus are very real conditions.  But one thing we don’t talk about enough is addiction.

There’s this romantic notion of the addict artist. History is full of writers or painters that used substances to tap into or accelerate the creative process for their art.  But let’s be honest, in the end most eventually struggled in their art, succumbed to their addiction and left the earth too early.  DJing is no different.  It’s especially troublesome since DJing is attributed to nightlife and partying. You have an extremely volatile situation for a lot of vulnerable people.  There are plenty of reasons to keep your head clear and take care of yourself physically.  It’s so you don’t burn out faster than you need to and maintain a professional reputation.   I’ve spoken with DJs who struggle with staying sober, or fairly sober, while spinning and it’s challenging.  You have a long night ahead of you and it’s really hard to keep that energy up and also, you feel you need to be on the same “wavelength” as the audience.

I’m no saint and I don’t judge.  What I’m saying is that I think there is this side to DJing we don’t talk about and that is substance abuse.  I can’t get into a whole discussion about addiction and the different perspectives of it, I’m not qualified to do that.  I just know it’s a real issue in our culture.

There’s another issue I want to bring to light as well that we don’t talk about.  I’ve had DJs tell me they wish the audience weren’t on so many drugs or so wasted.  We all know that time of the night where everyone is “cracked out” and you as the DJ are forced to deal with it and it sucks.  You wonder, are they really hearing what I’m playing, am I really connecting with these people that seem to be pitching back and forth and face planting in front of my booth?

While we may never be able to truly change the fact that some people overuse or abuse, we can acknowledge the effects this part of our culture has on its artists and its people. At some point it’s time to really talk about these things.  At some point it’s time to start saying, this is not ok, this is unhealthy, this is not moving us forward.

I’ve found some great alternatives and people who are trying to imbibe health and wellness towards music, dancing and DJing.

Get Your Dance On: http://www.getyourdanceon.net/

Sadhu Music and Anthony Granata that put on Electric Yoga: http://www.crsny.org/blog/1866

The Immaculate Electronica Group: http://www.meetup.com/immaculate-electronica-NY/

If you think you need help please tell someone or contact your local substance abuse hotline.

ATTACK OF THE 50FT HOUSE HEAD

The New York Dance Music Coalition just posted this article from Forbes titled “House Music Has Become a Global Phenomenon” by Dan Schwabel a contributor who writes about workplace trends and culture shifts.  Right away, you’re probably thinking what is a workplace trends guy doing writing about House music.  Well, I guess the fact that he writes about culture shifts covers it?  I think it’s kind of a broad distinction and a cop out to cover an entire subculture.  I’m not going to critique the article – I will leave that up to you.   What I find actually FASCINATING are the comments posted by people on the article – that’s the real gem here.  I will share with you some of the more colorful commentary and I encourage you to monitor this article series (Schwabel intends to post over the course of a few weeks interviews with top DJs) as well as contribute your thoughts on the comment threads.

To date the following responses that I find hilarious:

“Thank you Captain Obvious!” – Jeremy R.

“Insert personal story, brief 80′s paragraph about house music in Chicago, and a group of 30K ft-level summarizations about popular house music events/realities already well know…Effective means of roping in a younger audience to forbes media. Darn it, Got Me! Cheers. I look forward to the articles beginning Monday..” – Bobby Cottrell

“House music has brought together people from different social classes and different colors and ethnic backgrounds well before Guetta. I do not like that he is given credit here for something that was done by the masses, not just him.” – Elliot Matos

“All the people mentioned in that article have NOTHING to do with HOUSE MUSIC! Isn’t it so annoying when people who nothing about a scene or culture attempt to write about it. It’s POP, period. That’s it. Nothing else. It sucks like most other modern pop. Pop was good in the 60′s and that’s it. Forbes stick to proper finance. Music industry is not a good example of proper business. Stick to oil, gas, gold, banks et al.

That is all.” – Nick Navaro

The reason I’m sharing this with you is because anytime you believe, as a DJ, that no one gets you or the scene is dead this is a quick shot in the arm to remind you that people actually do care and are invested in maintaining the integrity of the culture.  Consider the reaction and the ferocity of it against a publication like Forbes – these people are not buying into the BS and they are being vocal about it.

Segue into a new DJ tool I was turned onto called TopDeejays.com.  As someone who is very critical on any kinds of data and analysis of our culture I think these guys nailed it.  The information on the site is based on a number of data points that factor into a DJs popularity.  They also do genre trending on a global scale.  AND you can register a DJ to help build the largest database of DJs out there.  It is your one stop shop for DJ data!  I know it seems like I’m crazy about these measurements (see: DJ Mag Top 100: Why The Controversy) but it’s time we are smarter than mass media – even if it’s publications that document our culture.  Or else we have Forbes speaking on our behalf – yikes!

THE GIFT

Part of my work as a DJ coach and Behind The Decks is to read and absorb everything there is to know about the creative process.  I have piles of books I’ve torn through and refer to constantly.  I just started reading Lewis Hyde’s “The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World”.  I’m already struck by some of the ideas presented in the introduction.

Essentially, art is a gift.  For something to be called artistic there must be a gift component inherent within it.  Even in commercial respects, where a work or performance can be sold and purchased, if there is not a gift within it – it ceases to be art.  The act of giving of yourself, sharing a musical experience, presenting something that extends the relationship between yourself and the audience, facilitating a relationship exchange between other people in your audience is what DJs do.  So, if what DJs provide is a musical presentation (the gift) that is shared and co-opted by others and then shared again creating additional relationships – how is what we do NOT art!  I dare anyone to challenge me otherwise.

I’ve sat in on conversations with DJs and there always seems to be a debate on what is commercial or artistic DJing.  This debate is essential for the DJ to understand, work through, and find their place in the whole culture.  Where a DJ resides with what they do helps them to adjust and adapt to the challenges they may face in their art, or choose to forgo it entirely in pursuit of something more market driven (and there’s challenges within that too).

I have a possible answer to the commercialization of DJing that DJs seem to be so preoccupied with.  Here’s the thing, whatever commercialization that concerns you – how are you so sure that is not a gift to the audience that receives it?  Just because you don’t see it as art does not mean there isn’t a gift or sharing attached to it for someone else.  Who are you to judge the gift another DJ offers just because you choose not to receive it? Probably not the answer you wanted to hear, but BS excuses and pettiness are not part of my vocabulary.

Now, in relation to yourself personally, when you work on your “DJ stuff” do you think about the gift you bring?  Do you think about what you are sharing?  If you feel you are becoming a robot or feel you are on a paper chase constantly, look inward and try and recapture what it is you are really doing.  See Why Do You DJ? for some additional grounding if you need it.  The point is that for you to truly make art, you need to look at it as a gift.

Here are some quotes from the book I’m interpreting for DJs that might help you understand this perspective.

Art vs. Commodities:

“What is it about a work of art, even when it is bought and sold in the market, that makes us distinguish it from . . . pure commodities? A work of art is a gift, not a commodity. . . works of art exist simultaneously in two “economies”, a market economy and a gift economy.  Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift, there is no art.” (Hyde, pg 16)

Dancefloor, Community, Relationship between DJ and Audience:

“Unlike the sale of a commodity, the giving of a gift tends to establish a relationship between the parties involved. When gifts circulate within a group, their commerce leaves a series of interconnected relationships in its wake, and a kind of decentralized cohesiveness emerges.” (Hyde, pg 20)

Why you may feel discouraged in light of commercialization of DJing or Superstar DJ success:

“The mythology of the market society . . . getting rather than giving is the mark of a substantial person, and the hero is “self-possessed”, “self-made”.  So long as this assumption rules, a disquieting sense of triviality, of worthlessness even, will nag the man or woman who labors in the service of the gift and whose products are not adequately described as commodities.” (Hyde, pg 16)

I’m sure as I get further into this book there will be more insights to share.  Remember, DJing is a gift, you are the facilitator of the act of giving and receiving, and that’s what makes you an artist!  Now go practice!

DJ Mag Top 100 – It’s Not DJ Mag’s Fault There Are No Women, It’s Ours.

Source: Spinoff Comics

In Part 2 of my review of the DJ Mag Top 100 DJs controversy ( for Part 1 go here: Why The Controversy? ) I’m tackling the issue of why there aren’t any women on the list.  In years past there used to be women in the top 100 but this year there aren’t any – not one.  And people are really pissed off about it.  However, I think the public statements about this only hit the tip of the iceberg.  Peaches told DJ mag to go eat a dick – which I think is placing blame in the wrong place, although personally I appreciate her hutzpah. Hanna Hanra from The Guardian goes into how tough it is for women today and the overall general disrespect women face when playing out ( Why are there no female DJs on DJ Mag’s top 100 list? ) – an important topic but not the core reason.

If we are to assume the list is generated by mainstream tastes – who are the most recognizable DJs – and assuming DJ Mag’s main demographic is male, the lack of women DJs on the list can be due to the fact that we are not mainstream or male.  Sorry to say, but there are no women selling out stadiums or working with top 40 artists in the way that David Guetta is for example.  Fiona Walsh, founder of Clubber’s Guide NY, offers this opinion: “The followers of DJs like David Guetta and Armin Van Buren, while both men and women, tend to skew towards young men. I think the DJs we know and like who are women are not necessarily making the kind of ‘popular’ music like Guetta and AVB! We need a female DJ version of someone like Lady Gaga or Madonna!” I’m not going to get into a who’s who of the best female artists – for that check out SheJay’s Top 100 Female DJ list (thank goodness someone did it!) because I want to address the question of why women are not top of mind in this vote.  First – there aren’t that many of us, and second, culturally, we are not considered authority figures.

There Aren’t That Many Of Us:

I’m trying to find a statistic on the percentage of female DJs versus male DJs and it’s tough because no one is really calculating these kind of things but if I could take a wild guess I would say that female DJs account for maybe 10% of the global population of DJs. Now, one of the reasons why there aren’t many of us isn’t just the barriers that are presented to us when we enter DJing or are active with it – it starts much earlier than that.  There have been studies done on how girls and boys are socialized in this world.  While boys are taught and encouraged to understand mechanics at a young age, girls are taught to be more conceptual or focus on dolls and being pretty.  Boys = told they are smart and encouraged be individualistic (you are alpha).  Girls = told they are pretty and to think of others before themselves (you are beta).  I had to fight for my right to be a tomboy when I was a kid.  While playing with my Matchbox cars and Legos asserting my dominance with the boys in my neighborhood because I was the only girl and didn’t have a choice, my mother was trying to ease Barbies into my play and telling me that when I say something I should say it in the form of a question so as not to offend people.  Girls are not socialized to understand how things work from an engineering standpoint and therefor we grow up a little bit behind the curve on that.  It takes a special kind of woman to unlearn that socialization and go against that DNA.  For women in general, the idea of circuitry, gear, individualism, and being Alpha is a side of our minds we need to tap into, and it’s not something that is nurtured in our culture.  Hence a possible reason why more women aren’t getting into DJing.

We Aren’t Viewed As Authorities

There’s something that is already inherent in male privilege and that is that men are automatically considered a leader or an authority.  It is our culture basically to give men that level of respect without question.  Women are generally not considered born leaders – we have to earn it and in some cases fight for it.  We have to work twice as hard to be thought of as half as good – with anything.  Now, what is a DJ?  A DJ is considered an authority in music, the leader of the experience, the architect of the journey.  That understanding and energy is automatically attributed to a male perspective and for women it’s not an attribute automatically given to us.   So it should be no surprise that men are generally more respected and known in the DJ community – it’s human nature to think of them first when considering who is best in a given domain, especially one that is as male dominated as DJ’ing.  Also, fans and DJs who revere another DJ is in a lot of cases because they want to BE that DJ – it’s an emulative feeling.  So, if the voters are mostly male they will probably vote for men as that is who they want to emulate ( the authority, the skill, the talent, etc. ) This is why when the DJ Mag Top 100 list comes out there are hardly any women on it – because when people vote in an open ballot system without prompting (as in “hey, don’t forget to think of women in your votes”), they think of the men first, and the rest of us, not at all.

Now, I know what I’m saying is disappointing and difficult to hear because we all want to believe that DJ’ing is a fair and equitable art to pursue, but it’s not sometimes.  Once we understand the essence of why women are not in the same position as men in DJ’ing we can do something about it.  The  main insight for women here is that we can use our socialization to our advantage – we are brought up to be nurturers, caretakers, artistic and conceptual.  Well, that’s what a DJ is as well!  The DJ is a caretaker and nurturer of a good time, a therapist catering to the many emotions experienced on a dance floor.  Women are goddesses of establishing purpose in art and instilling self-worth in people.  We are highly musical because we are emotional and empathic beings.  We can also channel our frustration and anger in being discounted back into our DJing and fight to change things: through music, collaboration, and support. We are going to understand why things are the way they are, and we’re going to do something about it.  It is our collective responsibility to ensure that women’s contribution in DJing is recognized and honored.  DJ culture is asking us to do that – the proof is in the list.

DJ Mag’s Top 100 DJs – Why The Controversy? Part 1

Disclaimer: I voted this year online and viewed the results online.  If anything I say in this post is inaccurate, as I do not have access to the print version of DJ Mag, PLEASE bring it to my attention.  Thank you.

Few things cause more controversy in DJ land as DJ Mag‘s Top 100 DJs list that comes out every year.  Based on an open ballot system where people actually write in their favorite DJs it is constructed in a way to try to accurately determine who are the world’s top DJs.   What I find fascinating is the things we can actually learn just by looking at the list in an analytical way.  Because the votes are write in only it could be suggested that DJ Mag’s Top 100 reflects truly the pulse of what people like.  However, being someone who likes to analyze this kind of information I can’t help but offer my opinion on what is going on and how it can be done better.

If you are a DJ and you haven’t voted in DJ Mag’s Top 100 vote I highly encourage you to do so.  Without input from us what you end up getting is mostly results of the current fanbase which is fine and we might need to look at the results in that way.  I’m curious as to the percentage of DJs vs. fans that actually vote – a metric that I think is important for DJs to understand when looking critically at the results.  As we all know there are DJ’s DJs and there are fans DJs.  What is most important to understand from the results is that the methodology in collecting them is as fair and open as it gets. So it’s kind of like, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain about the results.

I do not question DJ Mag’s purpose or hands off involvement.  I do not think it’s rigged (maybe I’m being naive), I think it’s an accurate summary of what’s going on.  However, I contend that some underlying truths have not been revealed because they’re actually not being captured. There is a bigger story here that I think is missing in the discussion and the controversy this list causes.  First, it’s context.  I do not claim to know DJ Mag’s exact demographic – some say it’s a mainstream magazine that caters to more commercial tastes in DJs, others feel it’s the best publication out there covering everything there is in DJ land above ground and underground, I think it’s a little bit of both – serving DJs and fans.  So we must understand the audience and the context of DJ Mag as a publication before we can really analyze the results for what they are.  Since we don’t really know that information to be sure, arguing about the results is a little misdirected.  Secondly, the list is just a list.  The only information that is captured is name, email address, location, gender and your votes.  There’s no information presented as to percentage of people from certain locations or gender breakdowns on voters, which could be presented but isn’t.  So we don’t really learn anything more than a vote tally ( which is a missed opportunity on DJ Mag’s part in my opinion ).

There’s two crucial things we as DJs need to know about this list before we can make any judgement on the results.  First, what is the DJ vs. Fan breakdown in voters and secondly, what is the criteria people use to decide to vote for a DJ.  If DJ Mag could ask a simple question such as “Why are you choosing this DJ for your vote?” there would be a big learning here – basically why people choose who they choose. This is an oversimplified method to be sure, but I’m just putting it out there that this is information that can be shared. It could quell a lot of the controversy or at least open up an honest and informed conversation about DJ’ing – from what is expected of us to what is considered a measure of success.  If we do not know exactly what is going on, we can’t address it or change it.

My opinion is when people get upset or there’s controversy over something like this it’s because they’re not getting the full story – the WHY.  If all that is being offered is the WHO then it’s no surprise that people ( DJs and Fans alike ) get upset about this list.  It’s simply, they want to learn more about WHAT this information means ( to them and the culture at large ) and they are left with too many open questions about it.

On October 27th DJ Mag came out with two points of order on their Facebook wall:

Two points of order.

1. DJ mag is merely the guardian of the poll. It does not reflect our taste in music.

2. The poll is not solely an EDM poll – it is open to every DJ – from Chinese Hip Hop artists to scratch DJ’s

As to there being no female DJ’s on the list we are as surprised as you are, as there are a number of 1st class female DJ’s across various genres.

However the vote is an open and public vote and the Top 100 reflects the choice of you the voter.

I intend to address these points in future posts but I want to put it out there that we as DJs need to pay attention not only to what these results are telling us but also that there’s more that needs to be learned before we make assumptions as to what it all means.  We need to be fair about it – even if we’re unhappy with it – there’s a lot to learn from something like this, even more than we’d like to admit.

For my DJ Mag’s Top 100 DJs Part 2 – It’s Not DJ Mag’s Fault There Are No Women – It’s Ours go here: http://behindthedecks.org/2011/11/23/dj-mag-top-100-its-not-dj-mags-fault-there-are-no-women-its-ours/

UPDATE 11/25/11: DJ Tech Tools has done a very interesting analysis on the list “using stats from social media websites, to see who has the biggest following”.  To check out their findings and illuminating insights ( the math is sound in my opinion ) go here: http://www.djtechtools.com/2011/11/18/the-dj-techtools-top-100-dj-list/

The DJ Bucket List

When I first started I had this dream that I would someday spin an Essential Mix for BBC Radio 1.   Pete Tong would introduce me, lovingly mispronouncing my last name and I already knew what my last statement track would be ( Hybrid’s “If I Survive” for the curious – although I would pitch it slower a bit from the original BPM ).  It was a serious dream of mine and at one point I really believed I was on my way to achieve it.  Time has passed and I know that I won’t get there – unless I spend a good 5 or 6 more years completely dedicated to the art and have some productions under my belt.  It’s not a terrible reality that I’ve faced, it’s just my window to actually make it happen closed a while ago.  Life happens and you deviate.  But still, it would be a capstone for me if I were ever to do it.   So I started thinking, if I have that as my ultimate accomplishment.  What is yours?

There’s a few things I think DJs want to accomplish or experience in their DJ lifetime.   The bucket list is all the things you would want to do before you pass into the beyond.   I’m not trying to be morbid I’m just trying to get you to think about what you want to accomplish as a DJ and what you want to leave behind as your legacy.

You need to think of DJing and your creativity as a body of work.  So what body of work do you currently have.  Take stock of your mixes, your live sets, your productions (finished or unfinished), your collaborations, even your flyer art.  Look at it as a whole.  What does it say about you as an artist?  The purpose of doing this is so you can see where you are in relation to where you want to be.

Spend some time reflecting on what you do.  Write down whatever comes to mind as things you want to accomplish as a DJ before you go.  Give in to a little fantasizing but make sure you include tangible goals.  Do you want to produce more, do you want to have a certain style figured out – things that you can actively work on now and look back on with pride.  Is there a DJ you appreciate that you would want to talk to, write it down.  Is there a way you want to collaborate that you’ve never done before – write that down.  Do you want to have a show – write that down.  Record label – put it on the list.  Whatever it is don’t limit yourself to what’s possible and what’s not yet – just get it down.  Now take a look at your bucket list.

I bet you have a lot of work to do.

Also, I want you to consider the culture as a whole.  As a participant in DJ culture, you are also a contributor and shaper of it.  For example, another dream of mine when I first started was that I had hoped some day a DJ would play Carnegie Hall.  I don’t know why Carnegie Hall other than for me it is the epitome of classical and established musical performance.   I believed that if a DJ spun Carnegie Hall we would finally be recognized as artists.  So what do you want to see happen for us and what are you doing to make that happen?  I am happy to report that a DJ has spun in Carnegie Hall, in collaboration with a symphony no less.  Here is a link if you want to see the story.  It’s very interesting and inspiring.  DJ Radar w/the Red Bull Artsechro Symphony – Carnegie Hall

One thing I want you to realize is that DJing is a lifetime pursuit.  You may not do all the things on your bucket list but hopefully you are inspired enough to get most of it done.  The best way to feel like you are moving forward is to map the tangible goals and then the big dreams in some sort of order – small steps and hard work feed into bigger accomplishments.  The point is to have a trajectory.  If your big dream is to take the main stage – what do you need to do to get there?  I also want you to feel ok with having “small” dreams too.  I don’t want you to give in to the perception that being a superstar DJ is the epitome of success.  For me, I keep chasing down the ultimate mix, the one that truly exemplifies me as a person and an artist.  Of course, the reality is that I will never be satisfied but it’s fun thinking that there is a perfect mix in my head and I just need to bring it into the world.

Another important thing about this list is to see what you are doing now that might be holding you back.  You may be in a circle of people that don’t understand you, or you may be giving up too much to your audience and losing your “voice”, you may be spending too much time on a project that is not satisfying you.   You need to take serious stock of the things in your life, the gigs that aren’t relevant to you or are soul sucking, the genre you are spinning because it’s “hot” but you’re not feeling it, the time you are spending chasing down the latest top 10 ( See Getting to Know Your Tracks in an Accelerated Landscape ).  What are you doing now that is not proportional towards working on the things on your list.   This is also an exercise to understand what you are NOT doing.  You know if you are not giving your full attention to something.  So what can you do to commit?  In future posts I will talk about some Trainwrecks to creativity but for now – all you have is time, so make the most of it.

Recap: Spend some time writing down what you want to accomplish before you kick it.  Think about how you are going to get there.  Don’t forget the culture or your community and what you are doing to change things.  What’s holding you back and what’s moving you forward?

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.