Archive for the ‘ DJ Grab Bag ’ Category

A DJ Journey Begins – How 9/11 Made Me a DJ

The first time I heard techno I was 16 years old. I was with a bunch of friends. It was summer in upstate New York. We were hanging out on the lawn listening to the college radio station from the car stereo. Then this music came on. It was like we heard it at the same time. We sat up and looked at each other and collectively said “What is this?” I called the radio station in my excitement.  When the DJ got on I said “Hi, my name is Cristina. What is this music?” The DJ said “Hi Cristina, this is Techno.” I asked “What’s the name?” He said, chuckling at me:

“This song is called “Only For The Headstrong”.

One thing you need to understand.  The only music I was exposed to growing up was my mother’s New Age music and my dad’s Cuban percussion. Oh and I played classical music on the piano, by ear ( couldn’t read sheet music to save my life ).

So what do you get when you mix New Age, Cuban percussion, and classical music composition?

Techno.  I was imprinted to appreciate dance music already.

Flash forward a lot of years ( and a lot of clubs and DJ sets ) and I was living and working in the city for 6 years. 6 years I had been in the city and never once had been to The World Trade Center. Not once. The company I worked for at the time wanted me to take a tour of this high tech computer lab on the 75th floor of World Trade Center 1 on – yeah you guessed it – September 11th, 2001 at 8:30am. I was going to meet my rep Todd there for breakfast and then have the tour.

Everyone gives the snooze button on their alarm a bad rap. My snooze button saved my life. I was running about 10 minutes late. I was on the first subway that stopped at Rector street and made the announcement that there had been an explosion in the WTC. I’m not going to get into the rest. I made it out, I saw the towers fall, I walked from Houston and Varick to 95th and 3rd ave – it was like Apocalypse Now, only with lots of bottled water and free pizza.

Here’s the deal. My rep Todd barely made it out alive. He saw things no human being should see. I can recount the things he told me but they are too horrific and not the point right now. He told me there were people who turned right instead of left on the staircase and they never made it out. I could have been right there with him.

I could have made that wrong and fatal turn.

People talk about having moments of clarity. A moment of clarity is when you experience something and it changes your life forever. A moment of clarity is that moment you realize who you want to be is who you really are. When I processed everything it hit me like a ton of bricks. That close call made me think about the last time in my life that I had felt a moment of clarity. It was when I was 16 years old and I heard electronic music for the first time. When I heard it, it changed my life forever.  When I realized I got a second chance, who I wanted to be was who I was all along.

On October 9th, 2001, about one month after my close call, I opened up a cardboard box and heaved out two turntables. I couldn’t believe how heavy they were. As I was carrying them to my ramshackle DJ table I knew that my life would never be the same.

Only for the headstrong, indeed.

( A DJ friend, when I shared this story with him, found ‘Only for the Headstrong’ and I can’t believe I still recognized it after all these years – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFXQfEW5SxU )

TRAINWRECK: DJ Jealousy as a Creative Killer

I want to share some thoughts about a bad habit you may have that can be a trainwreck to your creative process.  It’s jealousy. When you are on the path of creativity it’s difficult not to look and compare yourself to other DJs.   Stop doing that!   Other DJs are on their own path, their own journey, and have their own creative issues that you are probably not aware of.   When you look in the next urinal  ( for the men ) or compare bra sizes ( for the women ) you are doing damage to your process.

Here’s what happens when you compare:

1) You start to adopt a style and process that is not your own

2) You allow anxiety to creep into what you are doing

3) You focus on feelings and emotions that are not relevant to your creative process

4) You justify every action against what another DJ is doing

Here are the consequences:

1) You kill what is essentially YOU

2) You put out divisive energy into the culture

3) You don’t think about what you can do to become a better DJ, you just get more bitter about the fact that you’re “not there yet”

4) You are not advancing musical innovation – you are regurgitating what has already been done

Jealousy is different than modeling.  Modeling is essentially having aspirations and DJ guides that allow you to filter certain choices in your process.  All DJs have other DJs as inspiration but you need to be careful – you do not want to model so closely that you become that other DJ.  When you do that – you are not injecting your voice and point of view into your work and trust me people can tell when you are not being authentic.  If you spend a lot of time studying mixes to try and figure out how a DJ did this or how they did that and copy completely – you are modeling too closely.  However, if a DJ does something eye opening, fitting two disparate genres together in a way that makes sense and you want to try that out – you’re experimenting and learning.

The point is you can’t let jealousy get in the way of what you need to do – and you can’t let it rule your creative process.   If your motivation is that you went and you heard a DJ that inspired you and that made you want to get right to the decks, play music and work on you, that’s one thing.  If you are motivated because you want to become better than that DJ and knock them out – that’s dangerous, because the focus is not on you, the focus is on that DJ.

There’s also the perception of haves and have nots.  But let’s look more closely at that.  What would you consider those DJs that “have”? Do they have more gigs?  Do they have more mixes?  Do they have a bigger fan base? Do they have better gear or access to a studio?  They also have bigger headaches, more pressure, more emails to send out and people to cater to.  The only thing they have more of is options – but that doesn’t mean they are more creative than you.  DJs are not good because of what they have, DJs are good because of who they are as artists.  If you break it down like that you can look at yourself more reasonably and compassionately.  You must be compassionate and patient with yourself in your artistry.  You must also figure out what your values are as a DJ in order to combat the feelings of jealousy.   Your DJ values are what make you unique – they are what frame your process and what you project as an artist.

Here’s a values exercise:  List your top 5 or 10 values as a DJ (they should closely mirror your values as a person – if they are different than start with your values as a person and see how you can incorporate those values into your DJing).  Put them on a post-it note next to your gear set up so that you are reminded of who you are as a DJ and what you value most.

I have included a link to a page that lists all kinds of values.

http://www.stevepavlina.com/articles/list-of-values.htm

If you want to know my values here they are in no particular order:

1) Empathy

2) Engagement

3) Openness

4) Musicality

5) Growth

What the values exercise does is anchor you closely to why you, and only you, are a DJ.  This anchoring will help you deal with those moments where you are comparing yourself to another DJ, for you and you alone hold those values, and they are your own beat.

Recap:  Jealousy keeps the focus off of you.   Modeling is good for learning and experimenting.  Your DJ values anchor you in times when you begin to have feelings of jealousy.  Be yourself!

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