DJ STEREOTYPES

DJ Pauly D For SK Energy Shots

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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.
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HOW TO FIND YOUR DJ STYLE

Credit: John Matthew Photography Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DJs OUTSIDE THE MAINSTREAM

Greetings everyone!  I am happy to announce my partnership with the Dope Underground Beats project.   See me put DJs in the hot seat where I ask them questions about their inspirations and creativity (and they have no choice to answer my questions, because I’m so charming).   After that you get to enjoy watching and listening to an exclusive set, recorded in HD, of each DJ in their element.  If you need new influences, new music, a breath of fresh air if you will, tune in.

Here is more info for you.

Based on two premises, giving back to the DJ community and allowing for safe uninterrupted creative space, the Dope Underground Beats project is dedicated to profiling up and coming DJs and encouraging them to be in their element. The DJs are given one task, play what they want as if no one is watching. Freed of expectations, the DJ is allowed to express their true creative side and let their point of view shine through unencumbered. Mustapha Louafi, the brains behind the DUB project, has been a lifelong DJ and DJ community supporter. He carefully selects each DJ based on their individuality and musical sentience.

Each set is paired with an interview by Behind The Decks founder and DJ coach Cristina DiGiacomo that illuminates each DJs background, goals, influences and intentions for their set. In addition, sets are recorded and filmed in HD quality audio and video so the viewer gets the most immersive experience possible – throw a set onto your TV and you’ve got your own personal DJ in the room. As you explore each set one thing will become apparent, each set is like a fingerprint, no one set sounds or looks like the other allowing for diversity and the sense that you will find something truly unique.
www.dopeundergroundbeats.com

THE WHAT’S MY SOUND DJ CHALLENGE

The What’s My Sound DJ Challenge is meant for you to look closely at the elements of music that inspire you.  Perhaps you feel too influenced by the market or are stuck and need some grounding.  This is also a good exercise to help you identify your sound or style.  The big eye opener for me was at one time I thought my sound was “dark” (or that’s what I thought I should be or was told that’s what I should be), and really I was just fooling myself, because what I came to realize was that I was more “light” and “romantic”.  Give this a try – you may just learn something about yourself.

THE WHAT’S MY SOUND DJ CHALLENGE

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.  Listen to every track. Don’t think you just know them because they’re your favorites.  Listen to them, really listen.   Now 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, then you have identified your passion sound.  Moving forward, when you listen to new tracks you will evaluate new tracks in relation to what your passion sounds are.  This will help you continue to build a strong discography based on authenticity and individuality.

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.

NO EXCUSES

I don’t have time

I’m not feeling it today

That DJ doesn’t deserve that gig

I can’t play what I want

It’s hard in this city

I’m broke

I have no style

People/The industry sucks

The above statements are just a few of the excuses I hear from DJs from time to time.  If any of the above apply to you, that’s ok! It’s totally normal – BUT I’m not having it and neither should you.  The purpose of this post is to help you reframe the negative thoughts in your head that are keeping you from being creative and getting better as a DJ.  If you are happy pointing the finger at someone or something else stop reading and don’t expect progress any time soon.  But there’s another way – the NO EXCUSES way.  There are so many distractions these days that keep you from establishing or maintaining a consistent DJ creative process.  I’m here to tell you that excuses and blaming get you NOWHERE.

Now let’s revisit these excuses with some more positive statements.

I don’t have time —-> I can dedicate an hour a day to DJing.

I’m not feeling it today —-> I don’t have to be perfect all the time, I just need to touch DJing in some way.

That DJ doesn’t deserve that gig —-> If that person can get a gig, I know I’m going to make it.

I can’t play what I want —-> I can figure out a way to play what I want.

It’s hard in this city —-> I can make my own opportunity, I just need to brainstorm some ideas.

I’m broke —-> I can start small, I can just listen to music – that’s free.

I have no style —-> I haven’t found my style yet that’s all. I just need to keep working at it and listen to myself.

People/The industry sucks —-> I need to find people and do things that are meaningful to me. I do not have to be a slave or compromise.

I will be posting more in depth pieces on how to deal with these gremlins but in the meantime start thinking about what you are saying to yourself that is holding you back!

TRUE GRIT vs. BORN TALENT

Photo courtesy: Center For American Vision and Values

Most people believe that talent, creativity and genius is something you are born with.   That you either have it or you don’t.  Perhaps that stems from two things: first, people not wanting to be responsible for their own success or failure so talent is something outside of their control, and/or two, it’s what the territorial successful artists/geniuses have led us to believe (to ensure their foothold as gods in a given field). Well, current research and creative literature state this is total BS.  I also believe it is total BS.  I read in Twlya Tharp’s “The Creative Habit” that Mozart, when he was a child, practiced music every day ALL DAY for years.  He wasn’t touched by God – he had a relentless curiosity.  Mozart was rigorous and tireless in his studies.  The point is that you have to work very hard to become an expert in anything, the notion of blind luck or being gifted factor very little.  If you have a mission in mind and you set your energy 100% towards it, things begin to happen!

There’s a great article called “Grit Is More Important Than Talent” that I think you should read.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Way back in 1926, a psychologist named Catherine Morris Cox published a study of 300 recognized geniuses, from Leonardo Da Vinci to Gottfried Leibniz to Mozart to Charles Darwin to Albert Einstein. Cox, who had worked with Lewis M. Terman to develop the Stanford-Binet IQ test, was curious what factors lead to “realized genius,” those people who would really make their mark on the world. After reading about the lives of hundreds historic geniuses, Cox identified a host of qualities, beyond raw intelligence, that predicted “greatness.”

Studying Cox’s findings, Harvard researcher Angela Duckworth isolated two qualities that she thought might be a better predictor of outstanding achievement:

 1. The tendency not to abandon tasks from mere changeability. Not seeking something because of novelty. Not “looking for a change.”

2. The tendency not to abandon tasks in the face of obstacles. Perseverance, tenacity, doggedness.”

That’s right people – GRIT.

So the question for DJs, where is your grit?  How can you continue to challenge, learn, fail, get back up and achieve?  There’s a few things that make DJs extraordinary but one thing that is very clear – you need tenacity and perseverance.  You have a multitude of things to keep you busy – ideas, new technology and technique, working on your style and musicality, collaborations, producing music, working on YOU.  Hopefully you will realize now when you use the word talented as in “That DJ is so talented” you are mindful of the meaning behind that word and use it wisely.  Talent in this day and age means deep understanding, AND GRIT, ultimately expressed.

Source: http://the99percent.com/articles/7094/The-Future-of-Self-Improvement-Part-I-Grit-Is-More-Important-Than-Talent

WHOSE OPINION MATTERS?

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

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

Is everyone entitled to their opinion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUOTES FROM MUSIC LEGENDS

I’m taking a break from my in-depth musings (rants?) about DJ’ing and thought you needed inspirational quotes from music legends.  Their words apply to what you do – or else I wouldn’t be sharing them.  Bonus: nice little images you can post near your decks to keep you going.

IS THE FILLER TRACK AN EXCUSE?

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

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

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

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

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