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!

OUT OF MY ELEMENT DJ CHALLENGE

It’s time for a new DJ challenge and this one is a doozy.  Should you choose to accept this challenge you will be rewarded with a new perception, new music, new creative synapses firing, and the satisfaction that you took yourself out of your comfort zone.  This challenge is not for the faint of heart: only the wisest, self assured and bravest of DJs can take this on.

OUT OF MY ELEMENT DJ CHALLENGE

I hear a lot of you whine about other genres.  I hate this, I hate that, and yet when another DJ or person challenges the merit of your genre, you get very defensive saying “well you don’t really know that genre”.  Well, put your money where your mouth is then!  Maybe you don’t know the genre you are dismissing as well as you think you do.  So the challenge is pick a genre completely unrelated to what you spin or produce.  When I say different, I mean a hip-hop DJ taking on techno.  A deep house DJ taking on Drum and Bass.  A techno DJ taking on World Grooves or Ambient.  Whatever you think is the polar opposite of your tried and true.  No cheating – no sub genres of your regular genre allowed! Immerse yourself as if you would a regular set – really push yourself. Feel free to reach out to DJs you know that spin your challenge genre for some guidance on tracks (this may require you to eat your words).  I dare you to post your mixes – send me links!