TO 1000 AND BEYOND!

Dearest DJs!  I have a wonderful announcement to make.  Behind The Decks: Establishing the DJ’s Creative Understanding has broken 1000 reads. In honor of this incredible milestone and validation I’m offering one free hour of DJ creative coaching through the end of April.  Feeling stuck? Want to change direction? Having a hard time managing your priorities? Feeling overwhelmed? Excited and terrified about your success?

Read what DJs have to say about my work here.

Contact me if you’re interested.

As some of you know my journey started writing this work as a masters thesis back in May 2011.  It then became a platform and voice for support and education for DJs to help you further your work as artists.  The whole purpose of it is to give you a new way to think about how you do what you do.  It’s no question that technique is important – but what about all that other stuff that makes you unique as a DJ? If you haven’t read it here it is: Behind The Decks: Establishing the DJ’s Creative Understanding

HAPPY DJ’ING!

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!

THE ZEN DJ CHALLENGE

The DJ Exercise series on BTD is meant to challenge and inspire DJs to get out of a rut, try something new, get the synapses firing (and create new ones), teach you about yourself and overall something to have fun with! 

Inspired by the blind kung-fu master, I came up with . . .

THE ZEN DJ CHALLENGE

Close your eyes, open your discography in a way that you can point your finger/grab and choose tracks WITHOUT looking. Pick 5 tracks, fire up the decks, and mix ONLY those tracks. No cheating – work with what you have  – sharpen those creative skills. Post your Zen DJ Mixes in the comments section within this post and talk about the experience if you’d like. Good luck – you can do it!

Fail At Interesting

Dave Pinter

I was watching a program ( one of those Iron Chef cooking competitions – don’t ask ) and one of the judges, Simon Majumdar a world renowned food critic, said when critiquing a dish “I would rather someone fail at interesting than achieve mediocrity.”  Something about this struck me enough to share it.  If you think about this statement, a number of things can be revealed to you as a DJ.

We all want to be interesting artists, re-envision a genre, make epic transitions and mixes, laser focus your performance so that when someone hears you they know without a doubt it’s a set from you.  It’s a journey to get there.  But how? And what are the risks?

I think failing at interesting can yield a lot of valuable information about yourself and is critical in your DJ journey.  Of course, you don’t want to be mediocre and yet sometimes you make concessions one way or another – whether it’s modeling too closely to your DJ idol thinking that’s a fast track somewhere, completely losing your voice and approach letting the audience completely dominate you, chasing the top 10 ( see Getting To Know Your Tracks ), and many more.  This is what I think leads someone to be mediocre – making too many concessions.

Here is an interesting example of failing at interesting.  I read this article about The Bunker party’s ninth anniversary and Bryan Kasenic aka DJ Spinoza talks about how he incorporated different elements in his party aside from The Bunker’s usual techno format.  He admits it wasn’t a complete success ( there weren’t as many people as he had hoped ) but I would say based on the feedback he got – he did something really interesting.

“I was trying to experiment on that night,” Kasenic says. “I’ve been getting into this new wave of synthesizer experimental music where they seem to be going for this meditative yet super-psychedelic sound. It’s rooted in the super-DIY noise scene: Somebody playing this beautiful old synthesizer, with a broad spectrum of sound, out of a guitar amp. It’s really brightly lit, and there’s somebody DJing punk rock songs between bands. I really wanted to see that music presented properly in New York, just to see what happened. There weren’t as many people as I’d hoped for, but the people who did show up [said]: ‘This is amazing. This is what needs to be happening in New York.”

For more about The Bunker’s history and future go here:

http://www.villagevoice.com/2012-01-04/music/the-bunker-turns-nine/

Now, I’m sure Bryan learned a lot from this experiment but most importantly he gave it a try.  Expecting to be perfect all the time is a fool’s pursuit.  So if you know that nothing is perfect why not at least make it interesting during the process!  The point is that we need more DJ’s who are different, who are pushing the boundaries, who are interesting and the only way to get there is to try even though failure is a genuine risk.  What Bryan did was contribute energy, uniqueness and new ideas to the New York scene – will he do it again, yes, even though his last endeavor there weren’t as many people as he hoped ( which is a minimal consequence in relation to the accomplishment ).

So remember: would you rather fail at interesting? Or would you rather achieve mediocrity? If the answer is the latter – than you are DJ’ing for all the wrong reasons.

Dualities – The DJ Conundrum

Wow.  It has been almost one month since my last post.  The time has just gone by so fast and furiously, that I didn’t even realize how far behind schedule I was on BTD.  Between work, holidays and other projects I have not done my due diligence in keeping up with my creative habit.

Which is exactly what this post is about.

I talk a lot about the creative habit – how you have to make time for being creative, being mindful of your process, making the right choices for yourself as an artist.  Here I am now faced with one of the biggest challenges – making time to be creative.  I’m sure you experience the same issue – as a matter of fact I know you are.  I’ve had a lot of DJs tell me how it’s really hard to commit to DJ’ing because they have a job and other responsibilities.   I have witnessed how difficult it is to come home from a grueling day job and have to prepare for your party, get psyched, get everyone else psyched, and then not sleeping until the next morning.   It almost can put a damper on the whole endeavor and there comes a time where you need to face the duality of your situation – Job vs. DJ’ing.  Hopefully you have thought this through and have found balance and worked creative time into your schedule ( if you are struggling with this – write to me! )

Job vs. DJ’ing is just one of many dualities you will encounter.  See below an excerpt from Behind The Decks: Establishing the DJ’s Creative Understanding:

There are conflicts that you encounter sometimes during your creative process. “One of the most important things you must do is refuse to take sides with dualities like process and product, simplicity and complexity, discipline and flexibility, and so on, dualities that are integral parts of the creative process.” (Eric Maisel, Coaching the Artist Within ) There’s a  push/pull when playing out for an audience, between what you want to do and what’s expected of you.

While the temptation is to choose one over the other, you need to embrace the fact that there are dualities with what you do. The important thing is to recognize when you are arguing with yourself over these dualities. How you handle those dualities is what frees you to do your work. “We make our own grief by choosing to align with one side or another of these dualities. We say, “I must do commercial work!” or “I must do personal work!” and miss the possibility of doing integrative work that satisfies both masters. We say, “It’s only good if it’s simple!” or, “It’s only worthy if it’s complex!”and ignore the obvious truth that a single brushstroke carries the complexity of a human life and a complex idea can wow us with its elegant simplicity.” (Maisel) There are a few major dualities that DJs talked to me about. How much do you manipulate the music, self vs. the audience, and ART vs. COMMERCE. Depending on your DJ philosophy, chopping up a track or layering effects so that only the essence of the original can be detected may be what you’re comfortable with – but if you are conflicted about that, because maybe you feel pressure that’s what you must do, you must decide how you feel you can comfortably execute and still maintain your sense of self, and your philosophy, in the process. Self vs. the audience is simple – do you DJ for yourself or do you DJ for the audience, or a little of both? ART vs. COMMERCE is a huge issue. DJ’ing is such a new art and all you want to do is share the joy and the passion that comes with it to the world, and yet, there are a lot of challenges you face in getting the outside world to recognize you. So you have to deal with requests, or a dance floor that only responds to a genre you are not prepared or specialized in, or venue owners that refuse to have a genre set one note through the door. So do you give in to ART purely, or do you give into COMMERCE purely – that’s the push/pull and that is a duality you must acknowledge.

DJ Homework:  Sit down and think about the dualities of DJ’ing and what you are personally dealing with.  Figure out what side you’re on with your duality and see how your perspective as a DJ is affected by that stance.  If you feel you have been leaning to one side a little too much, try the other side and see how that feels.  If you feel really strong one way – then just own it!

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.