Building a Dancefloor

Photo by: Lightwerk (Ray Weitzenberg)

DJs are the architects of a dance floor. Before I got behind the decks, I was one of those crazy dancers you find in the middle of the floor with a circle around me. I would get so lost in the music that I could feel my body echoing every note, every beat. When I got behind the decks something happened. I stopped dancing. I listened to music in a different way. I began to THINK in music as opposed to MOVE in music.

I recently decided to experiment with how I listened to music and wanted to get back to a dancer’s perspective. I highly recommend for DJs to dance either in the privacy of your home or out on a dancefloor – forget that you’re a DJ for a second and just be a person who needs to move. If you do not boogie to music how can you truly understand how someone is going to hear it with their bodies.

Aside from feeling woefully out of shape, I’m learning a few things about what makes for a proper dancefloor. I recently went to a very unconventional dance class called 5Rhythms. The model of the class is that it’s not really a class. There’s a facilitator who plays music ( electronically based ) that starts off ambient and gradually builds to a crescendo of tempo and energy over the period of an hour. There are no steps being taught, it’s just do what your body is telling you to do. In the second hour, the facilitator walks you through certain movements and encourages the participants to experiment with how their bodies would express concepts like Chaos, Staccato, Lyrical, etc. When I tell you it’s the best dance floor I have experienced, I’m not kidding. Imagine 40 people just letting go, letting it all out, meditating and totally focused on the music and expanding their bodies to it. The silhouettes, the energy, the movements I saw were just mindblowing. The crazy thing is – this dancefloor was not made up of professional dancers – just regular people who have an appreciation for how therapeutic and spiritual dancing can be.

What I’ve learned from this experience is that the best dance floors have to have the following:

1) Focused participants – everyone is there for the same goal. It is understood why everyone is there and there is also a commitment on the part of the dancers to help everyone achieve the goal of dancing and having a good time. I believe successful dancefloors are a unit, an organism made of mini-systems of like minded individuals.

2) Permission – When people are given permission to be creative, to be themselves, without fear of judgement or reprisal – some amazing things happen. Feeling like you have permission to look however you want and dance however you want gives you the freedom to express your genius.

3) Safety – Getting anyone to dance is HARD. Why? Because very few people can get past their social anxiety and get up there and allow themselves to be watched. The best dancefloors offer safe space, unencumbered, to allow the person freedom of movement.

4) Progression – In order for a person to open themselves they need to go through a process of transitioning out of their day, their current situation, and into the moment and the beginning of their dance journey. People are not light switches that can just turn on at one track’s notice.

5) Zero Distractions – The construct of any venue is set up for people to spend money and therefor are set up for people to interact with each other on a number of planes. Sometimes the last consideration for interaction is the dancefloor. There’s the bar, there’s the lounge, there’s the owner’s crappy aesthetic/decor, there’s the people who are just there to be seen, there’s the people who are there just to take advantage of the drink specials. So the chances of finding a nucleus of dancers is tough and you are challenged in breaking past those distractions.

So what can DJs do to try and insure they create a proper dancefloor? It is your responsibility to be an architect so you need to lay a foundation. Remember, a real dance floor has a symbiotic relationship with the DJ. One cannot exist without the other. Here’s a few tips to get things started.

1) Moodmatch – for all that is good and holy please play music that is appropriate for the mood that is currently going on at the moment. Step out on the dancefloor and walk among your crowd and psychically reach out to get a sense of what is going on. Don’t play a raging tune if people are just getting warmed up – you will kill any chance you have of nurturing a dance floor. On the flip side if you are lucky enough to step up and you have a rager on your hands either give the dancers a break in the beat to set yourself up or keep the energy going. Do not drop the mood down, you will effectively clear your floor. (There are some advanced concepts about cleansing the floor but for the purposes of laying the foundation for your floor I won’t discuss them here). Bottomline, if you do not moodmatch you will ruin all trust the dancefloor has in you – and believe me it’s about trust- once you lose it, it is really hard to get it back.

2) Introduce yourself – I know that it’s hard to talk to people especially for us DJ nerds but you must try. Let people know who you are (besides you want to build a following right, well you need to TALK to people in order to do that). Stay away from asking what people want to hear unless you want to deal with requests all night. Just say “Hey, my name is . . . I’m the DJ, how are you feeling tonight?” Make small chit-chat and then move on. Remember you are the facilitator, if people don’t put a face to the name they won’t care about you. If you really don’t want to do that here’s an alternative – be the first person on the dancefloor. I know, I know, that’s just as tough but I swear all it takes is one brave soul to get up there and other’s will follow, trust me, I used to do this in my dancing days and it worked like a charm every time (I even had DJs thank me for doing that).

3) Take your time – let’s say you only have an hour, which is typical these days ( unfortunate in my opinion ). Try at least to introduce your set in two tracks that set the tone for what you are about to do. You need to lay the foundation of sound and tempo in people’s ears so they get acclimated – remember people are not light switches. DO NOT EXPECT TO COOK UP A DANCEFLOOR IN AN HOUR. Be happy you’re up there and do your best job with affecting people properly – you will be better served if you play good music for the moment ( see Moodmatching ).

4) Don’t posture – everything about you indicates to the dancefloor how accessible and open you are. Don’t big up your chest, don’t be glum (if you’re not happy with the situation don’t let on, be a pro about it), don’t hide yourself or ESPECIALLY your eyes behind a hat. A proper dancefloor needs permission and safety and people are looking to you to give them that. Also, don’t forget to thank people, especially if they were dancing for you – so simple and often forgotten etiquette by DJs.

If you can do things that reduce the social anxiety people feel, minimize the distractions to focus on the music, and create a connection to you the higher the chances you have of starting a dance floor. See you there!

Recap: Get in touch with your inner dancer. Study the room and the vibe. Moodmatch. Be open.

For more information on the 5Rhythms dance class go here: 5Rhythms

What Does It Take To Be An Amazing DJ?

Take a look at this photograph.

Thousands of adoring fans worshiping every move you make and you don’t have to share that moment with anyone other than the crowd.  It’s pretty powerful.  These images get served to DJs and non DJs alike all the time.  If you are a DJ, and you play out enough for long enough, this is what you get to experience.   What no one really tells you is that in order to be like this guy, you have to be amazing.  I know I’m stating the obvious but it’s really important to remind ourselves that to get to this level of achievement requires exceptional qualities. There are DJs whom I don’t particularly care for their genre of choice, however I would never discredit what they did in order to get to where they are.  I respect any DJ that achieves the moment the DJ in this picture does because I bet that it’s the culmination of a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and soul searching.  That’s not all though . . .

What does it take to be amazing?  Believe it or not it takes three things to be truly amazing.  I’m going to use the word amazing a lot because it’s not good, or great, it’s nothing short of amazing or beyond that – mindblowing.  So now that we have our spectrum of greatness down let’s talk about being amazing and how to do that.  We actually can take a note from the master painters on this one.  Picasso, Braque and the art of Cubism.  “Creativity happens when someone does something new that is also useful or generative or influential.  Useful means that the new thing solves a problem.  Generative means that the new thing leads to other ideas or things.  Influential means that the new thing changes the way people look at, or listen to, or think about, or do, things like it.” (Stokes, 2006, 1) Picasso and Braque changed the entire landscape of painting by introducing a new way of looking at the world and interpreting it through Cubism.   “Their new thing, called Cubism, changed how some people (critics, dealers, collectors) looked at and thought about representational painting, and it changed how some other people (artists) painted.” (Stokes, 2006, 1)

In other words if you are useful and serve a purpose, lead DJs to other ideas, and change how people look at their life or listen to music – you are on your way to being amazing.  Now there are plenty of other things that make a DJ amazing but in my opinion these are the three essential things that contribute to a DJ’s amazingness. Let’s break it down a little further.

Being Useful

Most people, if not all, have issues in their lives.   The need to let go is central to the whole point of going out and having an experience.   The DJ is the maestro, the architect – of escape and meditation.   Based on your purpose, being useful, you are there to help people work through their problems.  You are the therapist and music is your mode of therapy.   Your purpose is to help someone deal with the fact they got fired, a lover left them, and to celebrate the beauty in their lives.  That is your job.   Once you understand this purpose you are on your way to being amazing.

Being Generative

Amazing DJs bring something new to the table.   A different way of interpreting music, engaging with it, and participating in the expression of it.  Amazing DJs generate new ways of looking at the craft.  It’s not necessarily just technique or exploiting the latest technology though.  It’s also about voice.  Picasso and Braque presented a new voice in painting.  They abandoned all notions of literal representation of the real world and truly experimented with a different way of looking at things.  Amazing DJs push the boundaries of the craft, and of themselves, and take the art to the next level.

Being Influential

There’s such a thing as a bridge DJ.  A bridge DJ is someone who is able to reach out and induct the uninitiated into their world.  The interesting thing about bridge DJs is that they don’t necessarily cater to mainstream or certainly that is not their aim.  Whatever it is they are doing enables others to truly see their point of view and create a bridge between themselves and their audience.  To the extent that it is futile to resist that DJs effect on you.   An influential DJ refuses to give up on the fact that they are trying to teach and educate as well as facilitate an experience.  Influential means breaking boundaries AND being able communicate them in a way that hits people right in the gut.  I’ll admit, for a long time I did not get techno.  I had heard enough techno ( probably bad techno ) from my early raving days and if I never heard it again I was fine with it.  Then through the insistence of a friend, I listened to a Carl Cox live set and then I got it.  I got techno.  From there I branched out to other related artists and realized there was a whole world of techno that I had never been exposed to.  Carl Cox was my bridge DJ for really good techno.  Now I don’t spin techno predominantly but Carl Cox did affect my discography in some way as I settled on mininal techno as an important supplement to my deep house, electro and breaks genre choices.  That’s influence.

I can’t tell you how to be useful, or generative, or influential – I can only tell you that I truly believe these are the qualities you must possess to be amazing.  It’s up to you to define those things for yourself and work hard to get to the level you set for yourself.   I encourage you to ask yourself these questions as your go through your creative process: is what I’m doing purposeful, is what I’m doing unique, is what I’m doing changing mindsets?  Once you can confidently say yes to all of those questions – you have tapped into amazingness.

Now go with your amazing self – you can do it!

Recap: Amazingness is not just about hard work.  Be useful – help people work through their stuff.  Be generative – bring new thoughts and ideas to the craft.  Be influential – create a bridge to your world, inspire to look at music in a whole new way.

Source: Stokes, Patricia D, Creativity From Constraints: The Psychology of Breakthrough, Springer Publishing Company, Inc. 2006.

Hot Topic: You Are Your Flyer Art

Flyer art has been a well established way of communicating and promoting a DJ or a party.  There are even sites that have libraries of flyer art – it is a truly visual creative aspect of DJ culture.   I’ve seen DJs obsess over what to put in the visual aspects of the flyer.  How do you communicate the vibe of the party, the mood of the music, your brand, the venue, all the while making sure the pertinent information is there for people to find you?  There’s a lot to consider, and with a lot of considerations, there are choices, and with choices, there are good ones and bad ones.

There has always been a segment of flyer art that uses the female form to express beauty, sensuality and transcendence.  There are exquisite examples of flyer art that profiles the female form.  Unfortunately, a downside to that is the objectification of women in flyer art.  There are some DJs who just haven’t quite caught up with the fact that women are not objects, sex toys, or exist for their amusement.

Flagrantly using women in objectified poses ( simulated fellatio or sexual positions for example ) and various states of undress on their flyer ( your basic TnA ) in my opinion and a lot of other DJ’s opinions, is a bad choice.   I’m not going to sugarcoat this, it’s catering to the lowest common denominator and in essence jeopardizing your reputation.

I’m going to lay out some reasons why DJs should rethink their approach in utilizing this tactic for promotion in the hopes that they understand how damaging their actions are to themselves, to the culture, and to the female audience.

I keep hearing DJs talk about how they want to get more women to come to their parties.  That’s understandable as women can change the nature of a party significantly in terms of creating a positive vibe and atmosphere.  So why is it that if DJs want women to come to their party they blatantly insult women with sexist flyers?  I don’t get the logic at all.  I saw a flyer for a party recently that had a woman with her bare breasts showing on the flyer.  There was also a thread on the Facebook event page where the DJs were talking about how there were titties on the flyer and how maybe they should give free drinks for titty flashes.  I checked all the “Not Attending” RSVPs and surprise surprise, at least 90% of them were women.  You see, sexist flyers only communicate one thing – that the DJ doesn’t care about women, period.   What this does is make the women they want to be at the party – the dancers, the ones who are into dance/DJ culture, the ones who wont make requests because they respect what DJs do – uncomfortable.  These are the women you want at your party – stop insulting them!  In essence, these DJs are not communicating safety, they are communicating that they are letches and that all the people at the party will be letches.  The women who don’t care about this behavior or go to these parties anyway despite knowing what they’ve seen on the flyer aren’t really taking a stand on their own feminist issues and that is a whole other bigger topic I won’t get into.

Also, it’s not just women patrons they are insulting, it’s other DJs ( and the super niche group of female DJs ).  You see there are other DJs who are actually making an effort to try and change mindsets and maintain a certain level of integrity within DJ culture.   The strongest contingent of supporters for any DJ are other DJs.   It’s difficult enough to deal with the challenges of being misunderstood by the outside world and DJs don’t particularly care for a DJ who makes everyone look like a clown.  So there’s another portion of a fan base lost by a bad choice in flyer art.

DJs who do this need to learn that if they want ANYONE to respect them as a DJ, dumbing down and selling sex on the flyer is the last way to get it.  How can they possibly be taken seriously as a DJ when their flyer has a woman on her back with her legs up in 7 inch heels and a leopard print mini-dress ( I also recently saw this flyer for a house party )? It’s like this, if the subject of the flyer is not taken seriously, by association neither will the DJ as the context bringing that subject forth.

There’s not much more I can say about this because it’s so simple to understand – you are your flyer art.  You can make the choice to use it as a vehicle to communicate who you really are as an artist.  If you choose to cop out, dumb down, and communicate the lowest common denominator you will be seen as such.  If you think that you are not doing anything wrong – count next time how many women show up to your parties.  If you’re known for your sexist attitudes, chances are, the number is zero.

I am calling out this negative aspect of our culture because I believe we are better than that.  We are better than using antiquated and demeaning notions of gender and sexuality to sell ourselves.  With so many options and creative ideas to draw from there are many unique and clever ways to present ourselves.  We do not need to do this anymore.  It’s time to evolve.

Recap: You are your flyer art.

Getting To Know Your Tracks

A reader wrote to me about a topic that he has been experiencing and seeing coming up in a lot of conversations with DJs.  I will quote him and then expand on the issues he raises.

“FINALLY finished your thesis.  Loved it. It really got me thinking about some of the problems of having an analog (DJ) mind in a digital (DJ) world.  For example, the idea of spontaneity and creativity I love.  And I never plan my sets more than narrowing down a list of songs from 500 to 50 for example.  The problem I encounter is one that comes up a lot from my conversations with DJ’s – not enough time to really learn your new music.  A recurring theme that seems to be out there is that so many DJ’s want the newest tracks all of the time.  But if you’re always looking for new stuff, you’re never really learning the “old” stuff (and by “old” I mean the tracks from last week that you already played at a gig.) I feel like things are happening so quickly from song concept to production to release to the DJ to the next gig that one of the important arts of being a DJ gets shafted – know your tracks!!  When you buy records you read grooves, listen to the track and really get to know it intimately.  But because of the turnover in music in the digital realm people get just aquainted enough with a track so they can play it once and toss it.  Does that make sense?”

Yes, that absolutely makes sense.  Let’s break down some of the issues raised by this reader.

1) The acceleration of the music production process and distribution

2) The mental model of digital vs. tangible

3) Having time to learn tracks

The acceleration of the music production process and distribution

With the proliferation of production tools, production becoming more ingrained in the DJ career trajectory, and the boon of digital music as a business model for music vendors, there is a vast set of resources and channels for digital music.  The acceleration of the music production queue in the past few years has posed some challenges and new reactions for DJs.   What this uptick in the production/distribution cycle has done has forced DJs to feel more burden on their track selection and preparation process.   Instead of listening to a hundred or so tracks a week, DJs listen to a few hundred tracks a week during their selection process.  Bear in mind that it’s the production process that is in high gear, YOU don’t have to be in high gear with it.  Stay centered and focused on who you are as an artist and filter your track buying process through that lens. You see it’s the music vendor’s business to sell you the latest tracks and have an accessible inventory or back catalogue.   DJ charts, the Top 10, exclusive productions for the site, fire sales – there are a myriad ways to entice you into spending money with them.   What’s happening in your mind is that you convince yourself that you must have the latest tracks in order to be or stay relevant or to emulate a superstar DJ.  I encourage you to rethink that.  Where is that pressure coming from exactly?  Is it really from your audience?  Do you really need to have the Top 10 downloaded every week? What does it really mean to have the latest tracks in relation to what you already have in your discography?

The mental model of digital vs. tangible

There is an interesting way people view the digital world vs. the tangible world.  People perceive ( and this happens with anything that is a tangible product that is also available in the digital realm, like newspapers or magazines for example ) digital products as much cheaper to produce and buy than a tangible product.  The expectation is that it must be less expensive for digital.  It is a well known fact that records are more expensive than digital music simply because digital music is cheaper to produce – there is no vinyl to press or ship and house at a warehouse.  What happens with the mental model of digital music is that because it is less expensive to buy, it is also disposable.  As in, it only costs a buck so I can take it or leave it.  I insist that this mental model is clogging up your creative process. You become accustomed to filtering your track selection process based on a disposable construct instead of a creative construct and you are left with a bloated discography that isn’t much use other than giving yourself the false sense that you have a lot of tracks to draw from.  Quality over quantity people!  Whether you shop for vinyl or digital music is irrelevant – the way your decision making process is executed is relevant.  Pretend the digital track you purchase cost 5 bucks instead of a dollar and see what happens then.  Is it a track that fits who you are?  Is it a track you genuinely love? Don’t buy it right away because of a bassline and it’s price – really think about it and take the extra time to listen repeatedly or revisit the sample in a couple of days.  If you still feel excited about it, then buy it.  A DJ said to me, looking at his flash drive: “You know, this flash drive is worth $2000, I have 2000 tracks on it.” So if you think a dollar here and a dollar there doesn’t add up – it does – and maybe you’re not even utilizing half of that.

Having time to learn tracks

One of the larger concepts I want DJs to understand with the Behind The Decks project is that creativity must be a habit.  You must touch it every day.  If you are truly committed to growing as a DJ you must do something every day to keep progressing as an artist.  One of the easiest ways to do that is to listen to music.  If you feel you have fallen out of touch with your discography or need to learn your new tracks, build time every day to listen to them, take them with you on your commute, or play a few records every day.  Don’t be lazy!  Don’t think because you know the track or you’ve listened to it once, you REALLY know it.  You need to constantly be refreshing your mind with input in order to make the proper connections musically.   It’s just that simple, make the time.  Listen to a track a few times before you move on to something else.  The point is that you MUST make time to do this exercise, and do it every day in order to really know your tracks.  “You’ll never crush your own mediocrity working only a few hours a week.” – Robert Bruce, poet.

Recap:  The industry is accelerated, don’t buy into it.  Do not treat your decisions as disposable.  Learning your tracks must be a habit.

The Next Level


There’s a high level concept called The Liminality that I think is very interesting and relevant for DJs.  I will try to explain the concept and then talk about how it relates to your creative work.

The limen is actually the sliver of light that peeks through when a door has been opened.   So in essence when you open a door you are hit with a light, a break in the threshold between the door and a wall.  The concept of The Liminality is the point you reach when you have mastered established rules and then cross over, experience a liminality, and you begin to operate within a new rule set.  “During a liminal experience, you are moving from a time when you know the rules and the expectations, to a time when you must create new rules for yourself and expect the unexpected.” ( Moote, 2005, 91 )

There are times when a DJ crosses over – some of those times can be thrilling and some of those times can be frightening.  You don’t know what’s on the other side of that door yet you are excited by this new light ahead of you.

Here are some exciting liminalities:

1) You’ve had a breakthrough on a new genre

2) You’ve had a happy accident and are challenged to recreate it and run with it

3) You’ve reached another level or a new set of emotions during your “zone” moment

4) You’ve garnered a response from the dancefloor with something you put on that you never expected would resonate

Here’s what can be frightening:

1) You don’t know what to do with this new information

2) You’re afraid it might change you completely or affect all the hard work you’ve been doing in one set of rules

3) While the new set of rules have presented themselves, you have anxiety on mastering another threshold

Don’t be afraid!  This is growth! DJs wish they can get to the next level whatever it takes.  You have to embrace your liminality, you have to walk through that door.   Believe it or not you can usher in the liminality by doing some things that can help you see the light.

The first thing you need to understand is you need to be open to risk.   Following the established rules of DJing only helps you get a foundation for creating.  You  must let go at some point and explore.  “Everyone creates with the same tools, the same supplies.  There is no need for risk.  Just do it like the teacher (or DJ guide) says.  Read the product guide or pick up any number of magazines that have been created for artists.  And then you wake up one day and think, ‘I’d like to try . . .’ You create something new, just for you.  Is it safe? Will it fit in? Do you care? You are on the threshold of new territory.  If you keep exploring, you might find yourself in the middle of a liminal experience.” ( Moote, 2005, 92)

So now we have established what kind of mindset you need to have in order to embrace a liminal experience.

Here are some ideas on how to recognize and facilitate it.

1) Get Rid of Dead Weight

In my post on Why Do You DJ? ( here ) I talk about having passion for your discography and questioning what it contains.  Now,  I’m not suggesting any DJ gets rid of their music EVER  ( don’t EVER do that ), but it may be time for a little housecleaning and storage.   This is getting rid of some of your dead weight.  Other dead weight could be some of the people you hang around with, people that don’t believe in you, don’t understand or will never understand your passion.  This is not to say dump these people ( some of them may be your own family and I don’t condone dropping relationships with family and loved ones over DJing ).  What I mean is being mindful of who you share your passion with.  You want a supportive and understanding DJ circle.  Seek out those who salute you, not rebuke you.  Finally, dead weight could mean a residency or gig that is just not working for you.  I know it’s hard, but think about the time you could be spending working on you instead of a soul and creative sucking gig that gets you nowhere.

2) Set Aside the Time

You need to block out time to be creative.  That’s a fact.  Whether it’s listening to tracks, exposing yourself to other art, practicing, or going through your DJ ritual ( I talk about ritual in my paper here ) – that time must be free of distractions and not rushed.  In order to do that you need to work that time into your life somehow.  You need to close the door on the outside world if your liminal door is going to open.   Removing the intrusive nature of daily life and stress allows you to meditate more closely during your creative process.  Call it your “DJ Time” and own it!

3) Record Yourself

A lot of DJs swear by recording their practice and live sessions.  I know a lot of you don’t do that.  I know why.  You’re afraid of hearing the mistakes, of the potentiality of how awful you may be.  I’m going to tell you that in every practice/live session there is a liminal moment.  When you listen back to your session you will discover something new, something positive, something that will draw you to crossing over a threshold.   It may take the form of one mix that is perfect, or an effect you place that works – you will draw at least one thing that you can build on.  Who cares if the rest is crap – all it takes is just one moment in the whole thing that can inspire you to embrace a new rule set.

4) Reflect

Reflect on everything you do as a DJ.  That means after a gig, thinking about what you did RIGHT.  A lot of times, DJs beat themselves up about what they did WRONG.  Try and change your mindset.  While it’s important to think about what you did that contributed to the bad situations that happened during a gig ( or a practice session ) – reframe to what you did RIGHT, what worked, what zone moment you had, and try to trace back what you did to get there.  There may be times when nothing went right in your opinion.  Ok, then think about how you can learn from that experience.  This is important: reflecting inserts new thoughts and ideas into your mind.  Those thoughts and ideas get processed and recalled for later moments.  This is about constantly refreshing your mind with new thoughts so that you can recognize in the future a liminal moment.

I know it’s a lot to consider and for every DJ their thresholds and the moments they occur are different.   Recognizing that these thresholds exists, when they happen, why they happen and what you can do about them will help you greatly in your creative process.  You can’t force a liminal moment, but you can recognize it for what it is – an open door to the next level.

Recap: Liminality is a threshold.  Don’t be afraid of it.  Drop the dead weight, make the time, record and reflect.

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

Source: “Seeking Liminality: Making the Most of Threshold Experiences”, Cheryl Moote, Inspiring Creativity, 2005.

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.

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!

Patience as a DJ

There’s a few types of DJ patience in my opinion.

  • Patience with the art
  • Patience with yourself
  • Patience in a situation

Patience with the art of DJing:

I read a startling statistic on how long it takes for an artist to be recognized as an expert within their domain.   I won’t leave you in anticipation:

“There is extensive evidence that around 10 years of active involvement appear to be necessary before anyone, even the most talented, are able to reach an international level of achievement.” (Ericsson, 1999, 331).

That’s right kids – 10 years.  10 years of practicing and playing out and working on your art and striving to be the best you can be as a DJ is how long it takes to be recognized as an expert in your domain.   Now let’s talk about what happens in those 10 years if you think it takes a shorter amount of time.  First off, you need to develop your process, function at a highly creative state, and integrate a creative habit that is conducive to active involvement in your DJ’ing.  Secondly, you need to develop your point of view and your style and that takes time with your music, knowing it, studying it, opening yourself up to be influenced and consistently challenging yourself.  Thirdly, you need to know yourself as a person, work on your issues, develop your philosophies, experience life and people.  And finally, you need to share your craft with others, get feedback, get experience, collaborate, expose yourself as an artist. With all of that said, do you think that takes two or three years?

I’m also going to say something controversial.  I don’t want to hear about luck.  I hear a lot of DJs say, that DJ got lucky. Luck is an open door and either you’re ready artistically and skilled enough to make an entrance that sticks and elevates you, or you aren’t.  Blithely saying that  a superstar DJ is where they are because they got lucky is an insult to that DJ and also allows you to cop out from the hard work you have to do to get to where you want to be.   Even if you see a DJ that has a prime slot and you know they are not ready or doing a good job – remember people can always tell.  The cream rises to the top – I truly believe that, and it has nothing to do with pure luck.  There, I said it.

Patience with yourself:

There may come a time in your process and development where you are just so frustrated you want to toss your gear out the window.  Before you toss yourself out the window with it, let me remind you that being a great DJ means knowing you will go through this.  You will make mistakes, you will spend hours and hours listening to tracks and nothing sounds good to you.  Don’t force it.  Be patient with yourself.  This also means not rushing into something your gut is telling you isn’t right for you or you’re not ready for.   If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.  Now, there’s a disclaimer with this.  It’s important to challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone – this is important for your progress and sitting back saying “I’m just not ready” all the time may be a symptom of anxiety or another creative killer – perfectionism ( I talk about perfectionism in my paper here ).

Patience with a situation:

Let’s say your playing out and the dancefloor is just not responding – if it’s empty you should know how to handle that.  But let’s say you’ve been on for a while.   Instead of going straight to a more aggressive track or copping out and playing a favorite – patiently listen to what you are already doing and really think about a creative way to deal with the situation.  That takes patience.  Try a solution that is more subtle and progressive and see what happens.   Changing things drastically in your set will only temporarily fill the void.  You need to be absolutely sure you’re doing it for the dancefloor and not to manage your anxiety or ego because the dancefloor isn’t throwing their hands up in the air over you.  The dancefloor is an organism and you shouldn’t shock it or be fake with it, you need to nurture it and be patient with it.  You need to build a dancefloor in order to sustain a dancefloor.  It is also your job to sustain the night even if you’re not spinning the entirety of it.   If you can set up a rager for the next DJ trust that you will be acknowledged ( hopefully you are spinning with wonderful collaborators who will appreciate the send up ).  And even if no one acknowledges you did it – YOU know you did it.  It takes a patient attitude to not get praised for something you did.  Patience with a situation is key to learning and reinforcing your creative process.  By stepping back and evaluating the situation you increase the chances that you will take the proper course of action.  Be mindful of rushing to cop out like behavior – this is temporary and not helpful to your progress.

I’m sure there are more ways a DJ can be patient.  I would love to hear from you what you think makes for DJ patience.  The bottom line is that the more observant and patient you are of the art, yourself and the situations you are in, the better you will be to handle what comes your way.

Recap: It takes 10 years. Don’t throw your gear and yourself out the window.  It takes patience to build a dancefloor.

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

Source: Ericsson, K. “Creative Expertise as Superior Reproducible Performance:  Innovative and Flexible Aspects of Performance.” Department of Psychology, Florida State University, 1999.

Why Do You DJ?

I first read “How To DJ Properly” about 10 years ago and was inspired by what Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton said in the introduction.  “You need to know that DJing isn’t really about celebrity, or money, or pulling power, it’s about music.” (Brewster, Broughton, 2002, 16)

First of all, I love this book, it has been my go to book over the years when I get stuck or just when I need to remind myself why I do this.  I have told many DJs they should have it in their library – it’s mandatory in my opinion for any DJ, experienced or not.

The essential thread in the book is that loving music is the foundation for any great DJ.   I would like to add to that.  It’s about passion.   Nearly every creative process book I’ve read so far talks about having passion for what you do.  Frank and Bill nail it down to passion about music.

You see passion is what gets you through the TRAINWRECKS of the creative process, and trainwrecks in general.   Passion is what lifts you when you face rejection after rejection, or empty and non-responsive dancefloors, or just feeling stuck.  Passion is what directs you to listen to yourself when you need to try something new or keep going when you’ve discovered something is working.   Passion is what gets you up in the morning to practice. I’ve had DJs tell me they get up an hour early before work just to practice some mixes or listen to tracks – they must touch Dj’ing in some way to get them through the day when they are not DJ’ing – that’s passion!  Every human being experiences passion at some point in their lives – it’s one of those universal human emotions.  If you connect to it, you will help others connect to it.  That’s what your audience wants from you.

Also, if you are passionate, others will see that in you – it’s something that spreads like wildfire.  I have seen the difference in energy on dancefloors when you can feel a DJ is passionate about what they’re doing and when a DJ is unsure, or tired, or unresolved, or genuinely unhappy about the situation.   Now DJs share their passion in different ways.   Some are laser focused, lovingly directing their passion in what they are doing – you can still tell the difference between a DJ that’s focused and loving, and one that is apathetic.  Some DJs want to connect to the crowd more directly – dancing, eye contact, smiling, throwing hands up in the air – when they genuinely are having a great time. You can tell the difference between a DJ that is really loving the music and what they’re doing and a DJ that is just throwing their hands up in the air.   The bottom line is people always can tell so you need to be sure, deep down inside about your passion point.

Passion also forces you to stand behind your music.  Bruce Tantum said to me, “I never played a record I didn’t like”.  That’s powerful.  Think about it, look at your discography – how big is your secret stash in comparison to the rest of your collection.  In Bruce’s case his entire discography – all 3000 records – IS his secret stash.   If the percentage of your discography is not close to at least well, all of your secret stash – you may have trouble getting to that passionate place in yourself.  What I mean is if your discography, your go to box of music, is filled with tracks you are not passionate about, how can you drum up the passion to practice and to share your creativity.  Now some of you need or want, “just in case” tracks.  I understand that, every DJ understands that.   Some tracks are “bridge” tracks that you know you can drop to help you transition between genres or dimensions.   But if a significant portion of your discography contains “just in case tracks” you will be a “just in case” DJ – that limits your passion and the passion you express to others.

Here’s an exercise for you:  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.   Now, listen to every track once.  Don’t think you just know them because they’re your favorites.  Listen to them, really listen.   Now you can 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 – and this exercise may take some time and  you may need to revisit it – then you have identified your passion sound.  Now, when you listen to new tracks you will evaluate new tracks in relation to what your passion sounds are and this will help you build a discography that you are passionate about practicing and playing out with.   You may have noticed that I did not say genre in this exercise.  I want you to be genre agnostic – I want you to go deeper than genre, I want you to be passionate about sound.

Recap:  It’s about the music.  It’s about passion.  Passion is what gets you through the TRAINWRECKS.  Passion is expressive.  Passion is your filter for sounds.

Did you find this interesting and want to share your thoughts – drop me a line!

“It’s Not What You Create, It’s THAT You Create”

One of the things that I’m discovering is that DJs put so much pressure on themselves about a mix, that sometimes it becomes about the mix and less about having fun and enjoying the process.   I know that a lot of times, it’s hard work, but there should be enjoyment and exhilaration during that work – passion!  It’s supposed to be satisfying. hard. work. So what is really going on here?

“Miriam Webster’s defines creativity as “to bring into existence something new”.  The crucial point is that creativity is not defined as the new thing produced; it is the act of bringing it forth.” (Quinlan, 2005, 8 )

The definition focuses on the act of bringing, not the thing that is brought into the world.  How does this relate to DJ creativity?  A lot of your creating happens when you’re by yourself – you need to focus on you and that’s important.  The downside of that is you are also alone with your thoughts and anxiety, that’s part of the creative process.   However, that anxiety will put pressure on your mind and you will focus on an end game. You can’t judge who you are as an artist solely on what happens as the result of your creative process. You will have enough people judging you in your mind, don’t do that to yourself.  So if you focus on the act of creating, you will be in a better position to listen to yourself when you feel you might be going in the wrong direction, or know when you’re hitting a wall, or feel an illumination happening – if you’re so focused on the mix ( or set or the end game of whatever you’re doing ) you’re missing out on important creative cues that can lead you to very interesting paths. You need to experience your art WHILE you are making it.   Let yourself make mistakes – forgive yourself for them – it’s just you and the decks. So your mix is your creativity in a final form, it is not the only representation of your creativity.

Another aspect of this is perspective about yourself.  You are not your mix.  The mix is YOU.  You are other things as a DJ – there’s a spectrum of characteristics you embody that are outside of that sixty minute download.  Who knows MAYBE there are other things at play that are causing mistakes, a bad recording session or even a happy deviation. So what if you’re practicing and your beats are galloping over and over.  That doesn’t mean you’re not creative – that means you’re having a frustrating moment with technique and you will get it if you keep trying.  See the difference?  Don’t let yourself spiral!

It’s a DJ cultural thing, I think, that puts a lot of emphasis on the mix.  It makes sense as that’s the main way a listener can understand a DJs point of view.  I don’t think culturally the emphasis should change, but I believe you should consider reflecting on how that emphasis impacts you while you are creating.

Some of you work from themes – something overarching that you want to communicate in your mix and some of you start more from within, with one track and build out.  Understanding your approach and immersing yourself in it will help lessen the impact of what that mix will be while you’re putting it together.  It’s more about keeping things open-ended and fighting off rigidity.  What I mean is that sticking to your original plan may not be where your DJ muse wants to take you. You need to let things happen, and you need to learn from them.  Doing so allows for your essence to come into the process which ultimately makes your mix and what you put out there more individual and unique.

“It’s not what you create, it’s THAT you create” – Kathleen Quinlan

Recap:  Creativity is the act of bringing forth, not the thing.  Experience your art while you are making it. The mix is YOU.  Know your approach.

Did you find this interesting and would like to share your thoughts?  Drop me a line!

Source: Inspiring Creativity – An Anthology of Powerful Insights and Practical Ideas to Guide You to Successful Creating – by Rick Benzel