Posts Tagged ‘ DJ exercise ’

Feeling the DJ Ho Hum’s? Blow Up Your Routine

Jason Statham in The Mechanic

Jason Statham in The Mechanic

Tips adapted from Dumb Little Man: Personal Development: 5 Playfully Crazy Tips That Can Unleash Your Creative Potential and Boost Your Creativity – by Dumb Little Man.

Sigh.  You’ve burned out on your favorite playlist.  When you go out, all sets sound the same (much respect to your DJ friends but your ears have flat-lined).  You’ve maxed out on all the functions of your latest gadget.  You’re bored.   I have some tips for you to spark your DJ creativity.  Aside from the DJ exercises I’ve posted previously, try these out.  All you need is a little jolt, a little change in perspective.  That’s what boredom is, your mind is traveling and processing things the same way over and over again.

1) Make Random Connections:

“Start by picking 3 random things and try to connect them by any means possible.”   I wrote a lengthy piece about putting constraints on yourself prior to starting a DJ project to give yourself some structure and parameters.  This is just a quicker way to go about it regardless of whether you are working on a DJ project or just needing to think.  First 3 “things” that pop in your head, think through how to connect them, what are the degrees of separation between these things.  Write it all down if you can.

2) Smell Your Gear (just kidding … sort of):

This is about being one with your music, gear, DJ space.  Inspect everything about your DJing using all senses.  Close your eyes if you have to. “Be at one with every detail: the physical qualities, emotions, feelings, roles, perspective, worldview, limitations, language, history and experiences.” I know this may seem really weird but if you are easily distracted, have a lot of noise in your head, this is an easy way to block it out and immerse.

3) Turn it Upside Down

Turn everything upside down.  Been struggling with a set or not sure of direction, change the order of the tracklist starting with the last track and playing it through to the track at the beginning – work backwards.  Not feeling influenced or inspired by your usual methods and resources, try a new genre or a new place to buy music.   Layer a musical element (vocal, horns, violins, jackhammer) – don’t just let a track do all the work, layer layer layer even if it sounds awful – this is how happy accidents occur.

4) Just Make Noise

Just play.  Be noisy. Put 5 tracks on at the same time and weed out what’s not working.  Be a kid.  Be imperfect.  Bang on drums – if you don’t have anything to bang on or drum synth or drum VST – there’s an idea right there.  Sing out loud.  Dance around.

5) “Draw With Your Other Hand”

This is real DJ zen master stuff.  Try DJing blindfolded.  Use one hand only.  Start in the middle of a track, every time and just work it out.   Spin for your parents if they have never seen you do it.  The point is to create a little discomfort to liven things up.

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/

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 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!

The DJ Bucket List

When I first started I had this dream that I would someday spin an Essential Mix for BBC Radio 1.   Pete Tong would introduce me, lovingly mispronouncing my last name and I already knew what my last statement track would be ( Hybrid’s “If I Survive” for the curious – although I would pitch it slower a bit from the original BPM ).  It was a serious dream of mine and at one point I really believed I was on my way to achieve it.  Time has passed and I know that I won’t get there – unless I spend a good 5 or 6 more years completely dedicated to the art and have some productions under my belt.  It’s not a terrible reality that I’ve faced, it’s just my window to actually make it happen closed a while ago.  Life happens and you deviate.  But still, it would be a capstone for me if I were ever to do it.   So I started thinking, if I have that as my ultimate accomplishment.  What is yours?

There’s a few things I think DJs want to accomplish or experience in their DJ lifetime.   The bucket list is all the things you would want to do before you pass into the beyond.   I’m not trying to be morbid I’m just trying to get you to think about what you want to accomplish as a DJ and what you want to leave behind as your legacy.

You need to think of DJing and your creativity as a body of work.  So what body of work do you currently have.  Take stock of your mixes, your live sets, your productions (finished or unfinished), your collaborations, even your flyer art.  Look at it as a whole.  What does it say about you as an artist?  The purpose of doing this is so you can see where you are in relation to where you want to be.

Spend some time reflecting on what you do.  Write down whatever comes to mind as things you want to accomplish as a DJ before you go.  Give in to a little fantasizing but make sure you include tangible goals.  Do you want to produce more, do you want to have a certain style figured out – things that you can actively work on now and look back on with pride.  Is there a DJ you appreciate that you would want to talk to, write it down.  Is there a way you want to collaborate that you’ve never done before – write that down.  Do you want to have a show – write that down.  Record label – put it on the list.  Whatever it is don’t limit yourself to what’s possible and what’s not yet – just get it down.  Now take a look at your bucket list.

I bet you have a lot of work to do.

Also, I want you to consider the culture as a whole.  As a participant in DJ culture, you are also a contributor and shaper of it.  For example, another dream of mine when I first started was that I had hoped some day a DJ would play Carnegie Hall.  I don’t know why Carnegie Hall other than for me it is the epitome of classical and established musical performance.   I believed that if a DJ spun Carnegie Hall we would finally be recognized as artists.  So what do you want to see happen for us and what are you doing to make that happen?  I am happy to report that a DJ has spun in Carnegie Hall, in collaboration with a symphony no less.  Here is a link if you want to see the story.  It’s very interesting and inspiring.  DJ Radar w/the Red Bull Artsechro Symphony – Carnegie Hall

One thing I want you to realize is that DJing is a lifetime pursuit.  You may not do all the things on your bucket list but hopefully you are inspired enough to get most of it done.  The best way to feel like you are moving forward is to map the tangible goals and then the big dreams in some sort of order – small steps and hard work feed into bigger accomplishments.  The point is to have a trajectory.  If your big dream is to take the main stage – what do you need to do to get there?  I also want you to feel ok with having “small” dreams too.  I don’t want you to give in to the perception that being a superstar DJ is the epitome of success.  For me, I keep chasing down the ultimate mix, the one that truly exemplifies me as a person and an artist.  Of course, the reality is that I will never be satisfied but it’s fun thinking that there is a perfect mix in my head and I just need to bring it into the world.

Another important thing about this list is to see what you are doing now that might be holding you back.  You may be in a circle of people that don’t understand you, or you may be giving up too much to your audience and losing your “voice”, you may be spending too much time on a project that is not satisfying you.   You need to take serious stock of the things in your life, the gigs that aren’t relevant to you or are soul sucking, the genre you are spinning because it’s “hot” but you’re not feeling it, the time you are spending chasing down the latest top 10 ( See Getting to Know Your Tracks in an Accelerated Landscape ).  What are you doing now that is not proportional towards working on the things on your list.   This is also an exercise to understand what you are NOT doing.  You know if you are not giving your full attention to something.  So what can you do to commit?  In future posts I will talk about some Trainwrecks to creativity but for now – all you have is time, so make the most of it.

Recap: Spend some time writing down what you want to accomplish before you kick it.  Think about how you are going to get there.  Don’t forget the culture or your community and what you are doing to change things.  What’s holding you back and what’s moving you forward?

DJs – Listen!

It’s very rare that I will ever discuss what I listen to.  The reason is that I want Behind The Decks to not be about genres but to be about DJing and the creative process.  However, I had to write about an experience I recently had that inspired me to write about what it means to listen to music as a DJ.  I recently received the Plastikman Arkives LP box set.  The first thing I have to say is that this is a work of art. A truly challenging musical experience unlike anything I’ve heard in a long time.   When you get something like this, you have to just sit and listen to it.  Get your favorite chair, fire up the system, and just listen.  This made me think about how we listen to music and if we still listen to it enough to appreciate it.

These days it seems we’re either in two camps, we reminisce over sounds that just aren’t produced the way they used to be ( the “everything is crap” opinion ), or we breeze through tracks, make a mental note, put a few tags to them and then leave them ( the “I must build up a massive library for that just in case moment” ).

But what if you set up an “audio campfire” and just listened.   Following the movements and sounds and discussing how that music makes you feel – not what it will do to the dancefloor or at what point you’re going to drop it in your set or what other tracks it goes with.  Paying attention to the construction of the piece and trying to understand what the producer’s point of view is.

It’s the DJ equivalent of stopping and smelling the roses.  Something like the Plastikman Arkives box set comes around once in a blue moon and it’s a game changer in my opinion.  It is a series of real compositions that Richie Hawtin has made his life’s work and allows the remixers like Moby, Carl Craig, Green Velvet and Dubfire an opportunity to really play and extend themselves as artists ( you will not hear the usual from these guys on this album, trust me ).  It is only right to sit and listen to it without imposing my thoughts on what I would do with this material.  I actually felt smarter afterwards not just because it is an incredible piece of work but due to listening deeply.

DJ EXERCISE: I want you to go into your discography and create a playlist that challenges you.  I’m sure you have music that at some point you realized was special, one of a kind, and unable to be categorized.  Make a playlist like that and then sit and listen around your “audio campfire”.  You may have the beginnings of another threshold of musical understanding – and that’s what’s required of you as a DJ.

Recap: Take the time to create an “audio campfire”.  Listen for the point of view of the DJ/Producer.  Create a challenging playlist and extend yourself musically as an appreciator.

DJs – Feeling Stuck? Constrain Yourself. (Wait, what did she say?)

Milon Townsend

DJs are really good at giving themselves a framework from which to work with.  Especially when preparing for a gig. There are a few considerations already built in to help you make musical choices – what gear you have, the venue, the crowd.  But let’s say you want to work on a mix or experiment with production and you’re feeling stuck, what do you do? It’s hard to have any direction when you have an open road in your mind.  Believe it or not if you set up some rules or constraints you can actually be more creative.  It’s a paradox, set up a mental box, so you can think outside of it.  Your mind can only effectively process a certain amount of information.  So, if you have an infinite amount of options to work with in your mind, you can go into a state of paralysis.

Let’s talk about what some of the symptoms of feeling stuck are.

  • Loss of passion – you actively make excuses to NOT practice or touch DJing.  You do not make creative time for yourself.  This could also be viewed as BOREDOM.  Everything just bores you – music, the scene, your process.
  • Frustration – this is obvious but I’m talking about banging your head on a wall anytime you make an attempt at practicing or trying something new.
  • Negative voices – you start getting down on yourself.  Thinking you can’t do it, or that you’re not creative.  You start asking yourself: why am I doing this?
  • Feeling overwhelmed – you’re having trouble starting something, it’s just not coming to you, or your eyes glaze over when you look at your discography.

If you are experiencing feeling stuck you might want to try setting up a tighter framework for yourself. There are a few kinds of constraints that might help.

Goal Constraint: If you don’t have a deadline, then you have all the time in the world to put something together and it be perfect right? Wrong.  The problem with not having a goal puts even more strain on yourself to have a direction, and you can make excuses or allow other distractions to creep in.  Look at a goal as more of this is what I want to do, in this amount of time.  Also ask yourself, what is my priority here – for example, is it exploring different sounds and making them work or is it working on your sound or style ( I have an exercise at the end of Why Do You DJ? that helps in defining your sound )?  It is something that if you were to accomplish it in a certain amount of time, you will feel you have advanced in some way.  I know some DJs who purposely tell people they will produce a track or have a mix for them just to give themselves a deadline, the pressure for them is the greatest motivator.

Subject Constraint: This has to do with the subject matter of your work. This can be genre or mood. It depends on what you want to experiment with.  Currently I’m preparing tracklists that express a certain feeling.  Things like romantic, dark, revenge, brightness, 7am.  Based on certain words that express a feeling or context, I choose tracks that only define that feeling for me.  Some DJs already do this and it’s an easy way to get yourself out of a rut.  Brainstorm some words for yourself and then see what hits you.  Then collect the music ( and dig deep here – from memory and your “crate” ) – stay true to that expressive word, then work it out on the decks and see what happens.

Task Constraint: Another way to set a constraint for yourself has to do with the tools you use.  Your gear and technique are your tools. Let’s say you challenge yourself to beat match by ear, or use effects ( or scale back on effects ), incorporate scratching, or use a feature in your gear or software you’ve never used before.  Whatever it is you are NOT doing, then add it as a constraint and do it.

So if you are feeling stuck you can set up a constraint like this:

A mix, 5 tracks, breaks only ( the kind in a track or the genre ), Blue, holding the mix for 20 seconds each transition, in two weeks.

The more complex you set up your framework the more your mind has to work with and wrap itself around.  Really challenge yourself – you can do it!  At least, if you do not accomplish the goal in the time you set, you will have learned something about yourself and would have ingrained that experimentation in your mind for future use.

Let me know how it goes!

Recap: Your mind cannot create without a framework.  Constraints are a way to give yourself rules to work with.  Goals have to do with what you want to accomplish.  Tasks are the way you get to that goal – whether they are musical themes, technique, or gear constraints.  The more complex your framework the more creative your process and output will be.  Challenge yourself!

Source: “Creativity from Constraints: The Psychology of Breakthrough”, Patricia D. Stokes, Springer Publishing NYC, 2006.