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.

DJ Meditation Technique – Visualizing The Perfect Gig

'Headpone Meditation by Illusive Mind'

One of the things creative experts talk about is meditation and how it can bolster your connection to your creative self.  We all fantasize about the perfect gig ( and if you’ve already had one – well done! I still encourage you to do this exercise regardless – I’m such a task master! ).  What I’m going to walk you through is a visualization/meditation exercise that will allow you to play out in your mind a gig gone well.  I will throw some curve balls in this so as to mentally prepare you for things that can go wrong – but in this exercise you defeat all obstacles!  The point is to already work out in your mind triumphs and tribulations you will experience playing out.   What this does is allow yourself to experience your feelings in advance so that when the time comes to actually perform these reactions have already been incubated in your mind and you can recall very easily solutions and reactions on the spot.

The best time to do this meditation is a couple of days before a gig and a short session prior to a gig if you have time.  I also suggest that you do this meditation on a regular basis – it is your time, your safe space to reinforce in your mind what is important to you as a measure of success as a DJ.  In the beginning, if you have a partner, friend, or fellow DJ that can read these prompts to you so you don’t have to open your eyes to read them, that is ideal.  At some point you will no longer need the prompts below and you can do this on your own so that you can easily move through the exercise.

IMPORTANT: In order for this to be a productive exercise you need to try and be as specific as possible in the details of the experiences in this meditation.  Note sights, sounds, smells, and feelings very clearly in your mind.  Let your mind stop when it needs to if you want to focus on a moment, but don’t skim through anything.   This is a basic framework to get you started, hopefully after some time you can advance on your own and meditate through situations as you see fit.

Here we go!

First, you must find uninterrupted time to do this.  Shut off the phone, turn off the computer, put the mental Do Not Disturb sign on.  Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and take five deep breaths.  Take your time.  When you are ready visualize and feel the following:

1. You are preparing for your gig.  You are diligently putting your playlist together.  What music are you selecting?  Listen to that music in your mind.

2. You are packing up your bag.  Visualize all the things you bring with you to the gig.  See yourself crossing everything off your DJ checklist.

3. You get a phonecall, your DJ partner or headliner is bailing or the venue owner has double booked the night.  Breathe through this moment.  What are you feeling? Visualize your adjustment to the situation.  Keep breathing, visualize getting back on track and being ok.

4. You are going to the gig.  See yourself getting there.  Take your time with this visualization – how do you get there? See yourself being early and ready.

5. You are setting up or just arriving to the party.  This is for you to choose how you enter into your gig.  What is your ideal situation?  What does the venue look like?  What’s going on in the dancefloor?  What do the people look like, what does their energy feel like?

6. The gear doesn’t work.  Breathe through this moment.  What doesn’t work?  What are you doing to fix it or adjust to the situation? See yourself getting through this and making things work.

7. You’re on.  See yourself playing your first track.  What is it? Listen to it in your mind. What is going on around you when you play this first track?  Stretch your mind and your desire on this one – let it be the moment you want it to be.

8. You are in the middle of your set.  How are you feeling?  What is happening on the dancefloor?  Challenge your mind when you feel more advanced with this exercise ( don’t always go for the easy fantasy of a raging dancefloor that worships you ).  See yourself building the dancefloor.  See yourself connecting with people.  Reach out to them with your emotion and energy.  Try to mix a few tracks in your mind – see them working seamlessly, what does that sound like?

9. You are winding down, the next DJ is up or it’s the end of the night.  See yourself making a final impact.  What tracks are you playing? Listen to them in your mind.  See yourself packing up your bag.  What do you do next? What are your feelings at the moment that it’s over.

10. Visualize the afterwards.  How are you feeling?  See yourself reflecting on what you did.  Did you learn anything? What are you walking away with that will make you a better DJ?

11. Exit out of the meditation, five more deep breaths.  Sit and reflect on what just happened, write a few thoughts down about the experience (you may have come up with some new musical connections in this exercise, don’t let them slip away from you!)

Now that you have experienced a gig in your mind, it’s time for you to see it come to fruition.  You are a wonderful creative being – now go show the world!

Recap: Visualization is an exercise that has been touted by many experts as a way of drawing out higher creative functions.  This DJ meditation exercise will also help you ascertain your feelings about gigs and any challenges you may face.  Do this exercise a couple of days before a gig or as part of your preparation right before a gig ( ideally do this exercise as part of your inner creative practice ).

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.

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.

http://www.stevepavlina.com/articles/list-of-values.htm

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!