Before you get behind the decks, you would do well to ask yourself a few questions and be able to give yourself honest answers. Who am I? What music do I like? Are the two biggest that should come to mind. It might seem a bit silly talking about identity in an article about being a better DJ, but honestly it’s something that most DJs lack. Anyone can put together drop to drop sets comprised of top 100 songs. But, great DJs are able to infuse their sets with a sense of personality.
This is what I mean by ‘understanding your identity’ as a musician. If you have aspired to sound like Skrillex, Hardwell, or Dillon Francis in your live sets, you’ve already made a fatal mistake. By working within the context of another person’s career and by setting your standards to the work of others you have committed yourself to always being second best. If you aspire to be someone whose taste is dictated by the same people who are perpetuating stale music and sets, quit now. This isn’t to say that you’re doomed if you like the music that Oliver Heldens is playing and want to feature that sound in your live performance. Rather it should be a call to action to “kill your idols.” This means that you should be looking to out do the artists and DJs whose work you admire.
This is where the knowing thyself bit comes in. While, I can’t speak for your tastes and flair, I do know mine. I pride myself on my flexibility and my position at Your EDM introduces me to a huge amount of awesome tunes from all across the spectrum. When I produce, I make every genre that suits my fancy, but since I’m not pursuing it as a career, I’m equally as flexible as a DJ. When I have the chance to DJ, I can adapt my sets to most any genre but trap. With a background in drumming, I particularly love mixing percussive and rhythmic elements together. A lot of my sets blend multiple tracks over one another and this gives them a bit of a remix-ey vibe and allows me to hard-cut jump to make my own fills and create variation. So, no matter the genre I have a sense of style that I’m trying to pursue. However, 90% of your identity as a DJ is comprised of your song and music knowledge. Without a good knowledge of what it is you like and what is available to you, you’re basically going to be a very shitty DJ…
Know Thy Music
Your digital crates should be massive and as a DJ you be constantly striving to collect more. If you happen to like dubstep, you should be familiar with all of its styles. While bro-step might be your calling you should also be familiar with every style and subgenre within + or – 20 bpm of it. If you stick to purely popular material within your tastes, your identity is automatically limited. But, if you actively seek out new music within your own tastes, you’ll open a huge amount of doors for yourself. You might have decided that deep and tech house is where you want to spend your efforts as an artist. But, if you only listen to Tchami, chances are your sets will be bland.
But this is EDM; with 99% of all available material in electronic distribution, getting immersed is easier than ever. Here’s a few ways to get yourself up to speed in nearly any genre and style.
Explore groups and playlists
On soundcloud there are a huge variety of channels and groups dedicated to curating music – often these are based on genres and styles, this is a great way to get exposed to new artists, labels, and music.
Create a soundcloud ‘ANR’ Account
Instead of cluttering your personal or artist soundcloud account, create an alt-account and hit the follow button. Set aside one or two days a week to go through and see what’s on your stream. Like things you might want to listen to later – if it catches your ear, write the artist and title down (for extra swagger points check the label)
Click through artists reposts and related tracks – jump from channels to labels to artists use these to paint a bigger picture of styles and players within these styles.
Mix it up
Mixes are a DJ’s food; they should be a huge source for musical intake. But pay attention to your sources, a good diversity of mixes and podcasts from all tiers of popularity. If you’re listening to BBC Essentials exclusively, keep in mind that you’ll be consuming the same “food” as thousands of other DJs. But balance the popular mixes with your lesser exposed stuff and you’ll have a healthy diet of music.
On the whole, I hope this article has given you a bigger picture. Unfortunately, while I can’t form an identity for you, I hope I have managed to plant the seeds. The end-game of this piece is that you need to establish your identity and a huge effort in doing that is to expand your music collection and knowledge. You should not only flesh out your tastes in music but you should also be on the grind to evolve and widen them. Remember that good DJs can imitate, but phenomenal DJs create; not only an unique identity but, a unique experience through inspired and educated musical material. Hopefully, this had led you to realize that you didn’t drop $500+ on a controller or CDJs to remain faceless. You have the tools and hopefully, the drive to become a unique figure behind the decks
We’ll delve more into the technical “habits” of highly effective DJs in the next installment, when we chat about energy control and ways to create personality and dynamics in your sets. Until next time, @BrettEdgerly out. Dueces.