It wasn’t all that long ago that becoming a DJ was quite the challenge.
Firstly, the necessary equipment was both incredibly expensive and very hard to come by. Secondly, vinyl was the only means we had to actually play music (and as most of you know, vinyl is both pricy AND has a somewhat shorter lifespan than its digital counterparts). And finally, physically learning to become a DJ wasn’t all that simple – the internet wasn’t quite what it is today, and as a result, most of what we learnt was learnt without the help of others.
But no longer is being a DJ limited to those who are extremely passionate and dedicated.
Using nothing more than a cheap DJ controller and a smart phone, we now have the ability to mix tunes and play an entire set both cheaply and efficiently. And while this accessibility is no doubt a good thing for the industry in its entirety, it does also have some potential downfalls.
Namely, the industry is becoming saturated with mediocre DJs.
While it is becoming increasingly difficult to physically play a bad DJ set (of which we can thank the wonderful world of technology), very good DJs are becoming much harder to come by.
But, with this in mind, there are a few traits that separate those few great DJs from the rest – and as a bonus – these are things that we can take the time to work on, improving our ability as a DJ tenfold.
I often ask young DJs why it is they have chosen their selected career path. Interestingly, 99% of them typically answer with the exact same thing.
‘Because I love music’
And in all honesty, I can guarantee that those same 99% probably won’t make it as a professional DJ unless they change their outlook and opt to grow into their chosen role.
Now I should note that I’m not saying that this isn’t necessarily a good answer – but I can assure that it isn’t the right one either. You see, the vast majority of the population in its entirety ‘loves music’.
Seriously think about it for a second – who doesn’t love music?
With this in mind, do you think that merely loving music is going to be enough to set you apart from the rest of all those DJ hopefuls out there? Particularly when we consider that some of them are actually very good?
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
You see, while I have no doubt in mind that all great DJs do love music (because, as I have already said, who in the world doesn’t?), they are also genuinely passionate about what they do on a day to day basis.
They are passionate about playing music to a crowd.
They are passionate about getting people up and moving on the dancefloor.
They are passionate about creating their own unique sound.
In its simplest terms, they are passionate about being a DJ specifically. They love every aspect of making and mixing music, and playing it to a crowd. They love the tech, they love the hours, and they love the feelings associated.
Empathy is often defined as ‘the ability to share and understand the emotions of others’.
Being able to demonstrate empathy is one of the most important aspects of being a human. It is what makes us generous, helpful, and kind. It also allows us to be grateful for what we have and what we can do on a day to day basis.
Empathy also allows us to get a feel for the wants and needs of other human beings – and it is here where empathy can make the largest impact on our ability as a DJ.
Most DJs have a preference for certain types of music.
Now to some degree, this is actually a positive. Having a unique and recognizable aspect to our sound can set us apart from the rest of the crowd. Make us more noticeable, and memorable, than our competition.
But, if all you play is your favorite types of tunes – irrespective of the crowd’s feelings – then you have lost the game.
Being a great DJ is about getting a feeling of what the crowd wants. Your primary goal is to keep them on the dancefloor and having a great time. With this in mind, you need to be able to feel what the crowd likes and dislikes, and play to their needs in response.
Your music (and the way you choose to play it) has a huge impact on listeners – in which this can be either positive or negative depending on the crowd at the time. But by feeling out your crowd and getting an understanding of their specific needs, you can make yourself a much better DJ.
This actually closely aligns itself with the above point, and refers directly to the mentality and attitude that great DJs present themselves with.
Too many moderately ‘OK’ DJs get caught up in their own hype. They score a few of decent gigs, they get recognized on the street a couple of times (and often it is only a ‘couple’), and they start getting a little too big for their boots.
In short, they begin to believe that they are the person that the crowd are here to see. This typically comes with the thought that they are actually better than those same people in the crowd.
They lose of sight of what it is to be a DJ, and ultimately become egotistical try-hard musicians who are only there to listen to the sound of their own music.
Which is why they will never be great.
Great DJs never lose sight of what is most important when they are up on the decks – playing music for the listeners. We (as DJs) are never bigger those that we are playing too.
In fact, they are the only reason we are there in the first place.
With this in mind, it is imperative that we leave our egos at the door, play to the crowd, and never believe ourselves to be above any genre or type of music. A great DJ can put their own personal spin on anything, while simultaneously keeping the crowd entertained all the while.
There is a couple of things that really separate good DJs from great DJs – one of which comes down to complacency.
Moderately successful career DJs have a tendency to get complacent with where they are at in regards to their professional career. They are happy making music for moderate crowds, they are happy taking home a decent paycheck, and they are happy with their current musical ability.
Which is all well and good if you don’t want to go any further.
But for those of us who want to go further in regards to both our professional career and our personal ability – for those of us who, in short, want to become great – then we need to dedicate ourselves whole heartedly to the DJ craft.
This means constantly striving to be better than we were the day before.
For many this means constantly practicing and honing their physical skills. For others it may mean experimenting with new music, different techniques, and unique pieces of equipment. For all it means working hard and practicing regular and intently, constantly trying to improve yourself in every possible aspect.
And it is this drive and dedication that makes great DJs great. They have a need and a desire to be the best that they possibly can. They are willing to dedicate the time and effort to the craft that they love.
They are dedicated to becoming a great DJ.
In the early stages of a DJ career, it is common to find yourself trying to recreate the sound of well-established professionals. While this is undoubtedly a fantastic way to learn the ropes and develop the basic skills required to become a competent DJ, it will not be enough to reach that next level.
If you keep going down this path, your sound will become repetitive and boring – rendering you completely unable to get people up and on the dance floor.
Which is why to become an excellent DJ it is essential that you think outside the box and try and be as creative as possible. In doing so you will not only learn new skills and techniques, you will also build and develop a sound that is entirely your own.
And it is this recognizable sound that is so important for those of us who want to become great DJs. It sets us apart from the rest of the pack, ensuring that we stand out and, in which we demonstrate a substantial point of difference from our peers.
With this in mind, creativity is not necessarily something that can be taught – but it can be learnt and improved upon over time. The key is to keep trying new things, while simultaneously trying to feel the music.
As cliché as this may sound, this is hands down the best way to improve creativity and develop a sound that is yours and yours alone.
At first glance this may not sound like a good thing, but it is actually incredibly important. While the entire concept of criticism has some rather negative connotations attached, it truly holds an important place in the terms of our personal and professional development.
Criticism gives us an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and improve upon our flaws. Unfortunately, we can only achieve this if we take criticism in a positively.
If we take every negative comment, remark, or piece of feedback poorly, we are likely to become disheartened and unhappy with our current situation. Additionally, we are going to be very unlikely to learn from our mistakes.
But, if we treat every piece of criticism as important constructive feedback, we can use it to identify the areas that we need to improve upon. This gives us the chance to identify our key weaknesses and build upon them, making us a much more competent – and often well rounded – DJ.
So with this in mind, treat every piece of feedback as positively as you possible can, and then use it to your advantage.
Learn from it, and make yourself better.
Each and every year there seems to be a new sound on the horizon. A new genre of music that is taking the music world by storm. A new piece of equipment that is going to ‘revolutionize the gam’. A new style that everyone must replicate.
And although e don’t want to lose the signature sound that we have worked so hard to develop, we also don’t want to stagnate – to get left behind with the rapidly occurring improvements upon the wonderful world of DJ.
It is for this reason that so many great DJs are constantly evolving their sound, making new tunes, and developing new techniques.
By adapting and evolving to new trends, you can stay at the front of your game – constantly bringing something new and exciting to your unique and well-honed sound.
With this in mind, this also gives you an opportunity to explore different styles and sounds, improving yourself, your skillset, and your personal sound. This is integral to becoming a high quality DJ who is constantly bringing something new and interesting to the decks.
With the recent and rapid advancement of DJ tech, almost anyone can scrape by as a mediocre professional. But to become truly great, you need to have a little bit more. You need to be passionate, interested, and intent on becoming the best DJ that you possibly can.
Positively, this doesn’t mean that you require any innate and un-learnable talent to become a great DJ – you just need to be willing to work hard and dedicate yourself to the craft.
In doing so you can get the absolute best out of your ability, improving each and every day.