Being a DJ is not as easy as it looks

With the rise of EDM to the mainstream, more and more kids are  dreaming to become super star DJ.  DJs are the new rock star and CDJs and mixers have topped kids’ wish list over guitars.  The technology now simplify and even make some required skills that used to take months of practice to acquire become obsolete.

 

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Paris Hilton in her infamously embarassing DJ debut in Brazil

All you need to do is play 2 songs together and you make smooth transition between those two tracks. How hard could it be right?

Many celebrity jumps in head first to make quick cash by transforming themselves overnight into a DJ. Many of them probably think it’s not that hard to become a DJ.  All you need to do is play 2 songs together and you make smooth transition between those two tracks. How hard could it be right? It’s true that nowadays it’s not hard at all to mix. The thing is, There is more to DJing than just mixing. So let’s discuss about the common misconception about DJ world and how we actually should approach them better.

I learn to DJ on a pair of belt drive turntables. Those 2 were never stable, the pitch fluctuate and obviously hard to mix on. I used a Marantz TT that only has 3% pitch and a Gemini that pretended to be a Technics. You basically have to keep your attention at 100% until you mixed out of a track.

I literally practiced for hours each day for a whole year before I was confident enough to start asking to play at friends’ house party and another year before asking for a slot at local bars. On my 3rd year, thats when I started to get paid for my gigs. Getting paid means 2 pint of beers and $50 gas money. That 3rd year is also where I started to consider my self as a DJ. So when people asked me how long have I DJed, it started on that 3rd year.

If you do your home work and preparation, your DJ software and even CDJs can do the beat matching for you.

What did I learn in that first 3 years? Lots to be honest. You learn to network, to build your own sound, to read the crowd, and at the same time you get better at mixing. You see, those are some skills needed to become a good DJ. DJing is not just about mixing/beat matching. Nowadays, you don’t need to know how to mix/beat match because the technology can do that for you. If you do your home work and preparation, your DJ software and even CDJs can do the beat matching for you. But being able to mix perfectly doesn’t make you become a good DJ. You still need to make sure that you can develop your own sound while at the same time adjust your set to ensure that the dance floor is packed. That, requires the ability to balance your ego with the clubs/venues needs and a keen observation towards the crowd on the floor. Those took years to master. You can’t learn those at DJ school. You can only learn those on the job and it takes time.

When a headliner gets on the decks and the dance floor is empty, that means you’ve failed to do your job.

As a DJ, you also need to know your position in the time slot. There’s absolutely no point dropping all the big room bangers at 10 PM when the club is empty. Reserve that for the headliners that play at the prime slot. When you play early, it’s your job to get the people on the dance floor. When a headliner gets on the decks and the dance floor is empty, that means you’ve failed to do your job.

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DJ Harvey

That’s why some of the best DJs in the world usually have longtime residency at well respected clubs.

Experience DJs will say the hardest slot to play is right before the headliners. You have to hold your self back and at the same time packed that dance floor without playing the big room bangers. You MUST NOT outshine the headliners even if you have better credential than that guest DJ. Essentially your job is to make that headliners look and sound better than you. Those are definitely difficult and requires you to leave your EGO outside the DJ booth. That’s why some of the best DJs in the world usually have longtime residency at well respected clubs. Name like Aldrin from Zouk, Singapore, Hernan Cataneo, Danny Tenaglia, DJ Harvey and the likes are DJs that honed their skills by being resident DJs. You put those guys on the decks for 5-7 hrs and they will own that dance floor. Try doing that to today’s headliner like Steve Aoki, Zedd and the likes, they will not be able to hold that dance floor in their entire set.

My point is, for all new DJs, keep at it. Doesn’t matter what you use to play nowaday. But remember to constantly learn on the job and most importantly, be humble. Just because you graduated from top DJ school and been DJing for a year means nothing. Also, DJing is not about you. It’s about those people on the dance floor.

One more thing, learn how to put together your DJ system. Know how to hook up all your gear to mixer is important. I’ve seen too many times where there’s something wrong on the DJ booth and the DJ just stood there not knowing what to do and wait for technician to come. It’s really important to know how to trouble shoot at that instant when something goes wrong. You only have 2-4 minutes windows to find out and fix what’s wrong before the song currently playing is over. A technician might not get there on time. As a DJ you NEVER ever let the music stop during your set unless the power went out or told to do so by the club. Even hardware failure is not an excuse, therefore if you play with laptops, always have back up.

Lastly, thanks to those early days with belt drive turntables, now I’m 100% confident that I can mix on anything (well, except cassette decks).

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