How To Succeed At DJing, Part 1: What Type Of DJ Do You Want To Be?

Pic from: harrisburgpadj

There is always room for new talent at the top. Are you ready to start your journey to where you want DJing to take you?
Pic from: harrisburgpadj

We get plenty of questions from newer DJs wondering how they can go from bedroom to superstar, or even to just playing gigs regularly. It made us realise that one of the most important jobs we have in our position as a popular digital DJing website is to help you to get where you want to go as a DJ. Of course, it’s going to take more than one article, and it’s going to take you more than a few weeks to get there too, so this is the first part of a major weekly series that will run for the next three months, where we’ll give you a complete roadmap to help you to get out there, get gigs, and get the success you’re looking for out of DJing. If you commit to starting seriously on your journey today, we guarantee you’ll be well on your way to getting somewhere good by the end of this in-depth course. But first…

An introduction

Literally every day a DJ is asking someone somewhere for tips and advice on how to get gigs playing in clubs or parties or even how to become the next superstar. With millions of DJs in competition to get to higher levels than the bedroom, it can be a daunting task. I don’t consider myself as anyone famous or big in the industry, but I have endured many of the challenges a DJ faces in trying to make something of all this. A few years ago, I published an early version of this guide on a public message board for DJs. I felt all the questions being asked were becoming repetitive, and wanted to share what I’d learned since I started DJing in 1992. What I’m going to give you here and for the next three months is a revised, improved version of that original guide, taking into account all the feedback I’ve had since I first penned this advice, and all the changes that have happened in the DJing world since then. Every week, there will be a new article focusing on aspects of dealing with the industry and especially on how to market yourself. Start thinking now about your “brand” My day job is in building interactive media for a large ad agency, so I’ve seen and learned how to do more than just promote, but to market and build a brand. My hope is to drive you into building yourself into a solid brand with a good message that will make people tune in and book you for the kinds of events you want to play at. But it has to be done properly. I think too many DJs and promoters worry too much about pushing themselves, and do not worry enough about the quality or clarity of the actual product or service they are pushing. Yet we see the bigger names now have managers, public relations people, and run themselves as a company with a clear brand. They have logos, a certain image they live up to, all of which is part of why they play in front of thousands while others might not ever get past the bedroom. Let’s start our journey.

The five types of DJ…

Wedding DJ

Wedding DJs take requests, and work with the bride and groom to play the music that’s required for their big day.

When I meet many younger DJs who want to play out, I can tell they’re hungry, but also that they have a dream in mind of what they really want. Many want to be big names like Paul Van Dyk or Deadmau5. Some just want regular work and be able to pay the bills. Others even have entrepreneurial dreams of running a larger entertainment company. If you’ve noticed, DJing isn’t a one-track ideology. It’s not the same job in every venue you end up in. Playing for a wedding is not like playing in a massive rave. Playing in a sports bar isn’t the same as playing for a big club. In order to better market yourself, you need to focus on the kinds of DJing you want to get into. I’ve tried to classify them into five groups to help you: Mobile DJs – These are the guys who are playing at wedding receptions, bar mitzvahs, corporate events and so on. You’ll see them invest in not only the “decks” and mixer, but also in lights, speakers, and the means to have a full setup to build a party anywhere. Their technique is mainly to play in a radio style and be a human jukebox to an extent. Requests are heavy and they fulfil them in the best means possible. Sports/college bar DJ – If you see one of these DJs playing, you might think they are similar to mobile DJs, but they are more a cross between what you’ll see a mobile DJ do and what a club DJ will do. While in a club you can stick to a few kinds of sounds (house, rap, pop, etc), the bar DJ more or less has to play across the board to build a fun atmosphere. So he could play house, but then classic rock and then popular rap music. He might mix sometimes or just slam in tunes like the radio would. He might not own speakers and lights, but just have a setup at home to play on. His bread and butter is playing mobile-style in venues that have the sounds and lights. Mainstream club DJ – Moving up the ladder from playing smaller bars is the mainstream club. These are the spots you’ll see that might range from the tourist trap to the glam bottle service club. What makes this kind of DJ gig similar to the bar gig is that you’re playing all mainstream music and taking requests. What differs is you have more freedom on what you can play and how you handle requests. So the girl asking for Katy Perry might get her request played, but the older guy asking for heavy metal can be told in no uncertain terms where to get off! You also have the freedom to play more remixes of these pop tunes, and build a vibe based on the venue and promoter. DJs here are generally mixing always and rarely slamming in tracks or making announcements like you’ll see in the bars and private events. You also have the propensity to become bigger with some imagination. The late DJ AM is one example, and love him or hate him, DJ Pauly D is another.

DJ in the dark

Reach for the lasers: Rave DJs are often booked because they play music way outside of the constraints of the mainstream.

Underground club DJ – This is probably the one spot most young DJs want to be in. Big or small, they want to be the DJ in the cool venue that plays music that isn’t normally heard in the realm of the mainstream. They want to either open for or become as big as the superstars they worship. In this scene, you’re booked not to just please individual people but to please the masses. This could mean playing an effective opening set before a big name, or even being big enough that people run out to hear you because of what you play and what you’re into… rather than push you to play what they are into. You pretty much can put up a big sign saying “no requests” and get away with it fully. Rave DJ – I could throw this under the “underground club DJ” slot, but there is a bigger difference now between someone who shows up and playing a normal set of house or trance in a big club versus the guy who shows up at a massive one-night event and plays music most clubs wouldn’t touch. In the past it was jungle, hardcore, drum and bass, or even chill out music. Now it could be dubstep or indie/nu disco. The rave DJ is brought out not only because he/she has something to offer the event, but because he/she won’t do things within the constraints club and bar DJs have to face. And not forgetting “controllerists”… So I’m sure many controllerists are wondering where they fall. Maybe they play loads of mashups on several controllers and never touch anything close to traditional DJing. I say you need to let your sound, music selection, and the crowds you’re going after decide. If you can play a great mashup set of pop and rock hits weekly at some college bar, then good for you, otherwise if frat boys and suburban girls roll their eyes at you and want a “normal” DJ, then perhaps you’re more meant for the underground side of things.

Do I have to pick one?

No. In many cases, these “buckets” can overlap. A mobile DJ can do well as a college/sports bar DJ, and even do mainstream club play. I’ve seen many mobile DJs also hold residencies in the college/sports bar scene and likewise seen some mainstream club DJs also hold college/sports bar gigs. Now comes the question if a mobile or college/sports bar DJ can also work the underground or rave scene. I’m not saying it can’t happen, but I will say it’s not very easy. This comes back to that word “branding” I mentioned earlier. In my experiences, the underground and rave scene patrons and promoters are fickle, and skeptical of a guy who wants to come play their events when he’s more known to play bars and weddings. It comes back to the branding image you portray, so showing up to the rave promoter with a CD and business card aimed at mobile gigs won’t score for you.

Cajmere vs Green Velvet

The artist sometimes known as Cajmere (left) is also Green Velvet (right) depending on whether he’s got his house or his techno head on.

Even if the demo is all tech house and dubstep, it still might not work out if people know you more as a mainstream music DJ. I know when I played trance at a few events, many thought I was just a trance DJ, and was surprised when I showed up with demos containing deep Chicago-style house. That did become a burden. There is a way around this though. In the past, many artists used to have aliases for different sounds. Cajmere is one big example. He would go by “Cajmere” for house music and then make techno under “Green Velvet”. Likewise you could perhaps be John Doe Entertainment for weddings and then make the name “J. Digital” for the rave scene or something. I will say though this will mean you’re making a bigger investment in music over the long term. Not only would you be shopping iTunes for the mainstream hits to use in that wedding, but you’d also be all over Beatport looking for the underground music you want to play at those events. Plus you might have to get two sets of everything in terms of marketing materials like business cards and web sites. The key point in choosing your focus is that this is the start of how you can build yourself as a brand to sell. If you think of the name “Ford”, then you’ll immediately know it is automobiles. If you think of the name “Kraft”, then you’ll think of food products. However, if Kraft came out suddenly with a smartphone, wouldn’t you be skeptical? This is the same with DJing.

Next week

Next week, I’m going to hit you with an early dose of reality in this business, that will help you gain perspective and show you what you’re up against right from the start. If you want to succeed, it’s vital you know how the business really operates. So work out what kind of DJ you want to be, and get ready to start doing the work to help get you there. See you in a week! • D-Jam is a Chicago nightclub and rave DJ by night, and a branding expert by day. Check out his website.

Check out the other parts in this series:

We want you to ask questions and get involved right from the off, so please feel free to post your queries and thoughts in the comments. We’re here to help.

Comments

  1. Good read, looking forward to seeing how this progresses :)

  2. Fraser Norton says:

    Great article, and nice to see another branding expert/DJ :-)

    Am still very early in my journey to become a DJ (6 months – not even ‘born’ yet), but as a brand consultant I pretty soon on defined who I would like to play for (target segment), where, and what I hope to give them.

    However, the most useful part was defining some words that would describe primarily my sound but also me, my mixing style and my brand. Really helps me when it comes to buying songs (across genres), or thinking about how a certain transition might work, or putting a mix together. Am sure most people do this the other way round – discover their sound then codify – but hard to deny my consultant nature!

    Just need a *lot* of practice and a break or two to back it up now :)

    Really looking forward to the rest of the articles!

  3. DJ Maverick says:

    I think your definition of a “mobile dj” is a bit dated. “Their technique is mainly to play in a radio style and be a human jukebox to an extent.” Perhaps if you hire the old school cheesy DJs but all of the young professional DJs mix just like everyone else.

    • Bear in mind there is a LOT of gray area to those terms. Not every gig is the same as I stated. My goal was simply to make some “buckets” so when I talk about terms and ideas that might apply to a few buckets, I can better easily identify them.

      Regardless, the point was simply to illustrate that when you’re creating your product (you as a DJ and/or your DJ services) that you should define what areas you want to dive into and which ones allow for overlap and which ones do not.

    • CosmicRift says:

      My school hired a DJ for homecoming that doesn’t mix at all. He gets paid to come in and be a jukebox. I thought of him immediately when I read the mobile DJ. His whole crew doesn’t mix which is ridiculous in my opinion. Great lighting and sound though can’t knock that.

  4. very very good article, interested in seeing how this continues, but i do have a question, about another point you brought up… you mention itunes as a store for djs… and now i am starting to buy tracks for myself and i’m not shure wether to get music on itunes or on beatport… coz shure, itunes is less expencive, but the songs from itunes also come with less quality right? they dont come with 320 kps like beatport… but beatport is double the price for one song… but on the other hand, its not that much less quality! but what do you think??? does that little bit make a big diference in the clubs???? shure all big djs recomend beatport, they already have hundreds of killer tunes and money to keep buying them, but for djs on a low budget. getting the ”first big tracklist” is expensive, atleast 300/400 euros i would say… so half the price for most the tunes is a good deal i think…

    • Sound quality to me is how the file was made. I have bought music off iTunes and thought it sounded great.

      My pointing out of iTunes was more on the idea of the wedding DJ who is purchasing pop tunes and other favorites that aren’t in the realm of “club DJ music”. So for instance if you needed a copy of “Come on Eileen” or “Mustang Sally”. You’re not going to find stuff like that on Beatport.

      • yeah i understand your point and my question was directly related to your point hehe its just when you mentioned it, it made me remember my question, wich i have already for some time now… thanks anyway

    • TrailerPark says:

      iTunes quality is fine – if you are really that worried about it, get audacity (or similar program), put your iTunes song through it and export to higher bitrate.

      • Phil Morse says:

        Actually that won’t help you – you can’t “up” a bitrate once it’s been reduced.

        • Paul Philips says:

          Touché Phil, I think a lot of aspiring would be djs are missing the point of the whole article. I’ve been dj’ing since 1986 have seen it evolve into something that I thought I’d never see in my career.
          You are who you are going to be, but you won’t get there without being innovative, reliable and customer focused at all times.

      • dennis parrott says:

        mathematically speaking, the MP3 “function” is non-invertible. that means that it only works in one direction. once you take a 44.1kHz, 16 bit PCM-encoded WAV file (longhand for “what is on a CD, Alex?”) and shove through the MP3-making function, you lose information (bits) — that’s why a typical MP3 file is about 10-15% of the original size of the WAV file. when you play it back, you only get an approximation of the original waveform. that approximation of the original WAV is usually “close enough for rock’n’roll” (listening that is, unless the subject has “golden ears”). if you take that WAV output from playback and re-encode it as an MP3 you will lose even more fidelity to the original waveform. repeat a few times and you will have CTAG — Complete and Total Audio Glop — unlistenable and certainly something you would not play on a high end audio system, be it club or home. (and God help me, it is worst in your headphones!)

        turning music into MP3s is a “do once” thing. take the original and encode it ONE TIME. after that the quality will start heading to zero quickly.

        and don’t get me started about the weird hiss and high frequency crap that gets left in your MP3 file when it is encoded by a crappy encoder at a low bit rate. Ugh. That stuff makes me want to rip my headphones off!!

    • This is definitely a good point that might need a whole article for it (Phil… hint hint). My style is essentially Trance and Progressive, so iTunes is definitely not an option for me just yet (although many Trance/Progressive producers are doing their best to release their music in iTunes also). Still there are still many good options that you can consider besides Beatport:

      AudioJelly: This is my favorite since they have a huge Trance/Progressive catalog, but the best thing about them is that they do interesting promotions regularly. Right now for instance they are running the “Winter 100 Promo”, where you go and buy $5 worth of music and they’ll give you a package of 100 tracks from last year completely free, including many tracks from very popular producers. They also have better pricing than Beatport (usually 30% to 50% less than Beatport).

      Amazon MP3: Right now I’d think they are a better option than iTunes. Their catalog for Trance/Progressive tends to be fairly recent for big producers, and usually tracks are available 3-4 weeks after release on Beatport/Audiojelly. Pricing is even lower here, but quality is 256 Kbps.

      To give you an idea the track “Bjorn Akesson – Painting Pyramids” which was released on Feb 28th costs $1.99 on Beatport, 99 cents on Audiojelly and also 99 cents on Amazon MP3 (but 256 Kbps), so definitely the best deal is Audiojelly in this case.

      Cheers!

      • I would have to disagree with you, Itunes has a fine selection and as brought up on a previous article as well as many other sites, there is little quality difference between 320kbps MP3 and 256kbps AAC (itunes). Their audio fidelity quality is pretty much the same.

        If you are boiling it down to availability, then I would have to say that it boils down to which label you are following. My main label for trance/prorgressive is Anjunabeats/Anjunadeep followed by Enhanced Recordings, both of which post their entire catalog available through itunes. Also pretty much anything Ultra is available through Itunes.

        If you are looking for underground stuff, then yeah it might be a little bit more difficult to find what you are looking for, but I find they have a really great selection for their price (99-1.29 USD).

        To OP: yes, itunes is completely fine, beatport and audiojelly for some of the harder to find stuff. You gotta start somewhere…

    • I think quality is important. You can always lose quality but you can never get it back (upsampling from a low bitrate does NOT improve the quality! in fact it can reduce it as you are re-encoding a lossy format). I’d say get the highest quality you can even if it costs a little more.

      Unless I’m in a hurry I buy the CD and rip it myself to FLAC, the free lossless format, for identical-to-CD quality. Traktor supports FLAC natively and so does some other software.

      Also if you rip your own discs you can make sure the metadata is correct – purchased downloads are sometimes a complete mess in this area.

      I find iTunes quality on the whole to be average to poor. In fact it doesn’t seem to be the data rate (AAC is actually rather good) as much as poor unauditioned bulk conversion of audio files by suppliers. Beatport and even Amazon tend to be better soundwise IMO.

      Incidentally, I’m not in any of the standard DJ “buckets” either: I do most of my DJing on internet radio and in virtual worlds!

  5. Excellent article! This is exactly what I wanted to read for awhile. I love the point with Ford and Kraft. If you look at that youtube sensation DJ Bl3nd he has built some electro reputation off of youtube.

  6. What about the most skilled DJ.. the Turntablist? The Battle DJ who can wow a crowd with “SKILL” not only song selection?

    • My feeling is they are in the same spot as controllerists. It really comes down to what kind of crowd they are going after. Most turntablists I notice are in for the battles and the underground hip-hop scene. It’s an “underground” scene in my book. Some get into mashups and trickery and thus get into the DJ AM kind of world with glam clubs.

      The categories I came up with aren’t black and white. There is gray area to it all. Still I notice not many turntablists can make things work doing weddings, and even some promoters of the more glam thing are more in for DJs who play the hits easier. They’ll book the turntablist when he’s got a following of hot club chicks and thus packs the place.

  7. Thanks for covering this.

    As someone who’s into the rave DJ end of things, I find a lot of the online DJ coverage very mobile/bar DJ oriented. This is all fine, it’s honestly a little soul-destroying to hear about. Requests? Drunken patrons? Pop music? Doesn’t sound like much fun to me.

    Making people aware that A: there’s an underground electronic music culture, and B: you can DJ in it, might help them find environments they can play their own way.

    Personally I found rave culture life-changing and very welcoming, it’s not a place where you have to suck up to grumpy promoters, and the community tends to understand DJs and bring you drinks instead of trying to talk :)

    I guess I’m a little concerned that DJs are being told they need to “earn their stripes” and participate at the bottom-end of a very hierarchical culture if they’re to achieve anything. I don’t think this is true (in any industry, not just DJing), but it serves the interests of those who are already successful.

    Like anything, successful DJing involves passion and skill, but also a willingness to redefine the problem and shortcut the socially-mandated career path. You don’t get successful by doing what other people say you should, but if you’re passionate, focused and professional you’ve got a good chance of skipping the middle tiers of mediocre club DJs and getting the attention of someone with serious clout.

    • No one’s saying you have to be pigeon holed into a sterotype. This guy is just explaining the roles that DJs can belong to. You can change from mobile DJ one day to rave another. There aren’t rules.

      I’ve played in cocktail bars, beer bars, private cheesy parties, retro swanky trendy clubs, small late clubs and rave clubs..

      Rave DJs of the 90s had requests too at various times in their careers, it’s not just mobile or bar DJs that get it.

      I’ve never sucked up to promoters and I get brought my drinks to me at most places I play at.

      • Agreed. I’ve got no problem with any of the styles of DJs listed here, it just seems that the mobile and bar DJs are expected to tolerate more crap from their punters than I would be personally be comfortable with.

        But then, I’m a pseudo-amateur by choice: specifically so that if someone tells me to do something I don’t like, I can tell them “no”.

        I guess, more than anything, I’m a lover of very egalitarian rave/Burner culture (Burning Man FTW!), and my DJing is an expression of that culture, rather than being about DJing itself.

        Thus, my expectations about conduct are different: in my world the DJ plays whatever they want, and the punters listen or don’t listen (if the DJ is good, of course, they listen, skill matters). The audiences are quite EDM-aware as well, so pop music or Top 40 will drive them away, but they’re happy to hear a minimal house or psybreaks set.

        (Sorry for the ramble, I just find it interesting how much my own experience of DJing differs from many others around these issues)

    • dennis parrott says:

      Will says:

      “As someone who’s into the rave DJ end of things, I find a lot of the online DJ coverage very mobile/bar DJ oriented. This is all fine, it’s honestly a little soul-destroying to hear about.”

      BUNK. You need to look at this differently.

      What is the mission of a DJ? To play music and make people happy even if just for a little while. With that we (sometimes) get paid (hopefully well) for that service. I have found that playing stuff that the paying customers want to hear gives you some leeway to slip in some stuff that they didn’t know they wanted to hear. I play that little game with the crowd all the time. Few of us are such “supastars” that we can dictate what gets played and have the people PAY to hear only what we want to play. So I play things they know/love/request, take the challenge of working that into the flow of the music, and then slip in a few tracks that cause people to stop and go “what is that!?” (in a good way).

      Example: as a mobile DJ, I was doing a wedding a while back. It was the “cocktail hour” before dinner. There were the obligatory Sinatra/Ella/etc. tracks but I slipped in an old Fleetwood Mac instrumental track (from the Peter Green days). As the song percolated through everyone’s brains, lo and behold, a couple of people who were old enough to remember that iteration of Fleetwood Mac perked up their heads and smiled. That was really cool for me because I know that the music I was playing was connecting with the audience. I look for ways to get that reaction every time I go out to play.

      As for what kind of DJ I want to be, I will tell you that it doesn’t matter so long as the people get up, dance and have a good time. That is why I am there and that is my goal — make my audience happy.

      • “Few of us are such “supastars” that we can dictate what gets played and have the people PAY to hear only what we want to play.”

        My experience of this is quite different (and I’m no superstar). When I play a set, I don’t expect my audience to know *any* of the tracks I play (unless they hear me play often). Which is not to say I’m playing deliberately obscure sets, but that my job as a DJ is to play interesting tunes that the dancefloor likes, regardless of expectations.

        I’ve always felt that playing tracks that the audience knows (80s remixes or whatever) is basically cheating. It works, but the real skill is in finding the music that dancers find just as catchy/compelling, but that is new, unpredictable and exciting.

        For example, this track (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVe5UNPI7kY) gets an awesome audience response. I know it backwards, so I guide the dancers through all the edits and cuts with hand gestures and body language. It gets a good interaction going with the audience, and it keeps both dancers and chin-strokers happy.

        FWIW, I ran a small gig two weeks back. We sold just over 200 tickets, all of them to people who were there to hear whatever the DJs wanted to play.

        • I really don’t get how you can consider playing tracks people might recognise as cheating…?!?!

        • No, not that.

          I mean, playing cheesy pop tracks that get people dancing without effort I consider cheating. Say, Blue Monday by New Order as a classic example.

          It works, but it’s like a TV dinner. You’re not building rapport or connection with your audience.

        • (Oh, and FWIW, I mean cheating in a personal context. I’ve got no problem with other DJs who choose to do it themselves, but I wouldn’t do it myself, or book those DJs for my gigs)

      • Fantastic article, I never really thought of all the types of DJs there really are. I am both a mobile and club dj but working into the club scene. The best way to get into your area of expertise is live in an area where these things take place. Miami is great for club djs, new york is great for high end mobiles djs and smaller cities are great for starting a mobile dj company.

  8. Keep these articles coming and I will make sure I’ll keep coming here.

  9. Phil,

    You are the most popular DJ I know….:)

  10. I like this article D-Jam! good job, even though i still don’t know what type of DJ i am lol, i think I fall on the “controllists”.. knowing my brand.. hmm I’m a web designer by day, so promoting myself online is all i know.. when i started DJing i wanted to completely change it to my profession but i guess the DJ scene is really cutthroat so it still remains much more of a hobby because i cant get a decent(or regular) gig yet.

    • Well…I didn’t mention the bedroom DJ in all this. I consider myself a bedroom DJ. My first start was in a bar, then later I played for a more mainstream club, but I wanted to play the underground clubs. I did raves, which my hope was it would build my rep into the underground club scene, but it didn’t work out. Like you, I grew very tired of the politics and backstabbing I would see happen…thus I found being a bedroom/hobbyist DJ made me happiest. I do my normal job to pay the bills and then play for myself or post mixes online or play small one-off gigs once in a while if I think it’ll be fun.

      I didn’t get into bedroom DJs here because I see that as a different beast than the five buckets. I know everyone starts off as a bedroom DJ, but I wanted to focus this series on those wanting to get out of the bedroom and make a living or even just “make it” to a degree.

      I don’t go networking anymore or even go to clubs for enjoyment, or even hand out demos. I more listen to tunes online and make mixes for my own enjoyment…while sharing them online for anyone who wants them. I’m sort of in a “been there, done that” and enjoy my life and DJing much more now in the hobby mode than when I was trying to make something of it.

      As this series will roll on, the easiest thing I’d tell the bedroom/hobbyist is to pick and choose what you would do to promote yourself to a degree, but make sure you’re happy in it. I look at people who choose to be a bedroom DJ as those who simply want to DJ for fun and want it always to be about fun and not “work”. They might do some promotion, but like in my case I’m simply happy with some downloads and a smile.

      So to the bedroom/hobbyist DJs, just pick and choose out of this series what you would do or wouldn’t do. If you want to get out of the bedroom, then take to heart whatever wisdom and experience I can give here.

  11. “It comes back to the branding image you portray, so showing up to the rave promoter with a CD and business card aimed at mobile gigs won’t score for you.”

    Are we expected to have different images for everyone act we perform? I’m really deep in the electronic scene, but I’ve also got respect for hip hop and the rap scene. I love the idea of different aliases or images I’ve done it for years in school and life in general. How does one go about projecting the right image? I’m confident with what I portray, but if it will help me succeed more without having to be a sellout conforming to different personalities for gigs I’m more than open to the idea.

  12. Will: I think there’s a point being missed here and that is, being a DJ can and should (by definition almost) be subjective and defined by each individual’s tastes and what has infleunced them and what their crowd, at the time, wants to hear.

    As someone who grew up on the very early, of what is now modernly referred to as Electronic Dance Music and back then just ‘Dance’, and enjoyed the “underground” rave scene (late years of 1980’s and early 1990’s onwards), I can very much relate to your point of view (or my interpretation of it at least). Those guys played whatever they had planned and never really took requests because the crowd enjoyed whatever they would play. And that’s fine, for that scene.

    But if your brother/sister or friend or in-law asks you to play their birthday party or some other celebration, you’ll most likely play “pop” culture music (and I loosely include all the classics from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and the Naughties as the 2000’s are called under that banner but it could be rock, disco whatever etc etc) because that’s what THEY and 95% of that crowd would want to hear and what THEY get down to (and so do I, sometimes). Would I rather be playing a progressive house or tech house set – ABSOLUTELY! But i enjoy watching people get down to music and to me (and I think to most DJ’s) it isnt about the arrogant ego-trip of “i’ll play what i damn well want and look who’s got the hard to find track that no one else has” bit(although there were elements of that in the early rave scene in my city) and more about providing enjoyment through music, that wonderful medium that brings people together and illicits emotional magic.

    I am sorry but saying “(Oh, and FWIW, I mean cheating in a personal context. I’ve got no problem with other DJs who choose to do it themselves, but I wouldn’t do it myself, or book those DJs for my gigs)” really comes across as, ‘It’s ok for other losers but I wouldnt DARE do it because it’s soooo beneath me, commercial and just plain selling-out’. I am not trying to have a go, simply pointing out that being in an “egalitarian culture” is more than just about saying so, it’s about accepting that people like all kinds of music and that sometimes, for most DJ’s, it’s about ‘listening’ to your crowd and playing their favourites – for you I guess that means obscure tracks, for others it can mean Blue Monday but please don’t be condescending by stating it’s in any way cheating.

    • “But if your brother/sister or friend or in-law asks you to play their birthday party or some other celebration, you’ll most likely play “pop” culture music”

      I’ve done this a couple of times, and it was a mistake for me personally.

      “I am sorry but saying ”

      You’ve got a good point there. That’s not what I intended, but it did come out that way.

      I guess what I’m fundamentally trying to say there is that personally, I am not interested in bar/pop DJing. It doesn’t have any of the attributes that make DJing fun for me. I’ll admit there’s an undercurrent of personal distaste, but I’m not going to criticise someone else for making different choices.

      I agree that DJing is about providing enjoyment through music. However, I strongly feel that an audience gets a more fulfilling experience from a carefully-crafted, “purist” set than they would from a collection of their favourite tracks. I’ve found that recognisable tunes have a very “thin” appeal: they get the crowd dancing, but the energy is on the surface and easily lost. Additionally, when you start a set by meeting expectations, you end up being constrained by those expectations, and you’ll lose the energy if you step too far outside them.

      By comparison, my experience is that energy a DJ has worked for without relying on popular or recognisable tunes is longer-lasting and more long-term satisfying to the audience. It lets the DJ experiment more, and give the audience what they really *need*, rather than what they expect to hear.

      That said, if I turned up to a pub in town and played a 2-hour abstract psybreaks set, I’d be an idiot and I doubt the audience would enjoy it. In that situation an experienced bar DJ would do a much better job than I can.

    • Sorry about the quote failure. I don’t know what HTML tags this site supports.

  13. “However, I strongly feel that an audience gets a more fulfilling experience from a carefully-crafted, “purist” set than they would from a collection of their favourite tracks. I’ve found that recognisable tunes have a very “thin” appeal: they get the crowd dancing, but the energy is on the surface and easily lost.”

    Without seeming to be agurmentative, I have to strongly disagree here. Remember we are talking about music in a macro-genre (going back to the original article) and it seems you are defining it by the scene that shapes your tatses – which is understandable, completely (I too once had a, for want of a better word, distaste for the rock and pop culture ‘scene’ but as I have matured i have come to appreciate that all genres have a time and place) and have found that ‘mainstream culture’ (which you cannot disagree would far outweigh any rave culture in pure numbers) thrive on their favourite tracks, the crowd heaves, the energy is intense the girls go wild and even the guys are bopping away.

    Head out to any commercial dancefloor and you’ll see what im talking about and, any personal opinions aside, you’ll have to agree that they would rather hear their favourites than obscure tracks they cannot sing along to and do not know.

    All that being said, and *trying* to stay on track of the original article, I guess this is what it is talking about and you, Will, have picked your style or brand and cudos to you for that. I wish you all the best.

    • Firstly, thanks for disagreeing with me. It’s good to hear a well-argued opinion other than my own, and I think there’s a lot of wisdom in what you’re saying.

      (Just for some context, my tastes were originally shaped by jazz and classical performance, and I used to play jazz trumpet. I was introduced to electronic music only two years ago)

      I’ve done a bit of tech work at mainstream (dubstep or top 40) gigs, so I know what you mean. I spend time people-watching at these events, because I’m academically very interested in how gigs work.

      I’d agree there’s a definite energy about them, the crowd responds to the tracks and there’s plenty of enthusiasm. However, it’s an energy that makes me uncomfortable. It feels like it’s on the edge of violence the entire time (alcohol), and the audience seem to have a relationship with the music that’s more about what their friends like than it is about what they like themselves.

      What to make of this? If I wanted to be strict, I’d simply say that mainstream music doesn’t provide the sort of experience that I’m looking for personally.

      That said, I think many of the dancers at the mainstream gigs would find the same thing as I have. If they were exposed to more complex/involved/quality music, I think/hope they’d find that they get more satisfaction and enjoyment than they do from rock or pop. I’ve always felt that music, like anything, is very much “effort in -> enjoyment out”.

      Maybe not, though. It’s possible I’m just a music snob and I’ll only ever be happy at very niche events with other music snobs.

      Head out to any commercial dancefloor and you’ll see what im talking about and, any personal opinions aside, you’ll have to agree that they would rather hear their favourites than obscure tracks they cannot sing along to and do not know.

      This is very true. Fundamentally, I’m much better off focusing on doing what I to do that bemoaning the fact that other people want to do other things.

      Good luck with whatever you’re doing as well :)

  14. Awesome article! Quite possibly one of THE most important reads for DJs of any kind. I have friends who have DJ’d for years and they would benefit from reading this article. Thanks for the jewels guys!

  15. JaKinetic says:

    Love the article. Very informative, Im an older DJ, just getting back into it never lost the love though. I guess i’m a controller dj now and this info helped out substantially. I used to think I couldn’t make a living doing this while working a 9 to 5. but info and love pulled me back. Thanks

  16. MasterHolten354 says:

    Great article! i look forward to reading it fully…

    I myself am not certain if either: 1. am up for being a dj or 2. just dont have what it takes to be in terms of how i work.

    I will point out that i have no gig experience whatsoever and only recently was able to get myself my dj controller…most of what i have in my ipod and computer is techno, with very little house, IDM, DnB, and some others styles…my first gig will be on May 2013, for my sisters Quinceañera, i will play different styles since not everyone will want to listen to Deadmau5 or LMFAO, so i have to spin the styles that the older audience will like (salsa, merengue, la macarena).

    Personally, i dont think i fall in any of those categories (but i know im wrong!) as i would prefer to play different styles of Techno (minimal, progressive, ambient, acid) for a dj set. Id prefer to play my style and not take requests, and i would do it for the minimum wage…and maybe add some controllerism in there every now and then.

    If i ever become good enough that people WANT me to play for them live, my love will be placed in experimentation… my sets would range from simplistic (dj controller with laptop) to over complicated (laptop+drum machine+DAW+bass guitar+whatever else i wanna put in it+etc).

    Oh well, my rant was possibly unnecessary, cheer for the article! :D

  17. So would DJ Jazzy Jeff be considered underground/mainstream?

  18. Hey D-Jam,
    Really appreciate the starter advice. Unique from regularly reading through those basic articles like “how to become a Dj in 6 steps” , etc…
    I do have a few questions though, which I’d really appreciate if anyone may answer. Ive got big dreams, but i do have fears of not being able to reach there. Also, do I need any early experience in instruments, etc?
    Does it matter if im still a fresh starter to music like this since its been just about b year digging into progressive house, house and trance?

    Thanks a million bud
    Take care. Jam hard

  19. Great Article… can wait to read the next one big ups!!!

  20. Amazing articles. As a fellow DJ you summed up perfectly the industry. Its a perfect guide for the beginner all the way to the experienced DJ. I’ve learned some tips from this myself even with 20 years of experience.

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