DJing Is Hard

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Last updated 20 August, 2014

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DJing is hard
Sometimes, even in the coolest of venues, it can all fall apart for the DJ. As I saw happen to one DJ recently… Pic: SoBoUK

Ever felt utterly dejected with your DJing? Had a Friday 13th moment? Failed to learn an important skill despite trying and trying? Messed up in front of an audience and felt so small you wanted to give up and never try again? The purpose of today’s post is simply to reassure you that you’re not alone. We’ve all been there, and I was reminded of the fact only recently by something I saw when I was at an industry event.

It was at a VIP-type party held by a big DJ gear manufacturer. Sadly, I witnessed a successful DJ and producer really go off the rails. He ended up only playing 20 minutes of his set before finally begging with the promoter to be taken off the decks. His problem? He genuinely didn’t feel his style fitted well after the previous DJ, and so couldn’t raise his game to follow him.

And if someone with decades of experience behind them can mess up like this, it just shows that none of us is immune.

Why it has to be this way

But the thing is, anything worth doing has to be hard, has to have the risk of you making a royal mess of it, built right in there. One of the reasons DJing is so much fun is that when it goes well, it feels unlike anything else in the world – but the necessary flip side is that there’s always the possibility of things going wrong. After all, as DJs we’re the centre of attention – some people love this fact, some still enjoy DJing despite it, and for others it’s nothing more than an unwelcome part of the job.

But the thing is, our mood and the crowd can seriously affect how we feel about being stood up there. The DJ I saw mess up the other night was playing to a trendy crowd of drinkers, not to a dancefloor, and clearly felt uncomfortable being the centre of attention in that environment, especially being made to follow a DJ whose style was very different – yet in a club he may have been fine.

Also, there’s basic performance nerves to conquer. If you’re nervous anyway and the DJ before you really rocks it (as in this case), it can be difficult to play next. The DJ I saw fail was a “selector” style of DJ, playing great music with few frills, but he followed a cuepoint-juggling four-deck wizard, and he couldn’t cope with the level of expectations, despite all his experience.

And despite digital gear making some of the manual skills easy, the real skills of DJing – being sure of your music, programming it properly, successfully reading the crowd – haven’t changed one iota in decades. And they’re not always easy to do a good job of. It’s something we repeat again and again both here and in How To Digital DJ Fast. Ah yes, reading the crowd. DJing is meant to all be about a two-way interaction between crowd and DJ, a shared experience where hopefully we go somewhere together that none of us could quite have mapped out before we began. But what if you can’t feel it? Do you fake it? Do you push on until you can feel it? Do you change the way you’re playing? Or do you throw in the towel, like this guy did?

One trouble is that because we love it so much, because we’re all so passionate about our music, so in love with the idea of making meaningful things happen through playing tunes in front of a crowd, so convinced that for us, communication is best done through tunes, not words – because of all of this, well, if it all falls apart, it falls apart hard.

And sadly, often it’s the people who have the most to give who feel it hardest when it’s not going well for them.

You’re not alone…

There’s no big message to this post. The guy having a bad night was a professional with nothing to prove, and he’s probably never done that before and never will again (we normally cope with these things, feeling uncomfortable on the inside but ploughing on through; but on a night where there were lots of DJs lined up, he just felt that he couldn’t contribute. The sad thing was he was playing great music. And the guy who was rushed on after him played trash…)

But the point is this: If you ever feel like you’re having the worst set of your life, or that you’re a fake, or that your music isn’t good enough, or that your skills aren’t up to the job, or that you just want to be anywhere else in the world than stood there DJing, right here, right now, please take comfort: You’re not alone. Every DJ has been there at some point. It’ll get better.

DJing is hard. That’s one reason why we all love it so much.

Have you ever felt out of your depth? Have you had to ask someone else to take over for you? Wished you weren’t DJing at a place you felt you should have really been enjoying yourself? Felt like a fake, or that you weren’t good enough? Or, have you ever witnessed a DJ “lose it” behind the decks? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.