The most recent tirade against digital DJs “looking like they’re on Facebook” was in a video we republished a few weeks ago. But the truth is that it was just another example of a line of attack that’s been aimed at laptop DJs for a long time. (It has to be said that it normally comes from older DJs, and it normally includes something about “sync button cheats” too, but that’s all stuff for another time…).
The “Facebook Face” thing has obviously struck a chord with the Digital DJ Tips readership, though, as I’ve had a number of emails from people concerned not to appear this way when they’re spinning. So apart from putting your laptop to the side or having it set up so people can see you’re not on Facebook, here are a few tips from my experience that should help…
1. Know your music well
One of the big reasons people end up screen staring is that they don’t know their music well enough. Think about what you’re like on Beatport. You love it, yeah? I know I do. Hours spent listening to those previews, dicing the results, following your instincts as you burrow around for the hidden gems… you can lose yourself doing that stuff! Which is precisely what you don’t want to be doing when you’re actually performing…
DJing is no time to be scanning through vast lists of tunes you don’t know well. It’s an old comparison, but in the “vinyl” days, every new tune was an event in our lives, and those tunes simply didn’t make it into our collections without being “known” – listened to, mixed with, tested, evaluated and so on. If you don’t have the same relationship with every tune in your collection (because you buy too much, or you’ve stolen music by the bucketload, or you never listen to your collection), then fix it. Throw away the stuff you don’t like. Do the right thing and delete the illegal downloads. And damned well get to know the stuff that’s left!
The end result will be that when you hit the tunes lists in your DJ software in a performance situation, you’re looking along your “own” record shelf, not browsing in the whole store.
2. Organise your music well
Just knowing your music isn’t good enough, though. You need to be cleverer than that to avoid “Facebook Face”. Because here’s the thing: When I used to DJ several times a week holding down multiple residencies, I had (I am guessing) 5,000 records, and let me tell you: I knew those records well. But that doesn’t mean I used to take all 5,000 to every gig with me!
Can you imagine? I’ve actually seen this once: We asked a local maverick music making duo to play a back room at a party for us, and they had never DJed before: And they brought ALL of their records with them! It was like they were moving house or something: They had boxes and boxes behind them! Needless to say, their set was a shambles as they spent all their time crouching down flicking through sleeves.
No, what you simply must do is arrange your music for the night in question, – every single time you have a gig. In the old days that meant carefully packing a crate or two, thinking about the time of night you’re playing, covering “plan B” situations, always knowing that for every record you included, you had to leave one out. What you were left with was a tightly packed, well thought-out crate of music you knew really well. That hour or two of homework was necessary back then because of course you couldn’t take all of your music to every gig with you… and the trouble with digital is that DJs don’t have to do this any more.
So at best, nowadays you end up flicking through reams and reams of music, with that “Facebook Face” in full flow! Doesn’t matter that you know all that music well (if you’ve followed point 1) – you’re still guilty. And the solution is ridiculously simple: Just plan your DJ set a little. Make a crate with the tunes you think you’re going to want to play, and play from that. Drag them into a very rough order (beginning – middle – end of set). You don’t have to stick to it, but it’ll give you a start. This reduces further the work you have to do when you’re there… and it’s in no way “cheating”. In fact, it’s pretty much essential.
3. Look like you’re having fun in the meantime
Here’s a dirty little secret of DJing with record decks. Once you’ve got a great record collection, packed a wonderful crate for the night, and of course got the required skills to beatmatch and mix those tunes together well enough… the job is 90% done. Your biggest remaining task? To interact with the crowd, to “feel the music” so you make great choices from the narrow selection in front of you.
And here’s where another subtle “digital problem” rears its head. Unlike record decks (two spinning things, two mixer channels, some EQ and if you’re lucky a couple of effects), or CDJs (throw in a bit of looping too), digital’s possibilities are virtually endless. And this sometimes does something weird to DJs: It has them staring at their screen thinking they should be doing something when in fact there’s absolutely no need. You think you’re being a diligent DJ by trying to appear like you’re busy but you’re in fact looking at best uninterested… you’re inadvertently showing the crowd your “Facebook Face”.
It’s easy to overcomplicate DJing. Bottom line is that once you’ve done the above, it’s OK to dance in the DJ booth, smile, maybe listening a bit harder than most to make the odd EQ adjustments, and possibly throwing in the odd trick every now and then… but that’s all. What’s not OK is to have a default pose that is basically rigid, staring at the screen, transfixed as your mind tries to vaguely work out what you can (usually unnecessarily) do to “add” to the tune that’s playing.
Basically, you’re one of the crowd. And the more time you can find in your DJ set to act like that, the more you’re going to engage with them and deliver a great night… where nobody accuses you of being a “Facebook Face” DJ.
My final bit of advice is not to get too hung up over this. Back in the old days the DJ was a geeky guy in the corner who played music. What you did really wasn’t that important other than do an amazing job of making the right stuff come out of the speakers. And believe me, despite the fact that I’ve highlighted some digital problems above, old-school DJs used to spend plenty of time crate-flicking (or CD wallet-watching) too. It’s something you tend to do more when you’re less experienced, and the only way to get that experience is to do it, so really don’t let it hold you back.
In this age of rock star, superstar, Jesus-pose DJs, it can be easy to think that your physical performance in the booth is everything, but that’s simply not true. The truth is that in 90% of situations, you’re still required to simply make the right stuff come out of the speakers above all else. If you can do that, and still manage to look like you’re having fun at least some of the time… that’s going to be enough. And if you follow these general guidelines, there’s no reason why you can’t do that. Enjoy!
Have you even been accused of updating Facebook when DJing? Have you ever, erm, done it? Do you think it even matters? Got any tips to add? Please do so in the comments.