Why You've Nothing To Fear From EDM Parodies Like This One

If you haven't seen this Saturday Night Live parody video of the whole EDM superstar DJ thing, watch it now - it's very funny. (Also, frankly, the fact that the bass ends up killing people is a bit of a deeper satire on the whole club/drug lifestyle. Be safe out there, kids.) However, it's the main theme - the idea that superstar EDM DJs are a classic case of "The Emperor's New Clothes", that what they're doing is actually something anyone could do - that I want to talk about today. Because I know not all DJs can brush off these attacks on our culture as easily as I can.

In this world where software makes achieving the basics of DJing easier than ever, where the music is cheap and accessible where once it was scarce and expensive, and where fame is apparently all about marketing, it is of course extremely easy for the casual observer to conclude that there is no skill any more in DJing.

It gets worse, though. People who've been in the game for a while but aren't getting the success they feel they deserve throw in the belief that audience expectations have dropped so low that you don't really need to hone your craft to get mega bookings and become super rich any more; that you just need to learn a different type of craft, namely marketing and self-promotion. This new breed of superstar DJs, say the old-timers, along with software companies, hardware companies, festival promoters, and - yes - even the audiences themselves, are conspiring to destroy the art and craft they so love. They think it was "great in '88", and has been slowly declining ever since.

Bollocks!

If this kind of talk, and parodies like the one above, make you wonder in your darker hours whether you're right to be trying to learn to DJing at all in 2014, and especially with modern digital DJ gear, I'm here today to reassure you that what you're doing is 100% authentic, genuine and worthwhile. This kind of bitter backchat is simply something to fill columns (let's be honest, it's an easy target right now), or alternatively a get-out stance for tired, old has-beens/never-quite-were DJs who were too lazy or closed-minded to adapt to what has been going on around them for the last 20 years. And you, dear reader, ought not believe a single word either side is saying.

How this could harm you as a new DJ in 2014

Now, satirists will always parody what's big in culture at any given time, and that's a healthy thing in my view. Also, one thing I can tell you for sure is that this kind of "new is bad" talk is way older than digital DJing, and will carry on long after digital DJing is fully accepted worldwide. (I remember CDs being called "not real DJing" by vinyl DJs, for instance. Now it's the CD DJs calling out the digital ones. Tablet DJs by laptop users. It'll go on...)

But let's get one thing clear: You're not necessarily out of the woods just because this kind of talk is inevitable. You can't just disregard it. Because the fact is that if you're trying to learn the art of DJing in 2014, you are potentially being duped by certain attitudes out there - attitudes this video is tapping into. Apart from the fact that you've got to work double-hard to convince venue owners that you're bring something of worth to them nowadays, the deeper problem is that as a new DJ, you might actually start to believe some of this. You might start to think that by downloading the Beatport Top 100, learning the sync button, buying a few Facebook fans, blagging your local club owner, and jumping around in the DJ booth, that you too can be where these guys are. That the money, and drugs, and women (or men), and magazine front covers are just around the corner for you, too. You might be forgiven for thinking that there isn't actually much more to it any more.

You know, I'm in a pretty unique position to call this how it is. When I started DJing, your gear was all built into a big box that was usually covered in carpet, and nearly always home made, with simple belt-drive record decks, a mixer, and a microphone on a bendy stand. You knew how to work it all inside-out, and were usually plonked in a corner while everyone else had fun (suited me fine, I was the geeky kid who hated social contact - at least, I was when I started in this game at 15).

I've been DJing professionally every since: Mobile, bars and clubs. I saw beatmatching become the norm, watched CDJs come in, was one of the first people to review a DJ controller in a UK DJ publication (nobody else could get their head around the thing). I adopted digital way back in 2005 for my own DJing. Nowadays of course I run one of the biggest online DJ training websites in the world, and clearly we're unashamedly digital round these parts. So I can safely say I've seen and continue to see it from every angle. And I've got some great news for you today if you feel hurt by this video and want to rise about it and continue to craft your skills regardless.

Why real DJs will carry on regardless

Firstly, this will pass. The bubble will burst. We saw it happen here in Europe too at the end of the 1990s. More accurately, it will settle down and DJing / electronic music culture will take its rightful place alongside other music genres and scenes. This is a good thing. It ain't going away, but this level of cultural dominance is unsustainable. This is good news for you, because it means the worst excesses of "press the button and wave your arms around in front of 150,000 people" will disappear when the hype moves elsewhere.

EDM parody

The big red bass button from the video: Note how it's actually the jogwheel of a cheap DJ controller...

Secondly, real DJing is a true skill, it is an art form, it is a discipline that is absolutely worth learning. It is not about getting someone to ghost-write an identikit EDM song for you and miming to it on stage (with or without a big red "Bass" button). It is not about knowing how to buy likes and followers to be able to stand out from all the other DJs doing the above. It is not about being a producer and miming to a pre-prepared set. It is a real, definable skill; always has been.

Sure, on big festival stages DJing is about as far removed from reality as it's possible to get, and the DJs up there are - whether they embrace it or not - also just as far removed from the realities of DJing as any other mega-stage performer. But for everyone else, the everyday art of DJing goes on. In towns and cities from Manila to Miami to Manchester to Melbourne to Moscow, DJs turn up at venues night after night with one purpose: To provide a decent soundtrack for the dancefloor in front of them, while hopefully expressing themselves through the music they love at the same time.

Learning to play just the right tune at the right time for the people on the floor in front of you sounds simple but takes a lifetime's work, and no DJ ever gets it right all the time. Knowing how to sift all the world's music, buy the right stuff, make meaningful set lists out of it, craft a creative DJ set, deal with the whole technical side of DJs, and run the "business" side of what you do (so you market yourself correctly, are polite and professional, and take your opportunities when they come) - this is what DJing is all about. And that was always the case, and always will be the case.

And while of course this is more than pressing a big red button and waving your arms in the air, at the same time it doesn't make a blind bit of difference whether you're using Technics turntables, a Pioneer CDJ system, a DJ controller, carpet-covered belt driven record decks, or even an iPhone to do it. Trust me, I've done them all. The job is the same.

Why it's worth learning how to DJ properly more than ever

Just this week, I finished teaching the first intake of students on the first ever edition of our Digital DJ Masterclass online interactive DJ training course. We covered everything from DJ gear, music, mixing and set building, to performing, marketing and even promoting. Our students learned the art of DJing how we see it from absolute beginner right up to pro DJ level. We taught musical basics and manual beatmatching, sure, but we also taught digital's best bells and whistles. All have a place for the modern DJ. The success being enjoyed by course owners who've followed the material simply reaffirmed for me what I already knew: That it's more worthwhile for modern DJs to take the time to learn the real skills of DJing than ever before.

Put simply, if you're learning the right things, the right way, for the right reasons, you can rise about the hype, and rise above the ridicule being poked at DJ culture as a whole right now (and at digital DJs in particular). When all's said and done, it's ridicule being delivered by those who don't know what they're talking about, or - sadder - by those who do know what they're talking about, and who really should know better. So watch the video, laugh - and then please, confidently return to honing your craft as a DJ, whatever gear you're using and whatever people are saying where you happen to be.

As Jam & Spoon once said: Fall in love with music and you will get by.

Do you think the excesses of EDM are harming DJ culture? Is there a place for everyone whatever gear, style, type of music or level of success they have, in the big broad church of DJing? Or has DJ culture really deteriorated, never to return to some previous golden age? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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Comments

  1. I'm going to start dropping "Get turned up to death" samples in my sets

  2. I watched the skit...definitely a good laugh.

    Ironically, it was the failure of my DJ business that led to the success of my multimedia business.

    I was one of those bitter 'never was' DJs...Truth is, I'm more of a selector with good mixing skills.

    Until I came to a realization...I love DJing, but not as a career.

    Focusing on the music and doing it for the love led me to look at how to create an atmosphere.

    It was then that I realized my knowledge of music and media could be applied in other directions.

    Now, I do it simply for the love and the fun...I'm able to do what I like, and the fact that I'm not having to struggle to do it means I love it even more than when I first started.

  3. Well Said!

  4. Totally with you there Phil. I just laughed, kept calm and carried on :)

    Simply put things like this are highlighting the insanity that is the EDM explosion, it is all about the money, the craze and not the music.

    As we all know these things are time limited and given that we would all take advantage of it given the opportunity. Unless you are a person with the strictest morals. Since it is highly unlikely to come round again. Where will these big names be in a few years?

    The music industry takes people for what they can get out of them and dumps them out again. You just have to look at all the talent competitions on TV these days to see that. Years ago people would make a career out of these shows. Now they get a few appearances after the shows and then gone. i.e. Andy Warhols famous for 15 minutes quote. (I think 15 is optimistic now and has been shortened to about 3 minutes)

    Staying power, determination and a strong mental attitude are what is required to make it in the DJ business. A DJ's life like any artists is a roller coaster without brakes.

    That all being said there is nothing to stop anyone doing it just for the fun and experience of it all and playing out is the way to do that.

    As for the masterclass, I cannot recommend it highly enough for anyone at any level of DJing in whatever form it takes for you. I listened, I learned (a lot), I contributed and interacted with people from all over the world. It came at the right time for me personally as it helped me through a difficult period. Thanks to all at DDJT and fellow classmates for making it such a great experience.

    Ready for round 2 yet phil?

    • Thanks for the kind words Phil! I'm absolutely exhausted after round 1! Will be taking a summer off and looking to bring the course to a whole new bunch of students towards the end of the year, all being well.

  5. Gonna need to get onto djtechtools.com and see if I can get them to start making big bass buttons too... 😉

  6. synapsys04@yahoo.co.uk says:

    Great read! EDM is massive with the masses right now and has been for several years. Any DJ that moans about that should hang up his/her head phones. It creates work for all of us if our chosen style of music is in the charts.

    I remember how DJ's moaned when guitar music came back in the mid 2000's - Franz Ferdinand, The Kooks, Kaizer Chiefs etc etc.... and digital music went back underground - that was a great time but personally my gigs dried up and instead of playing big clubs I was getting paid to play guitar and indie in pubs. With the rise of EDM I am back in the clubs working and playing 4 to the floor dance music- I cant complain. However many DJ's moan about how it's not underground any more....
    Another reason for DJ moaning: DJ's/Producers like Martin Garrix getting a pasting on line from other DJ's for selling out! He is a 17 year old kid who still lives with his parents and has had a number 1 hit! Any one who cant appreciate that as a good news story should just stay in their bedroom and carry on dreaming.

    In short: As DJ's we moan to much, at the end of the day we lace other people music together and create atmosphere with disposable music, enabling party goers the chance to forget their troubles for a couple hours on a Friday or Sat night. Its a great privilege to be able to do that. And if you are one of the lucky few who get that opportunity on a regular basis relish and enjoy it! As noted in the above article it wont last forever.

  7. Whenever I read or hear these stories about people having an opinion that DJing is all about just pressing a play and or sync button, it reminds me of the "Four Chords" video of Axis of Awesome. People seem to be more impressed if someone can play an instrument, but according to the Axis of Awesome you don't need to know more than four chords to become a star.

  8. Strikt Rules says:

    Fantastic write-up, Phil.

    Digital DJing does have a unique place in DJ history in that our society as a whole is focused on digital everything, not just in music, so people are inherently ahead of the curve on the technology necessary to learn how to mix. This focus on digital makes the knowledge+skill barrier to entry as a DJ as low as it has ever been and this, in turn, attracts a lot of flaky people who will ultimately lose interest in the craft. I've even taught the sync button to a soccer mom.

    On the flip side, it also attracts potentially great DJs who never could have tried it out due to the previously high price points and for both equipment and music. The world will always need DJs, even after the EDM fad goes away, and these are the genuine folks that will be the ones still standing.

  9. Struth Phil, great piece! Nice and passionate, and very true. I'm a bit of an old curmudgeon, so I'll be happier when the media circus and companies like SFX move on. My main hope with the current EDM insanity is that it leaves behind quite a few people who will look deeper into the scene and look past the arm-wavers!

  10. Phil Great Article!

    Watching the SNL Video at first I thought why are they slamming Avicii? A sincere Gentlemen in the business. Then as it progressed it became obvious that this wasn't particularly pointed at one particular person but many. Was it really that funny? And for the sake of entertainment and music, what do they feel is any better?

    I had a chance to see the Billboard Music Awards last night. Mostly Big Names Performed with all of their glitz and glamor - dancing on the stage. It was nice to see MJ come back to Life too. What is any different from the HIGH Tech Light Shows that some of the Festivals Put together for the crowd.

    Over the weekend I performed at a fund raising event for our church. Being cultural putting music together to entertain is not always as easy as one would think, both for Live and DJ. I found myself really working it and it was more than pressing PLAY and bouncing around, like in the video from SNL.

    What I cannot figure out is why everyone is slamming EDM as mere button pushing. Doesn't anyone get it YET? Have these critics looked at a Playlist to see the thought that goes into producing a Live Set without missing a beat? Do they realize how many hours of preparation in front of a computer is required so the show does not go stale?

    And more so why are the companies selling the Software and Equipment staying so quiet and not campaigning for us all?

    Its nice to see that Digital DJing is growing...Can we say the same for any other entertainment industry?

    PS: Avicii's Wake Me Up has been on the Hot 100 for almost 1 Year Now!

  11. That would have to be one of the BEST articles I have ever read...Phil M, from your wonderful (I would call a discourse) worthy of any keynote address in the largest auditorium, to Phil W. with his quite gritty and very accurate response. For me personally, it couldn't have come at a better time! Younez all but mirrored my thoughts, so I needn't say more..except, thank you all

  12. sunfell@comcast.net says:

    I laughed my socks off, Phil. All the tropes were well covered, and a few movies also (anyone catch the "Scanners" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" references?). I've been following the ups and downs of both the music and its presentation since the end of the Disco era. This whole 'push play' thing is just the latest iteration of it. I'll just keep collecting, curating, and writing about the whole thing, as I've been doing.

    I had to take a break from the Masterclass because of a local disaster, but I'm working my way back into it, and learning tons. Your Masterclass has made the art of DJing much less of a mystery to me, and who knows- someday, I might even spin for some event or other.

  13. That makes me wonder if we will get a real EDM track from The Lonely Island soon. I would be totally up for that. 😀

    Also parody or not, am I the only one who wishes that more DJs would be like that guy in the video? Sure, he could play better music and I'm also not okay with the deaths he causes, but you have to admit, he REALLY goes all out to entertain the crowd!

  14. Satire keeps art honest.

  15. Very funny stuff. I laugh when I hear people say it's just a matter of hitting a button (anyone could do it)

  16. Love this article, and about the parody, I's funny,and we should take it for what it is, just a parody.

  17. I really want that frying pan accessory. Could come in handy around 1:00am when I'm craving eggs and bacon.

  18. Does not bother me one bit. First off there is a difference between producers and actual DJs. But common people and people used to live bands cannot comprehend that (I thought professional musicians and instrumentalists were experienced and knowledgeable enough to know that already but as Arcade Fire showed us all in Coachella. they lack that knowledge).

    Secondly every producer/DJ has an instrument. Its called the studio, where their skills shine the most. If musical ability was judged by someone's physical ability to play an instrument as fast as humanly possible, the true essence of creating music is lost right there itself. You're showing off not creating.

    Thirdly, what does it matter, it is still good music, it is still a hit song, and people will still pay through their noses to attend EDM gigs. So the haters can hate but the potatoes will continue to potate!!

  19. Its just funny and to some extent true.You have to be in the States to understand that much of the popular edm music is actually like this right now.

  20. I have to chime in and agree. While I push many of you to learn marketing, I mainly do it so you have the logic/means/knowledge on how to take your talents to the next level.

    I still live by the idea that talent will win you fans...which then will build you a following that gets you bookings.

    Personally, I like the SNL spoof not just for the honesty, but mainly because now we need EDM and the superstar faker DJs to be deemed as "uncool". We need things to die so it cleans out the wannabes and fly-by-nights.

    Phil knows. I've seen this happen many times in my life. When the bubble bursts, it's never the end. You just see the "not serious" guys sell their stuff and move on. You see the "all flash no substance" acts die off, unable to get anything happening again.

    This is deeply why I tell you all to build a scene. Build your own subculture and thus it'll be your thing that you all grow with. So when the flood of EDM bandwagoners move on (and out of the clubs/fests), the enthusiasts who stay in the DJ world will then look to newer and better ideas to join with. New communities.

    These are the 10-20% I speak of who will "dive deeper down the rabbit's hole".

    • sunfell@comcast.net says:

      I like the idea of building a sub-culture. I'm coming into this from a totally different direction, having been a collector and fan of most of the dance genres for many years. Now I want to look behind the console, and mix up my own stuff. That rabbit's hole goes pretty deep!

  21. Hahaha...really funny video.

    As someone who has been spinning for 25 years on every format imaginable, I kind of relate to many ppl's belief that anyone can be a DJ now - it's true to a degree, but as with anything, it's not 100% true. Yes, there are push-play-sync DJs around (I know a few that have found work despite never having learned to beatmatch manually), but regardless of that, do they know what to play and when to play it?? Not always. Can they decide what to play and when to play it off their own back instead of doing what everyone else is doing/playing?? Again, not necessarily. I'd like to direct ppl to a post a while ago on here by Phil M. saying that "just because you can drive doesn't mean you know all the coolest places to go" - it's a good analogy that just because someone can beatmatch, doesn't mean they can read a crowd and play the right things at the right time. I'm in a fortunate position now - I worked as a pro DJ for a long time, and now it's just a hobby for me (day job now), so I play WHAT I want WHEN I want to - I don't and never needed to look around at what others are/were playing. I just buy what I like and mix whenever I like, and tbh I enjoy myself more now than ever. Ppl want to listen - fine (www.beatbravo.com/nigel_s) and if not, don't. Nobody's forcing you to. But my love for "EDM" (HATE that term) is and will always be strong, no matter what happens in the future.

  22. As ever get piece Phil. Still smiling at the "Boll*cks" part of it, just see you now typing that in with passion in your eyes.

  23. Great piece Phil. Still laughing at the "Boll*cks" part, just see you now typing that in with some real passion.

  24. djgriffin@gmail.com says:

    I just happened to be watching on Saturday night and I just shook my head a laughed out loud. Phil, you hit the mark on this one. I thought of a few "big DJs" and laughed more.
    I've been spinning since '85 and completed a 19 year residency in 2008. I still make mixtapes once or twice a month for friends and followers. For me, mixing is like the photographer who has to go out and take pictures, or the artist who has to paint. It is my muse, it keeps me sane and makes me feel great when I complete a mix, just the way I want it to sound. Mixing is like a drug that sooths my soul and raises my spirits.. Which is why I spend time continuing to learn new ways ( from this and other websites) to create great sounds.
    Phil keep up the good work, I very much appreciate your continued support and knowledge for the DJ community. If I ever get to your "side of the pound, " I owe you a drink!

    Cheers.
    Danny

  25. Here in Chicago there is a real debate (and frankly an identity crisis) occurring among DJs of all stripes. Many of my old school brethren feel threatened by technology. They vilify the sync button, the easy accessibility of digital music, and the "smoke and mirrors" created by digital effects, as well as the over-commercialization of EDM, as the death of the "real DJ." Of course, they forget some of the earliest DJs (especially those of our beloved House Music) were guilty of remixing their own edits to make blending easier, using reel-to-reel tapes to artificially mask imperfections, and very many of those same early DJs are on record with a harsh criticism of turntablism as a bastardization of "real" mixing skills. Whatever the previous skills are that become lost to technology, new skills will need to develop. One only need to look to (and listen to) a few different generations of jazz, rock, and other genres to realize that this is a universal truth. I agree that mastering certain skill sets will make you a better DJ (relying on the sync button for beat matching only limits the types of music you can mix and the quality of the blends you can create) but using it as one of your tools doesn't mean you are any less a DJ. Using auto-loops to create breaks was impossible on record, transitional on CD, and too easy to deny with digital. There is an inherent pride to carrying crates and replacing needles and remembering days gone by - but nostalgia over-done becomes living in the past - if our old school brothers did that we might have never progressed beyond disco.

  26. CzBeatz says:

    Gosh I hope this happens when I drop the LPF at my next gig haha. Back off trolls, it's a joke. (Bows at your greatness and steps away)

  27. Thumparabbit says:

    Writing as someone who came to djing etc from a rock background ( I play bass and still love Rush, old school Thrash etc ) and whose had both online and in person lessons I appreciate that it isn't just a case of pressing buttons. There's real skill involved. In addition there's the fact of certain rock bands using backing tracks etc because they can't recreate what studio trickery produced on record. I think the real art in whatever music you make is moving people emotionally.

  28. hahahahahaha seen this. "davincii." for fuck sake hahaha

  29. Impressionable says:

    A wonderfully presented arricle Phil. It's nice to hear some basic altruistic reality

  30. Funny sketch.

  31. My boss at one of my gigs was relaying a story to me that someone said "I don't like Neon as a DJ, all he does is push buttons" (as I'm a digital DJ, as are both the other house DJ's at this venue) and he said, "All my other DJ's use similar equipment...have you _heard_ him play?" and this guy said "well...no..." So yes...there is a stigma if people aren't familiar with the equipment and expect us to haul around truckloads of CDs instead of a 4"x6" hard drive with more music than I could ever play in a set.

    • Phil Worrell says:

      I think musicians had this problem when goes from a piano to a synth. Just the internet was not around then :) It's not the tools it is what you do with it that counts. :)

  32. EDM events are pretty awesome, but this parody is hilarious.

  33. IMO the public's perception of most DJs is that they are untalented weekend warriors. Even though the EDM Entrepreneur/Music Producer is earning millions of dollars, they still get no respect. SNL is simply, like most people, uninformed!

    This is why it's imperative that we persist, keep improving, and that we educate the public. What we do as DJs/Entertainers takes time to learn. Maybe just as long as being a great Comedian.

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