Last updated 2 December, 2017

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What it takes to be a successful MP3 DJ

It takes more than just hot mixing fingers to cut it as a DJ, especially in the brave new digital world. Here’s a quick, fun, personal opinion on what it takes nowadays, with an opinionated guess as to the relative importance of the various skills.

Have I missed anything? Do you think that cutting and scratching are the be-all and end-all? Let me know…

Musical passion – 35%
You gotta love the music. You have to have a passion for and understanding of the stuff. I’ve got a dad AND a step dad. My dad loves music; my step dad is a self-professed “tone deaf”. If you’re my step dad, you shouldn’t be behind the decks.

How do you know if you SHOULD be behind the decks? Well, you’ve probably played a musical instrument, or been in a band, or taken piano lessons, or been buying records since you were 8 – or all of the above. You’ve always got a tune going round in your head.

If you’re my step dad, you can’t programme DJ sets. You can’t hear a bassline and jump for the next tune because you know its bassline will go well after the current one. Or match drum patterns. Or hear a record and think “I’ve been looking for a record like this to play after X”. Or suddenly think “I’m going to play Lou Reed!” after some techno. You ain’t got it in you. As I say, you gotta love the music.

DJing skills – 20%
No doubt about it, getting from one record to the next is a big part of DJing – and knowing when to spin back, stop dead, pause, cut cleanly etc is just as important as perfecting long beatmixes and fades. Many DJs are not actually very good mixers and yet still great DJs – believe me, I’ve followed a few of them over the years – and also, mixing is more important in some genres than others.

This skill is not as important as many DJs think in my view, but you have to have a style of your own, even if it won’t win any awards.

Promotional skills – 15%
Used to be a review in the local rag and some flyers and posters. Nowadays, as well we’re talking Facebook Fan pages, Twitter, a blog, SMS alerts, mailing lists and so on. Plus, you need to develop a feel for what will work and what won’t (you may want to launch a dubstep night in your village, but is the audience there?).

One truth is that you remember more from your flops than your successes. Promotion is sometimes luck, but there is a knack (See “business skills”). But if you can promote yourself, you can get gigs, and gigs let you be that DJ you want to be.

Locating the music – 15%
Good DJs need to know what music to look for and where to get it in order to produce good DJ sets. It used to be joining record pools or promo lists and knowing the right people in the right record shops (and hanging around when the deliveries arrived…

Now it’s online networking, blogs, the right MP3 record stores, scouring DJ mixes and radio shows/podcasts, and generally “surfing with the speakers switched on”. But you have to know how to do this. (Sign up for my newsletter – you’ll get fortnightly emails to help…)

Stage presence and handling the public – 5%
If you ain’t having fun, they ain’t having fun. You need to be seen to enjoy your work, and you need to be polite to the people you interact with – your audience. Moody DJs and rude reposonses are not going to endear you to anyone.

Looking like you’re having fun when you’re tired / bored (God forbid!) / scared of your next tune or mix or whatever is all part of the skill set.

Equipment knowledge – 5%
Gotta be able to set all the gear up, baby, and nowadays that means working your PC or Mac too. If something breaks, you need the experience or knowledge to be able to fix it (or bodge it for the time being).

Business skills – 5%
Don’t get caught by the taxman – do your accounts! Get paid properly (do us all a service). Negotiate. The music industry is a cut-throat one and you have to be able to do the numbers and look after number one, especially is you’re booking DJs through agencies etc. as part of your work (and one day you will if you’re ambitious).

What is YOUR blend for success? Have I missed something out? Are there skills above you hadn’t thought about or feel you need to work on? Please let us know in the comments below.

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