Good DJs stand out from the crowd, and one of the most important ways of doing that is by showing off the breadth and depth of your musical knowledge, by having a “sound” of your own, and by being able to drop in something completely unexpected every now and then. It means more people go home happy, because you’ve played something for them. And it’s a fact that on a night out, most people will be happy if they hear just a couple of songs they REALLY like – they’re not expecting a whole night of non-stop “I love this!” tunes.
That’s why for a DJ, it’s not good enough to have the latest 80 hot tunes from a dance download store in your style, or the top 20 records from every year for the past 10 years, or everything you hear in all the other bars and club across town, distilled through your personal taste filter and plonked into a folder on your computer for playing out. Because if you do, that folder may as well be titled “A Wannabe DJ’s music”.
You still have to cover the musical basics…
Having a routine that regularly exposes you to what’s new on your scene is a really important part of being a DJ, and if you are following a system for music discover (such as that shared in our How To Digital DJ Fast course), you’re already ahead of the crowd by using your own ears and not copying what everyone else is playing.
Chances are you’re also spending a lot of time listening to the music you already have anyway: Practising mixes, sorting new tunes, pairing up old ones, removing stuff from your playlists you’re now bored of. And so it should be – dedicate yourself to well-chosen music and you’ll quickly become a better, more distinctive DJ.
Make time to switch off from your DJ tunes
But all of this takes time, and it’s my guess that you have precious little time to do what “normal” people do.… just listen to any old music without worrying about all of this. And over time, this actually becomes a big problem for the ambitious DJ.
Why? Because it’s the moments where the two parts of your brain – the part that listens to music like everyone else does, and the part where you are constantly planning and sorting your next DJ set – come together, it’s these moments that lead to those sudden synergies, those “eureka!” lightbulbs and musical leaps that mark out great DJs from merely competent ones.
It’s at those moments when you’ll realise that a Phil Collins album track has a great beat that you can loop; when you realise that an 80s pop record has a modern-sounding synth line that means the tune can be used in your sets today; when you realise that the spoken lyric in the middle of a 70s funk tune name-checks your club night and you can drop it over your sets to personalise them – and so on. These leaps are priceless to a good DJ, and you need to have as many of them as you can.
Get some random music into your life
So make room for random music. When you go on holiday, take only albums you haven’t heard with you. Listen to your girlfriend or boyfriend’s CDs when doing stuff around your house, instead of your DJ music on loop. Force yourself to listen to half an hour of a rock radio station on the way to work. Tune in to the local stations when you’re out of town, especially if you’re in another state or country. Stream something unusual on your headphones when jogging. I’m sure you can think of dozens of ways to expose yourself to unusual music you wouldn’t expect to be able to use in a DJ set. Work them out now and start today.
It’s not wasted time – it’s stopping you getting blinkered, and helping you to realise that there’s a whole world of music out there that lots of people are listening to and enjoying. The exact kind of people who, when they are at your events, will say: “I don’t really like house/hip hop/disco (add your genre here) but the way this guy/gal DJs it, it sounds great!”
It sounds great because you have learned to blend your base style with many other types of music too, however much or little you end up actually doing it in any particular set.
That’s how you can show off your breadth and depth of musical knowledge, and one of the ways great DJs learn to stand out from the crowd.
• Want to know more about how to discover, organise and prepare great music for DJing? Grab our How To Digital DJ Fast course today.
Where do you find new, different and suprising musical ideas from? What radio stations, web streams or websites do you go to when you want to hear “somethign different”? We’d love to have your comments below.