Reader Diogo Ferreira writes: “I’m just starting in DJing, but some doubts are starting to annoy me. I’ve got no problem with mixing techniques, and no problem with harmonic mixing, which I love and with which everything sounds perfect (at home, at least). But my problem relates to this: I’m taking DJing seriously, and I want to get recognised for my own style. My concept is to play highly melodic electronic music (mostly lesser known but great tunes, the kind of tunes I would love to dance to) in many different styles: techno, IDM, tech house, experimental, minimal…”
“I may slightly adapt the set to the club I’m playing at as I read the crowd, but the issue is this: The core of my set has tunes of very different styles which makes them difficult to mix any other way or with any other tracks than those I’ve practised (it’s like a prepared mini-mix of tunes), so once I’m on it there’s no turning back.”
“Also, how will people respond to these variations in styles and melody? I think the tunes are good and the mixes are very good, but will this change of both styles and melodies, even if mixed very harmonically and flowing well, work with the crowds? Or should I do what 90% of DJs already do and just play safe? Will it give me an distinct identity or style or no nothing at all?”
Digital DJ Tips says:
It sounds like you’re committed to the art, and that technically you’re getting there, and it also sounds like you’re a naturally musical person. Also, you know what you want to do, which is more than many DJs at your stage! All of this is good, and because of it, you’re already well on your way to getting a distinct identity. Never play safe if you’re not “feeling it” – always follow your heart. There are two issues here, though: One is whether your wish to “mix things up a bit” will go down well with the crowd; and the other, will the fact that you’re practising mixes at home that you then don’t feel capable of deviating from when you’re playing them live affect your DJing, because you won’t know what do do if they’re not going down well.
On the first point, developing your own style is vital, but you’ve got one ingredient missing: The crowd. Only by DJing in front of an audience and watching and learning can you see what parts of your style work and what parts need to be rethought. DJing is not something to be theorised about in your room: It means little unless you’re doing it in front of a crowd. That’s where the learning happens. Book a gig, any gig, and find out! Then do it again, and again…
On the second point, it is good to have mini-mixes in your set that you have practised and that you know sound great, but they’re no substitute for knowing the right record to play at the right time. How you mix is not as important as what you play. If you can get cleanly and simply from the current tune into the best possible tune to play next, that’s better than playing the wrong tune but mixing it in well.
So by all means have mini-mixes but limit them to two or three tunes in length. If you have lots of “mini-mixes” suiting different moods and crowds, then there’s nothing wrong with stringing them together to make a whole DJ set – but don’t plan the whole thing beforehand. Again, the reason is that you’re forgetting the most important ingredient: The crowd.
What advice would you offer to Diogo? Have you developed your own style that works well for you? Do you prepare mini-mixes on even whole DJ sets, or do you play completely ad-hoc depending on the crowd? Please take part in the comments below.