Above and Beyond. Gabriel and Dresden. Swedish House Mafia. Infected Mushroom. Kyau and Albert. Sasha and Digweed. Super8 and Tab. These names are synonymous with high-quality productions, amazing live shows, and great DJing. They’re also all composed of more than one person, something you doesn’t see frequently in the DJ community. Read on to learn how having a partner can add to (or subtract from) your DJ career.
Types of DJ partnership
DJ partnerships come in many flavours with varying levels of live participation. I’ve broken them down into three broad categories:
The DJ/manager-minder partnership
DJing live is great, but finding gigs while practising or producing can be a full-time commitment. This is where the manager comes in. It will be his or her role to deal with venues and find gigs while possibly helping out with gear setup. This kind of partner can also act as a minder, helping to mitigate interaction with people requesting songs or providing feedback. As the DJ, you’re free to do what you’re there to do: play music. You’ll have someone familiar to talk to during downtime, and (definitely not least) someone to bring you a drink or two during your set.
The DJ/producer partnership
You know the kind of music you play backwards and forwards, and you’d like to try your hand at production. What’s the next step? Studio gear is expensive, and working your way through complex equipment or the nuances of digital audio workstations (like Apple’s Logic or Ableton Live) can be daunting. Enter the producer.
Need additional samples created, tracks mashed-up, or recordings mastered? No problem. In today’s world where the line between DJ and producer is blurring, it’s great to have someone to show you the ropes at the other end of the spectrum. With knowledge of each other’s techniques, it’s easy to be creative while performing.
The DJ/DJ partnership
Have a friend who has similar tastes in music and who is interested in performing live? Maybe you don’t have a DJ set-up, but you’re willing to learn the ropes.
Partnering up with another DJ may be the way to go. Time spent setting up, taking down, and mixing will be cut down, removing some of the stress factors of performing live. One partner can handle requests while the other mixes in a new track. You can also be more creative live: the promo video for Pioneer’s new DJM-900 Nexus jokingly states that you’ll wish you’ll have more hands to try out all the new effect combinations. With another DJ by your side, this will effectively be true.
Pros and cons
Generally speaking, each kind of partnership has pros and cons. It’s up to you to decide whether perceived losses are outbalanced by perceived gains. It doesn’t make sense to find a partner unless there will be at least some benefits for both parties. Common benefits include:
- Reduced preparation time – Whether it’s track selection, loading and unloading gear, or setting a wealth of cue points, having someone else there to help you reduces your workload
- Improved technical knowledge – You use Traktor Pro, and your partner has experience with one of the flavours of Serato. Maybe a friend was a controller junkie while you honed your beatmatching skills using turntables or CDJs. You’ve only been behind an analogue mixer, but your partner has performed using Ableton Live or various effects processors. Share the knowledge! Take advantage of the partnership to learn skills on other musical software or learn the nuances of different pieces of gear. With the cost of entry to full-on DJing and production being relatively high, take advantage of a lucrative situation
- Make more money – Having two people looking for gigs, possibly with two different groups of contacts, means that you’ll probably find more gigs. This means more money in your pocket. Twice as many gigs means twice as much exposure, which leads to more gigs altogether
- Buy more gear – You’d really like to drop US$900 on a Pioneer EFX-1000, but you can’t rationalise spending that much on an auxiliary piece of gear. With a partner, you may find that you’re both more likely to invest in new gear that will improve your live sets. If you decide to split the cost, that’s less money out of your pocket upfront
- Be more popular – If you’r both DJs and your styles complement each other (say, one of you is more commercial and the other more underground), you can “iron out” each others’ excesses, providing a broader musical soundscape and appealing to a wider range of people
However, it’s not all great. Partnerships can – and do – go wrong. Possible downsides include:
- Your partner is not as serious as you – One of the benefits of DJing is social: you’re the centre of attention, meet lots of new people, and may have the chance to perform alongside some bigger names. This is the end result of a lot of work, and many aren’t willing to put it in. You may end up practising more, finding more gigs, or preparing sets more often. The first time your partner plays the “wrong” track because he/she doesn’t know anything about it, you’ll want to make sure it never happens again. If you’re doing all the work, there’s no need to have a partner. Time to move on
- Your partner doesn’t know what he/she is doing Continuing with the point above, if time isn’t put into learning how to mix or use the gear provided, the set could end up being a trainwreck. Transitioning between songs is the least of your worries when your partner is tweaking the gain while thinking it’s the filter. If you have a custom-mapped controller, this effect is compounded: pre-assigned buttons may no longer have a given function, and it’s up to the partner to have a firm grasp on the gear. Not only will sets sound poor, you could damage audio equipment in the process. Not good
- You’ll make less money – Unless there is some sort of extenuating circumstance, like you purchased all the gear and need to pay it off, expect to split the pay in some fashion. More gigs may make up for this, but it may be hard at first. Is having a partner alongside you worth $100 every gig? Think about what he/she brings to the table and decide accordingly
Some of the biggest names in electronic dance music are either full-fledged partnerships or regularly collaborate with others. The biggest names simply cannot tour, produce, remix, and run a record label all by themselves; they need help from a diverse team of individuals. Having a partnership reduces the workload and grants more time for other endeavours, be they music-related or otherwise.
For now, especially if you’re a bedroom DJ, start small. If you meet someone or have a friend who is interested in forming a partnership, be aware of the benefits and downsides of doing so. It’s possible to gain from a partnership, but the opposite is also true. Weigh your options, and do what works best for your situation.
Do you have a DJ partnership that works for you? Or do you have any DJ partnership nightmares you’d like to share with us? Let us know in the comments below!
• Brice Sarver is a DJ from Idaho, USA. He blogs on EDM and DJing at On The Knobs.