If you regularly make mixtapes, you’ll know the feeling: All that music, all those ideas, all those gigs you’ve played recently, yet now it’s just you and a bit of spare time to actually record your mix, you’re stuck for ideas. You’ve gone blank. Nothing is inspiring you, and you don’t think anything you do today is going to be any good.
Creativity doesn’t always come easy, so here are 7 simple things you can try to beat your DJ’s “writer’s block” and produce something worthwhile at the end of the process:
- Clean out your DJ room – Whether it’s your bedroom, a corner of you living room, a dedicated studio or just the kitchen table: Tidy up. Get all the junk and clutter out of the way. Anything that can distract you and get your thoughts drifting is bad news. You want only those things that will directly help you to complete your DJ mix nearby – so apart from your speakers, headphones, DJ controller, laptop etc, get everything else out of sight.
- Get off the web! – You need your laptop to do your mix, but you don’t need the web. So log off. Unplug your modem (and your phone, while you’re at it). You don’t need Facebook, Twitter, email, Digital DJ Tips, SMS or anything else. You need yourself and your music. There’s normally nothing that can’t wait while you spend half a day (or however long you have) focusing on producing a great DJ mix.
- Listen to the tunes you’ve played the least in your collection – You collected and bought everything on your hard drive, right? So why are you only planning your mix with a small part of it? There are loads of tunes you haven’t used enough, and probably a few you’ve never listened to more than once. Crank the volume up, and just listen to a few of them. This is bound to give you some fresh ideas and spark your creativity in ways you won’t know till you try it.
- Make written notes… all the time! – At the beginning of your mix session, just scribble down on paper what you want to achieve, any good mixes you remember from your DJ sets, any DJs who’ve impressed you recently, who the mix is for… anything to do with it, basically. Just the act of doing this pulls you back from mixing and gives you time to think about the project a little more. Taking this a stage further, whenever and wherever you get any inspiration for mixing, write it down. I have an open note on my iPhone to just add ideas to at any time. After all, you can’t expect to come up with all of your best ideas in just that few hours you have to actually make a mix.
- Set time limits – There’s a saying that goes something like “any task expands to fit the time you have to do it”. So that means you are going to fidget and delay and generally not do what needs to be done unless you absolutely have to! If you set yourself one hour to prepare your tunes, one hour to plan your mix, one hour to practise it, and one hour to record it, you’re more likely to get it done in the half-day you have to do it. Use the countdown timers on your smartphone and prop it up in view, if you have one (set it to Flight Mode so nobody calls you while you’re mixing).
- Limit your source material – Maybe you’ve just got too much music to choose from. So set artificial limits. All instrumentals. All with the same bassline sound. All with girl vocalists. All below 110bpm. All tunes you couldn’t play at any of your gigs. All beginning with the letter “A”. Creativity moves in strange ways, and sometimes less is more. Some of the best art comes from limiting yourself – Twitter is 140 characters, haiku poetry follows strict formulas, and so on. Apply some limitations for interesting results.
- Take a break – All types of creativity can benefit from your taking a break. When I write, I try and re-read later on before publishing, and I always spot improvements. Software developers are taught to “step away from the screen” when they can’t fix a bug, because when they return they often spot it straight away. So take a break – go to the gym, phone your mum, cook something… when you return, you’ll be fresher and more capable of producing something worthwhile.
So – there are our seven tips for beating DJ’s “writer’s block”. How do you get inspired for making a mix? We’d love you to let us know in the comments.