Your Questions: Do You Need To Be A Producer For DJing Success?

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Last updated 10 April, 2018

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It's still possible to break through as a global DJ, but you have to craft something genuinely new, and pursue it relentlessly.
It’s still possible to break through as a global DJ, but you have to craft something genuinely new, and pursue it relentlessly. Pic from: thissongissick

Reader Sam Ben David writes: “I am an aspiring electro and Moombahton producer and DJ, and I keep getting told by people (friends who are DJs and producers) that to help get gigs and become a global DJ I should focus on producing tracks to get my name around and to get bookings. I agree that this sounds right but, is it really needed? The reason I ask is that I get more enjoyment every time I load up Traktor or Ableton and play around with tunes, more than when I am trying to create a track. Don’t get me wrong I love working on tracks but… I wouldn’t want my success as a DJ to be dependent on that.”

“So I just want to know whether it is really needed to be a producer and a DJ, or could I just focus on what I love more which is the DJ side?”

Digital DJ Tips says:

I empathise with you, Sam. I love the immediacy, the instant feedback of DJing. It pleases me much more than what I personally see as the tedium of from-scratch production. The trouble is, though, that it is too “easy” to be a DJ nowadays, which is why DJing alone usually is not enough. Twenty years ago, the skills were harder to learn, the kit was more expensive to buy, the music was harder to get, and the scene was expanding.

Thus, there was more scope to break through with a box of records you’d used your networking ability to get, that nobody else had. If you could sling them together in a half-decent manner, you had a reputation for actually turning up to gigs, and you weren’t completely obnoxious, you got the bookings.

Record box
Have party, will travel. But a scintillating box of other people’s tunes is sadly no longer enough to break through as a DJ.

Now things are different. Everyone has access to pretty much the same music, the gear and basic skills are easier to acquire, and at the same time, the expectations of the audience have grown massively.

So what is going to make you stand out as a DJ?

Lots of things – who you know, whether you have a genuine passion for the music, whether hand-on-heart you actually have anything new to say when you DJ, your enthusiasm, your reliability, your ability to kick doors down and speak to the right people, your networking prowess, how hard working you are, how reliable you are, your attitude – all pretty much essentials.

But there are certain shortcuts too, if they can be called that, as they’re all hard work. Promote your own night. Be genuinely, genuinely something new (and I mean invent a genre like Dave Nada did with Moombahton, have a completely new mixing style or technique like Girl Talk, etc…). Get a syndicated radio show. Or – be a producer.

See, producers of big hits get DJ bookings. If you’re known for a record, people will ask you if you want to DJ. It’s a shortcut of sorts – but you still need to be able to “break in” to production, just as you have to “break in” to DJing. And to do so, many of the same things apply – you need talent, determination, networking, business prowess. It’s no easy ride.

So what to do?

First, more importantly than anything, you need to be sure you have the determination and ambition to succeed – a crystal-clear idea of where you want to be. You need to spend the next five to ten years relentlessly, ruthlessly working towards that, 24/7. If you can’t, you’re not going anywhere. It took me five years to earn enough money to live on from club DJing. I was doing it full time – and that was 20 years ago. And yes, ability with more than just beatmatching is pretty much taken as read. But full-on production? I don’t think that’s 100% important. What is important is the ability to completely dissect your music and do something uniquely “you” with it.

That’s why we advocate the ability to make mashups as such an important skill for DJs nowadays. To make proper, musical mashups, you need music theory. You need the skills with Ableton etc. And you need something to say. Throw in the ability to weave these “productions” (even though they’re not 100% original) together into a DJ set, and you’ve got something that stands you apart from 95% of DJs out there.

The best bit? Your mash-ups can easily blow up on Facebook / YouTube, and with that, your DJing career.

What do you think are the necessary mix of skills to break into the global DJ scene nowadays? How important is production? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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