Last time in Is Music Worse Than It Used To Be?, we talked about whether creativity has been lost in dance music. I didn’t agree with that conclusion, and more felt we’re simply saturated with product – yet there’s still plenty of good music to be found.
So if you still find yourself on your favourite online shop, going over loads of music, and feeling like nothing is reaching out to you, here’s a whole host of ways to fight the “saturation blues”.
1. Shop less often
I used to be on the MP3 stores every other day, or as much as possible, listening and always trying to find cool new stuff to add to my repertoire. Over time I’d feel overwhelmed and unsatisfied because of the sheer amount of music available. Most of it was not even bad music. It was just too many well-produced, but similar sounding tunes.
The solution to this problem for me was to shop less. I’ll now only go on my favourite MP3 stores once a month. If I happen to run across a tune I like during the month, I’ll add it to my cart and leave it alone until what I like to call “shopping day”. Look at it this way, if we were buying vinyl records, you would not be able to go to the store every day. Maybe every week, but not every day. For me, record-buying day was a special day. It was the end of the week, I had money, and I wanted music.
Now imagine you could sit in the store eight hours a day every day, listening to each and every tune you see. Wouldn’t you get bored? This is what you do when you hang out on an MP3 store every day. Make your music purchase day special. For me, it’s monthly. Also make sure you’re in the frame of mind to shop that day. If you’re tired, stressed, or have a thousand other things on your mind, then hold off a day or a week until your mind clears up. Music shopping should always be fun and exciting, not forced, not a chore.
2. Hold off purchasing
When my monthly music buying day comes, I’ll go in and shop. I’ll listen to charts, check out suggested tunes based on ones I’ve picked, and even have those few gems I added in over the month on standby. However, I never actually purchase anything that day.
Does it sound strange? It might. My rationale is again like when I walked into a record shop. I have a set budget and I barely ever go past it. Budgets are good not only because it keeps you from spending your whole pay cheque, but also because it brings back limitation. If you had $100 worth of music in your cart, but only $25 to spend, wouldn’t you then whittle that list down to the very best in that stack?
Thanks to the internet, I’ll pick out a bunch of music, then sleep on it. The next day I’ll listen to those selected tunes again. Usually many songs I was excited about yesterday I am “blah” about today, thus I remove them. Combined with the budget, I end up with a nice smattering of tunes that are all about quality. These are songs I love, would play over and over for a long time (as opposed to once or twice), and thus they are worth my money.
You should always be thinking quality over quantity. Having a thousand songs is meaningless compared to having 100 great tunes that blow your mind and rock a crowd. When I used to buy vinyl, I had to think like this… simply because of limited time and funds. Now if you hit a moment where you can’t stay in budget because it seems everything you have in your cart is all “high quality”, then feel free to raise your budget this one time and splurge. That, or put some of that music on the wish list for your next shopping trip.
3. Go cratedigging
So you slowed down your shopping frequency, set a budget, and are trying to shop smarter. However, you hit a “shopping day” where nothing is turning you on. The solution is to go cratedigging. That’s what many vinyl DJs did when we felt the new releases were lacking. Especially in January / February back in those days when there were not a lot of new releases after the holiday rush.
Take a wonderful DJ moment from your past, a club / event you played or experienced, and make a mix from those old tunes. Try to capture the vibe of that night in your mix. If you have the music, then give your credit card a break this week and go digging in your archives. If not, then pick up some of those tunes as opposed to new releases. You’ll end up getting excited about something new to try, or end up with some forgotten classic you will surprise your fans with this weekend.
Even if you’re not in the mood to recapture a past memory, look around online for those “tunes no DJ should be without” and go exploring. Take this shopping cycle to build up your library with timeless classics. Lord knows many of us older DJs could easily make you a list of suggestions.
4. Explore new territories
When I started DJing in 1992, I mainly would purchase old school house and the newer sounds (new at the time) of rave and hardcore. Around 1994, the rave/hardcore sound evolved into happy hardcore and later jungle/drum & bass, all of which I wasn’t into. The old school house I loved now sounded dated. It was then that I started playing the newer deep house sounds and the beginnings of the underground that became progressive house and tech house. I also remember trying out hip-hop (even though I didn’t go anywhere with it).
I did this “change” again recently. For years I had been playing electro house with breaks, but with the sound evolving in a direction I didn’t like, I found myself exploring tech house again. In the 20 years I’ve been a DJ, these sort of “changes” and “explorations” have happened many times.
It’s been shown in the past why DJs should not become “one-trick ponies” by playing one genre of music all the time. When you find the innovation lost in your favourite genres of music, then it’s time to explore new genres and sounds. I talked about music being like a Pphoenix in the last article, and I’m always surprised at DJs who quit the business when their favourite sound now burns up into ashes, rather than evolve into new sounds.
Take some time to listen to something new you haven’t been deeply into. Check out some DJs your colleagues recommended but you never really gave a real ear to. You might then find the spark that gets you going in new directions with your music selection. This also gives you diversity so you never get bored with any genre. When the boredom hits, jump to the next sound you love for a bit.
I’d also suggest checking out other MP3 stores if you find you only shop on one. I mention Beatport a lot, but I also love Traxsource for its deep house selection. Lately, I’ve been looking at Satellite Records, Stompy, and Dance-Tunes.com. Beatport might have the top spot in MP3 stores, but many artists do release music exclusively outside of Beatport as well.
Even iTunes lately has surprised me in how many old school gems they’ll have in stock. This is no different than when I used to venture to other record shops outside of Chicago’s legendary Gramophone Records back in the vinyl days. Sometimes you just find new stuff your go-to spot just doesn’t have.
5. Just take a break
Sometimes the blues hit just because you’re involved in the music too damn much. So turn off Spotify and watch a movie, read a book, or change the station. I’ll listen to old 1960s rock, or jazz, or symphony music when I need a break from dance (or I switch my genre focus as I mentioned before). Take a break from all the music blogs you follow, don’t listen to dance music stations constantly in the hopes of catching a new tune first. Do something non-DJ related in your personal time.
Now I know this might sound insane for the working DJ, but bear in mind we’re not in the past any more. We don’t live in the age where you need to get some great tune before everyone else and play it to death before everyone catches up. Walk into the club where fans are still begging for Sexy Bitch and Party Rock Anthem. Do you really think taking a week or month away from seeking / searching will put you behind?
Even in the underground scene there’s just way too much music now for you to even get claims that you’re “behind”. I only recently “discovered” Superfunk’s Lucky Star and started playing it. You would be surprised how many of my friends thought it was a new tune, despite that it came out in 2000.
Like I said in the last article, normal people will never be as “up” on the music as a DJ. Seeking out music isn’t anymore a race to the top, but now a long exploration to find precious gems in a pile of stones. Both mainstream and underground crowds will often not know any more how new or old your music is, and too often they’ll be clinging on to familiar sounds they love. So you could walk in with 25 new unreleased promos, but the crowd will only want to hear tunes you played a year ago.
When you get hit with the “saturation blues”, it is a time a stop and reflect on your shopping habits, and where you’re at as a DJ. The saturation of music has made it a job again for a DJ to find music, but this is nothing new. Go back in time to the vinyl years and 20 bins full of vinyl isn’t much different than 20 pages of MP3 listings.
Always seek quality when you add to your music library, not quantity. Relax and enjoy music, rather than pressure yourself to always be buying tunes like you’re going to “lose” some imaginary “race”. Your end goal isn’t to have a 3TB drive filled completely with music files, but to have a solid, manageable, but modest collection of quality music that isn’t easily disposable no matter what grand changes happen in the scene.
Have you found yourself online shopping for hours on end but struggling to find anything you like? Have you bought a pile of tunes only to regret it later? How do you keep your music collection interesting? Please share your thoughts in the comments.