Digital DJ Tips reader James writes: “Do DJs think too much? Over and above the natural ability to pick the right tune because it’s ‘in key’ (which if I am honest I am still somewhat sceptical about), do we sense something others don’t due to training ourselves to think ahead, feel more, anticipate, and attempt to gratify those around us more than usual? Do we go the extra mile in everything we do because ‘we just know’ it’s the right thing to do or sense that others feel a particular way because we sense what others feel/want/need? Does it take a certain mindset to be a DJ?”
Digital DJ Tips says:
Wow James, that’s a big question. Let’s get the “in key” bit out the way first. Key mixing is a tool, not a rule, and it’s definitely not the natural “skill” of DJing – picking the right tune to play next is far closer to the “real” skill of DJing (also, it’s not a “natural ability” – it can definitely be taught). However, key mixing is an amazing tool, and from just a few musically trained DJs “cracking it” only 10 years ago, now due to digital DJing and tools like Mixed In Key, the non-musically trained can immeasurably improve their DJ sets using it. It’s probably the biggest single improvement to DJing that digital has ushered in.
As far as the rest goes, DJs do indeed (hopefully) have a sense of what the dancefloor needs. It comes from being on the dancefloor yourself and repeatedly thinking “I know what should be happening with the music now, and it isn’t! I need to learn to do this so I can do it better myself…”, and then it comes from putting the time in to collect the music and learn the skills so you can both programme and mix it effectively.
And while it is worth remembering the words of Fatboy Slim, when he says DJs would sometimes do well to remember that we’re really “nothing more than entertainers”, it’s also true that music is immensely powerful and can be, in the words of BT (who I interviewed this week), an utterly transformative experience for people, often literally saving them from pretty awful lives and giving them something to live for. That’s definitely worth thinking about!
Are us DJs sometimes guilty of theorising too much? How much thought really needs to go into playing music for people to dance to, and is the skill something that (as we believe) can be taught, or is is just something you either have or you don’t’ Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.