Digital DJ Tips reader Quillermo writes: “I have been DJing for eight years now and have always played a wide range of house/techno music. The last two years I have focused a lot on tech house and deep tech, collecting everything I like. Somehow I have gotten stuck in a ‘DJ’s block’. I want to reorganise my library (with too many tracks) and limit them to a smaller collection of tracks I want to get to know extremely well, and want to play from now on.
“The problem is, if I only select the tracks I like the most, I won’t have a complete library with tracks that are essential to play. Most of these are gems of different sub-genres with complete different grooves that are hard to combine. I also struggle with this on the dancefloor. I always try two methods, both of which it seems have their pros and cons.
“Firstly, play only the tracks I enjoy the most. Pro: more fun and more known with the tracks. Con: very hard to get a cohesive set. I lose the groove very quickly when mixing because my favourite tracks differ a lot in groove and flow, so people stop dancing.
“Or secondly, play a set of selected tracks fitting that moment: this often involves playing out of a list of 50 tracks with the similar grooves and flow, because when people like the kind of tracks (I aim for this based on my preparation and knowledge) they keep dancing to it. Pro: I play sets where people keep dancing. Con: to be able to do this, I have to collect a lot of music, because there are a lot of grooves and all these grooves need similar tracks to play a set that last a hour.
“So the situation is: My collection is built around the second method. I have way too many tracks (from which I know 5% well) but when I have to play in a venue, I succeed at making a playlist with well fitting grooves. It won’t sound too great though, since I don’t know my tracks well enough.
“I want to get better and want to create my own style, so I can play great sets with great sounds. I don’t have a problem with keeping my own identity. The problem is that since my favourite tracks vary through all these different grooves, I end up with the problem of method 1. On the other hand, if I decide to focus on one or two grooves it means I can’t use a lot of tracks that I really like of other grooves. This is why I have no idea how to choose my own style and cultivate it in a way so I can use it as a professional DJ.”
Digital DJ Tips says:
A DJ’s job starts with knowing his or her tunes well. That trumps everything. If you only know 5% of your tunes, that’s a big problem.
To start with, your library is way too big. Keeping at least an hour of tunes that all sound the same for every little genre and sub-genre is restrictive and distracting. You are absolutely right to want to reorganise your library to keep only the tracks you like the most. DJing is about transfer of energy, passion and love for the music from DJ booth to dancefloor. So only keep the tracks that you absolutely couldn’t live without. The rest are getting in your way.
Also, crowds don’t just like one groove. As you’ll know from listening to other DJs, good DJs can take their crowds on a journey, getting them to dance to stuff they didn’t expect to be dancing to at the beginning of the night. So what if you clear the floor every now and then? You’re never going to please everyone, all the time. Find ways of playing those gems that are hard to combine, and forget the filler! Playing tunes you don’t know and don’t particularly like because they all sound the same, by comparison, will at best sound dull. Yeah, people might dance. But I bet they don’t remember you or your sets for long.
To get better and create your own style, you have to start with the music you know and love. A DJ should choose the right tune to play next first, then work out a way to mix it. Yeah it may not go well always, but you’ll learn how to mix your unique choice of tunes that way – and in doing so, your own style will emerge. DJs get better when they work out how to mix with difficult tunes, not easy ones.
Finally, it strikes me that you ought to get a wider range of DJ gigs. A DJ at this stage of their development really ought not say “no” to anything. The wider the variety of gigs you get to play, the more you’ll learn about the wider art of DJing, which again should help you to both develop your mixing style and also broaden your sound, accelerating your journey towards becoming someone who truly stands out from the crowd, playing the music you love.
Have you faced a similar dilemma? How did you deal with it? Is mixing and “groove” the holy grail of a DJ, or is it all about tune selection? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.