Why All The Best DJs Embrace “Uncool” Music

Last updated 24 March, 2018

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Being open-minded when listening to other music styles is an essential for DJs. If you shun different genres and only focus on one, you run the risk of pigeonholing yourself. You could also be missing gig opportunities and are limiting creativity in your set programming. Unfortunately, lots of DJs do just this.

It’s not something that is intrinsic to DJs though – it’s a people thing, and it all stems from the way we treat music growing up. In childhood, we tend to stick to what we are given music-wise, be that from our families, television or the radio. Throughout our teenage years, our musical tastes are massively influenced by our peers and the social group that we fall into at school. Music forms part of our identity and we fiercely defend our music taste and frown upon others who “just don’t get it”.

We might enjoy the latest hit from a genre we “hate” that’s all over the radio, but we are loathe to admit it to ourselves, never mind anyone else. This is the sort of siege mentality that DJs have to get away from.

DJs become DJs way before we consider ourselves to be so. We are always on the lookout for the latest and greatest tracks, regardless of genre, and can’t wait to show off our finds to our friends. We’re the ones making the playlists and being asked to put our iPhones on at parties. It’s when we start to formally consider ourselves as DJs that things can go downhill.

The problem…

When you first start DJing, you see pro DJs smashing out four-hour club sets, and you want a piece of that. These DJs become your idols and you want to know what their tracks are so you can be like and play like them. This is natural, but it becomes easy to get stuck listening to and playing one or two “safe” styles of music.

Sure, you’re still on the lookout for great tracks but you develop a kind of tunnel vision, devoting your attention to trendy artists and niche sub-genres. You are missing the bigger picture: DJing isn’t about being cool – it’s about playing great music. Those DJs have already gone through their own musical journeys, and you’re getting a snapshot of where they’re at right now as you dissect those four-hour sets – and so you’re missing the realisation that it’s almost definitely a love of a whole variety of music that has led them to being the respected and well-paid musical arbiters you admire.

The solution…

There are so many records to listen to in so many different genres of music. Broaden your musical horizons and you might find one track that you really like that you wouldn’t have found otherwise.

Snapping out of this by listening to a broader range of music and taking chances on genres you normally ignore will make you a better, more knowledgable DJ. For starters, you broaden your own appeal and can therefore get more gigs and connect with more people. You also give yourself more creative ways to switch things up in your sets if you can see that your usual tracks aren’t quite quenching the thirst of the dancefloor. You start to become a more rounded DJ.

The DJ in the main picture, Motor City Drum Ensemble, is an example of a DJ with impeccable, well-rounded taste. His sets have you listening to disco one second and acid house the next. The ability to do this isn’t developed overnight; he has spent years digging through genre after genre and has been rewarded with gem after gem.

If you want to find these golden tracks, you have to become a scholar of music, not a critic. Quantity and variety of music listened to is just as important as the quality of it. It’s also good to listen to music that makes you uncomfortable because that’s when you actually start to broaden your tastes.

Finally…

There is so much awesome music out there and more is being released on a daily basis. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough hours in the day to listen to them all. This led me to come up with my philosophy that “the best track you’ll ever hear, you’ll never hear.” At face value, it sounds defeatist: What’s the point in bothering then? I like to put a positive spin on it and use the idea to spur me on to listen to as much random music as possible in the hopes that I just might find some treasure. So far, I have found many great tracks but as ever, the quest for the best goes on…

How do you go about listening to music? Have you ever felt that you were focusing on one genre too much and that your collection was becoming imbalanced? Let us know in the comments below…

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