Should A DJ Be A Jack Of All Genres, Or A Master Of One?

Phil Morse | Read time: 3 mins
Last updated 18 August, 2020

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One question we get asked a lot is whether as a DJ you should be concentrating on one genre of music in order to get really good at it, or be playing a wide variety of music.

The answer depends on a lot of things: Your goals, the music you do and don’t like, where you’re starting from. But today I thought I’d share with you a few things we’ve learned about this over the years.

Are you a new DJ?

Basically, you should take all the gigs you can! Take gigs that make you feel uncomfortable. If 10% of you is interested in a gig, say “yes”, do your research, and do the best job of it you can.

Collect all the music you love, and try to DJ with it – even in the same set, at least at home. The truth is that as a new DJ, nobody is watching you anyway, and it is your chance to work out where you “are” musically.

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Unless you DJ as many types of genres and as many types of gigs as you can, you will never really know for sure what you like and don’t like. You may have an idea, but the proof is in the doing. I know club DJs who fell in love with wedding DJing having thought they’d hate it, for instance.

And also, remember that many genres really don’t last (dubstep, anyone?) and if you pigeonhole yourself in the wrong place, you may end up fading into irrelevance too.

At the end of the day, as a new or hobby DJ, you have the benefit of being able to do what you want – many big name DJs would kill for that freedom!

Are you an established DJ?

If you’re a DJ with a reputation and a bit of a name for yourself already, you probably have settled on a style or styles. Over time, if you let it happen, your “style” will emerge. It will probably be loosely aligned to a genre/scene/style, but not in a limiting way.

One time when DJs formally adopt two styles is if you want to be an event DJ (weddings, and so on) but you also want to be a DJ/producer/underground-style DJ. In this instance, it often pays to keep your two personas “separate” (eg, have a company name for your wedding DJing, and a cool-sounding DJ name for your more underground persona).

Some established DJs have “alter egos” for their more underground styles, – for example Eric Prydz has his Cirez D alter ego, Roget Sanchez has S-Man, and again this can be a good idea if you settle on two styles.

Changing your “sound” if you pigeonhole yourself can be a traumatic thing – Laidback Luke essentially had to reset his career a few years back when he switched from techno to EDM, Carl Cox the same in the mid-90s when he switched from the long-defunct UK hardcore genre to techno, the UK’s Skream when he chose to abandon dubstep for a housier sound.

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There’s a bit of a bigger truth in that final example, too: If you want to stick to one genre, house in all its forms is a good one! It has endured and is the most popular. Just try not to tie yourself to a needlessly limiting sub-genre (Skream, for instance, left dubstep behind for a house/garage sound, and now is more a nu-disco DJ/producer – but it’s all loosely “house”).

Personally, although I have always played clubs and club music, I’ve also always had a love of what is called “Balearic” music (after the Balearic islands, of which Ibiza is one), which is a hodge-podge blend of ambient, nu-disco, funk, chill out, groovy pop, reggae and so on, and so I’ve collected those styles of music alongside house.

As I have become older, this “side” of what I do has become increasingly important to me, and has certainly extended my DJing career.

Maybe, as someone over on this thread in our Global DJ Network Facebook Group said, it’s best to become a “jack of all trades, master of SOME”.

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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