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Advise for up and coming DJ’s

PART 1. This blog will be in two parts because there’s a huge amount of text. I don’t want to confuse you all in one hit. First up I’ll be covering Internet marketing and actual DJIng along with analyzing what’s been happening over the past decade. I’ll make this as interactive as I can, I think the best way would be to join up to my Facebook fan page where you can post a comment about the blog (on the wall where this blog sits), I can then answer your questions allowing everyone to read too.

The most common question I get asked while being interviewed is ‘What advise would you give up and coming DJ’s’? That answer used to be the same, advising new talent to play music they believe in; that fresh unique sound should be enough to get them noticed. Though this answer still stands the intervention of the Internet over the past decade has changed my answer. In fact the World Wide Web has completely changed the rulebooks.

Myself, along with many other DJ’s grew up in a World where DJ’s were DJ’s and producers were producers. Of course we saw the odd hybrid of both because it was a natural progression for a DJ to want to make music. When producers came along to play along side us DJ’s at clubs and festivals, they performed live sets and the combination of a DJ supporting these live sets worked beautifully. Before the influx of Torrent sites and file sharing, producers used to earn a handsome income for making music alone, then came a point where they had to either sell all their gear and get a regular job or get on the road doing some gigs. DJ’s became very fashionable over the past decade, even seeing the odd celebrity turning their hands too it, so it was an obvious choice for a producer to become a ‘DJ’ so they could earn a living.

 

For me the two Worlds are completely separate. I envy producers who write such amazing ideas and engineer such clean sounds. These guys dedicate their lives learning synthesis and engineering. Each track they try to improve their work and dedicate so much of their time to do this. It’s the same in the DJ World. I put hands up and admit I’m a DJ first and always will be. Every day I wake and research trying to find music for my sets. For the past 20 years I’ve spent at least two days of each week searching for music in music shops. A big name producer/DJ was shocked when I told him I did this asking why don’t I just play the stuff I got sent?? If I did that I wouldn’t create my own sound, by searching you find the music that suits you. If it takes me 5 hours to find that one track, to me it was well worth the hunt and I’m like a big kid excited to share it with everyone on the dancefloor. As with production, DJing is a skill that takes years to learn. It’s an art form in itself, you have to know how to open a club correctly, taking care of the levels and finding that magic moment to get those people on the dancefloor. You need to constantly observe the crowd knowing how to keep them interested in the musical story you are unfolding. Knowing when to take things up, down or sideways and giving them a rest. You have to keep an eye on the balance of male and females on the dancefloor. One wrong track selection can kill the atmosphere on the dancefloor. It’s why a DJ should dedicate his life to knowing his music and understanding how to use his musical tools to create an electric atmosphere. This analysis works in all fields of DJs, from wedding guys, commercial clubs, rock clubs to the electronic World.

I fear the value of a good DJ is getting completely diluted by ‘one hit wonder producers’ and ‘celebrity’ culture. Promoters are making their choices based on this, rather than booking a good DJ. In today’s world a producer makes a hit record then suddenly becomes a ‘DJ’. This guy has absolutely no prior experience of DJing and goes on tour playing all his big hits one after another. The past decade we’ve seen this worrying pattern and today’s generation of clubbers think that this is the only form of DJing. Their hero DJ’s have gone this way too performing concert style events, (in same way bands do), they play a string of hits with a couple of new tracks in between. So this is all they know in their clubbing lives. Gone are the days where a DJ would build a local cult following simply by being dam good. The DJ (usually a resident) was the main heart and soul of that particular club, he’s the one that glued the whole night together. If the guest DJ wasn’t to everyone’s liking, he would pick the pieces up and rock the rest of the night. It was the reason why people would stay later, knowing the resident DJ would rock the final part of the night.

I sit here uncomfortably writing this, because as a DJ I desperately need producers to make music for me. They need DJ’s to support their music. They also need to earn a living too! We are, and always will be a team and need to work closely together.

This analysis gives you a small taste of the different style DJ’s out there. Those concert style DJ’s do a sterling job of keeping thousands of people interested throughout the whole evening, as do the underground DJ’s who keep a club busy until the end without the use of any anthems at all. Each has its own skill that you need to learn. You need to find yourself musically and research the musical path that you take. Don’t make the mistake of playing the wrong music to appeal to the masses, thinking once you’re known you can start playing the music you actually like (this is a common problem I see). You’ll only confuse the fans you have built and the specialist promoters won’t touch you because you’re not know to that scene.

 

Internet marketing:

The Internet has completely changed the DJ World from so many angles, especially from the marketing side of things. I never swear, but most of it is bullshit marketing. Music takes second place over marketing for these guys, and this is where things changed in the Trance World. DJ’s hired smart IT staff to manipulate, social media sites to make themselves look popular. This perception in return will bring them gigs as promoters fall for the hype. Yes it worked for many but others, especially the promoters, lost out, thus meaning many a club night/festival went bankrupt in the process. You see in the real World, you need real fans to fill those real clubs. The promoters will only lose money a couple of times from theses ‘fake’ guys to realise they don’t have a following of real people/fans. The Trance scene in the UK is in a bad place due to this, and I’ve seen this spread to many other territories too including Europe and Asia.

This bullshit marketing has got tiresome now and is falling on deaf ears. For years DJ’s have been throwing themselves down peoples throats with their ruthless self-promotion. The problem you have here, if you build your career off the back of marketing with no solid product behind you, you’ll be trapped in this game and eventually the bubble bursts when no product matches the hype. They must spend hours each and every week figuring out the new marketing strategy. Keeping on top of the cat and mouse games when software/website companies improve their backend systems. Yes it’s important to have marketing in place, but don’t over cook it. I cringe when I see some of the bigger guys saying they have over 40 million fans around the World along with Youtube hits etc. If that’s the case then they are on par with Lady Ga Ga who has number 1 albums around World, yet they can’t even achieve getting a whiff of the charts or get onto MTV/national TV.

So a loud message here, keep things in perspective. Yes it’s important to have the tools such as Facebook, Myspace etc to offer a place of information. Don’t blitz the pages with useless information, keep things simple. Think of the sites/pages that you like to visit and why. What do you look at when you visit a DJ’s websites, Myspace page etc? This will help you decide what you need. Remember promoters are likely to look here to do some research, take in mind most are deaf to the marketing trap they used to fall for, so my advice again is to keep things in perspective of where you’re at in your career. Just give solid information of what gigs you’ve been doing, what releases you have had along with forthcoming material. Try and get some quotes from established DJ’s that have been playing your tracks, or from promoters that have booked you.

I like using this analogy with Marketing. Toyota maybe the biggest marketed car on the planet, but it’s the likes of Ferrari who fill the stadiums at Formula 1 races and car shows. It’s unlikely that Toyota owner will stay loyal to the brand when a better offer comes along from another manufacture, unlike Ferrari, Aston Martin or Bentley owners who have dedicated hardcore followers.

 

DJing

There is another way to get noticed other than Internet marketing; be good at what you do. It’s a simple as that! I said earlier, I’m a DJ first. Each and every week I spend hours finding music, practicing sets, sorting playlists and editing tracks to fit in my set. I want to perform to the best of my ability, in the same way a sportsman trains for his team. This is also why Pioneer approached me to become one of their development team, I’m constantly sharing with them ideas so that I can have more tools to improve my performances. My contribution to the CDJ 2000 was one of them. There is something more powerful than false marketing, and that’s word of mouth. If something is good, then people talk about it. This is number one rule in life and business. I don’t play the marketing game, I simply make sure each gig, radio show or guest mix is done to the best of my ability. I think my recent BBC Radio 1 Essential mix was testament to that, rather than just doing a usual DJ mix, I spent 2 months making this mix adding fx and extra production. This was certainly welcomed with open arms. There’s a whole range of DJ’s out there who have sustained a long healthy career who are known as DJ’s first. I myself am an example of that. We seem to get cult following of people who appreciate and respect what we do. This is a value to a promoter, as he knows we’ll fill his club with our dedicated fan base. Over the last decade new DJ’s seem to have had the message; production, production, production drummed into them. This can be quite frustrating to a DJ who is actually a good DJ but can’t produce music. It can take years to learn how to produce like the pros, panic alarm bells ring thinking they will never make it. Though I produce myself, I feel my DJing is my strength and what has kept me in this career for the last 25 years. So hold that thought, it can be achievable without production. I actually think the scene is desperate for real talented DJ’s as it’s swamped with producer/DJ’s. I can only count on one hand the amount of opening DJ’s that have done a professional job. Prompters need to stop booking guys just because he can bring 50 of his mates to the club that all end up in the DJ booth dancing around with cameras while he plays at 100 Mph when the doors have just opened.! We need professional DJ’s back. In my book these guys are more of an asset, as they will open the club correctly allowing the guest DJ to do his job properly. The overall experience of the whole night will be 1000% better, attracting yet more people to the club next time around. What ever your musical style if you perform well and professionally you’re more than likely to get booked again, like me if I have a good guy opening for me I’ll request that DJ again at return show. I know many of my colleagues do this too.

There’s no hard and fast rule what format to use when DJing, it’s your call what you feel more comfortable using. At the end of the day, a good DJ is a good DJ no matter what tools he uses. The key here is to be organised so that you know exactly where your music is when you need it. If you feel more comfortable using: CD’s, files or software then you should stick with that. But never be afraid to try new things, as have I in my career, I feel it has made my life so much easier. For me technology has made me feel much more organised and I play 100 times better due to this. Take a look back at one of my old blogs discussing this.

Many people keep asking what I use to DJ, especially my recent use of the iPad? I use the Pioneer CDJ 2000’s via SD card. I use iTunes to sort out all my playlists, I then import them into Pioneers Rekord box in order to export them on to my SD card so they are ready for the CDJ’s. The reason I use iTunes is because it’s so versatile. I can sync my DJ playlists onto any device that handles iTunes: my iPhone and iPad. I can constantly learn my playlists while looking at my phone. The iPad comes into play because I like the big screen while viewing my playlists. The CDJ screen is a little restricted in size, I much prefer seeing more tracks on the screen. Simple as that!

Coming up next; Production advise, the million-dollar question of how to get gigs and DJ agents?

 

 

 

17 December 2010 Blog