As I step up to the DJ booth I feel that exact same feeling I did over 30 years ago when I played my first gig, a sense of excitement that I’m going to share with many people the music that I have spent days hunting for in music shops along with the countless hours of late nights preparing, mixing, organising my playlist and making notes. This is the moment my whole week has been building to, it’s going to happen now and that kid inside me is bursting to be unleashed because the rewards of seeing hundreds of smiling faces, tears and euphoria (that I’m in control off) is an experience I can’t put in words.
It’s a daunting task, the pressure is on me to ensure that you have a great evening, because I know you have also invested your precious time and money into this evening, buying tickets, clothes, hotels, travel, and as my past has taught me, every single day is a precious gift and it’s in my hands to ensure that all of you take away a magical experience.
I don’t feel nervous. Once I step into the club I instantly go into DJ mode, that DJ instinct kicks in and I start to get a sense of the energy in the room. It’s a feeling I can’t explain, it’s something I’ve acquired over the years, I can read a whole room knowing where and when to make an energy shift and how to keep a musical journey interesting. I can’t predict how the DJ before me will be playing and at what energy level they will leave things for me, so when people ask me that question ‘what will you play tonight’ its something that I don’t know until I step in the DJ booth.
None of my sets are pre planned, I simply play to you. The most important thing for me is being organised. My playlists are my musical tool kits, it’s imperative that these are well organised and that I know every single moment of these tracks and where to find the energy vibe of the next track I need, because one wrong track played at the wrong time can kill the flow of a set. That one wrong track could take a DJ a good 15/20 minutes to regain the flow, and time is always against us. It’s these moments of pressure that give me that adrenalin rush, 3 minutes remaining on the track playing and I still haven’t decided which track to play next, I’m still feeding from the energy of the dance floor. Live edits, mixes, wrong track selection, can’t find a certain track, wrong key etc could all go wrong. All this mayhem going on in the DJ booth is the fuel I thrive for, it’s my version of skydiving, but thankfully the worst-case scenario isn’t so dramatic. I will never understand DJs that prepare sets, or play the same sets over and over again, because it takes away that risk, that danger, that thrill seeking and being able to test new music along with not being able to read and adapt to the crowd in front of you and what has kept me in love with my job for this long. You are the reason I do this.
So there’s an answer to them most common question I get asked before a gig.
My heart is divided when I see the challenges the next generation are faced with trying to make a career in the music industry. On one hand it’s harder than ever in the current climate to make a decent living in this saturated market, then on the other hand many only have themselves to blame failing due to not researching what they are getting themselves into.
Most of the world perceive the music industry like an igloo, they only see the small percentage of successful people at the top earning a massive amount of money but don’t see the main majority that are fighting under the water to survive.
There’s currently a worldwide phenomenon of music collages and online courses popping up, even schools are teaching kids how to DJ and make music. Governments and councils are also investing money into this, but at some point while sitting around the table, did someone not ask the question how many DJ jobs are out there? In fact most councils are closing clubs down, counterproductive?
The aspiring DJ/producer market is already completely saturated, though it’s wonderful to see these new music education avenues, I feel this generation are getting grossly let down due to lack of business education resulting in many failing once entering the big world of the music industry. I’ll always say we lose the best producers and DJs on this planet, not due to lack of talent but to lack of business knowledge.
This failed education process also extends to people that aspire to be musicians along side their regular full time jobs/careers. Many are professional business people and fully understand the mechanics of their day jobs; marketing, management, contracts, distribution, sales, investment etc, yet all this professional knowledge falls to the wayside once entering the music industry as they focus on the top part of that cash rich igloo, instead of researching the real world income and mechanics of the music business. First rule before getting any job, look at real world income to ensure you can pay your monthly rent and bills, yet in the music industry common sense prevails being replaced with presumption then anger, then depression.
We’re fighting a microwave generation, they want their worldwide career to happen instantly after releasing a couple of tracks, when this doesn’t happen it’s not them I feel sorry for but the record labels because that’s where they aim their finger of blame as a record label is often their first and only point of contact in the music industry. If they took time to research the mechanics of the music business, they’d soon understand a label only releases music. They’re not a booking agent, so won’t get you gigs, they’re not your manager, marketing company or press representative etc. All these jobs are undertaken by completely different companies, databases, skills and contacts. I feel extreme pain for all the record labels out there, in this current climate most will be making a loss or just about keeping afloat. I respect them because they are doing this for pure love and passion and don’t deserve the hard time they get from the uneducated generation.
While they moan at their first statement not understanding why they can’t make a full time living from this measly income, they head back to their studios full of cracked software, torrented sample packs and stolen Mp3’s for their DJ set. Still the penny hasn’t dropped? From the outside world, people presume most releases sell thousands of downloads and bring in a tidy income for the labels and artists, but in the real world a decent release will only sell 100-500 downloads (due to torrent sites/streaming). There’s also no guarantee any track will sell at all, that choice falls into the hands of the consumers if they like the finished product.
I’ve lived through three major changes in the music industry, in my career all have caused seismic dents to artists income. Vinyl once bought in a handsome income for artists selling average 40,000 + units per release, then the transition went temporarily to CD’s moving on to digital downloads. It doesn’t take much to work out that a single release that once sold for £15 on vinyl now sold digitally for £1 is going to bring in a lot less revenue for everyone involved. The finger pointers demand more cut of the revenue, but where does that leave the label, they need an income to survive and as history shows record labels and the people behind them play a very important role in the genetics of the dance music eco system, we desperately need them.
We’re currently going through the biggest shift I’ve seen in my career that reminds me of the huge income dip we saw with the loss of vinyl. The world is heading away from Digital downloads sales to Streaming. The artist now gets average £0.004 per play, meaning even less income in the short term because as things stand, those clicks are very low. Once again the smart experienced people of the music business are tightening their belts, knuckling down and holding tight for a bumpy ride over the next few years. Soon Digital download stores will be like those back street vinyl stores for the hardcore wax geeks. Give another 5-10 years growth I believe artists will once again start to make a decent income from music, but until then don’t give labels a hard time, work together with them.
We currently have a broken system that’s under pressure, my heart goes out to the next generation. In the great times of vinyl and CD income, managers organically headed the artists way as they could make a living from them in return giving them the professional guidance that they needed, unfortunately that’s not the case today as it’s economically impossible. This process only happens when the success has already happened, and we’re left with today’s system with people heading into this game blind.
You have a plethora of free information and data if you look hard enough in specialist music forums, research the amount of income others get from their releases. Research what you should be asking for before you sign the recording contract. How to get gigs? It’s all there for you to discover, the more research you do, the more successful you will be. Importantly remember record labels are your friends.
After a slight lull in Blogs, I’m listening to your recent requests of where to focus my pen. A regular question I get asked, what is Trance? What should it really sound like?
Ask that question to ten people and you’ll get ten different answers. Out of all genres I think this question causes the most debate within fuelling constant arguments across social networks debating who is right, who is wrong and criticising artists work via their releases. This question gets aimed at me a lot because I was an active professional DJ when Trance was born in the early 90’s, so have first hand experience of the reasons behind why Trance was born and the ethos behind it.
Earlier this year while being driven by a 25 year old driver from Luminosity festival in Holland he was trying to tell me that the Dutch invented Trance in 1999/2000 and that he was proud of his country creating such a great genre. When I showed him Youtube clips of early 90’s Trance parties in France, Germany, Goa, UK clearly showing the wording Trance he was traumatised, in a positive way, but also questioned the music playing saying it sounded more like Techno. This just goes to highlight that every individuals education process has been different and their perception of what Trance should sound like is different. To this guy Trance should be leaning more towards the pop world with vocals, big drops and screaming in your face melodies but to me and the people involved in creating this movement, it’s very different.
Back in the late 80’s early 90’s the scene was predominantly mainstream, groups of passionate music lovers created an underground movement to allow freedom of creative expression as opposed to the highly formulaic composition of commercial music. I was part of that rebellion. Myself and many others worked tirelessly putting on our own events often with no financial rewards, but the knowledge we’re offering an alternative. These events were attended by producers that stimulated a completely different part of their creative minds that in return rewards us with new forward thinking music. As a punter you got blown away by the new futuristic musical experience.
My Trance journey began in the late 80’s very early 90’s, the rave hardcore breakbeat scene got tired being replaced by a 4/4 structure that became what we know as Techno. This sound was a little too aggressive for me and producers like the Frenchman Laurent Garnier and Germany’s Jam & Spoon created a more musical hypnotic version. These producers designed the music to create a state of hypnotism and heightened consciousness on the dance floor, something only a skilled musician or DJ could achieve. It was pure expression of art at work in clubs, that got tagged ‘Trance music’ due to it trancing people (as per Oxford dictionary). Trance was about experiencing music from the future, each track was unlike anything we had heard before, music producers thrived from being released from those conforms of mainstream, and spent hours sound designing on synthesisers giving them an outlet letting them explore the depths within their minds. Eventually there were no rules. From a DJ’s perspective I had a never ending supply of musical tools allowing me to embark on musical journeys like no other allowing me to take the dance floor on new musical adventures and journeys and to create those magical hypnotic Trance moments. Again a step into the future.
The next few years we saw Trance evolve into other sub genres, Goa/Psy Trance, Progressive Trance, Melodic, Hard Trance and so on, all of them keeping the same ethos of rebelling against the mainstream masses, that in return made Trance one of most credible forward thinking genres on the planet and saw it’s popularity rise. Like all things great, the corporate machines circle wanting to cash in, it’s then the dilution began. Commercial radio stations rarely play instrumental music. TV stations need videos. The big stages at festivals need to appeal to the masses. So in order to appeal to the mass corporate world some changed their style adapting to the commercial market place in return for finical rewards; pop trance vocal songs for radio. Pop videos for TV and play those big hits securing their slots on main stages. This all comes with a massive amount of corporate marketing that in return educates the next generation, their voice becomes a lot louder than the underground world that generally goes unheard, as per the education process from the driver from Luminosity, he only heard one side of the story.
As we fast forward to today, Trance has become the polar opposite of it’s original purpose. Thousands of people fought against the formulaic composition of commercial music, yet this is what the perceived image of Trance has become today and there’s no hiding the fact that Trance has had a tarnished reputation over the last few years of being very commercial, hence why the credible names stay well clear. Yes I admit I’ve done some rants in the past, but my personal story may spread some light on why, especially after all the hard work and sacrifices I made being apart of this rebellion to create Trance.
The natural world is a truly astonishing place, full of micro systems that constantly repair themselves. When I cut my finger, amazingly it repairs itself after a few days. Trance is no different. Music genres need these incentives in order to keep moving forward. If it wasn’t for the commercialisation of Trance music it wouldn’t have created the mass underground movement we are seeing today that has pushed me back to that magic happy place that I experienced in the early 90’s.
History is repeating itself. Trance has an army of dedicated producers, DJ’s, promoters and Trancefamilies around the world that are building those new underground movements rebelling against that tide of commercialism that in return has created this mass resurgence that we’re seeing today.
It’s an uncomfortable eco system, two parallel worlds of Trance with two very different sounds and purposes, yet we need each other and fuel from each other. The underground world will continue to move things forward, the commercial world then capitalise on this and push to the masses.
There’s a general assumption that theses two world dislike each other, for me they couldn’t be more wrong. I respect people like Armin Van Buuren that have pushed Trance to the masses. Many of my fans got introduced to Trance via Armin, Above & Beyond (and others), they created an accessible gateway into the Trance world that eventually leads them to my Trance world.
They also give a lot back to the Trance scene in the form of the acts they book at their events, radio support and releases on their labels.
I highly respect Tiesto, he publicly announced he had moved away from Trance making sure his new sound didn’t dilute Trance, unlike others that get frowned upon that jump from fad genre to fad genre chasing the corporate cash machines tarnishing Trances great name in the process. Chameleon DJ’s we call them. Sure many disrespect these guys as they see what they are doing and see through their reasons why they are ‘returning back to trance’. While they were gone many stayed back to clean things up and make the genre great again, anyone welcomes producers/DJ’s coming back but leave your ugly marketing tricks in the corporate world, this takes Trance two steps back at a point when we’re moving forward.
A very long complicated answer to such a simple question. I know. But the Trance micro system is also very complex but something that continues to fascinate me 26 years on and the reason myself and many dedicate their careers to it. Trance is completely unique to any other genre offering a multitude styles within; uplifting, hard, acid, vocal, psy, progressive, tech, euphoric the list goes on. Something for everyone. There should be no rules nor barriers that the forum warriors create, I’m proud of everyone involved in the Trance scene, from the forefathers that created it, to the current stars that have pushed it to the masses, and the next generation that are currently rebelling driving the underground forward.
The best genre on this planet.
I’m the first to admit that I’m a very private person and always been uncomfortable with social media regardless if it’s for personal life or my career. The last decade this world has changed, take a look around and you’ll see most people with their heads down looking at a screen in their hand, this is the new world that I’m being forced to become a part off and being quite an unsocial hermit of a studio/music geek this has been quite a challenging transition.
I’m fully aware fans want to have an insight into my life as a touring DJ curious of what my world is like and wanting too see the many places that I perform, it’s something that I want to give, but it’s taken me years to figure out how to do this while keeping in my comfort zone. I registered Instagram years ago, but only started posting a few pictures recently, same story with Twitter hence the lack of activity and followers. Facebook I feel more comfortable with as for years I’ve always written blogs and tutorials and this platform suits perfectly for this. Snapchat and such simply doesn’t interest me, I’m already struggling with the aforementioned!
As you would have seen recently, I’m getting more brave and starting to up my game giving you more snaps on Instagram and a few more words on Twitter. I have a load of Blogs, Vlogs and interesting stuff lined up on Facebook for you, so make sure you follow to see these updates.
If there’s anything you want me to Blog about, advice or general nosiness, let me know in the comments below to keep me busy writing on my next flights.
Thanks once again for you support.
I read this interesting article in Thump Magazine about touring DJ’s and can completely relate to it, so though I’d share my personal experience.
Though I don’t drink or party (as per the article) recently I experienced complete exhaustion. I’ve been traveling relentlessly for over 25 years, this lifestyle has become normal for me, but what isn’t normal to the human body is setting off each Friday to travel half way across the world, with hardly any sleep then heading back home on Monday. This leaves a three-day week to pack in being a producer, record label boss, radio show host, DJ and family.
A couple of years ago I felt like I was hitting a brick wall in my life, I found myself in the office staring at a simple email and didn’t have the mental energy to reply to it. I initially thought I’d had some form of extreme hay fever, my head was full of fog, it felt heavy, and my eyes sensitive to light, no matter how many sprays and tablets I tried it wouldn’t remove this. The only answer was sleep, and that’s what happened multiple times while sitting at my desk in the office.
I’ve always been a water sports addict and had that healthy seaside bronzed glow, but look at recent pictures taken with fans and see a gaunt grey tired looking man. That part frightened me and what woke me up to the fact I was pushing my body to the limit. It’s not just physically that drains you, it’s mentally too.
We give big sacrifices to our personal lives leading this career, we have no choice but to travel to where our fans and audiences are, in a regular life most people work Monday – Friday and have weekend off, that’s exactly when I travel to my weekend gigs. My friends have stopped inviting me to BBQ’s, I’ve hardly been to any family weddings or gatherings as they all fall on weekends. It’s a huge sacrifice that can stress you personally, especially seeing all the pictures of these wonderful events can put you in a dark place.
I’m fully aware I’m blessed with a wonderful career and lifestyle, it’s a dream job working with music. Just the other day I was chatting to an Uber driver who recently lost her husband, she’s working three jobs in order to cover her bills and support her daughter, it’s life stories like this that I truly admire and these are the true heroes of this world. I’m letting you know my personal experience of my job as I know it interests you, as it’s a fascinating life.
Though I’m still packed with tour dates, we’re planning more logistically and giving me the odd weekend off now and then. This is also buying more studio time, we saw the results of this recently with my Alter ego album and Altered senses EP. I’m back at the beach again, back in the gym and that healthy glow is back. I’m in a good place right now, apart from still missing those BBQ’s!
I often come across fellow DJ’s and producers that passionately chat about how they need high quality files to play out in clubs, then proceed to rattle on about bit rates, killahurtz and frequencies. In the studio I’m the same, I care about sound, buy high end equipment in order for me to create the very best music possible with the sound quality being at the top of my list. An age old internal joke between musicians, we spend all this care, attention and thousands of pounds spent on studio equipment that gets lost when it reaches the end user that listens to the music on a pair of iPhone headphones. I see similarities between this and equipment in some clubs.
While these DJ’s are convinced their 24Bit 96k files are sounding great on the sound system, some often disagree and feel it’s the placebo effect taking place. Yes you have your full fat files, but then they head out into a club mixer full of dust and beer that’s never been serviced in its life. This then heads along poor quality cables into a bunch of amps again have never been serviced for years. The amp then feeds the sound system that’s never been tuned in its life, nor had constantly tweaks as the bins break in order to tune it for the room. To top things off it’s rare to see professional acoustic treatment in a club. Add this all together creates a recipe for muddy sound and phasing.
Over the last decade I kinda feel sound quality took a back seat, there’s no hiding the fact this is another side effect off the back of the EDM explosion. The EDM esq DJ’s rider would be more concerned about their visuals being displayed on specced LED screens, confetti & CO2 cannons, drinks rider and specific hotels. Sound would be way down on the list of priorities, the results of club finances that have been forced to spend elsewhere. Hopefully this will all change. I’m getting excited about the underground resurgence that’s gaining momentum, as per other specialist musical cycles I’ve lived through, this comes with a bunch of artists that care about sound. One memorable cycle was off the back of huge commercial raves with big productions, a new breed of clubs opened, going completely against the grain, the selling point was a dark room and very high quality sound systems that became an instant success for music lovers. This club was called The Ministry of sound that arguably created a new breed of clubbing around the world in the 90’s.
I feel these days are heading back again, the specialist DJ’s are requesting high quality equipment that takes priority on their riders, sound system companies are once again feeling the love along with the DJ kit world that are making more professional focused equipment. It’s all down to demand from this new specialist world that’s growing.
I have to admit, I can tell the difference between 24Bit file and 320 Kbps Mp3, but that comparison only comes true on a high quality sound system that’s been professionally installed, well maintained, tuned and acoustically treated room, like the Ministry of Sound Club. Others it’s really hard to tell. With DJ riders changing in this new specialist world, along with a new generation of promoters that share the same care and musical passion, I believe we’ll yet again see more and more clubs change and adapt, after all, the sound quality is a major part of our arsenal that brings our music to life and makes an impact on the dance floor in an environment they were designed for. To me, it shouts louder than any visuals can.