A Lost Art?

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March 1, 2011 by DJ Elroy

I’ve been working my way thru a backlog of mixes by some local DJs here in town… A few are great, but most are unremarkable. Not bad, but there’s nothing  to set them apart from each other. A bunch of the same songs in a different order…

Remember when DJs programmed a set? When they were very deliberate about which songs went where and instinctively knew what worked because it just felt right? They didn’t necessarily plan out their entire set, but they knew their music and they know how to get the most out of it.

This seems to be something the new generation of jocks don’t really understand.

I’m not even talking about finding your own “sound” or loading your mix with signature tricks or samples or… whatever. I’m just talking about doing something more creative than an iPod shuffle. How hard is that? Sure, you’ve got to cut your teeth somewhere, I understand. We’ve all been there. A good musician can learn from experience, see what works and what doesn’t.

And doing your own shows isn’t essential. It helps, but if you go to enough shows and watch the crowd and listen to the music you’ll pick things up.

What hurts is that I get mixes from a lot of the same people, and there isn’t much improvement in programming structure. The music’s up and down and all over the place, without much flow or forethought.

That’s how it works. It takes skill, intuition, and experience. For a good live set you’ll need the ability to read the crowd, and for a promo you’ll need direction and structure.

It’s not something you can learn by reading a book. It comes naturally; either you “have it” or you don’t. But the more familiar you are with your fans (whether listening live or to a recorded mix) the better shot you’ll have of doing it right. And the more experience you get, the better. Don’t be afraid to try and fail.

Sure, you can play it safe and buy everything off the Beatport Top 10 chart each week. You can play what everyone else is playing. You can bring the bangers and the hits and the mashups. And you’ll probably get a good crowd reaction.

But that doesn’t mean you’re a good DJ.

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