DJing: First Thing’s First

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August 25, 2015 by DJ Elroy

Now that the new hardware takes most of the technical challenge out of basic DJing, what should new DJs spend their time on?

Although the setup in the DJ booth has changed, I don’t think the mentality behind becoming a great selector is much different than it ever was. You might not need to spend much time learning to beatmatch (the single most time-consuming skill for us old school club DJs), but with all the new options available (samples, looping, FX, etc) there’s just as much — nay, more — to learn before you’re ready to play for a crowd.

But what else should newbs spend their time on?

Learn Your Gear. Whether it’s turntables, CDJs, a DVS setup, a laptop and controller, or whatever else you go with, be sure to learn how it works and how to fix it on the fly if something goes wrong in the middle of a set. Read the manual. It’s not always fun but it’s usually a great place to start (and often neglected).

Learn Your Music. And I don’t mean just the music in your library — although that is essential — but learn music in a general sense. Learn theory, learn how to mix in key, and learn the basic structure of a dance music track. Know how to count beats and measures, know where a vocal or drop or build or break will show up.

Listen to Mixes from other DJ. Trainspotting at the club is fun, but you can also learn a lot from just listening to other mixes. Listen to the transitions and decide for yourself which ones work and which don’t. How were the effects used? What else sets the mix apart from all the others? And don’t be afraid to listen to older mixes that you might not normally hear. Appreciate them and learn from them. Checking out older stuff is a great way to listen to see what people used to do and figure out how things are done differently now.

Learn How to Program. By that I mean learn how to order your songs to get the best effect. That doesn’t always mean play loud, fast, and hard. It means building a story* with ups and downs. The more I hear from new kids today, the more this seems to be a lost art.

Learn How to Read Crowds. This goes hand-in-hand with learning how to build a set that takes listeners on a musical journey. As much as you might want to plan something out before the gig, don’t do it. Spontaneity is part of the fun for the crowd (and the DJ, too). Most people probably won’t be able to hear a pre-made set, but many will be able to feel one.

Learn How to Be a Professional. This is knowing how to act around people, other artists, and the club staff. This is knowing how to conduct business and make money. This is knowing that an opening DJ is an important job, but it’s not at all the same thing as playing a headlining slot.

Learn to Hustle. Once you’ve got a solid musical foundation, start building your brand. Get on social media. Get some mixes online. Interact with people. Don’t be a douchebag. Be accessable to fans. Be fair with others in the industry. Don’t lie, don’t cheat, but don’t let people take advantage of you, either.

Learn to Produce Your Own Music. This may be the most important thing to remember for beginners. It’s very rare nowadays for a DJ to make it big without a hit song. Some solid remixes will get you noticed, but you’ll need a little luck if you want to get bookings out of your hometown. Making your own music is the best way to get ahead in this game, and it’s never too early to start.

I know I didn’t cover everything, but there’s plenty here to keep green jocks busy for a while. Is there something I missed? Post it up in the comments!

*although a lot of the newer sets I catch nowadays give less time to building a story and instead focus on slamming out all the bangers before the next guy has a chance to

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