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EDM Culture: An Incomplete Manifesto For The Modern DJ

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EDM Culture: An Incomplete Manifesto For The Modern DJ

Inspired by Bruce Mau's "Incomplete Manifesto For Growth", and determined to supplement the ultimate guide to DJing, How to DJ Right: The Art and Science of Playing Records by Frank Broughton and Bill Brewster, the following is a collection of ideas about DJing that I have amassed in my head over the years but have yet to share formally, until now.

1. Be a professional. Being a professional has gotten my foot in the door of far more places than my music has. This means being on time, having a business card or CD with your info on it, not getting wasted and respecting the venue.

2. Shuffle your transitions. Matching the beats of two records may feel like magic once you learn to do it consistently, but the other methods for moving between tracks should not be forgotten. Dropping, cutting and fading can be just as effective at the right times, and will create variety in your sets.

3. Mix the old with the new. Music goes in cycles; by exposing those connections over time you can turn people onto tracks they hadn't considered before.

4. Why choose a single genre? Each musical style or genre is a derivative of another. Connect the dots between them and weave more interesting sets. You don’t have to play everything, but don't pidgeon-hole yourself.

5. Find the right venue. Playing minimal German techno on bad speakers in a tiny bar known for its rock n' roll clientele is not likely to get you a return gig. Choose a venue that fits with your sound; don't force a shoe onto the wrong foot.

6. Don't take requests, take suggestions. DJing is not about being a human jukebox, but if you stonewall everyone who runs up to the booth you may miss an opportunity to learn about a great new track or be reminded of one you have buried in your crate.

7. Learn to play on everything. The ability to turn out a decent set on unfamiliar or shoddy equipment is the mark of a true DJ. It is only a poor craftsman who blames his tools.

8. Line In / Line Out. You don't need to be a sound engineer, but understanding the basics of how to set up your equipment and tap into the house speakers will help you troubleshoot problems that may arise when it's go time.

9. Don't limit your medium. If you want to avoid missing a great tune, collect a variety of formats. It also forces you to be more flexible equipment-wise.

10. Discs do not make you a Disc Jockey. According to, being a great DJ is about personality, technique and passion. Having a great music collection is just the tip of the iceberg.

11. Let the crowd influence you. A DJ cannot operate in an artistic vacuum. If the room is dead, but your next record gets two people in the corner moving to the music, follow that vein and use their energy to your advantage. Positive energy is infectious; they will help you turn things around.

12. Playlists are guides, not laws. Think while you DJ. Sticking too rigidly to a playlist doesn’t allow for any surprises or spontaneous mixes.

13. Promote. The days when DJs only played music and promoters spread the word are over. Maintain a mailing list, hit the social networking sites, share your mixes online, etc. If you want to play to an empty room, stick to your bedroom.

14. Have a Plan B. The last thing you want to do is to spend hours picking out the perfect electro set, only to realize that the DJ before you has filled the dance floor with classic disco. Always bring enough music to change things up, either as a bridge to the style you are into or to pick up where the DJ before you left off.

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15. Volume is everything. What you hear in the booth is rarely what the crowd does, so check the dance floor. If the music is too loud or too soft, you will lose the crowd. Always adjust the volume throughout to keep pace with crowd density.

16. Brand yourself. People have short attention spans, so making yourself stand out is key. Things like dressing in a consistent fashion, having a logo or opening your sets with a token track can help to brand yourself.

17. Share the decks. Sharing the booth not only insures musical variety, it exposes you to new music and different ways of mixing. I have learned about a new artist or picked up a trick from just about every person I have DJ’d with.

18. BPM & Tempo. Tempo is energy, not speed. Don't confuse the two.

19. The art of the warm up. Jumping on the decks at the height of the night and dropping bangers is fun, but not particularly difficult for a seasoned DJ. Warming up a crowd is a fine art, and is far more challenging.

20. Play what you love. If you aren’t playing what you love than DJing is just another grind.

21. Twist the knobs. This is what they are there for. There is more to DJing than selection, transition and repetition.

22. Train wreck. As an experienced DJ, never making a mistake means you probably aren't pushing the envelope when it comes to innovative mixes.

23. XLR, RCA, 1/4”, couplers and adaptors. Pack your DJ bag like Batman's utility belt. You never know when you are going to need an extra long RCA cable or that 1/4" to XLR adaptor. It can save your night.

24. Push new music. People are comfortable with what they know and are resistant to change. At the infamous Paradise Garage, resident DJ Larry Levan would sometimes play tracks on repeat until the crowd took his side. This was a luxury in his position, but you shouldn't get discouraged.

25. Don't obsess over the demo. Too many DJs spend days, weeks, even months working to create the perfect mix in hopes that it will land them the perfect gig. Ask any successful DJ, there is far more to getting gigs than the demo.

26. Too many DJs. DJing is like surfing, it is a territorial culture. If you are looking for a gig, talk to promoters, club owners, bartenders, door guys, anyone but the other DJs. Once you have established yourself, the other DJs will let you into the fold.

27. Scratching is a tool, not a toy. Scratches are great for transitions or serve as well placed accents while you are in the mix, but too much of it can detract from the music and sour your set. Unless you are willing to practice five hours a day, chances are, you won’t be the next Invisible Scratch Pickle.

28. Avoid lazy laptop syndrome. Don't let the BPM auto fills, cue points and ridiculous storage capacity make you lazy. Know your music, and use software to take advantage of what older technology can't do.

29. Build a unique music collection. Contrary to popular belief, there are millions of great tracks that will never make it on the Billboard Top 100 or be found online. Having a unique collection sets you apart, and will help deflect the loudmouth hanging around the DJ booth begging to plug in their MP3 player.

30. Have Fun. If you aren't having fun, it is unlikely that anyone else will.

Chris Alker is a New York City based writer and DJ. Find out more at

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