The art of DJing has been around a long time. From the early days of hip-hop that led to the modern scratch DJ, to Larry Levan, who was one of the first DJs to put two records together seamlessly in a nightclub, DJing has changed the way we perceive music.
A lot has changed in the technology and gear used by DJs in today's music scene. We may no longer use the Technics 1200's as the industry standard, but the fundamentals of being a great DJ have not changed that much.
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Hopefully these tips and bits of advice will help you develop your craft and stand apart from the current crop of busters pretending to know what it means to be a DJ. There is nothing worse than seeing a DJ who has a pair of headphones and never uses them or a dude that just plays the hits. If you could be replaced by a playlist ... well, you just might be.
Learn how to mix
I don't mean beat match for eight bars and slam two tracks together, or use a sync button to hammer your way through two tracks. If this is what you think being a DJ is, you already suck. Mixing is about layering two or three tracks together in a way that creates not only a seamless flow but a new piece of music in the process. When you are thinking about your set, think about matching bass lines and layering percussion together that builds up the vibe or keeps up the energy. You can always use Mixed In Key to help you out with this, but it's always best to learn to do this by ear, not by numbers. When you get really familiar with your tunes you can really start to get deep and match phrases/vocals, drop in samples, put in loops, etc. Watching a master DJ do a 32 bar mix with two songs that lay over one another perfectly is damn near magical.
EQ's and Filters
There is nothing worse than a newbie DJ that does not know how to properly work the EQ's and/or throws in filters over every track. These tools are like cologne - a little dab will get you noticed and too much will get you put in the penalty box. When you are dropping in the EQ's to create tension it's a good idea to go with it for that section of the track. It adds a bit of extra spice to the song and can whip the crowd up into even more of a frenzy. DO NOT just randomly start twisting the knobs in the middle of a track because you feel the need to do something. As far as filters go, same thing, pepper them in to the parts of the tracks that are creating tension like snare roles or break downs to give it an extra kick.
Presence Behind The Decks
There are two extremes here that really seem to dominate the DJ booths these days. First is the over animated, running around the stage, jumping up and down, heart sign, two fists in the air guys. Second, there is the guy who looks like he is on methadone and just stares at his laptop or CDJs the entire time. Be the guy in between those two guys, be animated and interact with the crowd but also do your job as a DJ and mix those tracks to perfection and bring some innovation to you show -- after all you are a performer. Stay away from the cliches like the heart sign, pyramids and double fists in the air... It's great to be fired up, just don't look like an 18 year-old girl at her first rave on drugs. To all the guys throwing up the heart sign, that's cute, but all the other DJs are completely making fun of your corny ass and so are some of your fans.
The Music You Play
I really only have one piece of advice for this, play the music that you really love to play and mix it well with your own style. If you like to play super commercial house and it makes you happy, then play it. Don't play the hits just because they are charting on Beatport, or have tons of plays on SoundCloud. Half the time that shit is jacked anyway and the plays/rankings are faked/bought. Too many times I have seen hyped up DJs or producers who literally just play the hits and don't take the time to mix it or create a set that is unique. News flash, if you are just going to play hits we could replace you with a Spotify playlist.
If you are DJing at a club/festival/loft party and getting paid to do so, you are a professional and should behave like one. Nothing will end a DJ's career faster than getting too messed up at gigs, you just can't do your job properly and you almost always will fuck up. Be cool to people, even when you want to pour your drink on the girl that just made a request, just smile and nod, they eventually go away. If you get a reputation as partier/drunkard/asshole no one will want to deal with you and you will watch your bookings disappear as fast as they came about, that and other DJs will start to hate on you and spread bad juju.
Check out our DJ Marketing Series here as well to get help with getting noticed and building your DJ career.
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