We live in a world of instant gratification. Everything we do is “now, now, now!” And anything that doesn’t deliver instant gratification is pushed off to the wayside.
It wasn’t all that long ago that a cross-country trip would take years (if you were lucky enough to make it). Now, we get irritated if we get held up an extra 20 minutes for our 4-hour flight. Oh how quickly we gain a sense of entitlement!
You used to have to go to this place called a “record store” and search through crates or shelves of music, buy it, and bring it home. Then that wasn’t fast enough, so services started sending you 10+ CDs at a time for you to evaluate… they came right to your doorstep! But that wasn’t fast enough, so then 56k modems and services like Napster came around… and so on. I think you get the point.
Louis C.K. did a great bit on Conan (and later, on his HBO special) where he talks about this sense of instant gratification and entitlement that runs rampant in our society today.
Technology has done great things for us, but it has also made us impatient. And, like many things, this has affected the way many people approach DJing. Because of things like tempo sync buttons, digital music distribution (legal or otherwise), and ultra-portable all-in-one DJ solutions, it’s super easy to get started in the realm of DJing without “putting in your time” in the way that many people once had to.
The benefits are obvious. Some of the barriers of entry have been broken down, and many more people have discovered something that they love… which they may not have otherwise done. This is true of many “crafts”: photographers, designers, producers, etc.
But what are the negative effects of having such accessibility within the DJing world? What areas does it affect, and why?
The (Luke)warm-up DJ
This one is not necessarily due to any recent technological advances… it’s probably always been a problem. However, this problem is magnified by the simple fact that everyone and their brother is a DJ who is willing to play for free for exposure.
The warmup DJ has a very specific and, seemingly, obvious job. He is supposed to prepare the room for the headliner… akin to a local band opening for a national act. When we’re talking night clubs, he (or she) is supposed to start getting people interested in what the night will have to offer.
The problem is, today’s typical warmup DJ is more concerned about “rocking out” than supporting the night as a whole. They want to play all their banger tracks in the hour or two that they have been given, in order to impress whomever may be listening. The funny thing is, I (along with many DJs and promoters with much more experience than me) am rarely impressed by someone who goes all-out to a room of people who are not quite ready to dance yet.
This DJ is impatient in two distinct ways. Firstly, he’s advancing the energy of the night too quickly (how can you find room to ebb-and-flow when you’re already starting at 10?) Secondly, many of them are simply not willing to put the time into their overall DJ career. In other words, they want to be a superstar without merit.
Non-headlining DJs need to build anticipation for the rest of the night. If it’s a packed room and the crowd’s ready, it’s important to give them a little of what they want. But, don’t build the energy higher than the crowd is ready for. Exercise patience as a DJ, and your audience is sure to follow. Note: that’s distinctly different from boring them.
Promoters Are To Blame, Too
Oh yes, you can’t put all the complaints towards the DJ. Promoters (in this context, meaning, whomever has organized and advertised the event in question) are the ones in charge for putting all the puzzle pieces into place. Just as DJs should be curators of music, promoters should be curators of entertainment.
Many younger promoters are guilty of trying to jump on whatever trends are hot that particular week, and run with it. Most of them take a half-assed approach, because they think jumping on the latest bandwagon is all they need to do to sustain an audience. This is why most club nights seem fairly “watered down”.
A good promoter knows how to pick-and-choose their DJ lineup… not just because of what genre that DJ is known for, but because they know that their values line up. It’s not always the case that well-established promoters will only book well-established DJs… perhaps it’s more accurate to say that they will only book DJs who have proven to them that they know how the timeline of a successful night should look.
Lazy and Functional
The best way I know how to describe 99% of today’s DJs and promoters is lazy and functional. You can’t throw a stone without hitting a DJ in the head who is able to mix two tracks together without trainwrecking.
But, think of it this way… you also can’t throw a stone without hitting someone in the head that knows how to cook something edible. Does that mean there’s no such thing as a good chef?
It all comes down to how passionate you really are about this whole thing. Are you satisfied with relying on the function provided to you by today’s technology? Or do you demand more? Wouldn’t you rather know more about the psychology involved? Wouldn’t you rather know what makes people “tick” in the club or at your special event? Wouldn’t you rather engage with an audience on some sort of human level, rather than just telling a computer or piece of hardware what to do next?
Today’s technology is already perfectly capable of stringing together a list of songs with gapless playback and perfectly in sync. Give your crowd a reason to have you as their selector.
If you’re already here reading this article, it’s likely that you’re already interested in being more than just someone who presses play. And you owe it to your audience (whether you have one now, or want one in the future) to be the best DJ you can be. That’s how to stand out in today’s sea of noise. Put in your time, perform your craft with conviction, and be patient. It’s not the only way… just the best one.
It’s Okay To Embrace Technology!
All of this is not to say that advances in DJ technology are of the devil. Tech has done worlds of good for the DJ community… just because a lot of old-schoolers like to focus on the bad, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to gain!
The point I’m making here is that the entry barriers that used to exist for DJing also served as filters. You had to have at least a little more drive and spend a little more money if you were doing this 10 or 20 years ago. That served to at least filter out some of the less serious fly-by-night DJs. But now, if you have an iPad, you can play a functional gig.
Embrace technology, but don’t use it as an excuse! Just because you no longer “need” to learn how to beatmatch, and you can find and instantly download any track in the world, doesn’t mean that there isn’t tremendous value in developing yourself as a DJ! How are you taking advantage of the doors that technology has opened to you? Does it enable you to be lazy, or does it allow you to develop the more important aspects of your passion?
One More Thing…
My inbox has been filled recently with people writing in after reading these blog posts or listening to the podcast.
I wanted to set aside a moment today to thank all of you who have been writing in and chatting with me about your DJing, asking me questions, or telling me your stories. I read every email and get excited every time a new one comes in.
I wanted to remind you that I do have a special (and free) VIP List which is meant just for people like you, who like staying in touch and getting little extras here-and-there. Some of them are just DJ “brain-droppings” and tips, some are stories, and some are special thank-yous…. but it’s never blatant spam.
To sign up, all you have to do is put your first name and email address in the form below.
Thanks so much to all of you, and keep on spinning. If you have any thoughts or stories about impatient DJs, or the impact of technology on today’s music scene, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.