I remember the first time I truly immersed myself into this scene a few years before the big EDM boom; in fact, the term EDM wasn't even used yet. It was almost Halloween in Phoenix, Arizona, I had just been covered in fake blood standing in the middle of a humid and grimy underground warehouse, and the DJ was spinning extremely aggressive hardstyle music. In my mind, I was completely in awe. I thought to myself, "How is he doing this!? Where did these sounds come from? And why is that girl dressed like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?"
I was in this moment that lasted for what seemed to be years where I found myself growing this massive respect for the DJ, because in my n00by state, I honestly thought he was creating these sounds from behind the decks. Before this, I had only seen DJs here and there at a few random clubs and weddings but never really thought anything of it considering they would usually play top 40 mixed in with essential grade school classics like "YMCA" and "Baby Got Back." So to hear this powerful driving force creating giant buildups and slamming back down to Earth with such impact and diversity and comparing it to what was considered the norm was nothing short of miraculous. This DJ demonstrated a true understanding of tension and release as each song seemed to merge so perfectly into the next leaving me speechless.
It was an incredible experience, but when I later realized that he was merely mixing songs back and forth I was left with the question: "So, is he actually talented?"
In the origin of DJing, the number one way to demonstrate skill was to be able to scratch. Of course as many of us have realized, this novelty doesn't hold much weight in today's day and age. Although still respected by seasoned veterans and in small doses to the masses, it now takes much more to impress a crowd. Can you imagine a full four hours at an event where every DJ scratches every song? You would find yourself asking for a refund.
These days we see two, three, and sometimes even up to five DJs behind the decks at a single time. You simply have to wonder, “What the hell are they all doing back there?” The honest answer, they aren't doing much except looking busy and putting their hands in the air. It's a lot like a day job where your boss is watching you closely, but the store isn't busy, so you put your hands on things and make a focused face to give off the illusion of being busy. Except of course for the fact that a DJ is being watched by up to thousands at a time and is receiving a much higher wage than your average $10 an hour job. Most of our biggest superstars are not incredible DJs, but instead, they are incredible producers who have no other way of performing their music besides using the decks. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that today's DJs need to be disrespected or shunned, but I am saying that it would be nice to see more variety and risk in the live performance.
If you want to be noticed for your creativity in a live setting, it is crucial that you incorporate more live aspects—something different. Whether this is in the production value or in the way you perform your music, different is always good. Many artists are already doing this as they fuse the decks with instruments such as The Bloody Beetroots, Destroid, Purity Ring, Disclosure, Soulwax, and many more. What makes these performances more memorable is the fact that they have the ability to mess up. We as the audience love seeing artists take great risks in front of large crowds. This one extra ingredient changes the event from a party to a show. It's just like a trapeze artist. Sure it's entertaining to watch them fly in the air over a safety net, but once the net is removed that's when you truly have the crowd's attention.
Now what sets apart a good DJ from a bad one is song selection, crowd reading, timing, and original production. Many people believe they can simply pick up DJing and producing and become a superstar overnight, but this is an extremely rare occurrence. Realistically, it takes years of dedication, networking, and musical understanding to fully equip oneself with all of the knowledge necessary to climb and crawl to the top and succeed in the dance music industry.
Don't be fooled—DJing in itself ultimately and on a realistic level is not the most difficult thing to do. Just like many things in life, like riding a bike or drawing a picture, most people can figure out the basics after a few lessons. This is exactly why we have entities like DJ Paris Hilton and DJ Pauly D. It seems so easy, so why not? But it takes a seasoned veteran to truly hone in on what it takes to master the craft. Now, aspiring DJs have to face a much more difficult skill to acquire, which is the art of original song production.
The industry standard of today's dance music world seems to require that in order for someone to succeed, they need much more than an understanding of which songs rock a party—they have to create them. THIS is where the talent lies in the dance music world. The ability to create a song with your mind through a program and acutely level out each sound to create a massive and emotionally evoking song is a gift that a very small percentage of humanity truly understands.
But ultimately, people go to these events because they want to have fun and the only thing that matters is if it sounds good. Outside of their good time, nothing else really matters. The talent of a DJ is completely irrelevant if the music he plays is good and is mixed moderately well given that most people are far too inebriated to tell the difference—especially when the DJ is a football field away. So as our culture continues to grow, and especially for those who want to make it as a successful DJ/producer, let's try to discover new and innovative way to perform the music we create. There is always room for something new and exciting. In fact, that's what drives the enjoyment of life: fresh and creative new ideas that change the way we perceive the world in front of us.
Article written by David Lee Crow
Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of EDM.com.