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Editorial: My 5 helpful tips to be a better DJ

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Technology has undeniably changed the way the music industry works. The speed with which these changes have occurred has left indelible marks not only on the way artists create music, but also the ways in which listeners receive it. From online stores such as iTunes, to online publications like Dancing Astronaut, to the rise of digital DJing and production software, we experience music in unprecedented ways in the 21st century

As a result of this digitizing, it appears as though there has been a substantial influx in the number of “DJs” out there. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there are certain practices that every DJ needs to adhere to.

That said, I implore you not to view this post as a skeptical, “there are too many DJs” rant. Instead, take it for what it is: five tips that will help improve your sets — whether you’re an amateur or a veteran. I promise you, these suggestions can’t hurt, and if you ask any big time DJ, they will more than likely tell you something similar.

Without further adieu, I present my 5 tips to becoming a better DJing.

1. CURATE YOUR SET

A DJ is not, and should not be, a human iPod. Quality mixes, clever use of effects, and overall technical ability never go unnoticed. But at the same time, playing the right tracks at the right points throughout the night will always outshine a technically flawless set.

Also, keep in mind that the term “peak hour” (usually between midnight and 2AM when the venue is most packed) exists for a reason. Unless there are people jumping around and raving at 10 o’clock, banging out some R3hab or Skrillex early on probably isn’t the right move — depending on the set of course.

Instead, start off easy, read your crowd, and play what they want to hear. Eventually, you’ll get to your hot, new tracks that you’ve been itching to play, but you need to make people want them for their effect to be maximized.

2. HAVE STAGE PRESENCE

We’ve all been to a club and seen a DJ who just isn’t into it. Sometimes it seems like if it weren’t for a glowing Apple logo and flailing arms behind a turntable setup, you wouldn’t even know he was there. I always find this a bit perplexing because a DJ is like a normal person: if you don’t want to be there, no one is (usually) forcing you to be.

Let’s face it, DJs are the ultimate partiers whose lives revolve around downloading music, playing said music for money, and drinking. That’s pretty much it. So, if that’s not the lifestyle you want to lead, then it’s time to go job hunting. I know it’s hard to play for a club that isn’t packed to capacity — I have definitely — been there before, but if you aren’t interested in what you are doing, then no one else will be either.

You are paid to entertain. So do it.

3. TAG MUSIC CORRECTLY

This one is dedicated to the DJs who also dabble in production, whether by making simple edits or doing full blown remixing. So, if you are using a DAW and putting things with your name on it out into the interweb, listen up.

There’s a huge difference between an original track, a remix, a mashup, and a blend — and you need to know what they are. For example, if you take the instrumental version of a song, and slap an acapella of another song on top of that, it’s not your “remix!” (It’s a mashup at best).

So, do your research and know what you’re producing. The last thing anybody wants is a big lawsuit for copyright issues (take Leona Lewis’ word for it)

4. UTILIZE TECHNOLOGY TO YOUR ADVANTAGE

With the ease of downloading, it’s inevitable that everybody will probably end up with similar libraries, so do your best to be creative with the equipment that you’re using. There’s a reason Pioneer, Traktor, and everybody else are crafting gear with ridiculous FX overhauls, so you should take advantage of new features and utilize them. If you sound like a pre-recorded mix, it’s your own fault.

Also — and this is a biggie for me (and every other DJ/producer I know) — use Mixed In Key! This $60 piece of downloadable software will tag the key and BPM of your songs so you can always mix harmonically. Nothing ruins EDM faster than mixing tracks out of key, so do yourself (and everybody within listening distance) a favor, and invest. You will thank me later.

Mixed In Key

5. BE YOURSELF

Everybody has artists who they idolize and want to emulate, but let’s be real, those artists have achieved success because they are innovative and unique. If you’re doing everything in your power to sound exactly like your favorite artist, chances are you won’t go far.

Take me for example. I would love to sound like Nero and they’re the main reason I got into EDM, but duplicating their sound isn’t going to get me anywhere. Instead of trying to replicate someone else’s work, listen to their music, absorb it, and use it for inspiration to make your own original stuff. It’ll be the reason you stand out, as opposed to being another SoundCloud profile that shows up in search results.

WRAPUP

This post is not meant to be snotty or negative, so I hope I have not offended any DJs out there.  Nothing would make me happier than to be able to walk into a club and hear a great DJ every single night. The unfortunate reality, though, is that not everyone keeps these things in mind, and it kind of makes my ears bleed. So, thanks for reading, I hope this helps you in your music-playing future.

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