In this post, I would like to explore a number of good DJing habits productive and ambitious DJs should have. It’s easy to proclaim yourself a DJ, but achieving results only comes after a lot of hard work, and they usually don’t come easy.
Practicing and Planning
If you want to get good at something, the one invariable truth is that you need to practice often. Nobody every became world champion in anything without regular practice. Talent will take you a long way, but the road to failure is paved with talented individuals that thought practice was for the less talented ones.
Unless you don’t work, don’t go to school or university, don’t have a family or boyfriend/girlfriend/friends that need some of your time, you will find it challenging to install some regularity in your practice.
The most simple trick I have found to make time is to plan ahead.
Reserve a few moments in your week, even if it’s 2 only times 30 minutes, that you will spend exclusively at practicing your DJ skills. It’s very important not to decide on the fly when these moments will happen, but make up a schedule and slot in those practicing moments in your agenda every week. For a few months ahead. If you do this electronically you will be able to set up reminders, and that will provide you some structure that most of us need to get things done.
When I say practice, I don’t mean you need to learn a new trick or technique every session. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, or your lack of progress will discourage you. The first skill you need to master is to be good at mixing. So create mixes, 20-30 minutes long. Spend some time preparing your playlists and listening to your music. When you creat your mixes, record them. Then, put them on your iPod or smartphone and listen back, critically, to your transitions, EQing, sound levels… Share them with your friends & family and collect feedback, and then, improve
Managing Your Music Library
Many DJs think that the quality of a music collection is measured by its size. That is so, so wrong. For several reasons. Let’s dive in.
Know Your Music
These days it’s very easy to instantly build a music collection of thousands of songs. You download all the hot tracks of the moment from i-Tunes or Beatport, and voila, you have a huge collection that will please (almost) everyone.
That is the biggest mistake you can make. If you don’t know your music, you will be totally lost when mixing, especially in front of an audience. Sure the computer can take away many of the technical difficulties of mixing (sync button anyone?) but you still are responsible for the “secret sauce” of DJing: make the music flow in a way that it keeps the dance floor filled and your audience hooked.
It’s much, much better to only buy what you really like, listen to it whenever you get a chance, prepare it for mixing (set beat grids, set cue points..) and then learn how it “fits” your collection by mixing regularly (see my first point) so you are able to tell a story through your mix.
In the end, good DJs are always music fanatics. You can learn the technique and the skills, but if you don’t have a passion for music, you can never, ever be a good DJ.
Adopt a system to manage your collection
So having a big collection is not a must. But wait, if you are a wedding DJ for example, you need to be able to cope with requests, right? Or even if you are not a wedding DJ, part of being a good DJ is to be able to take your audience into account and cater for a request in some way or another?
This is where you need a smart system. It’s useless to try to sell you the “perfect” system because that doesn’t exist. But in order to keep a music collection manageable, there are many options.
What I do, I rate all songs in my collection with stars. Five stars are my favorite songs, the ones that I know work in a DJ set and that I play regularly. The rest you can guess, with 1-star songs being the ones I absolutely hate, but still, serve some kind of purpose in a specific situation.
Then, I make playlists. Permanent ones, but also specific ones for a certain gig. For example, if I’m playing to a very wide audience and I know that people will expect some “1-star songs” from my collection, I prepare a “crap” playlist with a selection that I can go through if needed.
Important point is that there are no songs in my collection I haven’t listened to, even if it was only once.
My system is very simple and I keep it like that for a reason. I know that if I make it more complex and advanced I will give up on it sooner or later and it will make my collection unorganized. However, if you feel you can cope with the effort, DJ software these days offer many possibilities to rate & tag music, so use what is available and what feels necessary for your own style and needs!
Storage & Backup
Another good practice is to keep your main collection on your computer drive (if you DJ with a laptop that is) and keep all the other music you want to have with you “just in case” on a separate external HD. That way, you keep your DJ collection clean, and you still have access to more if needed. SSD external drives come cheaper and cheaper every day.
By the way, always make backups of your music library!. Use cloud services, get a decent external hard drive, choose whatever method you want, but do it. The day your laptop dies and you lose all your tunes, plus their tags, beat gridding, cues & loops, you will regret not having done it!
Sharing is Caring
You will never know what DJing truly is until you have played your first dj set in front of an audience. So grab whatever chance you can to land that first gig, and build from there. This can be a house party, a party at work, or if you are lucky, a gig in a club or a bar.
But what if you cannot get gigs?
Sharing DJ Mixes Online
If you don’t manage to play in front of a live audience regularly, there is no excuse not to post mixes online. Sharing mixes is a great way to build up a following, get reactions to your music choice and mixing style, and show the world you know something about music & mixing!
Everybody knows Soundcloud, but these days it’s the last place you should try to upload DJ mixes to.
Very good alternatives are mixcloud.com, house-mixes.com, mixcrate.com (update: mixcrate.com has unfortunately closed down)… The list goes on and on. Posting your mixes will expose you to feedback from listeners, and if your style catches on, you might even construct an online fan base. Which, in turn, could land you gigs if your online fan base converts into people who are eager to see you perform.
Social media is key for DJs these days. If you haven’t done so, set up a Facebook page and update it regularly with DJ mixes, pictures of your gear, gig reviews… If you can captivate an audience with your content, people will start to come back for more and before you know it, you have a following! Having a DJ Facebook page, but also a Twitter and an Instagram account looks professional and offers people something they can connect to.
If you want to show your skills to the world, nothing better than record videos and put them on Youtube and Facebook.
Creating and maintaining good DJing habits is key to becoming a good DJ. Expertise comes with regular practice, and even the super talented need to practice to improve and maintain their skills.
Djing is not a hobby or a job, it’s a passion. If you are passionate about music and sharing your mixing skills and talent with the world, then creating good habits and making enough time for it should come quite easily, no matter how busy you are in your daily life.
So start creating those habits right now, and become the best DJ you can be!
Make sure to share your own habits below in the comments!