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Habits of Highly Mediocre DJs + How To Avoid Them

There’s no doubt that the DJ industry has become more saturated in the last five years, with more aspiring DJs eager to share their passion for music discovery, mixing, and curation with dancefloors around the world. It’s all too easy to become stagnant with so many DJs everywhere, so today we take a look at some of the more common traps of mediocrity that DJs fall into – and how to avoid them!

LEARN FROM THE SUCCESSFUL

Everyone loves success stories, especially when it comes to DJs that you personally know. I have friends who actually “made it”. Sometimes I do brag about them and at times envy them. When I was starting out 7 years ago I used to ask myself questions like “How did they make it?, how did they attract raging fans, why are they getting high profile remixes, what am I doing wrong?”

While statistics on DJ success rates are non-existent, I took the liberty and counted every DJ that I know personally in my hometown (Washington DC!). The total amount was 176, and only 4 of them achieved success – which I define here as incremental growth in music knowledge, fan-base and DJ-technique in a 5 year period.

That puts the rate of success for DJs I’ve known at 2.2% –  pretty low. Either way, the “hurdles” to become a successful and scalable DJ are high, and they get higher every day as challenges continue to increase.

One of the major obstacles to a DJ’s growth is mediocrity – failing to use your abilities to do and be more.

Most of us have found ourselves in that awkward-yet-comfortable position of settling. Mediocrity is self inflicted and so is excellence. If DJs have the ability to chose mediocrity or excellence (good or great), why do people choose the former more often than not? Here are some traits that defines mediocrity in most DJs – and how to avoid them!

STUCK ON REPEAT: Playing the same set from previous gigs

This happens all too often – a resident DJ who plays the same set over and over again every week. Unknown to them, people do notice and comment about the lack creativity and effort on their limited track selection. These DJs developed a habit of knowing what works and fail to innovate when they play to a new/more selective crowd.

Yes, the set they played last month really rocked the crowd and received numerous compliments. That doesn’t mean the same set will replicate to next week’s gig. This habit is a silent killer to your creativity and plunges you to the pits of mediocrity. It can be challenging for weekly residents to come up with new sets every week. You constantly have to be looking for new music and rare remixes.

Here are some tips to get out of this routine:

  • Follow your favorite producers and labels and ask to be in their music promo pool. Most producers are constantly looking for gigging DJs to play their unreleased tracks.
  • Go through your library and listen intimately to tracks you haven’t played in a while. You’d be surprised to find some gems you forgot about.
  • Take a break from the booth for a week or two and listen to different styles of music

Breaking away from old routine will make you a more versatile DJ and an experienced music programmer – something that being an expert at mixing doesn’t teach you. You want your audiences to come back expecting something new, even if it’s still the same genre or theme.

Read More: How To Stay Productive In DJ Sessions or In The Studio

2. IDENTITY JACKING: Portraying a fake persona

Identity-jacking isn’t limited to fictional characters. When your name is also your brand, this can potentially be very damaging. It doesn’t make sense to replicate the image of other high-profile DJs to your own. It makes you look unauthentic.

More DJs do this than you might expect – promoters and club managers are constantly making fun of DJs with over-glorified personas. Most importantly, it alienates you from your fans. It’s even worse when you show up and not do a great job in the booth. This quality really hinders your chances of landing gigs with promoters.

In 2009 I opened for a very popular deep house DJ in Miami. His image was on posters and videos were bigger than life but he was not fake. I was initially intimidated to meet him. As my set came to an end, he walked into the booth with a great smile saying “You were amazing, I really enjoyed your set. If you are ever in New York, please email me to hang”. He was authentic and real and also managed to make me a bigger fan.

Moral of the story: humility and being real are tremendous weapons you can use to sell yourself. It does take time to genuinely find yourself as a performer, but if you stick with it and remain consistently humble and let your actions/music do the talking, you will discern yourself from the rest.

3. FLANGE-CITY: Using too many effects while playing

We love effects; they’re a creative way to manipulate and add drama to our sets. Overuse can be buzzkill, especially from a listener’s perspective. This happens when a DJ loses him/her to the music and plays for their own enjoyment of manipulating the audio as opposed to letting the tracks speak for themselves. You’ve seen that before!

One time a local house DJ in DC just got on the booth and by the third track he was excessively using the bass kill switch. I wasn’t sure what he was trying to accomplish, but the track already had enough dynamic drive to keep the dance floor busy. I could tell the crowd wasn’t impressed by his continuous effect use. Someone had to wake him up and tell him to chill out. Mediocre!

Discipline is the name of the game here. Watching Dubfire Live using an Allen & Heath DB4 mixer and two Traktor X1 controllers, he would play five minimal house tracks back-to-back, all dry without any effects. On the fifth track he would slowly add some delay to the track from the mixer. While transitioning to the sixth track, in a subtle way, he decreases the delay timing creating his own unique buildup. He then begins adding reverb to the delay effects taking the crowd to a huge elation followed by a drop.

Keeping the energy constant for 40 minutes or so, followed by an artificial build up created a unique style for Dubfire. The disciplined use of effects really separates him from the rest.

Watch Dubfire use subtle phaser and delay effects for an effective drop starting at 0:54 in the video below:

4. TRASH TALK: Talking down about other DJs

Talking behind anyone’s back is terrible thing to do period. Although a lot of DJs do it. Does this sound familiar – “Why is he playing up there? I can do a better job than that” or “Oh did you hear that? He just train wrecked for a second”.

As DJs, we say those things to feel good about ourselves and perhaps to critique the performance of others, but there lies danger in loudly saying them in the venue – or if we don’t know who we are talking to. One time a DJ friend of mine walked into a new club and met a beautiful young girl next to the DJ booth. He didn’t like the music, but the crowd was great. His opening line was “Hey, I like this place but the DJ really sucks”. Girl responded saying “Well that’s just too bad, because he’s my older brother”. Imagine the humiliation and embarrassment. He promised not to put down any DJ from then on.

Talking unpleasantly of other DJs could affect your chances of getting booked, especially if you don’t know who you are talking to. Imagine if that person knows the promoter or the manager of the club, it automatically puts you in a bad spot. I recommend saying pleasant things about DJs to people you don’t know, otherwise it’s best to remain quiet, instead internally noting your criticisms of the DJ and analyzing them later if necessary.

5. RAMPANT INEBRIATION: Excessive substance intake

When I first started DJing, I would get tanked up a bit to dampen down the adrenaline, and I’m sure that’s how many beginners feel. I think I was able to play OK, so it must have worked. As my DJ career progressed I could take it or leave it, but usually took it, as I liked having a couple of drinks while playing tunes – end of story! It can loosen up your playing – I have no doubt about that.

Having a rider that includes 10 drink tickets is a lovely perk. However, a drunk or high DJ can quickly become a sloppy DJ. It’s easy get caught up with the crowd and music, but there are small things that alcohol and drugs can do to affect your sets like: Your levels become loud, your track selection is clouded, reading the crowd is short-sighted and eventually your sets evolve to an aggressive and perplexed performance.

Drinking some might be okay to bring composure and calmness to your nerves, but most professional DJs choose not to drink during their sets. Perhaps they might have a beer or two before playing and stick with water throughout. I’ve experimented with myself numerous times by recording my live sets during gigs, and the majority of my exceptional mixes were the ones I consumed zero drinks.

LOOK BEYOND WHAT’S EASY

Excessive ego and apathy are the root of most mediocre habits, especially in our industry. We settle for mediocrity because it’s safe, comfortable, easy and it just feels good. The more you settle for mediocrity, the more it begins to look like genius and excellence. On the other side of the coin, humility, professionalism and committing to constant never ending improvement everyday goes a long way. You’ll easily differentiate yourself from the rest by pushing more everyday, every gig, every track.

Read MoreEan’s 2010 article on “The Right Amount Of Hard” for DJs

As always, I’m curious as to your thoughts – do you know any DJs who seem to be mediocre or stagnant? What are their traits? Have you noticed some the traits in yourself?

Editor’s Note: At the request of our readers, we’ve added one of the top rated comments on this article below – a confession of mediocrity from reader Pete / PedroMac along with some advice:

Hi, my name is Pete and I am a mediocre DJ. Thank you.

Seriously though, I have been playing in bars and clubs for nearly 14 years now and it recently dawned on me that the reason I wasn’t enjoying DJing any more wasn’t down to ‘music being crap these days’ or ‘the punters not being open minded enough’. Plain and simply I had got lazy and mediocre gradually over time. Where I used to spend hours every week practising and seeking out music that really turned me on, I stopped practising altogether and would maybe take an hour before a gig to download a handful of popular new tunes that I thought the bar/club managers would approve of. I threw myself into rapid gear acquisition syndrome under the pretence that the latest shiny bit of kit would allow me to be more creative but ended up only using the features that made my life easier (a friend even coined the name DJ 8-beat Autoloop in my honour). Excuses like ‘I do this every week, it works’, ‘the punters are all drunk and don’t care’, ‘if it’s going to be a quiet night, I’m just going to get hammered and play what I fancy’ and I’m ashamed to say even ‘I’m only doing it for the money’ became more common.

So what changed? I recorded a set and listened to it the next day. Now it wasn’t the worst set I’ve ever heard and technically ok but it was so safe I ended up turning it off. I could predict what the next 3 or 4 songs would be (and I never play from set lists) and about 70% of the tracks I had probably played week in, week out for the best part of 3 years. The real wake-up call was when I thought about how many times I’ve had kids come up to me asking how to get gigs and I’ve given the usual clichéd response about practising and sticking to music you love, then turned back to the decks to continue microwave mixing music I didn’t like for money. Every one of those kids deserved that gig more than me on enthusiasm alone.

And so I tried to think back to when I last thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing and used to get a real buzz from playing, practising and even just digging for new tunes. In an attempt to reclaim this, I have sold my Traktor S4 and gone back to Serato Scratch (not gear hating here, it just didn’t suit the style of playing that I get the most enjoyment out of). I am setting aside an evening every week for practising / messing about and am constantly on the look out for exciting new music. The whole process has been liberating and I am now looking forward to Friday nights rather than dreading them, just wish I’d came to my senses a long time ago…

Header photo credit: Maksims Kuzmins

Mohamed Kamal is an ex SiriusXM DJ/Producer-turned-entrepreneur from Washington DC. He is the founder and CEO of Gigturn, a platform that connects DJs with fans and gigs.

 

  • King Ross

    This is nice, but following success and those who “make it” is mediocre, as you’re following money, lies and politics.

    Big-time producers just sit back and press play after they get everyone else to do everything for them. EDM is the worlds biggest electronic style and it s the most mediocre. Don’t follow success; follow your heart and do what you like, how you like. If you’re content with what you do – congratulations, you’re a success.

  • D.J. DR. MAKINAITOR

    And the use of autosynch button and of CDJ’s and mixing software. ……please!!!!! be genuine and mix only strictly with real vinyls. …like me!!!!!

  • Guillaume Vaut

    -Bonjour, je ne veux surtout pas être considéré comme un DJ, bien que je sois dans le milieu depuis le début des années 90′, je Mix uniquement par plaisirs, amour et ne veux me produit pas, bien que l’on me l’ai déjà a plusieurs reprise mais non !!!
    Je me considère comme un puriste mais surtout et j’y tien un AMATEUR.
    Je mix toujours sur Technics(vinyle), depuis peux je me suis équipé Dans la gamme Traktor, de Audio 10, affin de tester le Timcodage, puis est venu d’ajouter un X1 MK2 ainsi qu’un F1, le tout monté en série, affin d’exploiter les formats actuels, le Remix deck, STEMS, tout en jouant sur Vinyle Timecodé, un nouvelle Univers c’est ouvert à moi.
    J’ai commencé à toucher à des platines il y a près de 20ans et depuis j’apprends de jour en jour, j’ai pendant pendant plus d’ 1ans complètement arrêté et remballer mes platines, pour retrouver et acheter, des Vinyles de Musiques que j’écoutais bien Avant,( Sade, The Doors, en passant par mills Davis, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, Prince…. En Gros tout se qui m’avais un jour fait vibré et fait ressortir des émotions.
    Du coup je me suis remis en question et aujourd’hui je n’écoute plus aucune session d’artiste, pour être sûr que Le peut de sessions que j’enregistre et surtout qui me plaisent soient Autentik à ma personne et à mon ressenti.
    Pour terminer de 91 à 93′, j’étais un membre actif d’une des première Association à organiser à l’époque se qui était appelé des soirée Rave party et se que je regrette aujourd’hui et qui fait que je mixe pour moi avant tout, c’est que la musique électronique à était détourné de son aspect marginal en marge de la société, comme pour le Rock, le Reggae, le PUNK… À Leur époque pour devenir un phénomène de mode basé pour la plus part des organisateurs et des
    DJ, un magnifique moyens de faire de bon retour sur investissement.
    Du moment où la notion de liberté et l’anonymat à était détourné pour en faire un produit marketing surpuissant, jusqu’à en devenir un phénomène de mode j’ai tourné le dos à ces soirée, pour garder justement ma créativité et surtout ne pas tombé dans le comme tout le monde.

  • Aaron New

    Thank you for such an amazing and in-depth article. Its motivating and encouraging while serving as a warning. and Thank you @PedroMac for that Reply, very Insightful, Cheers

  • Fatchi Dadji

    Very good article. Glad to note I am not guilty of any of the 5, but I think there is a sixth one as explained so well by PedroMac, which is the most basic one of all, i.e. make sure you put in that (home/prep) work and keep developing yourself.

  • Kruz

    Playing premade sets used to be looked down upon as there is no challenge to it. You’re just a scripted monkey behind a deck. You might as well pre-record it and just play it using a USB stick. What’s the difference? And since there is no challenge to it, there is no fun to it. That is Pete’s real problem…… Just bring your tracks and play what suits the evening and mood of the crowd. Sure, you might mix two records because you know they just work or just instinctively at some point. But I never knew or could remember at which exact time to mix it in. All was done by feeling. And this was back in the days of vinyl, where your first challenge was to learn to properly beatmatch a record which already took you around 1 -2 years to develop your hearing/skills. So you had multiple challenges to overcome while playing. It all came down to, how much risk were you willing to take? Having two tracks play simultaneously most of the time, fast mixing to limit the time you only hear one track play alone, tricks, scratching etc are all increased odds you could fuck up. Walking close to the edge and succeeding is it’s own reward. I have to say though, since house went commercial. There have been some major changes. Every producer now just wants to be famous. So most of their tracks are radio edits. Instead of making tracks for DJ’s…. Back with Vinyl radio edits were usually on the B-side. The reason is because radio edits leave far too little space for a DJ to do something with it anymore. You simple can’t mix two tracks for over a minute anymore. There are far to many changes, breaks, drops etc. So even if you are a good DJ, you still don’t have any proper tools with which you can do a lot. Real DJ-ing can still be found though in most music genres with minimalistic sounds. Think like it like this. Records used to be tones and it was the DJ’s work to strike a chord with them. Now all the records are chords……

  • Antisa Ante

    You forgot to mention
    “Sad depressive black and white press photos”…you will just end up on some Tumblr page, people making fun of how “cool” you try to look.

  • Ruben Resa

    Great article btw. I watched the streaming of Dubfire and MK the other day. It looked to me like if Dubfire was just playing loops and like if he was in ‘FLANGE-City’ the fxs sounded overdone. Anybody here saw it?

  • KnowleDJ

    Great article

  • mikefunk

    You just describe all DJ’s from my small town. I don’t bother going on their parties anymore. I just go to next big city once a month. Better music, better crowd and it’s always a trip somewhere.

  • Blitz

    I have been djing proffesionaly since 2008-2009 and having a residency in a small bar-restaurant ever since today every week. As the years went by and i stared with a more deep/house set, i really found myself to a more techy side, which i couldn’t show it to the restaurant-bar i play from 21.00-24.00 every week because it is not a club or even a night bar. The fact that i only play house and electronic stuff at that place is a big thing because those places tend to have a more freestyle/triphop/radio sound. So as i exlored more and more music and i was getting more experienced by playing in gigs as a guest in clubs and bars, i convienced myself that i was “bigger” than that place and that people didn’t appreciated my music but that they were only interested in hearing the top 40 tracks of that month (which is part true). I found myself sometimes playing almost the same set. And i say almost because although i play with laptop and i have many playlists i try every night to be different. But the thing is as someone stated above i am not the same person i was in 2009. I was a kid back then that would do anything to play somewhere and didn’t care so much about mixing a top 40 song with a underground tech house track because i believed it was cool and i would educade the crowd listening to me giving them something special. So is it time to retire from that place and give the spot to a young kid that maybe will mix the top 40 songs mainly? Or is it time to make a change in everything from the music(renew it keeping my style), gear (i have not changed it since 2009), and find a purpose so i can be passionate again? Another thing, i have been booked playing in that place many times and i had many good times and also as a dj i learned many things by playing there but the most important one is that i can read the crowd. Playing in a small bar every week for 4-5 hours is very challenging.

  • Knights of the round table

    We dont do things because they are easy, but they are hard and that we can!

    Djs need to find their roots once more, cause now most of us are lost!

  • TonyLamarInSanDiego

    Great article! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Mario García

    Great great article, i read it a time ago but looking the comments i enjoyed the article more

  • woninfoh

    btw i personally fell into the trap of way to many loop rolls. lulz

  • woninfoh

    Sooooooo respect to the DJs that read this article and realized they were slackin and making some of these mistakes and uped their game by trying to get out of their comfort zone. But to the rest of you please reread the 4th element again take a deep breath and read it again. yes there are bad DJs out there but track selection and mixing are a personal experience I’m just curious how many of these bad DJ’s mentioned in so many posts thought the same way of your set because it didnt follow what their idea of DJing should be.

  • Nilesh Parmar

    Great inspirational article here. I know of one DJ, Deadmau5, such a successfully and talented DJ and producer and then every month i am hearing him slagging off other people within the scene, his latest being Lady Gaga. Now i bet he wished he kept his mouth shut now due to all the back lash he’s getting now!

  • guest123

    Most djs suck, im sorry but they do… most live in a fantasy and truly believe there skill level is way way higher than it actually is, there near tone deaf i can hear that yet they cant… not only that but trying to get a gig while these talentless morons run the show is near impossible.

    Ive near given up on djing simply because i cant get my foot in the door i cant get past these guys they wont let you perform ……its a dog eat dog industry and all based on who you know…. has nothing todo with real tallent its a crying shame.

    • Pelio

      A lot of times they won’t let you perform out of jealousy. They’re too scared that you’ll make them look bad. It really is a popularity contest. Nothing to do with talent…

      • King Ross

        Maybe they don’t like you cause you’re a snark?

    • King Ross

      They can probably see you’re trying to climb up them. Have a think about what you even want out of djing to a crowd if you dont like the people in it, cause this seems like a pretty bitter attitude.

  • djmikefunkdoctor

    Reading some these comments makes me glad I’m a Mobile dj and not a club DJ. I’m sure club deejays have many more perks than me including more female attention that comes with a regular residency etc. And never having to play crappy requests. But what I love is that at every gig I get to use all the same technical fun tools like vinyl style beat mixing and key mixing and looping etc. Whilst taking the audience on an entire trip of different eras and musical gendres. Every gig is unique and exciting. I don’t doubt there are some mediocre mobiles but the sheer challenge and variety keeps me on my toes.

  • exf_eighternal

    thanks for info!
    although i’m not DJ, but i like trance music and sometimes I compose music.
    I’ll use some of thats principles for creating my music.

  • Phil

    I do none of the above (except perhaps the drinks) and I am still a mediocre DJ.

  • StereoDrop

    question one: Can be a DJ successful like others when he is not producing good Tracks

    question two: CAn he be a successful DJ, but produces Music that is a complete other style than that what he plays on live gigs

    question three: Tips for young DJs like me (18yrs, ger)

  • great beginner tips for sure, but it really boils down to who you know, I have met some very over hyped djs that gig way more gigs because of who they know that what they play, image in number one today, I know lots of people dont like to hear that , but its tru

  • Brilliantly written article well done.

  • kind of redundant. You should already know all of this.

  • great read! the bit about playing the same set at every gig rings so true, especially here in montreal. residents, take note!

  • Boof

    Brilliant article… certainly makes me re-think why I do what I do…. you don’t realise just how far you are down the rabbit hole until someone brings it to your attention – top job 🙂

  • Reinvented

    Loved the bit about the substance intake. I watched Rusko’s set at Ultra and he was EXTREMELY hammered so his set was just bloody awful.

  • Ben Hinman

    I hope this never happens to me. I am not a DJ, i create and produce music, but i have seen many of my friends (as well as too many mainstream artists) lose talent by making music for the audience and not themselves, or getting caught up with the glamourous aspects and losing themselves. While i am not opposed to mimicking a certain styles, i have noticed how depressing it can be to obsess over “what sells” rather than what you personally enjoy. At one point i realized i was not creating any new synth patches and i was pumping out the same old sidechained house base with the SAME chord progression in a different scale, so i stopped listening to electronic music for a while and started listening to zeppelin and pink floyd, experimenting with new cross genre artists like fient and lindsey sterling until i had come up with something completely new. My new music sounded so much better and more original, so i kept on tweaking it with elements from new genres until i came up with something i affectionately call “glitch rock”. From now on when i’m bored with music, rather than finding new fancy VST effects to throw on the same old crap i’m going to find new genres to get excited about and incorporate it into my music.

    You can actually hear the change in my music:
    http://www.soundcloud.com/neoroyal
    Happens after “new dawn”

  • One of the best readings ive done in a long time, insightful, truthful, honest and exiting article!. good job and thatnx for sharing to you all ;D

  • DJ Leviani

    Thank you, this article was great! Thank you!!

  • Part of the reason why I left the strip club I was dj-ing at…. it was killing me creatively. don’t get me wrong getting paid to play music in a strip club alone isn’t bad… but the music selection becomes static nothing new. Heck I remember when one of the dancers asked for me to actually just freestyle her show, I got way more excited about that then I really should have.

    Needless to say tho, I haven’t had a gig for a few weeks now, but I do an online radio thing every friday night and I have more fun doing that for 2-3 hrs 🙂

  • I have fallen into this mediocre state, which is all to easy…my cure was radio.

    Each week I co-present a radio show on a community FM station, and for over a year and a half now I’ve had my passion re-kindled. My library has grown in a way I could never have imagined, for each week I spend the time routing around for those gems.

    Now, there might only be 1 person listening, but I don’t care, it gives me the opportunity to explore music and keep fresh. When I play out now, my sets are full of enthusiasm and energy, that I lost along the way in previous years.

    So, if you can get down to your local community station, and get your passion back…also a great promo tool for your live gigs.

    • What station, mate? I also moonlight as a DJ on a community radio up in NW WA (KSVR 91.7 FM), and I’m always looking for guest EDM DJs for the 2nd hour of my show. If you’d like to appear on my show in some future week, hit me up!

    • fletc3her

      In college I had a couple radio shows at WMBR over the years. We were also a community radio station and there were quite a few professional DJs from the Boston area who had shows at our station. It would give them a chance to do something different than their day job. Though they were more radio DJs than club DJs.

  • Great article! This article should be framed and put in every DJ company office! Well said! http://www.fonixentertainment.com

  • djmixx649

    Coming from the Oldschool DJing days when DJs were dime-a-dozen and you had to have the actual talent to spin in from of crowds to gain popularity. I have to admit that in my younger years I was the Mediocre DJ and thought I was the best at what I did and there was nothing better, bad mouthing others not being friendly to that point of holding conversations etc. But through my time in the DJ world, I believe that I’ve matured in my DJ career. I’ve decided some year back as I got older to take the positive route to become more of a mentor to the younger generation of DJ and helpful not the cranky Oldschool DJ that bashes New Technology etc. I’ve noticed within myself that whether it’s providing accurate information on how something works or how to blend tracks together etc it’s actual very rewarding to be involved as a SEM (subject matter expert).

    Working in Corporate America has also helped me develop the necessary skills to deal with/hold conversations etc with others. In my opinion its all about customer service, YES I know this sounds like a telemarketing job but seriously being appropriate in how you explain yourself to someone about your beliefs and taste about music etc. I’ve even gave lessons to even a few kids that were deaf in one ear and many others. I apologize for getting on my soapbox but it’s very rewarding to be an instrument to help someone else’s success.

    Great article!!!!!

  • Jason

    I bar tend at one of the most popular clubs in Atlanta and our main DJ who is your article’s persona in real life, plays the same set every week, we laugh cause we gotta down to a science he starts with I gotta a feeling, then goes into omg and at 12am he plays “n***as in paris”, oh he also calls himself a superstar, hence the moniker superstar dj ros, lol, he’s a good dj mixing wise, but his set is always the same so sad 🙁

    • Yeh I have seen this kinda thing before.. I much prefer a DJ who loves playing to one who loves playing with themselves

  • Nerd_Fase

    I dj shit faced and have never had any problems. It’s all based on how the individual handles substance. Besides being a successful dj has almost nothing to do with how talented you are. If you want to be successful all you have to do is work at a street wear shop, go to the Art Academy, invest a good chunk of your trust fund into PR, play only “Real” Trap music , spend what ever is left of your trust fund on likes/followers and sell cocaine to only to be edgy…oh and do you even compress m8?

    • gigglekey

      I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Nerd is a shit DJ. Because feelings.

  • *cough* ultra 2013 *cough*

    great article though! seems like a lot of newer DJs forget about DJ etiquette as well – like not playing a tune produced by the headliner if you’re opening for him. oh. and don’t play Levels. ever. again.

  • drekavac

    half of u people are full of shit. U dont know squat!

  • JadedRaver

    Its shit like this that makes me want to quit djing altogether. Its lost its purity and is all to easy to do with todays equipment. Hence the mediocre problem. I started in ’93 with 2 1200’s and a cheap mixer and practised all day everyday. Because you were either good or bad.

    • BART SIMPSON

      Well it’s not ’93 anymore and they’ve stopped manufacturing 1200s so quit or don’t. Complaining on a blog is what makes YOU mediocre.

      • 1200’s are a skill on there own

        • Rob S.

          I still use my 1200 M5Gs regularly. You can take your craft and equipment, work hard and get creative to keep the essence intact while embracing the ever evolving DJ technology landscape, or you can sit here and make excuses. It doesn’t matter what era we are in, you are still either good or bad. Taste, transition, selection, arrangement, and personal style are not automated digital elements. Anyone can put two songs together, but not everyone can create a compelling mix.

    • BADMANEB

      That’s real, in the late 80’s and 90’s you either were nice or you sucked & the crowd would notice, and I liked the fact that you had to buy a physical vinyl to posses music, it wasn’t available online where all of a sudden you have thousands of songs & decide you wanna be a dj like nowadays. I still spin on 1200’s with serato & i’m not against any of the new technology out now, If you sucked on 1200s you’d suck on controllers or cds, if you were dope on any other gear, then technology would add magic to your sets.

  • Mauri Moore

    Really GOOD article , for me is the best one i readed in Djtt .

  • Anybody got an idea of the tune DJ Dubfire is playing?

  • A long while back, I got stuck in a rut at a club playing songs I was no longer thrilled with and generally feeling limited on genre. Made me hate the music I was playing and get turned off of DJ’ing in general. I’m back into dj’ing now, but I have to constantly remind myself to take chances, experiment, and push my own boundaries.

  • Michel Souza

    Perfect!

  • Charles Mykid

    Amazing article.

  • 6StringMercenary

    Interesting about the note regarding effects – isn’t that pretty much everything controllerism is about? No, seriously, chopping with cue points or blending “super fader transitions” or using a MIDI Fighter 3D on the vertical axis to use as a modulation? I only mention this because I do feel guilty of EQ/EFX abuse as of late, but only in practice mode to get the techniques down on Gater, Delay, multiple Reverbs, Digital Lo-Fi, and otherwise flavoring tracks I know and love in ways that support fun on the floor. Unlike controllerism, I’m not asking anybody to look at me, I know that EQ abuse is a turn-off, just like a bad chop between tracks…but to put up an example of minimalism for contrast just ain’t right. Use the tools and use them well and tastefully, but leaning on them instead of using a bunch of cue points or finger drumming isn’t a shameful enterprise.

  • Excellent article and excellent comments.

    I have a question regarding image and hype which has come out of reading this article. I have been DJing for around 10 years and mainly due to confidence and day job I have only had two 1 year residences and have not played out for around 5 years.

    I feel that now I am ready to step up again and show my sets to the public. Getting a gig is going to be tough enough as it is so my question is, should I give myself a DJ name? maybe this sounds like a bit of a simple question but I always feel that to be a DJ Swamp, DJ Shiftee etc etc rather than a John Smith or Bob Phillips gives an air of having reached a certain level in your career, a level I am far from.
    I do have a DJ name and I control all social media and music streaming log ons etc so the image is ready to go,the question is when to use it?

    Thanks for taking the time to read my post.

    • I think it depends on what you do. I produce and have noticed a lot of producers dropping the DJ from their name, so I went with the moniker AtomikA. Certain genres seem to keep it and it seems more common in top 40, hip hop genres than in mainstream edm genres. Do whatever feels right for you and the style of music you make. Most of the bigger artists I’ve opened for dont have DJ in their name if that helps at all (all dubstep, electro, progressive house artists).

  • nah

    comment about divorced women is rather sexist. kinda gives a sour taste to the whole article and honestly the site. unprofessional and offensive.

    • Spacecamp

      Noted and removed as the analogy was unnecessary anyway. Thanks for letting us know.

      • djpaulross

        while I have you here

        • djpaulross

          the dubfire video is not working

  • Schrammbo

    Great article. I spent some time opening for a DJ in Korea, and while he was the pinnacle of a talented, supportive role-model (despite our often large language barrier), the guy who played the clean-up set after him was a carbon copy of the afore mentioned “mediocre DJ.” Ugh, it was always such a shit show. Endless flanger, shit talking, and blown transitions. He would work a Black Eyed Peas single into a Black Eyed Peas Remix. Gag.

    But the WORST PART was how often he would try to convince me I wasn’t a real DJ because of my pads and knobs style of mixing in Traktor. He would go on about how in-genuine my style was. Keep in mind, his comfort zone rested somewhere between Virtual DJ at house parties and using all-in-one Numark rigs. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but with the constant introduction of new equipment types and new software, taking a stance behind any one style and criticizing the rest is a sure way to make enemies in the mixing community.

    TL;DR: Don’t hate on other techniques and approaches to performance, especially if you don’t have the background to back up your commitment to a specific style.

  • On the one hand, I understand not “trash talking” other DJs, especially if you’re not willing to say it to their face. On the other hand, the surest path to mediocrity seems to lead through a dishonest creative community that is afraid to voice when things actually suck. Anyone have any idea where the “middle road” is here?

    • kesha

      i think what is being said here is that you shouldn’t say something outright offensive as in the example with the girl. Especially as an up and coming dj you should do your best to respect others in the edm community, especially the people you would consider your competition. If people hear you saying something negative about the dj thats playing they will assume that you are jealous and comptitive and nobody likes someone like that.

      • That’s fine, but sometimes a persons experience of mixing is factually bad. “He’s blowing the levels on the mixer when he’s in the mix” is generally speaking non-personal and constructive feedback. There is no genre or style of DJing that calls for blown levels, it factually sounds bad in 100% of cases.

        If it’s taboo to give such “negative” feedback, how will the DJ in question ever learn that blowing levels in the mix is something to avoid?

        • mook

          its all about attitude and delivery.

          • Rob S.

            Agree with mook 100%. There is a time and place to give what is called constructive criticism, and that is part of development. If a DJ can’t handle criticism and gets defensive, he is selling himself short of very valuable information, and that is one way to guarantee mediocrity. Some of the best lessons and advice I have ever received have come through things that I didn’t want to hear, but had to hear in order to grow. As long as you are able and willing to adjust your ego to welcome suggestion, the learning experience will come much easier and at a more progressive pace, and you will shine brighter as a result.
            Trash talk is unprofessional and for the birds.

          • Brad

            Agreed. There is a difference between saying, “that was a terrible set,” and, “man you played some great tunes but you were blowing your levels out and it was coming out muddy and distorted. Try to keep an eye on them so you don’t go in the red.”

            Also, if you’re a rookie, you should be soliciting criticism, not giving it. To put it into another context, imagine that you are a high school senior and the best baseball player in your county/region and get a chance to meet your favorite major league player, who happens to currently be in a week-long hitting slump. Do you think it would be more constructive for you to criticize his swing to his face or to ask him for tips on improving your game so that you can get drafted?

            I guess what I am trying to say is that soliciting criticism/advice is almost always more productive than giving it, unless you happen to already be an international superstar. Even though the DJ on stage may not have performance skills that are on par with your own, they may be better at other facets of the DJ life than you. Just the fact that they are up on that stage with less talent might tell you that they are better at marketing/networking than you are. Rather than trash their skills–in turn bruising their ego and possibly burning a bridge–find a positive and say, “man, I’ve been trying to get a gig here for months and can’t even get them to call me back–how did you do it?” Maybe, just maybe, they will tell you, or even better, throw their arm around your shoulder and say, “hey, I’m about to go talk to the owner/promoter right now, he’s a great guy! Let me introduce you!”

            I know that a lot of people want to get in the music business to “do what they want” or “not follow the rules,” but being successful from a monetary/gig volume standpoint involves building relationships. It doesn’t mean you have to put on a three piece suit and play exclusively top 40 wedding and college bar gigs, but it does mean that you have to talk to people and be nice. Whether you are in the music business or investment banking, nobody likes an a**hole.

            While I think throwing up your hands and saying, “it’s all about who you know” and giving up is lazy, I think there is truth to it–but I’d say it is more about who knows you. If you are out there meeting people, talking to them, getting advice and talking shop, they will remember it and just might talk you up to someone who in turn can get/give you a gig; at the same time, if you only talk to people at shows to trash the DJ’s skills or to show off your musical snobbery by trashing their track selection for being “too mainstream” or “not underground enough,” then you can count on the people you talk to remembering you as petty and negative.

            The golden rule always applies, if you have nothing nice to say, then it is better to say nothing.

        • DJs on Call

          It’s about tact and respect. If you walk around mouthing off about all the mistakes a DJ is making, you will be met with anger from his side and it’s guaranteed that he won’t see it as constructive.
          Often a bad DJ is a management problem. Technically, a club manager should be able to pick up when the DJ is messing up and/or putting the equipment at risk and correct the situation. Unless you are a highly respected or reputable DJ and he or his friends have heard of you, chances are he won’t take you seriously. This isn’t just the case with DJs. When is the last time you tried to tell a mechanic what you think is wrong with your car? What’s the bet he looked at you with a facial expression that just screamed “who the hell does this guy think he is telling me how to do my job?”. This is human nature. If the DJ is messing up, stay off the floor, and if everyone else does it, he should wake up that he’s doing something wrong. If not, he’ll most likely not make it anyway. The problem with the DJ industry is mostly that the big guys in the game don’t spend enough time mentoring, which is what the industry actually needs…

        • EZ

          The best guide is if you wouldn’t say it to the DJ directly, don’t say it to others.

          • What if you’re the sort of person who is, what’s that word.. honest.. and *would* say it to the DJ directly?

  • Josh

    Very much agree with all of this and the comments!! I have always been a vinyl DJ but recently switched to cdjs to avoid having a laptop with me. Don’t get too attached to ur gear and always play for the crowd that way they’ll remember you and come back!! Also I agree with the effects but I am an RMX-1000 user and I believe it helps with transitions when used mildly and it also has added more of the “fun” back into doing residency gigs!!!

    • Daniel King

      Why would you need a laptop if your playing records?

  • Compact Disco

    Really smart article. I’m a Producer and DJ from Chicago achieving moderate success in the local scene. I’ve toured the midwest a little bit and am finally getting my first release on a label. I’ve been trying to break out of the local circuit for the past year, working on productions and playing bigger festival gigs and whatnot. I found it discouraging, trying to rack up as many clubs/larger venues to put on my resume as possible, but I find it really important to be humble about your experience and give it to people straight up instead of being a dickhead about everything. Just be you, play your music (original productions are a plus) and don’t try and lie your way into anything, you’ll end up having to explain yourself and risk losing everything.

  • I dont like playing Top 40 tracks, and I hate when people ask me for it too.
    But unfortunately most of the clubs in DC wanting only that.
    I buy and spend time on finding new music all the time.
    But I do play some of the same songs here and there depending on the venue.
    Still in search of the place where top 40 wont be an issue

    • Rob Ronin

      U st music hall, Josephine’s, Where ever the “deep sessions” party is playing, Opening gig at Echo… one of the multitude of independently promoted edm events or warehouse partys (more so in Baltimore for the latter). There are many many places for underground music in the DMV. I’m a producer/dj in the dmv area msg me offline.

    • Rob Ronin

      Unless you want a residency at one of the big “night clubs” in the area but as you know unless you know the owner that will not happen anyway.

  • B

    Point number 5 Afrojack we looking at you especially your set at Ultra. Shameful

    • That’s not even hating…. Charging 30g`s for clubgigs and between 75 and 150 grand for a festival gig… This guy better be a demi god on the 1s and 2s…

    • King Ross

      What do you expect with a whole industry if dudes who are shit lol

  • I’d like to add 1 more element if I may. 

    Diversity in genre.

    With EDM taking such a huge leap forward the last couple years, people are now familiar with many many different EDM STYLES. Where as you may have been able to come to a show and play straight minimal house, D&B, Trance or whatever, the crowds are smarter these days, meaning their styles and tases are all over…. Just like a good DJ.

    I’ve found my career taking off the last couple years because I’m more diverse. Believe me, if it were me, I would just play Electro House and Progressive til the sun comes up. However, mixing in pop vocal tracks, R&B samples, Classic anthems and some dub step and disco, my set is way more diverse, meaning wider audiences, meaning more gigs.

    Just my thoughts… Great article!

  • I’m guilty of the exact opposite of #1 avoiding playing the same song twice. Which has it’s own problems of mediocrity.

  • PedroMac

    Hi, my name is Pete and I am a mediocre DJ. Thank you.

    Seriously though, I have been playing in bars and clubs for nearly 14 years now and it recently dawned on me that the reason I wasn’t enjoying DJing any more wasn’t down to ‘music being crap these days’ or ‘the punters not being open minded enough’. Plain and simply I had got lazy and mediocre gradually over time. Where I used to spend hours every week practising and seeking out music that really turned me on, I stopped practising altogether and would maybe take an hour before a gig to download a handful of popular new tunes that I thought the bar/club managers would approve of. I threw myself into rapid gear acquisition syndrome under the pretence that the latest shiny bit of kit would allow me to be more creative but ended up only using the features that made my life easier (a friend even coined the name DJ 8-beat Autoloop in my honour). Excuses like ‘I do this every week, it works’, ‘the punters are all drunk and don’t care’, ‘if it’s going to be a quiet night, I’m just going to get hammered and play what I fancy’ and I’m ashamed to say even ‘I’m only doing it for the money’ became more common.

    So what changed? I recorded a set and listened to it the next day. Now it wasn’t the worst set I’ve ever heard and technically ok but it was so safe I ended up turning it off. I could predict what the next 3 or 4 songs would be (and I never play from set lists) and about 70% of the tracks I had probably played week in, week out for the best part of 3 years. The real wake-up call was when I thought about how many times I’ve had kids come up to me asking how to get gigs and I’ve given the usual clichéd response about practising and sticking to music you love, then turned back to the decks to continue microwave mixing music I didn’t like for money. Every one of those kids deserved that gig more than me on enthusiasm alone.

    And so I tried to think back to when I last thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing and used to get a real buzz from playing, practising and even just digging for new tunes. In an attempt to reclaim this, I have sold my Traktor S4 and gone back to Serato Scratch (not gear hating here, it just didn’t suit the style of playing that I get the most enjoyment out of). I am setting aside an evening every week for practising / messing about and am constantly on the look out for exciting new music. The whole process has been liberating and I am now looking forward to Friday nights rather than dreading them, just wish I’d came to my senses a long time ago…

    • Dear DJTT editors. Could you put this comment in the main article as an amendment? It’s a wonderful confession and worth everyones time to read.

      • Sumo Blanco

        I second that Spencer. PedroMac’s article read more like an excerpt from my DJing life lately. I have a sneaking suspicion that it hit home with many of us here. Great article and great comment!

      • Spacecamp

        Done and done. Amazing how good a response this whole article has had.

    • u sir are a gentleman and an honest person, so glad you can admit what you (an probably most of us) are doing in whole or in part. I feel like your are really gonna start enjoying playing out now best of luck to you. on a side note, part of the reason why dj’s get stagnant is because they have held a residency at a club for too long and are too comfortable, don’t be afraid to tell the club owner or promoter your gonna start playing somewhere else…..personal experience.

    • metalgearrr

      Soooo true. My saturday nights at this club I DJed at were getting so boring and dreadfult, and it was no ones fault but my own. Im kind of restricted to top 40s, and some hip hop… so it was pretty boring… I’d hate going in to DJ, while getting paid… imagine that.
      It wasn’t until about a month or two ago that I’ve learned more and more about Traktor, to learn all the amazing features I never knew about.
      I’ve also broadened my music, and selection. Instead of sticking with just todays top 40, I’ve incorporated some older house songs that people would recognize. It’s exciting to find a gem that you know everyone will love, and I look forward to that all the time now.

    • nice share Pete

    • Pelio

      It should ALWAYS be about the music and not about the promoters. People can always tell if you’re faking it or if you’re truly into the music.

    • Knights of the round table

      Thats why i dont use Quantized loops or effects (DJM 900), rekordbox or traktor.
      CDJ 2000 NXS or a controller with autosync.

      It keeps me on the edge, and if a doze of i get a kick in the ass!

      If you feel you are loosing the touch, get a pair of oldstylers and practice on them, looping, tapping the beats, scratching, effectmixing with your feeling of the beats and musicear.

      And for your purists out there, of course you can use a vinyl recordplayer instead ;D

    • Hana Sheala

      That was a really good read PedroMac. Thanks. Helped me fight my DJ burnout, have different reason, but stuck in mediocrity too.

  • Brilliant article! Good advice for me that I try to keep in mind (don’t always succeed!). Def try to use effects sparingly and at appropriate times. I’m a less-is-more effects kind of DJ, generally.

  • solid article. @djtechttools i really appreciate the fine articles aimed at building better dj’s you have no idea how this is helping some of us.

  • 12inch

    I think we need to be clear on what a Deejay is and what a producer/remixer is that plays records.

  • Volker

    guilty on 4 out of 5.
    I still have to impersonate some vip dj.

    You are spot on. I’ve been there, done the other four myself and paid deeply for each of them.

    As a gadget geek, I would add a sixth bad habbit:
    “love your gear more than the dancefloor”.
    I see many didjitals fall into that hole.

  • When i was 17 i thought that there is no way to mix withthout alcohol. I was so wrong. Really, if you wanna make GOOD, fresh mix, you have to be sober. in other way, it’s risk that you start to act freaky and do things that are cool – but only for you (like backspins – sound shitty, but when i was really drunk i thought “hey, people gonna love it, it is SOOOOO cool. Meh). And if you get money for mixing – this is normal place of work. Do people drink in the offices? 🙂

    • Volker

      yes. in bavaria, they do.

    • BS. my best mixes haven been rolling, and the crowd agreed.

      • i’m talking only about my experience. i’d like to be sober during mix. that’s all. But imho you have more control over the gear when you’re sober , especially when this is your first gig and you don’t know the gear. (Seriosusly, there are clubs in the world without Pioneer mixers) but that’s only my opinion.

        • DJs on Call

          Some of the worst DJs I know are awesome DJs when they’re sober but trip rigs, blow fuses and speakers and claim they mix really well when they’ve had a couple of drinks. If you need to drink to mix well, you’re an alcoholic and will never work for me. If you drink on the job, I’ll remove you from the decks. My equipment is too expensive to be put at risk by letting a drinker use it.

          • yup. you are right. so, like i said, i DO like to be sober during mix. i am a techfreak and i care about my gear very, very much. On the house party, one guy split beer on my mixer. My NUO. that was a nightmare. that’s the reason why i’m sober – i don’t want to damage club gear.

    • In the bay area tech world, there is a TON of drinking at work… in the office.. while working.. for better or for worse.. usually worse..

      • yeah. there is a polish joke that people share in workplaces (like woodwork factories) “don’t be drunk during work if you don’t wanna whipe your ass with your elbow”.

  • Volker

    erm, where’s the text?

    • Spacecamp

      Sorted – slight wordpress hiccups!

  • ?

    Where’s the text?