Staying creative as a DJ during COVID: Tips from artists around the globe

We spoke with 4 prolific DJs/producers based around the world to hear how they’re staying creative, coping with the pandemic, creating music, and engaging with their audiences.

COVID has put a damper on the careers of DJs and producers as touring has paused and regular club gigs have disappeared as venues suffer. But despite the uncertain times, artists have learned to sustain their own creative routines — whether it be engaging with their audience, creating new music, or exploring new DJ outlets as seen with streaming. We asked 4 established artists from across the globe to share their views on creativity during COVID and exploring new alleys for self-expression and performing as DJs.

We spoke to:

  • Joachim Spieth, DJ, producer, and founder of Affin (Germany) – who began his music career signing music 20 years ago on Michael Mayer‘s label Kompakt
  • Addi Exos (Iceland) – a true iconic techno artist active since the mid-nineties
  • Arnaud Le Texier (London), a French DJ and producer owner of Children Of Tomorrow label head with over a 20-year career
  • and Fred P (USA), a legendary artist, producer, and DJ, who released music on Black Jazz Consortium.

Joachim Spieth (Affin)

How do you maintain a creative balance during these times?

The days are not very different from the pre-COVID days. Getting up, drinking a coffee, and starting to work on music. For having breaks, I usually go walking in nature. On the weekends, well yes, I miss playing and traveling as well… It’s also good to overview, select, and delete music that was collected over the years. So I spent a lot of time with Rekordbox to organize my music library or preparing music for a podcast. I’m not using stuff like Mixed In Key; I prefer listening and deciding if tracks make sense together or not. Human filter.

A look at Rekordbox 6, where Spieth dedicates much of his time.

What are your views on streaming as a long-term outlet for DJing?

It’s an add-on, but it can’t replace the experience in a club with a good sound system and the people attending. When I see now that hosts offer “virtual festivals” and try to adapt in order to make money, and also what they promise, I’m sorry to say – but for me, it doesn’t work and I’m not interested in watching streams of mostly other DJs. Financially, it won’t be an option as well.

What’s your studio/DJ equipment setup at home?

I mainly work with Ableton Live and the Push 2. With Ableton, I’m much more flexible compared to other DAWs – there’re a lot of different ways to work on a track. There’s Session view vs Arrangement view, playing around with scenes and resampling it all, and working on these recorded files again. I own some other hardware for sure, but the center of my production work is Ableton Live.

How are you building new DJ skills during COVID?

I’ve been a DJ for 20 years or so. My goal is to build an atmosphere with the music – therefore, selection of the music itself is a key skill in my opinion.

Is there any training or routine you do that has helped keep you working as a DJ?

Breaking the routine.

Photo via Joachim Spieth’s Facebook page.

How do you keep engaged with your audience?

I did a stream for “United We Stream”, a few podcasts, and communicating with people on Bandcamp (they recently established a community feed) and I use the other “social” networks. For newsletters, I just skipped as I think that too many channels can also annoy the people following the Affin label or me. It is also a time to reflect on the past years and to rethink some things.

Is there a piece of DJ equipment you’d love to see in clubs or venues when they reopen?

I always loved the [Xone:92 / Xone:96] mixers for its 4 EQs. That’s it, basically. EQs are most important to have as I mainly mix with EQs and not with special FX or 2 computers with countless tools… less is more.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a new album and some co-operations that will be announced when the time is right.


Arnaud Le Texier (Children of Tomorrow)

How do you maintain creative balance during these times? 

I’ve actually had more time to be creative, so in a way it’s cool. I think I’ve never made this amount of tracks since I started making music. It’s a good time to try new ideas or new technics. I’ve been working a lot on mastering and to make my sound better. I’ve created a chain of Efx that I can use to create random sounds or noises. It’s all about the combination of pedals and effects which can take a lot of time to find and can be useful for many different sounds. Then, I record 2 hours of this and I can use them for sound design. I can also use some parts on a third CDJ as a layer when I play as a DJ.

Also, during this COVID time, Logic Pro X made a new version with another way of working on sequencing that is closer to Ableton – so it was a good time to learn this.

What are your views on streaming as a long-term outlet for DJing?

I don’t like streaming video DJ sets… I don’t see the point as a DJ. For me, to look at a DJ with a static video is boring. And I know most of the audiences don’t watch the video for more than 10 min because they find it boring too, so it must be a general feeling. I’d rather do podcasts that you can download & listen anywhere.

How do you practice away from clubs?

I do regular podcasts, so I try to build sets with a story like I would do if I was playing in front of an audience. A set has to be like a movie for me, which has a beginning, some drama, and an end. I take my time to select my music following this spectre, while also trying to select tracks that match together in harmony. Sometimes they can also not match perfectly, but if you use a loop you will manage to make it work. And with the help of the filter, it will go smoothly.

At times, you want to play a track that you know won’t be easy to match with the previous one – but if you mix it in a certain way, it will create either the tension you want or the twist that you need in your mix. You can use also a loop on the third CDJ to create something more pleasant for the ears. So in a way, when I do podcasts, it’s a perpetual trigger of ideas.

What’s your studio/DJ equipment setup at home?

2 Technics SL-1210 turntables, a Pioneer mixer or an Allen & Heath XONE (depends on my mood), and Pioneer CDJs. I particularly enjoy the loops on the CDJS and the filter in Allen & Heath, for instance.

How are you building new DJ skills during COVID?

I mostly develop new DJ skills when I play in front of an audience, as I like to improvise – and it’s when there is a certain connection with the crowd helped by a massive soundsystem that I try things that can be interesting. With the Pioneer CDJ, I love the loop function, for example. It helps me to do long mixes. The best is when you have 3 of them, so you can keep a loop in the background for a long time or sometimes put it back at a later part of the mix.

With Allen & Heath, I love the filter or the EQ, which is super precise. I also think the PlayDifferently MODEL 1 mixer is the best on the market for sure when it comes to frequency mix. Then, the Pioneer mixer can be cool for some types of FX such as delay and reverb. To be honest, it depends what you have in your hand that night that can be magic. However, you can have all of the tools mentioned, and if the sound in the DJ booth is not nice enough, then you won’t enjoy that much.

Is there any training or routine you do that has helped keep you working as a DJ?

As a DJ after more than 30 years, playing is like when you learn how to use a bicycle – then when it’s inside you, you don’t need to think about it anymore. The thing I always do is listen to promos, select music, and create playlists which I can use to do podcasts and also to understand my mood of the moment.

How do you keep engaged with your audience?

Like I mentioned, podcasts and releases – then posting them on the usual social medias. I had a busy new releases schedule during COVID, so I think I was engaged a lot by posting news.

Is there a piece of DJ equipment you’d love to see in clubs or venues when they reopen?

I think more than a piece of equipment, it’s about how many clubs will be still alive after this bad moment! So a new piece of equipment is the last of my thought.

What do you miss the most about playing out ?

Home? A big soundsystem like Berghain or Fabric in my house.


Fred P (Black Jazz Consortium)

Photo via Fred P’s Facebook page.

How do you maintain a creative balance during these times?

I’m taking advantage of the downtime, I’m in studio mode – getting my next album ready for Perpetual Sound and curating my radio show for NTS. I’m also developing a compilation series for Mixcloud Select and working on a show for twitch. Pretty busy times; however, I take breaks and take walks to get some air and sunshine.

What are your views on streaming as a long-term outlet for DJing?

Streaming doesn’t compare to the ceremony of the celebration of life and the moments that we share. Therefore it isn’t, in my opinion, a solution at all. Does it fill a void? Perhaps – but for the long term, it devalues the art form. This is my opinion, and I’m speaking only for myself, having done 3 streams – which were really good experiences for really amazing organizations and platforms doing it for the right reason. However, streaming has its place. What I would like to see is a more creative approach, because seeing a DJ play in an empty club is depressing to me.

How do you practice away from clubs?

I listen and search for music, and I stay busy in the studio as I don’t practice playing music. The art form is natural to me at this point in my life. It’s more about listening, selecting, and having a point of view. Presenting music for me is not a vehicle; it’s a privilege and a treat – therefore it’s more of an extension of deeper communication.

What’s your studio/DJ equipment setup at home?

It’s a nice blend of analog and digital gear. These days, I’m focusing more on engineering, diving deeper into mixing techniques in the box. It is fascinating to approach projects with different points of view and embrace different mixing concepts. I’m using mostly Universal Audio and Waves plug-ins, as I’m doing my own mastering for certain projects. Most of the engineers I admire are all mixing in the box and coming from an analog background where the gear was extremely expensive. Mixing the box is like a dream.

How are you building new DJ skills during COVID?

My approach to selection is an extension of myself. What is most important to me is to finding music I like, and the rest comes naturally.

Is there any training or routine you do that has helped keep you working as a DJ?

It’s all about the music. My focus is purely the music, so finding music I think is good is the most important. That’s a very important ingredient. It’s not about this or that; it’s about what comes out of the speakers. If that’s not good, you’ve got to figure that out.

How do you keep engaged with your audience?

The music engages the audience. Anything else is an act, and that’s not real. I believe the point of playing music that is compelling is getting lost in a theatric display of ego. There is a difference between being swept up in the music and putting on a show. Putting on a show is fine, however, giving the audience an experience is very different. For me – please understand I’m speaking only for myself – the music comes first, and then the audience informs the music. From there, it’s what’s in the moment. It’s all about the moments, because no one controls time. Once it’s spent, you can’t get it back – therefore each moment is important.

Is there a piece of DJ equipment you’d love to see in clubs or venues when they reopen?

Yes, I would love to see a Dope Real isolator in every booth. I have been requesting it on my tech rider for 10 years, and I have only been able to get one in Canada and Japan when ver I go there to play. This is one of the reasons I love playing there so much – they don’t mess around with the sound. I would love to see more proper isolators in Europe and South America.

Dope reel DJ isolators as seen on YouTube

What are you working on at the moment?

I have a subscription service on Bandcamp where I’m doing a very underground sub-label called Private Society. There is a developing catalog there of projects from my extensive back catalogue, comprised of demos and sketches, ambient and left field music.

What do you miss the most about playing out ?

I just miss playing for people, because that’s what it’s all about. Creating moments for people on the dancefloor, bringing people together and sharing the vibe and positive energy. That’s what I miss right now. In these dark times, we all can use some positive energy and vibration and, of course, more love please.

Anything else you’d love to share?

Support underground artists. As you may know, electronic music is mainstream now and the underground art form of the sound is mostly not mainstream. It’s not a vehicle, it’s a vibration that should be preserved. We should support artists who represent that so you can have options of different frequencies.


Exos (TRIP, Figure, Planet X)

Photo provided by the artist

How do you maintain a creative balance during these times?

To be honest, I have never been as creative as now. I am chilling out, making music all day, finishing old and new projects, and working on my next releases. For me, it’s all about the nightshift. My 6th sense gets active after midnight. So during the day, I feel a bit like a vampire in the sun so I try to avoid it.

What are your views on streaming as a long-term outlet for DJing?

First, I didn’t think much of it. But after seeing it and doing it myself, I realized it was actually a very important factor for the scene: to represent new and good music, and old classics as well. This also gives the DJ the chance to show off a bit and share his technical skills to his fans and audience, which makes more sense than posting a cute selfie on Instagram that leaves no idea about wheter the DJ is good or not.

How do you practice away from clubs?

Well, DJing with CDJs is like learning to drive a car. You really don’t need to practice once you get the touch. However, playing with turntables always gets you rusty if you don’t practice. It’s like not going to the gym for a some time.

What’s your studio/DJ equipment setup at home?

I have actually lived in a suitcase for the last few years, one month here and few weeks there. When I make a stop in Iceland, I record a bounce of stuff from my friends studio. Then I work with those recordings later on, and fuse it into software synths and my own samples. I even do it in my headphones. Then, I send the recording to mixdowns and masterings.

How are you building new DJ skills during COVID?

DJ skills can be numerous. One of the most important factors is to pay attention to what’s going on in your favorite genres. And never lose track of what’s coming out, because being a DJ is about being a collector. And it doesn’t matter if you have gigs or not – a real collector has to be on the hunt. Check the stores for what’s new and be in touch with his mates for promos and new music. It’s also important to spread the love and share your new discoveries with others. That is what makes a great DJ. Don’t let COVID stop you from keeping track of music coming out.

Photo provided by the artist

Is there any training or routine you do that has helped keep you working as a DJ?

Never lose the passion. I hear a lot of people quitting DJing because they don’t have gigs and don’t reach a bigger audience. They want more money for gigs and don’t see the point spending time in it. Then I ask, for whom are you doing this? What’s is the point of it anyway?

The answer is: real DJs are playing music for themselves, no matter if they are successful or not. To be able to play for an audience is a bonus, and then the energy can be expanded – which can also be a good feeling as well. We all know its great to share music with others, and that’s also a part of being a DJ.

There is also a big difference between a DJ that is born a DJ because he/she is collecting music and diving into it with a burning interest of the music, and the DJs that sees a MTV video of a DJ in front of a big crowd – obviously a popular image – and decides, “oh, I want to be like that.” But what do you think is more natural or more real to keep the passion? Then, dig deep into your interest. Dig deep into the passion itself, and explore your music nerds syndrome. That’s an important factor for me, and that is what kept me working as a DJ to answer the question.

How do you keep engaged with your audience?

Well, I try to keep up with doing my social media once in a while with some updates. Last spring I released my long-awaited album and I also have another release out on my label Planet X titled “Do Not Sleep 2020”.

Is there a piece of DJ equipment you’d love to see in clubs or venues when they reopen?

An electronic drummer connected to the mixer, so I could do an absolute peak-hour solo.

What are you working on at the moment?

My next release, remixes of “DoNotSleep” feat. Dj Rush, is coming out. And then I have another release at the end of the year on Planet X, with remixes from Bjarki. Later this year, I have a dubby remix double pack coming out on the X/OZ label – the Q-Box remixes. I’m really excited about that as the original was the most sold release of my carrier.


Exploring new techniques to engage with fans, staying abreast of DJ skills with podcasts and livestreaming, and creating new music are just a few aways in which DJs and producers can explore today to maintain a healthy creative routine. Beyond the insights from these artists- it’s over to you!

Share with us what your creative routines look like these days. What are you working on at the moment? How do you keep building skills as DJ? Sound off in the comments below.

Cover photo via Joachim Spieth’s Facebook page.

Artist interviewcovid-19musical creativity
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