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10 Things I've Learned From DJing

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Note: I am not a DJ, but I do produce a weekly comedy show in Toronto (pimping my show now: www.openingnighttheatre.com). Anyway, this past Saturday we decided to throw a dance party after the show, and to save money, I DJ'd for much of the night (with a proper DJ who happened to be in town from Australia playing in for a few hours). Between this set and what my DJ friends have told me, I've learned some things.

1. When you don't mix two songs in properly, you get "pots and pans" or "shoes in the dryer." Basically, it's when the percussive elements of two songs are off-rhythm, resulting in what sounds like pots and pans being banged together randomly in a kitchen. Even if you have Serato or Deejay or Ableton or some other DJ program and it beat-matches, you still need to be careful about how you mix songs together (just because they have the same BPM doesn't mean they have the same rhythmic components. I.E. a song with a lot of tabla drumming in the mix might not work being mixed into a straight-ahead house song. Or it might, with a bit of finesse).

2. It's always better to have tactile surfaces when you DJ. A physical fader, a turntable or CDJ. It just feels right.

3. Some DJs are vinyl snobs and I understand why, to some extent. Vinyl sounds great; it's full and you can really show your technical prowess when you are playing records. That being said, digital sure makes a lot of things easier and you can play a much wider variety of chunes.

4. I've always been frustrated by the reggae DJ convention to play 10 seconds of a song, rewind it, play it again, rewind, all while shouting over the mic and playing random sound effects. I've also found a lot of reggae nights to have pretty distorted sound and poor equipment. The thing is, soca nights are the exact opposite. The music sounds great, the DJs know how to build up and how to mix so that the songs get progressively faster and so you are constantly dancing and moving. I just don't get the reggae DJ thing.

5. House music is great for DJs. Four on the floor, just mix in whatever as long as the BPMs match up. I mean, there is certainly a skill to doing it well, but having a clear kick drum on every beat in 4/4 time really makes it easy.

6. The good DJs I've seen are technically proficient, hype up the crowd and know how to play to a crowd. I'm not a good DJ because I was sweating my time just trying to hear the pre-mix and not play too much crappy music. There' s a real art to good DJing. Most people in the crowd might not know it, but a good DJ is worth their weight in gold.

7. Play stuff the crowd likes. Seriously. I mean, you should like it too, but don't just play whatever random glitchy-indie-non-rhythmic song you are into. "Did you hear this new Death Bears record? It's great! The time signature switches every four bars and there's no singing... just alarm clocks ringing."

8. You can use EQ to do a lot of cool stuff. I've seen DJs really use it well... I'd like to learn how. I think it has something to do with turning down the mids.

9. You probably want to dress cool or have a "look" if you are DJing regularly. Something distinctive. Like a robot. Or a giant mouse head.

10. Electronic DJs are 10 years ahead of the curve. Seriously. Electro was playing in clubs in Europe 10 years before Britney's Circus album. Now, every mainstream rapper is releasing a dance song. Everything that is on the radio right now is in its death throes, meaning it's too late to get into it if you are a musician, DJ, or rapper. So either find out what the next big thing will be, or you just say "forget it" and do what you like. Hopefully, both of these coincide.

 
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