The Pattern Burst Guide To DJing (Sort of…)

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There are a number of places online now that cater to the growing gangs of people who have decided, for whatever reason, that they would like to become a DJ. There is nothing wrong with that; for many of us our entry to a larger world of grinding machine sounds and synthesizer that go ‘Squeeeep’ began with simple attempts to make two records spin at roughly the same speed. Depending on your view-point these sites are either useful resources for the legion of interesting and like-minded individuals seeking to further their knowledge of ‘the art’ or as internet based corrals for the misguided, the delusional and the broken, brought together by the common need to find a way to attract girls. And get paid for it.

At its heart, DJing is when you play music by other people and get all the credit for it, which, when you think about it is kind of a weird thing to be doing. Nowadays, when technology has made it possible to dump little of chunks of other people’s music together to form a queasy blend of invention and musical fan-fiction, the lines have become blurred, even as they are crossed. A number of people seem not to know the difference between DJing and producing. Some are unaware there IS a difference. This swings both ways. There are many producers out there who have started DJing to boost various profiles who haven’t grasped how different records should flow together and should probably not be allowed near a set of decks no matter how much their Beatport chart depends on it.

In all seriousness, anyone who follows one of those online corrals closely can be lulled into a false sense of security. Software and USB controllers might make it seem like all of the hard work is done for you, but this isn’t accurate. The much derided Sync button, which arouses such ire in otherwise grown men and women with a thing about ‘Keeping It Real’, really does little more than allow you to skip the basic mechanical act of beat matching. What seems to be forgotten is that there is an entire world of skills beyond this point that needs practice, practice and more practice before you can gain proficiency. This is where the problems start.

The thing about music is that it isn’t something that can be readily dealt with and filed away with a couple of tags giving the BPM and the tune’s key grouping. Too many people seem to see their musical collection in terms of what their laptop tells them and a huge part of that practice is simply to get to know your music inside out. Know when the tune changes, when it grows, when it relaxes, when the vocal comes in and departs, when the motif erupts into life. To know this you actually have to listen to your music and, rather than force it to respond to something you are doing you must learn how you are going to respond to it instead. Sure, sometimes it’s fun to slam a tune you have never listened to into something else; reckless experimentation can often be a great way to learn new tricks and how to respond to a less than optimal situation, but it can also be a disaster waiting to happen. Having two records synced together isn’t going to save you.

The crux of the matter is this: A DJ should, above all else, care about their music. They should not simply be a fan, they should be obsessed with it. A crowd, I think, can spot a DJ who simply isn’t that bothered. The music you play defines you. The answer to a question I have seen asked more times than I thought possible is simple. How much do I really have to listen to my music? As much as you possibly can, and then a whole bunch more.

Beyond this, one of the funniest aspects of DJ sites is the approach to gear. It is almost a fetish at times. The fact is that if you are starting out you simply don’t need a set of Pioneer 2000 Nexus CDJs and an 8 channel mixer with integrated FX racks. I would actually suggest going the other way – get something cheap and wonky and learn on that. I started off with a set of bloody awful belt drive Limit turntables. Every time you changed the pitch you had to wait a month and a half for the belts to drag the platters up to speed. They were rubbish but they forced you to pay attention. Going from them to a set of Technics was an eye-opening experience. You also don’t need to load up with Pio gear just because DJ Bawjob told you they are ‘Industry Standard’. Many clubs may well have Pioneer CDJ’s but they are even more likely to be a set of beat up CDJ 1000s than top of the line circuit-bricks costing a couple of grand each. Get what you can afford and learn. Here’s a secret – almost all CD decks are the same regardless of who made them and even if they aren’t they are. Even with software and controller you can pretty much emulate them by deactivating sync, the phase meter and any other digital crutch. What remains is 95% of what you will find with CDJs – even the expensive ones.

Don’t go into it because you want to be famous. Don’t go into it for any other reason than because you enjoy it. The amount of DJs who actually make a living (a proper living rather than playing in a pub on a saturday night for free beer) is insignificant. If the industry side of things really is important to you then there are plenty of guides out there detailing exactly how many Soundcloud likes you have to buy before you magically transform into David Guetta. But do yourself a favour first. Buy some cheap gear, play some records you love and stick a mix up somewhere for us to all have a wee bit of a dance to whilst we do the dishes – because when you strip away all the other crap, having other people enjoy themselves while you play some tunes is the whole damn point and no amount of throwing Jesus Poses is ever going to change that. DJing really is that simple.

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