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What makes a good DJ?

On paper, DJing seems so simple. It’s every music fan’s dream: to have legions of adorning revellers punch, clap and stomp their way through hours of your music archive as you seamlessly transition from one favourite to another. But somewhere along the way, the art of controlling the decks becomes a difficult balancing act between providing the soundtrack to the party of a lifetime and giving your audience a unique and insightful set that’ll leave them gleefully curious by its conclusion. We’ve all seen plenty try, and many of those people become lost in the banality of mediocrity, and that’s if they manage to avoid crashing and burning beforehand. Whilst there’s no dictionary definition of what an a-grade DJing consists of, we all know it when we see it. The finest of all controllers know what to play, when to play it and how to mix it; and seem to have an almost innate ability to execute their plan with effortless simplicity. This is a brief examination of what elevates these DJs to god-tier. Be an individual. To be a truly great DJ, you can’t just listen to music – you must go searching for it. Crate-digging for the unsung bangers of yesteryear at the local record shop is essential. Spending hours trawling through your favourite indie label’s twitter feed is the same practice, just in the year 2018. Engage with music and the musicians you love across as many platforms as possible as frequently as possible. Listen to, support and represent the lesser-known creatives of dance music and you’ll see your commitment to remaining cutting edge rewarded.

Play to the party. But there’s a fine balance. Giving your audience a unique set with many underheard tracks stands you apart; but feel no guilt in playing to popularity and throwing a jubilant floor-filler in when the moments come along. You’re in the booth to both entertain and to share, so don’t forget the former at the expense of the latter. The most compelling selectors can mediate these two responsibilities without one ever giving way to the other. Escape Predictability. The strongest selectors know the importance of crafting a set that’s engaging and uncommon in equal measure, but the average fall into the trap of becoming typecast by their own creativity. Whilst finding your own sound will make you unique and playing to the party will keep your crowds coming back, good DJs are always able to stay ahead of their own curve. With popularity comes expectation and responsibility: an expectation to stay fresh, but also the responsibility to reinvent your sets and your sound so that you remain a trend-setter and don’t simply join the rest of the sheep in the herd.

Serve the dancefloor, not your ego. There’s an elephant in the club and it can’t be ignored. Good DJs don’t draw the attention to themselves, and those that do appear more interested in their personal showmanship than the strength of their mix or the tracks they’ve selected. That attitude rubs off on people. You’ll look at place behind the turntables at your local Yates on a Saturday night if you’re acting like this, but that’s probably where you’ll stay. Be happy or focussed; dance or fist-bump the crowd; drink or smoke and be merry; but don’t whatever you do think or act like you’re bigger than the music. Be Self-Aware. If you can do all this – if you can be unique, receptive to your listeners, keep fresh and act with humility – then your final hurdle should be the easiest to jump, yet it can all too easily become the wall for DJs on their road to greatness: be true to yourself. Self-awareness is of unprecedented importance. Ultimately, your quality as a DJ is defined by the relatively simple tasks of selecting tracks and learning how to mix them; but the personality that you exude through your mix is what really gives your name weight. For all the countless “good, not great” sets that I’ve seen in my life, those that elevate beyond mediocrity are always characterised by a sense of understanding between the crowd and the DJ. Know what you’re playing, understand what that says about you – your style, your character and your personality – and play to that image. Good DJs are able to have conversations with the dancefloor without so much as ever opening their mouth. Appreciate who you are, what you want to give and why you came into DJing, and your sets become more than just collections of music – they become your canvas. Ultimately, there’s no substitute for hard work and dedication. The best DJs live and breathe what they do. They’re more than Spotify-surfers, and they’re deeper than the “track id” comments. You have to identify and understand what you see in music, and then think of how you’ll get others to see it. That’s the balance between being a selector and a jockey; but the truly great DJs see beyond the sound and feel the mood. They make a message with their mixes, or create an almost tangible atmosphere on the dance floor. You can use your sets for whatever creative purpose you want: to showcase a sound, to shape the vibe of a room, to tell a story, or simply to share some of your favourite and most personal tracks. Be creative, be an individual, be receptive to the music and your audience, and even if you’re not a technically-gifted master of the mixer, you’ll at the very least be a good DJ. ------------------------------------------------------------ Written by Evermix Guest Writer, Harry Burden. Join him week in, week out, as he will be delving into some of the hottest topics in the industry. If you want to become a Guest Writer for Evermix, please get in touch by emailing josh@evermix.fm.