06 juli 2014

Restraint as a DJ: When Less is More



Ever see those prison shows where they show the weapons people make out of toilet paper or a spoon? They’ve learned to make do with what they’ve got.  It really puts some perspective on how to focus on what’s truly necessary to accomplish a goal.

Obviously, I’m not suggesting that you go out and shank somebody, nor am I comparing a night club or wedding reception to a prison yard.  But if you focus on being creative instead of on what kind of gear you have, you’ll be amazed at what you can do or make with just a little.

It’s Not About Gear

Most of us internet-savvy DJ and producer types are quite familiar with RGAS - Rapid Gear Acquisition Syndrome.  Sometimes, part of the fun of being a performer in the digital age is the fact that fun new pieces of gear are coming out all the time, and sometimes they are actually affordable.

We all like our toys, and that’s fine.  But if you have an audience, consider the following question before clicking the “Buy Now” button: “What problem am I solving by buying this new item?”  If the answer is “to keep my sets from being so boring”, it’s highly likely that you’re already doing it wrong.  If you are unable to hold people’s attention on a dance floor using nothing but a no-frills DJ controller or a pair of turntables and a bare-bones mixer, you’re probably only going to annoy them when you try to make up for it with overused tricks, gimmicks, or effects.

Don’t polish a turd — consider fixing your boring sets before adding gear.  Throwing hardware at it won’t fix that problem.

Embrace Constraints

Writers have been using intentional constraints for hundreds of years, to great effect.  Haiku, limericks, and sonnets all have strict rules that lead to very creative results.  Good writers find that forcing themselves to use simple, clear language helps to deliver maximum impact.  Twitter is based entirely around the philosophy of “less is more”.  Focus on what you want to say, and the most direct and impactful way to say it.  After all, you only have 140 characters to do so.  Or, in the case of a DJ set… an hour or however long your time slot is.

Before you start singing the blues about how you don’t have enough music, or good enough hardware, or a big enough following… try shifting your perspective.  DJing should always be about using what you’ve got to provide the best enjoyment and entertainment value for yourself and your audience. Try to see how far you can get with what you have.

Adding something is easy.  Adding value is hard.  Don’t put ketchup on a steak… make a better steak.  Sometimes the things that you think are adding value (overuse of effects and filters, looping 12 tracks on top of each other, bringing 3 additional laptops to the booth) are really subtracting from it.

“Don’t put ketchup on a steak… make a better steak.”

Good DJs Shine On After Gimmicks Fade

The heading pretty much says it all… it’s the people who understand the cases in which “less is more” applies that will shine through the fads and trickery, and be able to be called “good DJs”.

In today’s digitally-influenced world of sync, quantize, feature-rich software and affordable hardware, it’s easy to want to cram as much sampling, finger-drumming, knob twisting action into a set as you can.  In my opinion, today’s DJ struggles with wanting to feel “legitimate”, being that software does a lot of the work for them.

But, the things that make for a good DJ have stood the test of time, regardless of technological innovation: the ability to read and react to a crowd, the ability to play the right tracks at the right time, and the ability to tell a story through the presentation of recorded music.

How do you provide actual value as a DJ?  Could you still do it if all you had was two CD players and a crossfader?

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