Hi all. I was in Worthing library last week satisfying my thirst for knowledge and I came accross this book just before kicking out time: How to DJ properly by Frank Broughton and Bill Brewster. "Hmm" I thought. "Probbably not much I need to learn from that after 12 years of doing it" However, Curiosity got the better of me and I opened it up. I'm glad I did. True enough, After 12 years of mobile deejaying, there wasn't much I haven't done, but the book was so well written and downright funny. Not only that, it's nice sometimes to get a cold evaluation of what you do and why it's valuable to the end user. So here is the opening part of the first chapter entitled:
Dj's track down greatness in music and squeeze it together, like a master chef who picks one perfect cherry from each tree to make his pie, a DJ condenses all the work and talent into a single concentrated performance. DJ's bring all the right things together. That's why we like them so much.
And they make it to measure. None of this off-the-peg, one-size-fits-all rubbish; when you hear a DJ play, you're getting a unique performance, exactly suited to the moment. Proper DJs don't just trot out a load of nice tunes, they think carefully about the time, the place and the poeple in front of them and choose something that's perfect.
This is the real skill of Djing and it doesn't come easily. Knowing music, finding music, understanding music is something that takes years. And once you've started there's no end. The real work of a DJ happens behind the scenes. Playing records is rarely hard work, but doing the research and amassing the knowledge to do it well is a full time job.
The other great task ahead of you is to learn about people. You know your own musical tastes; now you have to understand everyone else's. Not only that, but you must learn about their feelings - what makes them laugh and smile and dance and go crazy. Again, this takes time and experience. Your brain must record and tabulate the wildly different emotions the music can generate. A greet librarian knows which shelves the raunchiest, most revolutionary books are on; a great guitarist knows where all the good notes live. A great DJ knows which records make people lose themselves.
A musician, however legendary, is trapped by the limitaions of their instrument. But as a DJ you have the entire history of recorded sound to play with. Unlike a band, forced to plough through your back catalogue (again) through bad amplifiiers, you can choose from every artist, every track, every remix ever made and you can deliver them with clear, crisp studio perfection. You might pick just one track from an artists entire career, drive the crowd wild and dissmiss everything else in their repotoir as pointless. We don't doubt that the skill of the average musician is greater than that of the average DJ, but doubtless the DJ controls more musical power than the musician ever did.
As a DJ you become the focus for all the greatness in the music you play. All the emotional force, the lyrical, spiritual impact of your records gets reflected back to you - even if you're tired and slightly shitfaced and keen to see the end of the night. Track down some good tunes, patchwork them together and people act as if you've made all the music from scratch. It becomes truly your performance. "Curses" say the worlds rock stars. "Heres my room number" says the DJ.
Added to this is the jobs enviable cultural clout. The DJ is the taste maker, the discoverer, the champion of the new sound or scene. No musical movement can spread it's wings too far without the DJs approval. people write endless books about how Muddy Waters, The Beatles and Bob Dylan changed music. The truth is, they wouldn't have effected much beyond their own back yards without DJs playing their records. (edited) Most new styles win through by the DJ trying to keep hold of the dance floor. His high maintainance lover.....
And so it goes on: with quotes from famous DJs on every page like this one on mixing out of a great track too quick from DJ Kool Herc (no, me neither) "I'm dancing with this girl, trying to get my shit off but the DJ's fucking my groove up. The whole party'd be like "Yaah what the fuck is that...? Why you took the record of there? That shit was about to explode. I was about to bust a nut." Obviously a man not known for holding back on his Critique..
Another great quote from the authors on going live from practicing: "Bedroom DJing is a lot like masturbation: There's no risk of upsetting your audience, but there's no one to cheer and scream when you get it right. So what's it like playing for a crowd for the first time? Well immagine you've been given the chance to have sex with loads of people when up until now you've been locked away in your room wanking away on your own."
Another one about building your set through the night: "Make sure whichever shape you go for, its a ride through the Himalayas and not a coach trip accross the Netherlands"
Nice to read about what you tought yourself to do all those years ago and realise that you've basically through hard won experience, got it right. DId I learn anything? Well sort of. I've been meaning to try out Harmonic mixing for ages and this book explains it in more detail than I knew from being an ex musician. Let's just see if the software that I've been using will finish the job of analysing the key of around 12 000 songs..
Have a great week,