It’s honestly not difficult to do this. It’s not even difficult to be pretty competent.
Some percentage of the DJs reading this are cussing me out and telling me how I must not be a real DJ. They might even decide that it’s people like me who are “ruining the scene”, or assume that my motives for DJing aren’t pure.
Obviously, I’m one of those guys who thinks there’s more to mixing than A-B transitions. This is not an apologetic rant, or an attempt to stand up for the under-appreciated modern DJ.
The simple fact is that it’s infuriatingly easy (based on this definition: a DJ is someone who plays pre-recorded music to an audience). By itself, that isn’t a big deal. But we’ve all seen that ego-maniacal DJ, and wondered about the source of their inflated heads. Some of it is the fault of the DJ, and some of it comes from the general public’s exaggerated idea of what a DJ does.
But, at a high level… DJing is easy. You’re just playing other people’s music.
If you’re still with me, let’s compare this to another highly criticized interest: photography. Once upon a time, if you wanted to be a photographer, you couldn’t just up-and-do-it. The first photographs were taken by a man named Joseph Nicéphore Niépce by a means called heliography. He was able to secure the first permanent images taken by photochemical means, and it involved a lot more than pointing and shooting.
He covered a pewter plate with a solution of lavender oil, added in some chemical wizardry, created an early camera device (which focused light coming in from his third-floor window onto the plate), and exposed the resulting image for eight hours. The process was quite removed from the idea of busting out your iPhone to Instagram your dinner plate.
Requiring modern photographers to utilize such an archaic process would be silly. And in this day-in-age, photography is among the most accessible hobbies. You have a device that can take high resolution pictures, and post them immediately for the entire world to see, and you carry it in your pocket everywhere you go! But, guess what? There’s still a reason that professional photographers exist. And there is still such a thing as a good photographer, even though nearly everyone in the civilized world can take “pretty good” photographs.
Conversely, there is still such a thing as a crappy photographer.
“There is still such a thing as a good photographer, even though pretty much everyone in the civilized world can easily take “pretty good” photographs.”
I once had the opportunity to meet techno pioneer Richie Hawtin, in a workshop setting. If you know anything about Richie, you know that he has always been about incorporating new technologies into his arsenal (his prior history as a vinyl DJ notwithstanding). I took advantage of the opportunity to ask him a question (which I will paraphrase as best as I can remember):
“A lot of people, especially old-schoolers, put down those who bring a laptop to a gig. They are thought of as ‘not really DJs’ and are hardly given the time of day. I think this is because a lot of early DJs got their thrills from nailing that perfect transition… there was risk involved, and when they were able to pull it off, it pumped them up. For someone who has done this as long as you have, do you find that same thrill and sense of accomplishment, even though a computer is making sure everything stays synced up?”
As a response, Richie put four random tracks into his software, and hacked together a quick random set. He utilized various samples, effects, and cuts on-the-fly to form a unique creation. He created an outro, with a time-stretched vocal sample that gave the demo a sense of completion. Then, he picked up the microphone and said, “I actually had no idea if that vocal sample was gonna work out at the end, there. So, as you can see, I still create plenty of opportunities for myself to fuck up. That one just happened to turn out pretty good.”
Of course, Richie’s answer prompted a few laughs from the crowd, but it was as informative as it was entertaining. What he was getting at, is that he is always looking for ways to push his own personal envelope. Richie doesn’t just sit around and get bored. He looks for new methods, thinks up new ideas, and flat-out plays around.
What’s easy, is for a DJ to become complacent. The comfort zone is the enemy of creativity.
If you’re bored, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re threatened by modern-day accessibility to your craft, you’re doing it wrong. There’s always something that could be done better.
It doesn’t matter that DJing as a general concept is easy, just like it doesn’t matter that driving a car is easy. I still want to be a killer driver.