In this week's episode, David and Trip talk a bit about complacency, and the pitfalls of getting stuck in “The Comfort Zone”. You know what we mean…you become confident in your skills, you get comfortable, and then you stop pushing yourself.
Perhaps it's because you've become accustomed to success, or perhaps it's because you're experiencing frustrations and challenges. But, it can happen to anyone.
You have to show up, put in the hours, and develop your craft. There's no way around that, if you want to be good at what you do.
An artist must continually make moves in order to develop, and to direct their creative energy towards something productive. An illustrator doesn't become good at illustration by drawing the same character, in the same pose, over and over again. They just become really good at drawing Mickey Mouse snapping his fingers.
When you get extremely comfortable in your DJing, you can just as easily become extremely bored…. wondering why you even bother mixing together other people's music and calling it creative.
The Creative Angle
What is DJing?
I mean, really. What does it mean to you?
There is no one perfect answer. I mean, we could say “anyone who plays prerecorded music to an audience” – the most generic, and overall accurate, definition of the term.
As technology has allowed for it, DJing has developed quite a bit since its inception. One DJ will argue that doing anything beyond crowd-reading and programming the musical selection is unnecessary baggage. The next will insist that you aren't doing your job if you're not doing something to customize, hack, juggle, loop, and overlay tracks at all times.
Whether you are an A-to-B transition DJ, a live remixer, a turntablist, or anything in-between, there is always room for you to do it more creatively.
To me, DJing is about starting in one musical space, and ending elsewhere. The musical journey, as it were. While I do like playing with scratches, and I go off on the occasional loopy techno mish-mash, my focus is on a continual progression. A sense of forward motion.
Now that I've defined how I feel about my DJing and what I want to do with it, it's time to ask myself, “how can I more creatively and effectively reach the goal of my DJ set?”
Tip: Set aside actual practice sessions for your DJing, that have little or nothing to do with technical skills or showmanship. For example, block out practice time this week to experiment with mixing only key-compatible tracks.
The idea is to force limitations on yourself, and see what you can make work. Throw yourself under the bus. Limitation inspires creativity.
The idea of building your DJing around the programming and blending of generally unaltered tracks is a perfectly reasonable approach. But, if you're not careful, that attitude can lead towards becoming jaded, stagnant, and bored. Don't think that you've learned everything you need to learn… but rather, take the time to become the best at that.
Conversely, if you are more of the live/FX/mashup kind of DJ, it's easy to fall into the trap of doing things “because you're supposed to” instead of “because it's useful or sounds good”.
It's important to continually ask yourself why you are performing a certain DJ action. Why should I grab this loop? Why should I add a build here?
Experimenting with new ideas, and becoming comfortable with them, is a crucial step in growing to be one of the best in your field. Incorporating new materials and techniques in your practice sessions can only serve to build your arsenal.
The bigger your DJ arsenal, the more options you have for creative expression and curation. The more options you have, the more you can reject in the moment so that you can make a sensible choice.
Tip: Try putting together (and recording) a mix in a style that is vastly different from what you're used to playing. If you're a house DJ, put together an hour-long drum-n-bass or ambient mix. Getting uncomfortable helps you turn off “auto-pilot”, which is the enemy of creativity.
Creativity is not about working every possible angle of every situation. It's not just about adding stuff.
Creativity is about knowing how to use what you have to get a desired result. It's about smart application of the most important and basic elements, in order to express a feeling or idea.
One high-hat, one loop, one breakdown… can make all the difference in the world. When it comes to DJing, content and context are equally crucial.
If you're comfortable in your own methods and techniques, you're not accessing the most creative parts of your brain… stunting your potential as an artist.
The Success Angle
Not only does the comfort zone zap you creatively, but it can zap you professionally.
Expanding your horizons as a DJ isn't just important in the context of trying to paint with a new brush. The more diverse your DJ portfolio is, the more “useful” you are as a DJ.
I've been able to get hired for, and impress people at, different gigs outside of my norm due to me playing around with mixing blues and dance music together in a classy way. (Great for professional/corporate events where there are cocktails being served, for example.)
The idea is to absolutely banish complacency from your DJing life. There's always something new to learn, always somewhere new to play, and always new ways to apply new methods to old tricks.
Tip: Forge a brand new path. Think of 20 “off the wall” places within driving distance of you, which have no musical programming whatsoever. Imagine a night that you could put together which would benefit both you and the venue. Come up with a name and concept for this night. Pitch this night to those 20 people.
For example, perhaps there are 5 independent coffee shops close to you which have nothing happening on Friday nights. Pitch them your completely fleshed-out concept of “Deep Roast” (a presentation of deep house and lounge vibes) and see if they bite.
You can only grow as a DJ if you're continually putting yourself out there… outside the edge of what makes you comfortable. Because, guess what? You are in direct competition with a whole bunch of people who are staying where they are comfortable.
One can only advance if they try new things, and trying new things makes people uneasy. This is a “barrier of entry” is one of the few that has yet to change in the modern DJ world.
Keep working both harder and smarter, and taking risks. Try a new angle. Approach a new kind of venue. Increasing your diversity increases your value.
Are you the kind of person to just “show up” at work? Or are you the kind who wants to “level up”?
Certainly, have a solid core and vision. But when the edge of your comfort zone becomes comfortable, step further out until you find the edge again. This is how your comfort zone expands.
Staying creatively fresh is important in order to do your job. And, as a DJ, you are probably concerned with creating an atmosphere of fun and connecting your crowd together through music.
If you are constantly evolving as a DJ, you are much less likely to be replaced by Spotify or someone's iPod. Not only because you can make better creative decisions, but you can make better career decisions too.
Whether or not you consider DJing to be an art or a service, you should approach it as a craftsman either way.
Let's not remove the human element from DJing… it's the only element that technology can't take away from DJs.