Four Easy Ways to be a Mediocre DJ

If you've been to more than one night out in your entire life, you've most likely heard your fair share of competent and capable, but boring DJs.  This is a rather unfortunate situation, as the musical selection on a night out can be a complete make-or-break thing when it comes to the amount of fun you have.

What exactly is it that causes you to think that these DJs are terrible (or just plain uninteresting), even if they're not making glaring mistakes or playing bad music?  In this article, I point out 4 culprits.

1. Take The Easy Road

Nobody says you have to be a super vinyl manipulating mixmaster, a slick and swift finger-drumming controllerist, or a live-remixing electronic concert pianist to play a good DJ set.  However, an apathetic approach to DJing is a good way to get an apathetic response from a crowd.

Try new things, explore new genres, and consider new techniques.  Keeping things fresh keeps you interested, and that will translate into your set.  Playing the same set over and over again is, in a word, uninspired.  A lot of DJs would spend hours and hours every week seeking out awesome music, perfecting their mixing, and just enjoying the hobby.  Over time, as they get more lazy, entitled, or closed-minded, they stop trying.  They feel they don't need to “practice” anymore, and it turns into just a job.  They find a few tricks that “work” and then stop learning new ones.  They will tell aspiring new DJs to do what they love, practice often, read the crowd, etc., but then turn around and keep playing the same drab, boring set that they've played a thousand times before.

It's easy to settle for mediocrity… for what is safe.  But, refusing to ever push your personal envelope seems to be a good way to end up burnt-out on the whole concept of DJing. Committing to continual improvement not only teaches you new things and gives you new ideas (you're never too old or experienced to learn something new), but it keeps things perpetually interesting.

2. Effectify

Sometimes, less is more… and few things in the DJing world exemplify this better than effects.  Sure, they can allow you to be creative, they give you something to do in-between transitions, and they can be used to add drama or show off.  But, overuse is simply exhausting… especially with the popularity of the chopping/rolling/stuttering/quick-looping types of effects that you see today.

There is a place in this world for the live-remixing, controller-mashing, track-hacking music slicer.  But, the people who are good at it are few and far between, and if you're just mashing and twisting knobs because you're looking for something to do in-between your intro/outro mixing, you're not likely to be impressing people as much as you think.  At a certain point, it's just annoying, and it doesn't make you stand out.

Effects, just like EQing, are often best when used in a subtle context.  Yes, we all know you love the flanger.  But just… chill out, would ya?!

3. Don't Read, Just Play

A little while back, I made a humor post which touched on this a little bit (in a sarcastic tone).  A great way to be completely mediocre is to “ignore the floor”.

If you pre-plan a set, and decide that you are playing that set, come hell or high water… there's a good chance that you don't often dazzle a dance floor.  Great tracks are great tracks no matter what, but if you have no clue how (or no interest in) reading and playing to a crowd, you're going to miss out on that connection which makes you relatable and interesting to your listening patrons.  Besides, if you're dead set on playing a static set, why not just turn your iPod on and go sit at the bar?

4. Flatline

This is probably the number one offender for me: a constant level of energy (be it high or low), with no sense of ebb and flow.  No sense of time, direction, or tension.  No peaks, no valleys… just full-on BANG-BANG-BANG or plod-plod-plod.

Some people talk about “telling a story” or “taking you on a journey” in the context of DJing.  I believe that this is mostly what they are referring to.  There are loads and loads of amateur DJs who just hammer out their wild “banger” tracks one after another.  This is exhausting and uninteresting.  So is the DJ who plays one samey boring tech-house track after another for 2 hours.

Where is your sense of direction?  Where does your tension come from?  Please don't tell me this is the same approach you use in the bedroom.

People out on the floor want to be teased.  They want to feel tension, and release.  They need to “flow” somewhere.  Unless they're just on some good drugs and they can't stop moving, in which case, do what you want.  But, don't complain if someone like me thinks you're boring.

What are some ways that you like to spice up your sets, to keep them interesting?