If your town is anything like mine, certain DJs are known for certain genres. We have go-to house guys, techno guys, dubstep guys, hip-hop guys, and so on.
It's pretty common, and is probably unavoidable to a certain extent (if you want to be recognized as a DJ). But my favorite DJs are the ones which seem to be able to play a certain kind of sound, regardless of genre.
This might be confusing, since many people determine the genre of a song by the way it sounds… so let's explore this a bit and see what the difference is.
Genres are Subjective
First and foremost, the genre lines continue to be blurred more and more these days. Some songs might be labeled as 10 different things by 10 different people. There is very little reason to fret over genre, and (in my humble opinion) you're much better off simply thinking of them as little more than organizational tools.
I prefer the idea of tossing genres out the window. Basically, I'm in favor of anything that removes layers of abstraction and helps get down to what matters!
Let's use a fairly well-known example: Get Lucky by Daft Punk. Depending on who you ask, this song could be labeled as disco, funk, house (or “French house”), techno, or simply pop.
Genres are Limiting
So many DJs severely limit themselves when they start thinking of themselves as this or that type of DJ.
I don't think it's something they do intentionally, nor do I think there is anything wrong with specializing. But, still, it amazes me how many people live in their own little world based on their genre of choice, according to what Beatport tells them it is!
The funny thing is, a whole new world of gigs open up to you when you change this way of thinking. Especially those gigs that are a little “outside the box” (not your basic club or mobile gigs… in my case, it's a salon and a quirky consignment shop).
Instead of saying, for instance, “Nah, I can't play at that club… that's a techno crowd and I'm a deep house guy”, I find it much more interesting to find common ground with that other crowd and see how I can make it work. Of course, you don't want to take that too far… I'm a firm believer in choosing gigs that fit your own style and sound. I'm simply saying, it's worth considering throwing out genre labels as a determining factor.
But What About My “Brand”?
Some DJs might be worried about crossing genres once they have become known as a certain “kind” of DJ, which is a valid concern.
If you've gotten to the point where you are known and closely associated with a style, I'm not saying to throw it all out the window. If you are an underground trance DJ with a strong following, I would understand your concern when it comes to the idea of shoving some clubby reggaeton down your unsuspecting audience's throats.
That's not really what I'm trying to get at, here. What I'm saying is that if you like this trance track, there's probably a reasonably decent chance that you like this progressive breaks track, this ambient track, or this drum-n-bass track. Or, maybe not… but you get the idea. These tracks all share a similar feel, even though they vary greatly in genre label and tempo. If you had limited your sights to things labeled as “trance”, you would never have had a chance to find the other three songs.
All that said, if you're concerned about losing forward momentum in your DJ career due to not focusing on a certain genre class, you do have a few options. You could operate under a different alias (for example, one for your “commercial” sounds and one for your more “underground” stuff). This could be particularly useful for producers, who don't want their own work associated with the Top 40 club they play at during the weekends. Or (my personal favorite), you can try to find the common ground between tracks as I did in the examples above. In a 1 or 2 hour set, one could easily play all four of those songs without jarring their audience. It's all about context.
A good friend of mine had a Top 40/hip-hop type gig for 5 or 6 years, though his real love is banging techno and house. To this day, I have never heard somebody so skilled at seamlessly “sneaking in” his own music into the stuff the crowd was expecting to hear. This option is not for everyone (including me, and now including him), which is where being choosy about your gigs comes into play!
Elemental, My Dear Watson…
It isn't the genre. It's the elements of a track… of an entire set… that determine it's overall sound.
Which would you rather be known for? Being a “techno DJ”? Or being the DJ that plays all those dark, brooding basslines and trippy vocals? A “deep house DJ”? Or that DJ that plays all that deep synth-infused feel-good music with 90's hip-hop influences?
Your sound can truly be your sound, as long as you stop trying to define it as anything else!