How “Choice Overload” Can Ruin a DJ

Back in 1995, a professor of business at Columbia University conducted a case study in a California gourmet market.  The professor and her assistants set up a booth which served 24 different samples of Wilkons & Sons jams.  However, every few hours, they would reduce the number of choices to 6.  On average, each customer tasted 2 jams regardless.

60% of customers were drawn to the larger assortment, while only 40% checked out the booth when 6 samples were present.  But here's the interesting part: 30% of people who went to the “small assortment” booth actually ended up buying some jam.  The number of customers that ended up buying after visiting the “large assortment” booth?  3%.

Three percent.

This is called “choice overload”, or overchoice.  Though the presence of choice seems appealing, most people find an abundance of choice to be debilitating.

Let's look at some ways that this can affect you as a DJ.

1. Panic at the Disco

No, not the rock band.  I mean, literally.  Having an over-abundance of musical choices behind the decks can be distracting at worst, paralyzing at best.

The problem is that it's easy to have a huge collection of okay music, instead of a curated selection of gems which you know intimately.  While it's important to diversify, it's also not necessary to have 10 terabytes of music in front of your face when you're trying to perform a show.

“but I may need this some day”

“there's nothing wrong with this one”

“I'm going to use this for something else later”

If you think about it, this is truly a hoarder mentality.  We obviously saw value in that item (song) once upon a time, so it's only logical that we should still consider it valuable.

Suggestion: I created a playlist called “Crate”.  This contains tracks that fit my general sound and that I can use at a moment's notice (unplanned gig, house party, screwing around).  This allows me to keep a filtered, tidy list of tracks while not feeling anxiety over the thought of actually deleting music forever.

2. Demo-lition

Because you can't go 20 seconds without discovering a new piece of music (good or bad), it can be hard to pick out what songs are worthy of being included in a recorded mix.

Many of us feel that recording a mix for public consumption is putting a stamp of approval on a set of tracks, and showcasing how well we program and mix them together.  But what songs are good enough to really blow people away?  I like so many kinds of music, how could I possibly include them all in a 60 minute demo?

I have friends who have not put out a recorded mix to the public for nearly 10 years because of this problem.  10 years.

Would it not be better to risk it, and put out several mixes that you feel are “good enough”, rather than to release nothing at all, ever?  P.S. – producers, this problem is even worse for you!

Suggestion: If you have a lot of different feelings or styles to convey through your music, give that music its own space.  Instead of trying to cram every type of music you like into one mix, put together a drum-n-bass mix so that you can get it all out of your system.  Make an ambient/lounge mix to relax to, so that your banging club demo can do what it's designed to do.  Everyone wants to diversify their music collections, but they never seem to think of diversifying their mixes!


3. Buyer's Remorse

We all have that set of tracks that we listen to and go, “why did I even buy this?”

It's an interesting lesson in how context can affect perception when it comes to music, and as a DJ, your insight into this issue is what will separate the men from the boys (as they say… I'm not leaving you out, ladies.)

A lot of times, when searching for music, I have a particular purpose in mind and this affects my perception of what I hear.  For example, when I was creating my Zombie Hotel mix, I was looking for tracks that would fit into the storytelling concept of that particular piece of work.  I wasn't shopping the way I normally would… thinking about how tracks might affect the dance floor, whether or not breakdowns were too long, etc.

It's not just personal intent that affects your music shopping habits, but also the timing involved (when you hear the song, what you heard before it, and what kind of mood you're in when you hear it).

Of course, it's fair to say that if you liked it in a particular context, that track might be useful in another context.  But when you simply accept that any track can work in the right context, your collection will start to get a bit unruly.

Suggestion: Don't buy or download your tracks right when you hear them.  Save them to your cart or hold bin, bookmark them, add them to a text document… anything that will allow you to reference them later.  Wait a day or two, maybe a week, and then review the tracks again.  If they still make an impact on you, that's a good indication that you'll be happy with the transaction and won't be needlessly fluffing your collection.

4. Identity Theft

As DJs, we often pride ourselves in having “a sound”.  For being known for our particular style of DJing and the music we play.

The problem is that most DJs are inherent music lovers, and we pull our musical influence from many different sources.  Yet we feel that we need to be “a trance DJ” or “a hip-hop DJ” or “a breaks DJ”.

We pigeonhole ourselves into little genre boxes in order to forge an identity for ourselves, which to me, seems a bit backwards.  Many people stagnate when this happens, because they can't decide which way to go, or whom to “clique up” with.

You're not the first DJ to like more than one style of music.  It's okay.

Suggestion: Focus on having a sound, not having a genre.  Whatever it is that caused you to like those tunes is what defines your sound.  It's your unique presentation and combination of that music which defines your sound, and separates you from the thousands of other DJs who have direct access to the same music that you do.

Diversify Smarter

Nobody wants you to limit your DJ collection to 50 songs and play the same ones over and over.

The trick is to eliminate distracting fluff from your collection, your recordings, your shopping cart, and your self-image so that you can focus on the bits that are truly important and make real impact.

Alice came to a fork in the road. “Which road do I take?” she asked.
“Where do you want to go?” responded the Cheshire Cat.
“I don't know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the Cat, “it doesn't matter.”