If you’ve met more than a few DJs, you’ve probably also met some people who have lost the “fire” for it. The world has no shortage of jaded DJs who have lost the passion they once held. I’ve given a few tips on being a happy DJ before, but why do some people lose interest in the first place? Sometimes it has to do with the actual act of DJing, and sometimes it has to do with the music itself.
This is something that I’ve paid close attention to, frankly, because I don’t particularly like the thought of abandoning this thing that I love so much based on a lack of interest. So, let’s take a look at why this may happen.
Commercialization and Disenchantment
“It ain’t what it used to be.”
An oft-recited reason that people give for the decline of DJing as an art form is the commercialization or devolution of the music genre du jour. This is especially true of single-genre DJs. For example, if you were a trance DJ in the late 90s, and you became disenchanted with the popularity surge and overwhelming ego of the commercial pop music people started calling trance, it’s not a big stretch for a lot of people to become disenchanted with the idea of DJing in general. People start asking themselves “what is the point?” Some respond with only playing classics, some explore other genres, and some just decide to hang up their headphones. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with any of those approaches.
But does the popularity, commercialization, or accessibility of a certain type of music change anything about the kind of music you love? Of course not. This is why I feel that it is important to let go of genre labels as anything but a vague organizational tool. People who base their identity on a single genre of music should not be surprised when their genre of choice changes and they end up having an identity crisis.
It took me a good while to accept this fact. I eventually came to realize that, while it’s true that the signal:noise ratio of music is not terribly efficient today, there’s still a whole lot more signal overall. Given the number of avenues of finding music, the amount of music out there, and the ease of checking it all out… it’s my own fault if I’m not able to find something that I like listening to or playing out. I’m obviously not trying hard enough, or I’m just being difficult for some external reason. Maybe it’s just my ego. Wasn’t the whole reason that I turned off the radio and explored the underground was so that I could find music that wasn’t spoon-fed to me? And now that it takes a modicum of effort to find music that doesn’t suck, I should just give up and say that music just “ain’t the same as it used to be”? No. That’s just lazy.
You can blame commercialization for any number of things, but all you have to do is remember that it doesn’t change anything about what you like. And it doesn’t make what you like any more or less artful.
God Is A DJ (And So Is Everyone Else)
There are two other reasons that DJs sometimes feel that the art has been compromised. Some claim that it’s a function of the superstar DJ (or, perhaps, the music producer turned performer). Rock fans could go to rock concerts, blues fans could go to blues concerts, but where did that leave the electronic music fan? In a few cases: to electronic music concerts, if it was something that was able to be performed live. But the majority of electronic music is not designed that way, so DJs picked up that slack. Of course, there are superstar hip-hop DJs as well, but you don’t see as many packed stadiums around the world specifically oriented around one hip-hop DJ. Hip-hop usually has a rapper as the frontman.
Conversely, there’s the argument that the “play for free” DJ (pretty much the polar opposite of the superstar) has devalued the craft. It goes back to the point that everyone is a DJ, and because of that, there’s always someone willing to play somewhere for cheaper than you… and probably for free. Interestingly, one point seems to counteract the other. The superstar DJ devalues the concept as a product of charging $50,000 to play someone else’s music, while the weekend warrior amateur devalues it as a product of giving away his service for free. Is something only art if people are willing to pay for it simply to appreciate it as a creation or experience? Is it only art if the performer is willing to give it away for free instead of using it for financial gain?
“What is it about art anyway that we give it so much importance? Artists are respected by the poor because what they do is an honest way to get out of the slum using one’s sheer self as the medium. The money earned, proof, pure and simple, of the value of that individual: the artist. The picture a mother’s son does in jail hangs on her wall as proof that beauty is possible even in the most wretched. And this is a much different idea than fancier notion that art is a scam and a ripoff. But you can never explain to someone who uses God’s gift to enslave, that you have used God’s gift to be free. “
– Excerpt from the movie “Basquiat” (1996)
“I’m Not Special Anymore”
The skill gap is undeniably being closed with the advent of advanced DJ software, easy-to-use controllers, sync buttons, and the like. This makes a lot of DJs, especially those from the days when vinyl ruled as king, feel like we’ve all been turned into iPods or jukeboxes.
I could write paragraphs upon paragraphs on this topic alone, but this quote that was posted on the PDJ Facebook page sums it up so well that I’ll just leave it here:
“Well, beatmatching was always a small part of a large equation. I’ve seen excellent DJs that never beatmatched, I’ve also seen terrible DJs that flawlessly beatmatch. Having that aspect largely automated doesn’t really subtract from the skill required to be a good DJ, it simply assists.
It’s a lot like spelling. You can write a wonderful novel full of incorrectly spelled words; spell check comes along and largely eliminates that problem, but you still have to know how to tell a story.”
– Steve Gillson of “Silent Gloves” (a great 80s-infused Synthwave artist… check out his SoundCloud!)