Scratching Your Own Itch as a DJ

Excuses, excuses.  We’re all full of ’em!  Reasons why we don’t do this or that as a DJ.  Reasons why we aren’t getting gigs, reasons why “my music doesn’t work in my town”, reasons why we don’t finish that latest mixdown on a track we’ve put so many hours in to.

The most straightforward way to make great music or play great sets is to make something you want to hear.  That doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s the fastest way to popularity.  But are you interested in creating what is popular, or what moves you?  Guess which one will keep you going through thick and thin?

Scratch Your Own Itch

When you are creating an album or simply mixing a DJ set, you’re making hundreds of miniature decisions… one after another.  If you’re scratching someone else’s itch, you’re continually stabbing in the dark.  You might call this reading the crowd, and that’s a crucial part of playing to an audience.  However, when you scratch your own itch… when you solve your own problem… a light comes on.  You know exactly what the right answer is.

It’s important to remember that DJing is a service that is being provided to an audience (debatably).  This doesn’t mean that you simply play whatever you want, whenever you want, without regard to the people or venue that will be receiving your service.  My point here is simply that the path to happiness as a DJ is doing your best to pick the events, venues, and crowds that are suited to what you want to do and what you’re good at.  When it comes to producing music or recording sets for home consumption, creating things that you would want to listen to is nearly the only way to maintain more than a fleeting interest.

There was a man named Bill Bowerman who was a track coach, and he decided that the shoes his team was wearing were not cutting it.  They needed to be better, lighter, and more suited to running.  This wasn’t someone else’s imaginary problem… this was a real issue that he experienced first-hand.  His solution?  He went out to his workshop and poured rubber into his waffle iron.  Thus was the birth of Nike’s famous waffle sole.

Now, obviously, running shoes are a bit of a different beast than playing, performing, or creating music… but it does demonstrate a point.  Bill scratched his own itch and exposed a huge market to exactly what they needed.  When you build what makes you happy, you can stop assessing the quality of what you make by proxy.  You can start assessing it quickly and directly.

When you take the “solve your own problem” approach, it allows you to fall in love with what you’re making or performing.  You have intimate knowledge of the “problem” and the value of it’s “solution”.  For that, there is no substitute.

Just Make Something, Already!

Most of us here probably have that one friend who says stuff like, “I had the idea for Amazon.com!  If only I had acted on it, I’d be rich!!” Or, more appropriately, “the music I create in my head sounded just like Deadmau5… if I could’ve only gotten it down in my software, I’d be famous too!”

Honestly, that logic is shallow and a bit delusional.  Having the idea for Amazon or big-room electro house has nothing to do with creating those things.  What you think, say, plan, or dream up is irrelevant.  It’s what you do that matters.

Your brilliant idea is just that… an idea.  Everyone’s got one of those.  If you think your idea is all that valuable, go try to sell it and see what you get for it.  The answer is probably “not much”.  You have to actually execute on that idea… to create something that can stand on its own feet and speak for itself.  It’s your realization and execution of an idea that could have potential.  Ideas are a dime a dozen.

You need to start creating and innovating.  It’s the only way to make things happen.  As Stanley Kubrick once said when asked for advice to aspiring directors: “Get hold of a camera and some film and make a movie of any kind at all.”

No Time?  No Excuse

“There’s not enough time.”  The most common excuse you’ll ever hear.

They’d love to start that new underground dance night, learn an instrument, key their tracks, learn how to scratch, finish that album concept or any other number of unfinished ideas.  But there just aren’t enough hours in the day!

Let’s get real.  There’s always enough time if you spend it right, even without quitting your day job.

Work on your idea instead of watching How I Met Your Mother reruns.  Go to bed at midnight instead of eleven.  We’re talking about squeezing out a couple extra hours a week in order to further something you’re passionate about.  Isn’t that worth it?  When you want something badly enough, you make the time.

Doing this is an excellent way to determine if your interest is really a passion, or simply a passing phase.  If it doesn’t pan out, you just keep on with your daily life the way you always have.  No risk or loss (other than a bit of time)… no biggie.

Truthfully, most people simply don’t want it bad enough.  This leads them to protecting their ego with the excuse of time limitations.  Don’t let yourself off the hook that easily.

Guess what?  The perfect time never arrives.