What Makes A Great DJ?
A DJ with basic competence who can put on a decent live show every now and then is one thing. Being a Great DJ who's a role-model and leader that leads and inspires others is an entirely different scenario. There are several key factors that separate Great DJ's from "good," and the Best DJ's from all others. Here's what makes a Great DJ.
Demonstrating a love of DJing (and music in general)
This first point may seem self-explanatory, but a lot of DJs don’t fully appreciate the lucky position they’re in. There are DJs who get into the industry to ‘look cool’, do it for a few years and fall off the radar.
Don’t be this person. Show that you’re a DJ who is passionate about music and loves what they do. Music should be a form of self-expression, rather than simply "a means to an end."
Take Carl Cox as an example. He’s been DJing for more than 40 years and is the king of techno music in many people’s eyes. He’s ahead of the trends, pioneers new tracks and continues to break boundaries.
Undoubtedly, one of the main reasons for his success is that DJing is not a job to him. In his own words, it’s a way of ‘celebrating life’ and he’s as passionate about it as the day he started.
In summary, be like Carl. OK, not everybody can reach Carl Cox’s level, but it certainly can’t do you any harm to follow his blueprint. If you have a passion for DJing, this will come through in your music and set you apart.
Not being afraid to adapt and diversify
Inventing and reinventing your style is vital if you want to be a successful DJ in the long run. The last thing you want is to come across as a one-dimensional DJ with limited musical scope. Rather, you want to show that you can adapt your style to reflect the ever-changing musical landscape around you.
Take Armin van Buuren as an example.
He started out playing progressive house and vocal trance music, but over time his music has evolved to such a degree that he’s recently headlined top EDM festivals such as Ultra Music Festival in Miami and Tomorrowland in Belgium.
Referring back to Carl Cox – through the years, his music has encompassed a wide range of genres such as funky techno, tech-house and funk soul.
You get the picture. If you want to be a great DJ, it’s important to have enough aces up your sleeve in terms of the range of styles you play. At the same time, you shouldn’t compromise on your identity, and what makes you unique. You should play music which people can identify as ‘you’, that you love and care about.
Proactively building relationships with venues
Taking it upon yourself to approach promoters and club managers could be career-defining. These people could hold the key to an amazing opportunity, and every great DJ will attribute part of their success to building and nurturing relationships with people who gave them their big break.
However, knowing how to approach these people and what information to get across can be an exact science. You may only have a few seconds to talk to someone and promote your work, so it’s important to make every second count.
If you’re relatively new to DJ’ing and aren’t sure how best to build relationships with venues, feel free to reach out to us and we can certainly give you a few pointers and tips.
If it’s a venue you’ve never worked with before, you should always touch base by email or phone before the event at the point of booking, and again closer to the date.
If required, you should also visit the venue. This will help build relationships that then lead to referrals and more business.
I’ve been lucky enough to play at some amazing venues with whom I’ve built strong relationships over the years. I would never force myself onto a venue’s preferred suppliers list and feel that the best approach is to let it be an organic relationship-building process.
At the end of the day, your work should speak for itself and your true passion and talent will help create those long lasting relationships.
Keeping an eye out for the latest tunes and technology
There’s nothing worse than playing to an empty dancefloor because you selected the same songs as just about every other DJ. Considering the primary instinct of a great DJ is to think outside the box and be ahead of the trends, doing the exact opposite isn’t going to wow your audience! Clearly, the tunes you play depend on the type of live event you’re playing and who you’re performing to. If it’s a wedding or a birthday party, something like Dancing In The Moonlight may suffice. However, if it’s an event that’s more tailored to a musically-savvy audience like a club event, you definitely need to know your stuff.
Magazines like Mixmag are ideal if you want to keep on top of the latest music. As are online music stores like Beatport, where you can find a variety of mixes tailored towards DJs.
It’s not just the latest tunes you need to be up to speed with. Your sounds are only as good as the equipment you use to create them! Whether it’s a turntable, a set of headphones or new speakers, there’s lots of technology you can use to keep your sound fresh and your audience engaged.
Having an ear for a good set
When you’re playing live, put yourself in the position of the listener. If you were