by Tony Fernandez
Allow me a slight prologue: If you think you know “all” there is to know about music, programming, creativity, and mixing, you can do yourself a favor and move along. On the other hand, if you would like (at minimum) to gain new perspective, if you’re really trying to seek a way to improve yourself as a DJ, stick with me because we have ground to cover.
Let me say off the top, I embrace and encourage the diversity of how different people can take random tracks and orchestrate a fluid musical journey. It is a skill that takes time to hone. It is a skill that few can turn into an art. It truly encompasses what it is to be a DJ. And the beauty of it is there is no singular way to achieve that journey.
Having said that (here comes the other shoe), there is a habit most DJs could do without: If you want to get to the “next level,” you need to stop approaching DJing in a formulaic and linear way and develop a more fluid approach to your track selections.
IF you’re asking the same worn-out questions — what song or songs follow up after XYZ? what are your favorite 3- song or 5-song blocks? what playlist do you have for ABC event? — you’re NOT being Zen, and to be candid, you’re not even in the zip code of being Zen; there are four levels to achieve enlightenment; if you’re asking these types of questions, you’re in the basement.
It occurs to me there is a tipping point when it comes to how a DJ musically executes a set and most fall on one side or the other of that precipice. It also seems to me that the majority of DJs fall into the linear camp instead of the non-linear camp.
Being a DJ, specifically, programming music, isn’t a linear activity. There is no recipe. You don’t start at Step 1 and when you reach Step 10, Step 12, Step 243, etc., and automatically have a packed dance floor. When you take programming and put it through the prism of linearity, your presentation ends up becoming flat, predictable, or worse: bland, because EVERYONE is doing the SAME thing.
Let’s be real. We ALL have access to the same tracks. We all subscribe to the same record pools, we all subscribe to the same remix services, we all make the same purchases from retail music services. Content, by and large, isn’t the problem.
What IS the problem is DJs aren’t taking the time to learn the music at their disposal. I blame the internet for the most part. While on one hand the ‘net is an amazing tool that brings information to you in milliseconds, on the other hand, when you reduce creativity, innovation, and demiurgic action to a Google response you turn DJing into a paint by the numbers activity.
So what do you/we do to change that up? Well, there’s the rub, boys & girls. There is no single answer. I can tell you what has worked for me: I immerse myself in what I do. I listen ALL the time to music, stuff I like, stuff I don’t like, stuff I know, stuff I think I know, stuff I have no clue about. I listen, seek, search, hunt and try to discover those hidden gems: straight edits, extended edits, remixes, bootlegs, mash-ups, re-drums, etc. Then, once I have gathered my little gems, I figure out what’s going to work and what isn’t.
My approach is different. Not because I just want to be different, but because I HAVE to be different than my friends, colleagues, peers, and my competition.
I’ll readily admit that I’m not a Zen Master (yet). But I know I have a command of my music and I will achieve a connection with my dance floor because my approach is fluid. If I were to operate in a linear fashion, I will be doing a disservice to the patrons, not to mention, driving myself crazy.
So come on, kids, stop painting by the numbers. A little effort goes a long way. By all means find your workflow and find your direction. Find what works for you. Find your path to being fluid and enlightened.
That little kid in you will love to get out in to the sun and your crowds will like it, too.
Keep ‘em spinning.
Based out of Richmond, VA, DJ Tony Fernandez has been a DJ, Remixer, Producer, Musical Soothsayer and Audio Gear Oracle since 1980. Find him on Facebook. Email firstname.lastname@example.org