Why old-school DJs are complaining and you should too

After a slow and difficult push, the Electronic Dance Music scene is exploding exponentially in the United States. Not long ago DJ’s were confined to dark rooms hidden from view and were looked down upon by most of the music community. Now they are the new rockstars and headliners; main stage and front and center. EDM is now a billion dollar commodity, but that in itself is not such a bad thing. I remember dreaming of the day I could live off of music, that is more possible now than it has ever been.

There are more opportunities to play our music, to get paid, and to make a name for ourselves doing what we love. How can anyone be mad about that? What’s the problem? Well…

Like any industry, when the money starts flowing in it attracts people that are after it as their priority. Add attention and fame to the mix and you can get a pretty nasty breed of person mucking up the works. At one time art and passion for the music was overwhelmingly the motive of DJs and producers (for promoters it is a little more debatable), but now we see more and more that money, fame, and less than admirable intentions are what drive a lot of people to our EDM world. The balance is shifting and the art of the music and the dance floor are suffering as a result.

Beat matching tech, gimmicks, and reliance on playing popular music have become the common definition of what a DJ does. It is no wonder that this seems like an easy source of money and fame. The truth of the matter is that these qualities are irrelevant to the art of the mix and in what makes a DJ worth seeing and worth the ticket price. To better understand, let’s take a look at some of the bigger complaints coming from the old-school and why the new-school should care.

David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia

It doesn’t take much digging to find out how old-school head DJ Sneak feels about these guys. He’s called them out for their showmanship antics, elaborate stage setups, and more importantly, for getting caught playing pre-produced sets and not actually DJing during their shows.

First of all it is important to separate the concept of DJ from producer, they are not the same thing. While I applaud these guys for their production skills and developing an accessible sound that attracts lots of people, this does not mean they have the right to charge massive amounts of money to see them press play while they jump around. This would be like paying ridiculous sums to James Cameron to jump around on stage while watching Avatar (actually maybe I would pay to see that). Seriously though, producers either need to put on a live show like Orbital, Daft Punk, Chuck Love, etc., or develop actual DJ skills before they step on stage. Unless, of course, you like paying a premium for gimmicks instead of music and talent.

**Disclaimer – I have seen Steve Angello of the Swedish House Mafia on his own play a great 8 hour set and actually mix, so I know he is at least capable, again it’s about what you are paying to see, demand more. I also know playing pre-recorded sets is nothing new and has been a ‘necessity’ now and then for DJ’s playing nightly on tour (not that I approve), but to use this as a default is unacceptable.

DJ X Factor

Now, in all fairness the verdict is still out on this one as we don’t really have all the details or what the contestants will be judged on, but based on Simon Cowell’s propensity to monetize talent it’s likely this show will do more damage than good. It will further push and expose people to the idea that DJing is more about the show than it is about the music and the art. At one point DJing was about bringing new sounds to the floor and making them hits, now DJ’s play the popular tracks to make themselves hits. They are glorified jukeboxes in fancy packaging with laser shows, not artists.

Just to be clear, I am not anti-showmanship. It’s all part of the bigger artistic package when done correctly, but there has to be art at the core. I am anti-showmanship to cover up a lack of talent. Hopefully this show won’t support that, but I am skeptical. We’ll have a better idea when the judges are selected.

Paris Hilton

I will try to keep the vulgarity to a minimum on this one. Remember not long ago when there was a bit of a scuffle with Paris and a certain house DJ because he wouldn’t play a hip-hop song? Remember all those top-40/hip-hop clubs she was frequenting (even when she wasn’t being paid to be there)? Remember how she has never once mentioned or was seen at any house related event until recent press surrounding her new publicity ploy boyfriend Afrojack? Now all of a sudden house music has always been a passion of hers? What does Paris Hilton and a cow’s colon have in common?

This is the epitome of jumping on the decks for the money and the fame bandwagon. Everything she has done to date has been because she saw it as popular and a way to be famous for the sake of being famous. Do we really expect to believe that passion and art will play any part in this catastrophe in the making? At least I have a new term to call people who aren’t DJing for passion and art. Paris Hiltons. Don’t be a Paris Hilton.

The Point

For all you music consumers out there, I appreciate you, I really do. I just want you to be an educated consumer. Know what it is your hard earned dollars are supporting. Be patrons of art, not ATMs for the money hungry.

You would be DJs, producers and promoters: Create art, don’t just press start. Contribute something to the world and to the people, don’t just look to take their money and attention. Let’s be amazing together.

Analog vs Digital vs Digital: Are we killing our dance culture?

I’m not opposed to change by any means. Change is crucial to life and growth.  It’s just sad when valuable perspectives, experiences, and lessons get lost as a result.

There is a lot of discussion in dance culture around vinyl vs digital, cd vs laptop, mixing vs programming, etc etc.  Those who embrace the new defend it, those who have mastered the past defend it, insults are thrown, pride is put to the test, but most importantly, there is a key discussion being ignored.

For those of you who are too new (and by new I really mean anyone in the scene for about 15 years or less) to really have experienced the history of the dance culture and electronic music scene there are some things you need to understand (don’t worry I have some words for the old-timers too).

Most of us in the early years of the scene had to constantly fight. We had to fight for space, for sound, for music, for a voice, for validity. Many of us didn’t even know we were fighting, we were just deeply connected to the music and had to express it, whether making it, playing it, or dancing to it. It was even a fight just to get the music.  It was expensive, limited, and you had have the hook-up to get the choice new releases in your area before someone else did.

The music was a necessity for us, the very essence of us. We were mocked, we were told it was garbage, it wasn’t real music, that it was a passing fad.  Because we were so connected to the music and identified ourselves through it, this meant they were calling us garbage.  We banded together, we built communities, philosophies, and we danced our asses off because it was who and what we were.

Every record was special, it was a weapon in the battle for validity.  Every scratch, imperfection, and skip was a memory of a party, an experience, a good time, a bad time.  We didn’t replace our music every week, we played it until it wouldn’t play anymore.  And even then we might try to play it a couple more times hoping that it had somehow magically healed itself through our pure love of the song. Long story short, we weren’t just connected to the music, we were the music.

Things are different now. People interact with the music differently, they relate to it differently, they express it differently.  There are a lot more people in it for money and fame as opposed to the pure need to express and connect with the art. Because of the foundation that was built, there isn’t nearly the fight for validity there once was (proven by the fact that dance music is in the top-40 mainstream).  There is a mass consumption of a product that we spent decades forced to keep underground.

This is something the old-timers need to recognize beyond the obvious.  These newbies aren’t connected to the music they way we were/are. They aren’t seeing the house built from the ground up, they are inheriting the family property. That’s not to say it is better or worse, just different.  We fought so they didn’t have to, they explore new ways to express it, some good, some bad, some down right insulting to those of us who have spilt blood, sweat, and tears. We can’t expect them to get out of it what we did because they aren’t building the scene, they are inheriting the scene.

The discussion should not be about what equipment they express on, or what medium they use, but rather do they have talent at what they do?  Is there effort, art, passion, connection, and most importantly, respect? That is what is important here. Are they pressing play or are they creating art? We old-timers can learn some new tricks from you newbies, and newbies we can show you some foundations and perspective that make this meaningful and an art form, not just a revenue stream or a way to get laid.

The reason I implore all of us to switch the focus of the discussion is because we are at a delicate turning point in our culture.  As something becomes consumed on a mass scale, there is danger of that thing being consumed to its extinction.  How many forms of music, fashion, art, etc., have been destroyed because it was over-consumed and the meaning, art, and specialness were forgotten and lost?

I love this music, these people. I want it to last as long as possible.  I want it to remain a meaningful culture.  Not just some ‘in’ product that will be thrown to the wayside because it becomes a gutted shell. Let’s keep dance music a meaningful art form, a culture with a rich history and that focuses on talent and passion.  Being in the top-40 realm isn’t inherently bad, but unless we maintain a level of quality, an understand of the roots, and pure connection to the passion and art of our culture, we will lose it. And rightly so.

Friends don’t let friends become a DJ Pauly D.

Just say no.

New Era® “Fly Your Own Flag” DJ Competition

Enter By 11:59:59 AM EST on October 28, 2011

**REPOSTED FROM OURSTAGE.COM**

New Era® and DJ Irie (best known for manning the tables at the NBA All Star Weekend, VH1 Pepsi Superbowl Fan Jam and Fortune Magazine’s 40 Under 40) are throwing a blowout event in Miami, Florida and want you there.

Here’s the deal: We’re looking for the best remix of DJ Irie’s samples. We’ll provide all the stems, you just worry about blowing their minds. When you’ve completed your masterpiece, upload your track to our competition page by October 28, 2011 so our fan community can listen. If they think it’s good enough to pon de replay, you could win a guest DJ spot at the New Era-sponsored event in Miami, Florida on November 21 at Mansion Nightclub!

To Download stems click here

Participants must be eighteen (18) years of age or older at time of entry and must be a legal resident of the 48 contiguous United States.

Submission Materials may contain the rights-free stems provided by New Era® and DJ Irie, as hosted and made available for downloading on OurStage.com. Entrants must submit original material mixed and produced solely by themselves. None of OurStage, Rolling Stone or New Era shall be responsible for any claims of actual or alleged copyright infringement arising from the Submission Materials and entrant shall indemnify and hold harmless each of OurStage, Rolling Stone and New Era from any such claims. Permission to use the rights-free stems is limited to the creation of Submission Materials for the purpose of this competition only.

Click here to view the competition FAQ’s.

Click here to view the official rules.

Gen Art DJ Competition

I will be one of the judges for this, so get your submissions in by June 6th!

To enter go here: DJGenerationCompetition

So, you want to be a DJ?

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Having been a DJ for nearly two decades now, I’ve picked up a thing or two. I often get asked for advice on the art of DJing (where to start, tips, tricks, etc.) so I’ve decided to lay out some of my more consistent tips and lessons for people in the beginning and intermediate stages of DJing. They may seem harsh at times, but if you don’t have a thick skin, this is the wrong industry for you.

Tip One: Don’t.

Seriously, don’t start. Not only is it an over-saturated market with people constantly getting undercut and bumped by people who, in all honesty, don’t deserve to be in the industry, but it is being flooded with people who really just don’t have the chops for it. Over the last few years it has become the hip new thing and seen as an avenue into easy fame and fortune.

If you are looking for popularity, to be cool amongst your friends, get laid etc., stick to your own house parties, turn your garage into a dance floor whatever, just stay out of the professional realm. There is nothing easy about this industry if you are doing it correctly. You need to have an unhealthy obsession with music to ride it out the long run. DJing will ruin the life you have as you know it. You will lose friends, lovers, sleep, work, it will be impossible to lead any kind of ‘normal’ life. There are benefits, don’t get me wrong, but most of them result out of having the sort of obsession with music required to be a professional DJ.

Two of the biggest factors that have kept me surviving and growing in this industry are that I absolutely can not live without music and I am too stupid to know when to quit.

Tip Two: Study the History

If you are still reading these tips then you either have an unhealthy obsession with music or your ego is so bloated that you think you are good enough and deserve to be a DJ. You probably think you have some new perspective or new way of doing things. Back here in reality, odds are you don’t.

With any subject matter or trade it is critical to know the history. Where did it come from, who were the pioneers, what worked, what didn’t, etc. Without knowing where it started you probably aren’t going to be able to take it to any sort of new level, you’ll just be repeating what’s been done, and trust me, it has been done. Watch the documentaries, read the books and blogs, listen to the old sets and sounds, etc. Talk to and LISTEN to those that have been doing it for a long time, there is a reason they are still around, despite how much better than them you think you are. If they are working, getting paid, and making people dance, they have done something right to get there.

Respect is often a missing component in the industry these days, but absolutely critical for the industry to survive and thrive. Don’t kill the industry with your lack of respect and ego. Study, learn, respect.

Tip Three: Practice and Record

Practice all the time. This is a skill, and though you either have the foundation skill or you don’t, you still need to develop and improve that skill by actually doing it. A good starting point is to start with two copies of the same song and mix it every possible way you can think of. It doesn’t matter what song, just something you really love and know, so you can hear clearly when the mix is on and when it is off.

Record everything you do and listen to it. You need to develop your ear, not just for beat-matching, but for programing, song keys (just because you can match two beats doesn’t mean the keys the songs are in go together). Technology has changed a lot of things, we can mash up songs that could never have gone together before, but again, just because you can do a thing, doesn’t mean you should do a thing.

Develop your ear; listen, record, and repeat until you don’t feel you are making progress, then start asking for feedback. Don’t make everyone listen to everything you do, especially in the beginning. For one, it’s annoying, your mom may like to put your scribbles on the fridge but others don’t. Secondly you will want to avoid having people’s first impression of your work be poor intro level stuff. It will stick with them longer than you would expect.

Tip Four: Learn the Gear

There are a lot of ways to DJ now. Learn as many as you can. Seriously. The technology will only continue to change, what is standard at an event now will not be later. Not to mention that different venues have different gear and different sound systems. Ask around, everyone is a DJ now anyway so it won’t be hard to find different gear to practice on, and who knows, maybe they are good enough to show you the proper way to use it.

Learn vinyl, not just Traktor or Serato, but vinyl. You may be naive enough to think it is an out-dated and dead format, but there are valuable lessons to be learned by using it. There are elements and lessons you can learn by using that vinyl that can never be replaced. Vinyl has a certain soul and history that you have to take part in if you really want to be serious in this industry. All the new tech is trying to maintain the principle and feel of vinyl while offering new tools that vinyl doesn’t provide. Think there might be a reason for that? Plus, honestly, it just takes more skill to DJ vinyl, all you have is you and the music, no bpm counter, no key meter, just you and your (hopefully existent) skill. In fact, vinyl can be a good judge of whether or not you should even be a DJ. If you can’t DJ on your own, why should you be considered one? If the technology is doing all the work for you, your computer is a DJ, you are not.

When you buy your own gear don’t skimp, you will only be sorry when you replace it for better gear. This isn’t a cheap industry to get into (cheaper now than it was, granted), but you want stuff that will last and when you do eventually play out at a decent venue, you will know how to use the gear and not get nervous because it is way more advanced than you are used to.

Tip Five: Produce

If you want to get anywhere in this industry you need to be making music. I’m not talking about cutting and rearranging someone else’s music and calling it an ‘edit’ or trying to pass it off as a ‘remix.’ And I’m not just talking about making some mediocre stuff and putting it out on your friend’s label or even worse starting your own label because no one is picking up your music. I’m talking about making good music, music that other people buy and play. If you don’t have the music making talent, you can still DJ, but don’t expect to make it to the top.

To learn my tips on producing, refer to the above tips, same principle.

These are by no means all my tips, but if you want more you will probably have to prove to me that you are not just another douche bag trying to be cool and looking for an easy fix.

Old, but still valid:

2011 GRAMMY Style Studio Recap

Here is a little of what you missed at the 2011 Grammy Style Studio. Thanks to Papa Joe, Chris, Michael, and the rest of the crew! And don’t worry everyone, I don’t plan on quitting my day night job.

Part 1:

Part 2:

It begins… (start 2001 theme music)

I guess it is time to jump into the whole blogging thing. Here we will focus on Music, Philosophy, Humor, and whatever else I feel like posting and the corresponding ranting/bitching.

Since I am on my iPhone writing this, this is all you get today.