As a popular Portlandia sketch pointed out years ago, these days, everyone and their grandma claims to be a DJ. Ease of access to mixing programs and apps and the opportunity to craft custom playlists in Spotify does, in a sense make everybody into a DJ. Anyone willing to pay a ten-dollar subscription fee can create a custom soundtrack to their lives, pulling from a limitless pool of artists and tracks. Not everybody is so ambitious – to some, the beauty of Spotify and equivalent streaming services are their ability to create a “radio stream” based on the artists you typically listen to, creating a sort of AI feedback loop. For hardcore music aficionados and snobs, however, this is unacceptable – if you’re a true music nerd you would never allow a computer to pick out music for you, even if was ostensibly “intelligent”.
If you’re inclined and ambitious enough to keep up with new music and dig through records from the past, soundtracking your own life can become a sort of hobby and obsession that reflects your personality, with certain songs coming to define particular eras of your life. Ideally, you’ll learn to listen to yourself and understand what your ears and brain react best to depending on the time of day and the state of mind that you’re in. If you end up moonlighting as a part-time DJ at your local bar, you’ll enjoy the gratification of sharing your passion with others – hopefully this passion will not involve blasting Bon Jovi.
Here are a few tips for the aspirational DJ, or folks who are just trying to hone their ability to craft a custom playlist:
In the world of professional DJs there is a philosophy that track selection is the most important thing. This is to say that the samples and songs you are playing is always the number one factor; no matter how fancy your mixing and beat matching are, or what kind of effects you’re using, if the actual tracks you’re working with are no good, nothing can save you. Therefore, taste is more important than skill, so develop a strong sense of taste before you go crazy on the decks, and for god’s sake, don’t jump tracks every thirty seconds – it annoys everyone in the bar.
Once you’ve committed to the idea of being a part-time DJ, you might go crazy and spend your rent on pro DJ gear. Here’s a tip: keep it modest to start. You can buy an entry-level digital mixer and software at your local Long & McQuade music store for under $400, though you’ll probably need to buy the software online to install on your computer. If you’re DJing in a bar without a dedicated DJ booth, you’ll want to get a cover for your computer as well so that if some buffoon spills a rum and coke on your laptop, it doesn’t get fried.
Mood Is Everything
The last and most important point is this: read the room. If people seem like they want to dance and party, keep bringing up the energy with high BPMs and crowd pleasers. If people are just chilling, sipping drinks and having intimate conversations, play some chills beats and indie rock. Keep in mind: no one wants to hear techno on a Tuesday.