Thursday, June 24, 2010

Why Do DJs DJ? The "Cool Factor"

Before I start this controversial article, I want to say that I am far from a hater, and to all of those who want to start DJing, or are interested in DJing because you love music and love the art of mixing, more power to you....rock on!!!!

That being said, recently, I have been noticing that you cant piss without hitting a DJ....especially in Osaka, Japan. There are thousands of DJs in this city of only a couple million, and only a HANDFUL of producers. This is got me to thinking about this, why it is, and why it is that everyone wants to be a DJ. What makes a person want to be a DJ? A lot of thing I am about to say are just things to think about.

When you think about WHY someone becomes a DJ...most musically un-educated people would say it is because "They are musicians". This is far from the truth as most musicians know. Most DJs have no musical background. There is a very big difference between artists and DJs in that artists are "musicians", DJs are "good listeners" and "good selectors" (that is arguable too...haha). But lets talk about what makes the person WANT to get into DJing in the first place.

Is it because they love hearing music? Well if this was the case, being a DJ is a terrible place to be when listening to music. Being behind the decks, you get the WORST sound placement in club....hearing part of the usually shitty booth monitors, part of your "not loud enough to compensate" headphones, and the terrible reverberation coming from the main speakers that tends to sit in the corners of the clubs. As a DJ, I would say, you get the worst sound placement in the club besides the bathrooms or something. I would much rather be dead center between the front speakers if the argument was that you want to hear quality music. And as you DJs know, you are always battling with what "you are hearing" vs. what "the people are hearing". This is an art in itself, being able to determine what is being heard in front....and something that a MUSICIAN has a better time at determining for sure.

Is it because you want to select the music that is going to be played? Ok...good argument. DJs usually tend to think they choose the best music...because opinions are like assholes right? But I would say 9 times out of 10....when I hear new DJs, they tend to spin the exact same songs I hear everyone else play....beatports top 10, the top remixes out, or that same Daft Punk song we've heard a million times. Now I guess you could argue that it takes time for a DJ to realize these things, but then what makes them want to do it in the first place?

Recently, there has been an excess of DJs that dont even have their own gear, and get a weekday night in some club to practice their hopes of playing big clubs. But why do DJs want to play big clubs? (this is all leading somewhere, just hear me out). It always seems that DJs are striving to play the big clubs, the big crowds, and show a lot less energy when they are playing to small venues with small crowds. Is that really a love of music....or a love of attention. Musicians who love music, will sometimes have their best jams ever playing to a small crowd because...thats just how it happens. Art takes over your soul, and you let it all out. Now, I know you feed off of the crowd...but a real artist plays their music when NO ONE is listening, and feels it the same as if a thousand people were there...its because the frequencies and timbres, the dynamics, the passion, the what makes your heart beat. Its the oxygen of your art. The sounds bring tingles to your spine and grooves your internal organs. It doesnt take ANYONE else to provide that to real musicians.

So what do I think it is?....and please, lets not start hate speech here...but, something to think about. I think it is....."The COOL factor". For some reason, DJs are seen as "cool". Something about putting a pair of big headphones on, getting on a stage, moving your hands around some gear that the normal person might as well assume is space gear, looks unarguably "cool". Maybe it started in the days of RUN DMC & old hip hop days...when everyone in their MTV music videos were looking as HIP as can be....spinning that vinyl, and breaking the barriers of what music was at that time. I think this created the "cool factor" that is still around to this very day. But with the prevalence of ableton live, traktor, and other quick DJ tools...and even the ease of the new CDJ's, being a DJ takes much less skill than the old vinyl days. Now, I am not even a vinyl or CDJ DJ, so I have no room to I am not going to start this elitist analog vs computer argument which people love to make. In my mind, its all matter how you do it. But, the "cool factor" is something that bugs the shit out of me. I feel like tons of people now-a-days, go to a club, see a DJ playing (not so well), and think "I can do that"....and then i'll be cool, shag some girls, and everyone will loathe over me. You go to music HELL for this I think. It almost makes a chain reaction you know.

Musically uneducated DJ DJing - another person sees this - thinks he can do what that person is doing because it isnt so good - becomes a DJ overnight - goes to club and plays another uneducated set - another person hears his set - again - again - again.

Its when the DJs is wicked good, and wicked talented, that the people who want to become a DJ because of the "cool factor", DONT want to become a DJ because they think that it would be too hard to ever reach that level of talent. 

Now, I know we all have to start somewhere when it comes to music and DJing...but, can you honestly say, that all the DJs you know or have seen are doing it for the right reasons? For the love of music? The love of the art of mixing? The love of good sound on good speakers? Or do they generally lack any real skills and think DJing will be the quickest success story for them.

Music education is a GRUELING process which takes years, (if not your WHOLE LIFE) to even get to 1% of what is capable in all of music. It takes HOURS AND HOURS of practice, daily, to achieve what other musicians would agree upon "talent". What is SAD, is that, clubbers in general, go to clubs for the wrong reasons. I would say, that 95% of clubbers go to the club for social reasons. Now, there is nothing wrong with this...because every person is entitled to doing what they want a do. It is just a sad truth that most clubbers could care less how much talent is being presented, and rather, hear the same song that they know or is played on the radio, and pound shots, and hopefully shag someone at the end of the night. This is just the, its only natural, in our supply and demand lifestyle, that these "Sexy" & "Talentless" DJs are making it further than they should.

Now, I guess you could say "FroBot, you are being a hater". me what you will...but, since the beginning of time, music has evolved. Musicians have become better and better due to the access of knowledge, the influence of past artists, and the availability of technology. But as a musican, it is sad, detrimental, and outright discouraging, too see music DEVOLVE. Whats even sadder, is that clubs...due to their short life expectancy, are more and more going towards what sells and brings the people...than what is considered "talent".

In asia for instance, an international DJ wont even get a legitimate chance unless they are sitting somewhere high on the DJ charts. This comes from a purely business perspective....and I guess the bottom line is "making money". I guess you could say I am dreaming of some utopia where everyone talented "got a chance"....and that I am being unreasonable to think that a person with no following, yet tons of talent, is going to be wanted by clubs. Sure. You are right. But it is SAD hey! Since 2000, I feel like its the first time in all of history that music has start to devolve rather than evolve. That doesnt mean that it isnt still evolving in areas...but there has been a crazy over saturation of pure shit in the clubs.

Now, I am as guilty as everyone else. There was a time...when I first discovered electronic music...that I looked up at a DJ and thought...WOW, thats so cool, he is so cool, I want to do that. I think you are a liar if you can honestly say you never thought this. I have...and I will admit it. But, I have always had a passion for making music organically, so my perspective came from that of a musical one....thinking about HOW I could MAKE this music...not, HOW I CAN LOOK COOL by playing other peoples music to huge crowds. 

Now..."where are you going with this man...your just rambling". OK, yes, I am rambling....but it eats away at my heart watching this process. So what can we do about it. We cant start being haters...and trashing all these wannabe DJs....because that does no good for anyone. What we CAN try to associate ourselves with the right artists, the right clubs, the right promoters, the right people....and try to help music evolve the RIGHT way. Dont ever fake yourself and be friends with other DJs or clubs just because you think you will get a shot at playing to a big crowd....that is selfish, and go to music hell for this. Dont ever compromise yourself, your beliefs, or your love of what what you love most "MUSIC". Find the right people to associate with, start communities or scenes of people who think like you...and try to change this terrible process. Also, help other DJs who are inexperienced but HAVE the passion....and dont care about the "Cool Factor". Help music evolve in the right that in the future...the children of tomorrow will be listening to the BEST music in the world....and not some re-hashed garbage supplied by business minded or self indulging DJs. 

Also...if you REALLY love it!!! You cant just start playing around with CDJ's, or launching auto warped songs in ableton and think you are ever going to be talented. Get you head in the books, study sound, study sound design or engineering. Listen to THOUSANDS of tracks....treat it like a job. Music is funny in that, the more you study, the more you know...the more you WANT to study and the more you WANT to know. Its one of the best catch 22s known to man!

Lets help music, and in particular, electronic (club) music become better tomorrow that what it is today...and this means stripping it of its ego, its self indulgence, and "cool factor".

One last thing...if you are a DJ, and you think you are cool....there is nothing LESS cool than being a DJ. We provide no REAL SERVICE to the people...besides creating an atmosphere for others to enjoy themselves.

I have this written on my wall beside me at my studio here to see at all times. I wrote this in my notebook one time when I was thinking about all this, and I like to read it and remember it every time I make music - 

Being a DJ aint shit
Doesnt make you cool
Doesnt make you better
Youre just playing some music
There are real people out there
Like doctors, teachers,
People that work at McDonalds and shit
They do the REAL shit
Your only job as a DJ
Is to play some funky shit
So they can forget all about their lives
And dance
You aint cool

This helps smack me back to reality when I myself, feel on my high horse.




Anonymous said...

Hi Frobot, nice article !

I would like to add to those ideas see if i can put them in a different perspective, but its not going to be easy and i will maybe ramble a bit...So

I believe that what was attracting people to djing when it appeared (lets say, with the advent of disco, funk, the early electro, early hip-hop, and drum machines) was the fact that you had a way of playing all those bands, all those records without actually having them live in the club. And second, that it blended really well, upbeat 4 to the floor, funky drums, locked rythmes, people dancing to the groove, etc...

Now at that time djing was a few things, really technical, you had to master those wheels of steel, super expensive (between the "hardware" and the proper vinyl...), took quite some space, and a steep learning curve...So it wasn't for everyone.
And there was no such thing as the SuperStar DJ, the one that gets paid so much and gets such recognition from all kinds of media, that generates that much of a market, because there was no market...
Then came the 90's...

Today, its true, there is an abundance of djs, but i could say the same about guitar players, rock bands, and wannabe singers.
We have to face the fact that today one has to push it really hard to get above the masses (just to be heard, or to be able to share our love for the music).
Because today the equipment is really cheap (dj wise but also instrument wise), the world is ultra connected, and just much more "bubbling" than before.
And if you add the fact that a lot of people are just too much in this "if your not a star your no-one kinda crap" (im thinking all those tv shows about wanna be singers, reallity tv, youtube's 2M views dancing baby and the like). People want to be KNOWN like, you'd die if your not the center of attentions...
All this does spawn a huge amount of crap.
All those copies of copies are annoying but they'll eventually give up and be re-emplaced by others.

They are just attracted to the light, but this is symptomatic of our time, not just of the dj scene.

Last words, maybe with a bit of luck among all the bad djs, and the ones that do it for the wrong reasons, will emerge a really good one, one that actually deserves our attention. And it happens everyday, and this is what makes me happy.

PS : All of this applies to other arts, not just music or djing.

PS 2 : Its not "Cool", but the dj Has a really important job, because if you have faith (in people) then you know that among those clubbers, some are here just for the music, and if the dj loves his job, he is in charge of givng pleasure through music, make people feel stuff, live it full on. But then I can only vouch for the one that are dedicated to the pleasuring of the crow through beautiful music...


frobot said...

Beautifully written man!!!!!! You are dead on!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks man :)
By the way i have to tell you that i really like your blog, the fact that you take the time to write about your music, the way you do it and the ideas that you have is really a proof that you love what you do. I actually never listened to your productions but im sure they come from sweat, blood, and tru love to the music, keep it going louder !!!

Anonymous said...

...bookmarked your blog, really you have the right spirit :)

Escape Artist said...

Nice article, but maybe a bit hard on DJs!

All you have to do is put an iPod on "shuffle", even one with a great music collection on it, and you'll see what a DJ is there to do... it is an absolute art navigating well through a record collection (that you've chosen well previously), taking into account crowd numbers, management, expectations and your own music drive that made you want to do it in the first place.

A DJ is absolutely in love with the immediate rather than the convoluted production process, but that doesn't make what they do any less valid. Good records need to be programmed well.

You said: "When I hear new DJs, they tend to spin the exact same songs I hear everyone else play....Beatport's top 10, the top remixes out, or that same Daft Punk song we've heard a million times."

Couldn't agree more. I just wrote a blog post on how to get past exactly that barrier for DJs:

Anonymous said...

You don't know shit about Deejaying, you obsessed with music dude. Let the people do what ever the fuck they wana do jeez dawg. Us djs make u shity producers famous and you guys aren't even thankful. You sound like deadmau5

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous talking shit:
First of all, as a DJ myself, I'm telling you you need to shut up. This blog makes sence, and I couldn't agree any more. I used to be like this...
Second of all, if you are going to talk shit with that type of spelling and grammer, do not identify yourself as a DJ. It makes the rest of us look bad.
To FroBot, good article bro! It really does make you think!

-DJ Eko

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