What does it mean to be a DJ/music producer?
First a little about my past with music
I began my musical journey in the late 90s LA when I was first introduced to the scene of electronic dance music. As you can imagine back then, it was quite illegal and we had to find multiple checkpoints just to even find the event. And being a reckless young adult, it was the perfect get-away to say the least.
One night, I lost all of my friends at one of the warehouse raves and began to wonder around looking for them… but not really, I was quite enjoying the fact I knew absolutely no one at that moment. And it was then I begin to absorb my surroundings, the people and the music. Out of curiosity, I venture across a mob of people towards the DJ booth where I find myself spending the next 6 hours at.
Glue to the DJs hands on the turntables, I couldn’t fathom how everything worked, it was like entering mission control where the DJ is the conductor orchestrating events of now and the future. I still have no idea who played that night but I knew that I wanted to be in that position, the position that moves and sets people free.
So yes, its about entertainments, performance but most of all, I believe its about taking people to a different world, your world. I don’t have any guides towards becoming a great DJ but I do know, if you don’t play from the heart, people can tell and it will destroy their experience.
As a DJ, you are the curator, performer and storyteller all in one and when done effectively, it will move the crowd. And the key is having fun while you tell that story, too often I hear of stories where DJs get so lazy that they will create a pre-recorded set and fake their performances on stage.
First of all, its much harder to fake than to just play it live. With all the cameras and people standing around you, you will have to do a lot more to fake them out so, caution to all the air-nobbers out there, people have eyes and yes they can still see with all those laser lights.
I know this because I am guilty to have done it once on my tour simply because I was fascinated and dude it was hard AF. But, if you are thinking that this is a skill you want to master well, let me remind you that IT’S PRE-RECORDED! and if the crowd an’t vibing with your jam then you are shit outta luck no matter how great your recording was.
So, please just play the music, fuck up if you will and walk away learning something. Can you imagine you are the one that paid 20 bucks or whatever only to find out the act was faking it?
Move forward a decade and a half and now we enter the production era well, at least for me. This is still my second year in the game so it might be limited as to what I can tell you but, to be frank, a producer literally does everything in the studio.
Now if you are already rocking hard and have massive hits under your belt, fine.great. cuz at that stage you can pretty much hire anyone to get the job done. But, if you are like me just starting out, you will need to understand and learn everything. This doesn’t mean you have to be amazing in everything but it helps to understand each individual moving parts. Think of it like a language.
As a music producer you will at least need to understand the following:
Writing Lyrics (if the track requires it)
Piano: understanding the fundamentals: Chord structures, modes etc..
Operate the studio
The list is a lot longer within each listed of course but don’t be scared as all you have to do is one at a time:)
Let me give you an example, say you want to be this grammy award winning producer one day and you want to rock up to your high end studio and command peeps at your will. All sounds great right? But, how would you know what to command if you have no clue what they are doing?
This may be a little off topic but, I started out as an illustrator, designer, then art director and finally creative director. The progression took a while but by the time I end up being a creative director I basically knew whats goes on in each of the roles that is required to make a good ad. Most importantly I understood the mentalities behind each role, how long it took to get the job done. So, essentially no one can b.s. me, and when thats the case everyone tends to focus on get the job done in the best way possible.
Likewise with being a producer, other professionals will look to you for guidance as you are supposedly the person with the vision of the song. So, if you don’t want to be seen as an outsider or an idiot, learn the skill required please.
Wait what about those producers who perform on stages? I know lots of you may recognize the role simply because of the festivals you’ve been to and you see them all rocking the stages. Thats great but the performance elements is an added bonus to the production thats why they call it DJing instead of producing, or else it would mean producing on stage which happens but very rarely. Richie Hawtin is probably the only one I can think of that literally produces on stage improv style, I am sure there are more if I look hard enough but its safe to say that most productions happen in the studio and DJing on stage.
I guess what I am trying to say is, there are all kinds of producers but the ones I respect are certainly fluent in the language of production. What kind of producer do you want to be known as?