Along the road in your journey to become a DJ, you’re bound to run into people who say you’re not a “real” DJ, or that DJ’s aren’t “real” musicians. This will happen regardless of what style of DJ you are and what type of equipment you use. At the same time, you may be able to think of lots of people who call themselves DJs, but in your opinion, aren’t really DJing. So what sets apart the artists from the poseurs? What does it really take to become a DJ worthy of the title “real DJ.”
Are You Performing?
The biggest debate over “real” DJing is usually the issue of performance. We’ve all seen the photos of celebrities pretending to DJ and then felt better about ourselves because we actually know how to use the tools they’re pretending to use. But is understanding the tools really all it takes to become a DJ who puts on good performances?
Deadmau5, who is known for his wild live shows, has called out many of his peers in recent years for “button-pushing” on stage, saying that relying on pre-recorded tracks is ruining their live performances. On the other hand, some of the most famous DJs in the world use Ableton and other software in their live sets, and the people who are going to their sold-out shows don’t seem to be complaining.
So is it the software vs. hardware issue that separates the real DJs from the poseurs? Or is it really just the issue of performance that audiences care about? There are many ways to put on an engaging show using a laptop and two speakers, just as there are many ways to put on a bad show with two turntables and a bunch of outboard gear.
(Want some tips on performing? We’ve got lessons on setting up for and playing live gigs right here at Spin Academy.)
Are You Taking Risks?
Last year, A-Trak ignited a debate over DJing styles when he posted on his Instagram about what it means to be a real DJ. But A-Trak wasn’t just calling out “button-pushers.” In fact, he had no issue with what type of gear people were using:
“I remember seeing Mehdi, Boys Noize, Feadz playing on CDJs and thinking: these guys are turntablists too. Surkin was the first guy I saw DJ on Ableton in a way that felt like true DJing too. Now there’s a whole new cast in electronic music, and it’s still exciting to me.” – A-Trak
The real difference between real DJs and fake DJs, according to A-Trak, is not what king of gear they use, but whether or not they’re risk takers.
“When you come to my show you know you’ll see me cut. And take risks. DJing is about taking risks. I represent #RealDJing #YouKnowTheDifference” – A-Trak
So think about the way you DJ. Are you taking risks, or are you just going through the motions?
Are You Providing Something Different?
What’s the role of a DJ in today’s digital world? Is it to make a great playlist? No – there are plenty of web radio stations and bloggers who can take care of that for you. Is it to provide music for live events? No – an iPod could do the same job. So what is it that you do as a DJ that’s really different? What do you do that creates value?
Putting on a performance creates value. Taking risks creates value. Approaching a song in a new way creates value. Making a great remix or mashup creates value.
So in your journey to become a DJ, think about what you do that creates value and makes you different – that’s what makes you a “real” DJ. In the end, what matters is not the type of gear you use or the style of music you play or even whether or not other people think you’re a “real” DJ; what matters is if you’re approaching DJing as an art form and trying to take people to another place by playing great music for them for a few hours.