In today’s Editorial Edition of Remix Report, I’m gonna break down what I feel makes a good live DJ. Obviously, you need to know how to mix and how to read crowds, but that isn’t breaking news so I won’t really get into that. Instead I’m gonna try and get into the stuff that separates the elite from the average.
1) KNOWING YOUR MUSIC/PREPARATION:
Volumes – Even if your mix is on point, if the next song comes in too low, it sounds awful, and ruins the vibe. Consistent volume is key to maintaining a high energy level.
Intro Lengths – For songs where you don’t have pre-made intros, it’s important to know how many bars you have before the songs starts. I’ll discuss this in more detail in the next section.
Energy Level – For lack of a better word, some songs just sound “empty” to me. I don’t mean that in a demeaning way. “Get It On Tonight” by Montell Jordan is a dope song, but try playing it after a song like “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira and you would know what I meant. I know that’s a random example, but it’s just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.
Song Structure – Not all choruses are 8 bars long. “Magic Stick” and “Who AM I (Sim Simma)” both have 6 bar choruses. More recently, “Best I Ever Had” and “All The Above” both have 12 bar choruses. This is important information for DJs who like to mix using 8 bar intros. Another important thing to know, is where the rapper/singer starts their second verse in relation to the chorus. Sometimes they can overlap, so it’s a must to fade the chorus early, as to avoid hearing the artist start their verse, just to have it chopped mid-sentence. “Hypnotize” and “Drink and My 2 Step” are good examples. Again, I’ll discuss this aspect a little more in this second section.
2) HOW YOU BRING THE NEXT SONG IN:
This is where knowing your music (song structure and intro lengths) comes in handy. The biggest key to being a great live DJ, is that you keep the energy going. Mixing drums over drums is very boring and kills any excitement in the crowd. Therefore, you always want the next songs hype or vocals to come in right after you exit the previous song. Are there exceptions to this? Yes. Occasionally there will be a song where just the drums or melody may get you a reaction, but for the most part, the crowd wants to hear vocals! That’s why you need to know which songs have 6 bar choruses, so you can adjust!
3) NOT LETTING SONGS DRAG ON FOR TOO LONG:
Letting a song go on for too long, especially one that’s older can lull the crowd to sleep. If you are playing good songs, you will normally get a crowd reaction when the songs drop. Therefore, the shorter the length of songs, the more songs you can play through the night, and the more reactions you will get. For songs that are extremely hot at the moment, like “Sexy Bitch” or “Tik Tok”, it’s cool to let them play a bit. But for certain old school songs, or especially down south hip hop, you might want to consider only playing the chorus.
4) MAKING YOUR OWN EDITS:
Maybe this should have been under preparation, but I figured it would be easiest to talk about this after I discussed 1,2, and 3. The reason being, is that if you have trouble playing a song to fit the “guidelines” in the first three sections, EDIT IT!!! Make it fit your set. This is the beauty of the digital age, and computer software – you can personally format songs as you wish. You can add hype, or create an acapella out. You can delete verses, extend choruses. Make different length intros or set cue points at different bar counts during the intro. This is especially helpful for “quick mixing” in and out of songs like I mentioned in section 3. Go crazy. Do whatever you think will make you sound better or get a better reaction from your crowd. I think it’s very important to be part of a record pool, as many will create a lot of these edits and save you the time. Www.Djcity.com/digital has many dope “Hook First” edits, where they create an 8 bar intro followed by chorus first, them the first verse – to songs that normally just come in with verse. Www.Directmusicservice.com has many edits where they shorten the song to cut out “dead weight” or parts that may make it drag.
5) MIXING IN KEY:
Most people know to pay attention to key, when they make remixes, but its important to use the same concept live. Not all songs have flat drum intros. If the next songs you are mixing into has a little melody to the intro, it sounds horrible if the key is way off from the song you are mixing out of. However, instead of using this principle to focus on the disasters that can occur if aren’t careful, think of how good you sound when your mixes ARE on key. Again, this could have been in the preparation section, but its an advanced concept and I thought it deserved its own little explanation.
6) HAVING GOOD SONG SELECTION:
I feel this is an important, yet overrated aspect of being a good live DJ. In the beginning I stated I wanted to discuss what separates an average DJ from an elite DJ. I feel like most DJs know not to start or end the night with “Move Bitch” And most DJs know they should save the hottest tracks for primetime. I will say this though, bringing back old songs that most DJs don’t play, and taking risks on others can be very rewarding when the crowd goes crazy like you thought they might. Check our interview with Rock-It! Scientists from last week for more on that. I’m also reminded of a tweet I read last week. I wish I could remember who said it, but it was posted by a well known DJ whom most in the industry have heard of. He basically said, if you were a fan of DJ AM, yet when you play in the club, you just play Lady Gaga, after Flo-Rida, after Sean Kingston, then you missed the point. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be playing all the hot songs, but if you want to separate yourself from other DJs, you have to do it in a creative manner, and ultimately throw in songs people might not expect. I also mentioned I wouldn’t really get into reading the crowd. Most of us know not to play “Put It In Your Mouth” at your grandparents 50th Anniversary party. But I will say this, if you come to a venue expecting to play certain songs, but the crowd is different than you expect, be prepared to adapt. Don’t be stubborn.
7) PLAYING THE RIGHT MASH-UPS:
Should this have been part of Song Selection? I thought it deserved its own topic. And I previously said that song selection was a little overated – but not if you include this as part of it. To me this is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. There’s so many mash-ups and mixes out there, it’s a must you find the right ones to play.
8) USING TRANSITIONS:
While I despise song to song transitions (It’s pretty much cheating to me), transitions that take the same song from one BPM to another can be very useful. Sure you can always move up BPMS the old-fashioned way, but these transitions can speed up the process while still sounding smooth.
There are definitely a lot of sub-topics to be discussed here, and you can bet we will be going into greater detail in the future. I also didn’t discuss scratching, because that’s not really a must, and there are only a select few who can do it at the highest level. With that, I would say that if you do scratch, obviously make sure its on point – and also, don’t over do it. As always, comments are appreciated and please let me know if I missed anything or if there is something you disagree with. I would go into more detail but I gotta rush to make some last second edits before my gig tonight!