I’m not usually the kind of person to get involved in the “keeping it real” talk. I’m not afraid to play certain songs in the club that other DJs are too cool for. Also, I’ll happily admit that I rarely ever use my headphones when I spin anymore — I just watch the waveforms because I think it’s much easier. You can say what you want about that, but it wouldn’t affect me much. However, the whole notion that “#real DJing” exclusively refers to scratching routines does bother me a lot. (Note: This blog post is not designed to knock the art of scratching down a notch in terms of its importance to DJ culture….but more so to bring attention to other aspects of DJing, which I feel are equally as important.)
Truth is, most gigs I don’t scratch at all. Not even once. I’m awful at it, and I don’t have much interest in spending the time to get better.
Do I wish I knew how to? Of course. Adding a few scratches in my club sets would definitely impress some people. Plus, we’ve all had someone come up to us at a gig and say, “Let me see what ya got!” and I’m pretty sure they’re not asking to see us perform a nice clean 16 bar mix from one song to another. It would be nice in those situations if I had a little routine that I could WOW people with.
There’s no denying that scratching is an important part of DJing, and likewise, essential to being a well-rounded DJ. Think of the guys that you would consider in the Top 5 of Open Format DJs. They can all scratch very well. And I get that my lack of that skill will always keep me out of that conversation, no matter what else I might accomplish in the future. But despite my lack of cutting ability, I still like to believe that I have some value as a DJ. Yet, there’s a good number of people that would disagree, and that’s partly what inspired me to write this.
I recently saw one DJ I respect make a social media posts along the lines of, “If you don’t scratch at least once at your gig, then what’s the point? You’re not really DJing.” and another DJ I respect said something to the effect of “I look at DJs who can’t scratch as just being lazy. There’s no excuse for not knowing how to.”
To me, scratching IS JUST A PART of DJing — an important part in the culture, but not the deciding factor as to whether you’re a DJ or not. If a young DJ asked me whether I recommend they learn how to scratch, I would definitely say, “Yes.” But if they wanted to focus on other parts of DJing, I wouldn’t question that decision at all, and I would tell them to have fun and go all out doing what you love. To some DJs like myself, learning to scratch isn’t the most appealing part of being a DJ, while to others, it’s their favorite part. And I think that’s cool. Some DJs put their main focus on turntablism and I have nothing but respect for those guys. My friend DJ Ragoza fits in that category and I have nothing but respect for him. He found a part of DJing that he loved and went all in. Anyone who follows him on social media knows how passionate he is about turntablism, and he’s constantly practicing and putting up videos of different routines. Last week, he flew from CT to FL to compete in the Tampa DMCs…..and won. That’s a result of practice, hard work, and determination.
THAT is 100 percent #realdjing.
I just like to think that DJ Ragoza’s work ethic can be applied to other aspects of DJing as well to earn that same hashtag.
In addition to turntablism, I believe….
Searching for music = #realdjing
Pretty much every song has a remix these days. Some have tons of remixes. Spending the time to go through all these is real important especially if you have a residency that would appreciate you not playing the same set every night. For every popular song now, I like to have a Deep House version I can play opening, a few harder versions at different tempos that I can play during prime time, and then a more Progressive House type remix I can play if I wanted to drop it towards the end of the night. Oh, and also a transition, preferably both up and down. Without thinking, some of you might say having 8 different versions of the same song is a bit silly and excessive, but as someone who has been spinning at the same three spots just about every week for the last 5 years, I promise it isn’t. Some nights I spin at the club are absolutely insanity while others are chill lounge type nights. I also do some fun beach gigs over the summer. Like at the club, it can be crazy with patrons who wanna rage, but sometimes it can be more chill where people just wanna relax on the beach and listen to music. So if you’re like me and your crowd and atmosphere is constantly changing yet the staff at your residencies are for the most part the same — then you better have multiple remixes for every occasion not just to keep from sounding awkward to your unique crowd, but also to keep from sounding stale.
Editing music to fit your style = #realdjing
I spend a lot of time every week making custom edits. Some take time, and some are extremely simple (Such as changing the intro to Audien’s remix of “Chains” or changing the intro to the song “Work” by Ruxell & Johnny Roxx.) However, all are important to someone who prides them self on sounding smooth in the club. I also make a lot of my own transitions for songs that I feel I want to start or end a certain set with.
Being able to rock a club with that music = #realdjing
This includes doing the proper preparation. Formatting your night correctly. Keeping the energy from song to song. Being able to deal with adversity and adapting to different situations. Etc. All #realdjing.
Making mix tapes and podcasts = #realdjing
Doing research to find out what an artist’s next single is gonna be so your CD has lasting power = #realdjing. Sorting through the thousands of remixes of songs to find the perfect tracks you want to use — and then spending the time to figure out the perfect order to place them definitely = #realdjing. Doing car test after car test to make sure everything sounds good and your volumes are constant = #realdjing. Now that you can make your mixes in Ableton, perfectionists like myself can easily spend many, many hours trying to get a 60 minute mix on point. That’s keeping it real.
Being creative = #realdjing
This is something I’m really big on. Not only do I want everything I do as a DJ to sound good, but I also want it to sound different as well. If there’s a DJ in my crowd, I want them to think “Wow, I never thought about bringing in that song that way!” “I wish I thought of mixing those two songs together!” or “Holy shit, what remix is that?”. A DJ manipulates music and there’s infinite ways to do so. I’m always searching for new ways and nothing makes me happier as a DJ then when I find one.
Now this leads to the part of the article that I’ve been waiting to SPRING on you. I purposely saved it for the last half partly because I wanted to save the best for last, and also because I want to discuss it in some detail.
Production = #realdjing
Production = #realdjing
And I don’t just mean Enferno doing his Live Remix Project at the club. That’s an example of someone combining technical skills with production skills and taking things to another level by performing live. It’s obvious that’s #realdjing and I’m pretty sure every DJ respects that. But when I say production = #realdjing, I mean it in a much simpler way. The rookie DJ doing a redrum in Ableton = #realdjing. The dude trying to find the perfect sound in Sylenth = #realdjing. To me, labeling production as #realdjing is a no-brainer, yet I have a feeling a lot of people may disagree.
Besides the fact that both are based on manipulating music, Production and turntablism have other similarities as well.
Both take an extraordinary amount of time and focus.
Producers spend many hours working on a track trying to find the perfect drums and sounds to use while turntablists are known for spending countless hours in their basements working on a routine.
Both producers and turntablists are constantly having their club-rocking skills questioned.
Nowadays, I’m always hearing people say “Oh those guys are producers, they know how to make tracks but have no idea how to rock a crowd. People forget this was the same knock that turntablists used to hear all the time too. “Yeah, dude can scratch but I doubt he knows how to play at a club.” Sure there are cases where these stereotypes are true, but some people like to think they are more common than they really are.
It seems pretty obvious to me that both producing and scratching are huge parts of DJing, still though, there are plenty of DJs who won’t even admit that production is a part of the craft. To anyone who’s ever uttered the words, “He’s a producer, not a DJ.”, would you ever say that about a Turntablist, or someone who makes Mixtapes? If production isn’t a part of DJing now, is it just a coincidence that the top 1000 DJs all have learned to produce?? (That’s obviously not based on any real stats, but am I wrong? Is there actually any DJ in the top 1000 who hasn’t gotten into production at all?)
Basically, as someone who got into DJing so I could make remixes (blends at the time) and later fell in love with doing clubs, it frustrates me to hear that some people don’t respect or understand the many hours I put into doing both of those — and don’t consider what I do #realdjing. As I said in the beginning, I don’t have much interest in spending the time to get better at scratching. But that doesn’t mean I don’t take that time and use it productively to focus on the parts of my job that do interest me.