What makes a good DJ today?

It can be hard to spot true DJ talent. Today’s dance records are so effective and today’s dance crowds are so undiscerning, they do much of the DJs work for him. Given some big tunes and a few days messing with a cross fader, even your eight-year-old girl could probably keep a night club happy. So now that everyone is a DJ, what really divides the good, the bad and the, well, ugly?

A good DJ loves music; a bad DJ loves money, sex, publicity and free drugs. A good DJ knows the dancers are teammates; a bad DJ thinks they’re an audience. A good DJ makes eye contact with the crowd to see what they want; a bad DJ never looks up, not even once. A good DJ happily floats across genre categories; a bad DJ plays it safe with as narrow a style as possible. A good DJ feels out the crowd and improvises a set to fit; a bad DJ plans it at home over cocktails. A good DJ works hard to track down obscure imports and unknown oldies even if it is on vinyl; a bad DJ won’t think of breaking a sweat searching.

At its simplest, the job is about bringing musical greatness together. The hard work comes in building a great music collection, in spending unreasonable amounts of time on websites, music stores etc. hunting for records that will make people go crazy.

Let’s say for a moment that you have a box that in your opinion is filled with the biggest tunes, the key talent is programming. Play a great record at exactly the right moment and you’ll make it even better. This is largely a people skill. Bad DJs live in their own autistic world. They’ll doggedly play their favorite tunes even if no one in the club agrees with their choices. Good DJs sense other people’s tastes and value them as much as their own. A great DJ can read a dance floor like a book and pull out a song that exactly fits the place they’ve reached.

And you can stop getting excited about mixing. It’s merely the DJs most visible skill, the one that wows the clueless. As exciting as it is the pursuit of mixing skills for their own sake – has more in common with karate than with club DJing. Plenty of fine DJs are sketchy mixers. But they bring the roof down with merely great records and a killer sensitivity for choosing what’s next. Despite all this, awful DJs keep slipping on through.

This article was reprinted from Club Systems Magazine and written by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton. Although the writers wrote this for a European based market, we saw it fit to put it in since it can be very beneficial to all our DJs.

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