February 2016

We had a long weekend recently, and a friend (his name is Chris) wanted to know if I wanted to come with him to a music festival. He told me that they might have an opening or two for some DJs to do a couple of sets. It was a couple of hours’ drive away, but he has a car and was willing to drive. I was promised at least a free ticket to the festival, so it sounded pretty win-win to me. Either I got to listen to some free music for a couple of days or I got a paying gig. Or both.

We headed out, and we were already on the highway before it occurred to me to ask Chris what the sleeping arrangements were going to be—I know, I know, should have asked before I agreed to it. Lesson learned, trust me. He said that the cost of a hotel in the area had skyrocketed because of the festival, and if he got us a room, it would be more than we’d get paid (if we even got the job). But he had been able to secure us a camp site near the festival with access to real bathrooms, and the car got to stay on the site with us so we could keep an eye on our DJ equipment. I totally hate sleeping on the ground and started to freak. Chris laughed said to check the back seat.

There were two of the best inflatable beds back there, along with a pregnancy pillow for the drive up, a tent and two sleeping bags. Sweet! Real bathrooms and a mattress to sleep on is the kind of camping I can fully support!

There was hardly any traffic until we got near the festival. After some rerouting, we made it to the campsite. The area was nice. We had a few trees, a BBQ grill, a campfire ring, and a nice flat place to put the tent. Chris got the tent set up while I read the instructions for the air mattresses. They were self-inflating and ran on battery power, so I got to work getting fresh batteries out of their box and into the pump mechanism for the beds. Once the tent was ready, I dragged them in and started ‘em up. They didn’t feel all plastic-y, which was promising, and inflated quicker than I thought they would. The pumps weren’t very loud, either. It helped that Chris had his laptop out and was blasting some music, though. I unrolled the two sleeping bags and tested out one of the beds. It was surprisingly comfortable!

We headed over to the festival, watched a few acts, and then checked in with the person Chris knew. They had one slot available, and Chris offered it to me. I felt terrible that after all the thought he’d put into this and his kindness in bringing me along, he was going to be out in the cold like that. So I asked if we could do a set as a duo, and the promoter agreed. He showed us to where we would be doing our set later that night. It was so exciting!

We had a great time and a decent crowd by the end. It certainly looked like they were enjoying it, and judging by the tip we got from the promoter (it was an energy drink; our job had basically been to attract people to his tent for free samples and purchasing product), he thought we did a great job, too. We headed back to the tent, exhausted. I was expecting the beds to have deflated a little but they hadn’t, and they didn’t the whole night either. The mattress was as firm when I woke up as it was when I fell asleep. I deflated the mattresses—also surprisingly easy–and dragged them out of the tent while Chris took the tent apart. We went back to the festival and caught a few more performances before we made our way back to school.

All in all, a really good experience and a really productive weekend. I am so glad I went.

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Everyone is new to something at some point, right? I started DJing in middle school and looking back now, I am embarrassed just thinking about how clueless I was. So consider this my way of helping you avoid cringe-worthy performances. I recommend starting with some decent but basic gear and volunteering at gigs when you start out. This way, if you decide this isn’t for you, you aren’t out a whole lot for equipment and if you don’t do so well your first couple of shows, nobody gets too pissed—you get what you pay for, right? But hopefully, you impress them and when they compliment you on your awesome job, tell them to recommend you to their friends. Word of mouth definitely helps in this business.  Eventually, you can start charging money for your services, and it helps if you do some background digging and figure out what your competitors are charging so that you can charge a fair price.

Okay. Let’s start at the beginning: gear. Regardless of how many songs you can fit on an IPod, if you show up with that and a speaker, you’re going to get laughed at before you even get started. Soo…what do you need?  First, invest in a good set of headphones and a DJ Mixer. Then decide how tech you’re going.

  • Do you want that vintage vibe? You’ll need records, needles (aka DJ cartridges), and turntables. I would scrounge up records at garage sales and specialty websites and the like; they aren’t quite as easy to come by anymore, although there are some current groups that put stuff out on vinyl just because. You will also need cables to connect everything. Anyway, this isn’t quite my thing, so… let’s move on to the next option.
  • A good first setup (and where I started) is purchasing two CD DJ turntables to connect to your mixer. Many of these have digital file capabilities, too, which gives you even more This is especially good if people want you to play certain music and give you a flash drive or something.
  • If you want something super-portable and tech-y but doesn’t just look like you + a laptop, you can get a DJ controller and some DJ software. This will give you a lot of control over the music as far as your effects and sound, and it can be cheaper (depending on the route you go) and it is easy to pack up and break down. Less setup, too.

I highly recommend not getting super high end at the beginning unless you’re buying good quality used stuff. It might be harder to get started than you think or you might change your mind. Check secondhand stores and craigslist. There’s a reason there’s so much equipment out there 😉 Don’t be one of those people!! If you want some other ideas or need visuals on setup, check out this site. They do a good job of explaining the different setups.

Once you’ve got your gear and setup figured out, PRACTICE. Figure out what everything does. Seriously. Experiment. You can be as terrible as you want in your own room with a set of headphones where nobody can hear you.

Next: advertise. Anywhere you can think of. Dorm lobbies. Frat houses. Sites like Craigslist. Event Halls. Be SMART. Don’t go into a building that looks sketchy. Meet potential clients in a public place to talk about the gig first before you accept.

Protect yourself: Look online for a general contract (even if you’re doing it for free, it’s good to get into a habit of it, and it helps for record keeping) that you can have clients sign. You’ll look more professional and it will protect you if you’re getting paid.

That’s all I can think of for now.  Good luck and have fun!

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(By the way, the answer is nothing.)

Hey, everyone! Hope you’ve been enjoying the blog so far and have found some useful info and helpful tips. Today’s topic, in case you haven’t figured it out, is mashups. Whether you know them as boots, cutups, blends, or smashups, they’re awesome and so much fun to do. For the uninitiated, this technique overlays the vocals of a song over the instrumentals of another. There was a radio station I listened to as a kid and they used to do it—it was the most amazing thing I’d heard (until I got older, obviously). It opened an entire world of possibilities in my mind of what could be done with music. Then I got older and started listening to DJs like Danger Mouse (ahh, The Grey Album) and Girl Talk.

Now, thanks to the internet, I have access to DJs all over the world who love creating mashups. There is a subreddit where people post lots of fun mashups. But I am a huge fan of the site Mashup Town because they give you a good variety of big, downloadable files. If you want more of a “yearbook” type recap, I’ve got two favorites: Check out Daniel Kim’sDanthology site, this year was so big, he had to make two mixes; and there’s DJ Earworm, who does summer AND year-end mixes.

Creating a successful mashup takes a good ear for music—you have to be able to hear how the songs will work together, adjusting the tempo and key as necessary. There is some software out there to make the job easier, however.  There’s Mixed In Key’s Mashup software, which lets you do things like add vocals to instrumental music and even pull out the drums while it matches the key for you. It makes things incredibly easy and is pretty reasonable as far as cost goes. Audacity, on the other hand, is free open sourceware that gives you the capability of splicing, changing pitch and tempo, and recording your own audio. It’s a pretty robust program considering it is free. I like to mess around with it when I’m bored.  Obviously, there are copyright issues. Some artists clearly don’t WANT you to mess with their songs, and I get that. But if people never improved on a product, there would never be progress, right? We’d all still be using ridiculous analog flip phones and all kinds of other nonsense. Most DJs feel that the music created through a mashup falls under “fair use” laws, but that is some murky waters that I’m not gonna stick my toe in at the moment. I’m mentioning it so that you understand if you post your mashups online or play them publicly (which is why you won’t find any of mine on this site; host rules) there is the potential for someone to get a bug up their butt about it…and well. It can be sticky. And that’s my PSA for the day. Don’t let it discourage you, though. Mix it up. Stand out.  Play YOUR music. Have fun!

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This seems like an obvious one, but when somebody is interested in hiring you for a gig, you should really be interviewing them, too. First of all, it gives a more professional impression. People want to be sure that their expectations are going to be met, and when you ask them what they envision for their event, you are showing them that you are interested in making that vision a reality. Find out what type of music they want you to play so that you have time to get more in that style if you need to. If they’re giving you free reign because they’ve heard you before, find out what they liked about it and what they didn’t so you know what to do/not to do. Ask them about the crowd. Ages, what they consider a good turnout to be, if they like to dance, that kind of thing. Ask about the venue: if there’s equipment already set up, if they’re cool with you bringing your own gear, where the DJ booth is located, how big the dance floor is. Anything you think you’ll need to know to ensure everyone has a great time.

Find out how you should handle requests if you’re given any. Sometimes people don’t care and will let you do whatever the crowd is feeling. If this is a club event and people have paid specifically to hear you spin, then forget that one or two people if you don’t feel like playing what they ask for. But if that’s not the case, take stock of the situation: if you’re playing house music and somebody comes up to ask if you have Free Bird, you may not want to honor that one if you don’t have to. Or make it fun and do a mashup. Who knows, maybe they’ll dig Free Bird: House Edition. Give it a try and see what happens. I’ve also heard of DJs who basically assign blame. If someone requests a song, the DJ takes it very seriously and asks the person’s name. Even if the song is a terrible idea, they’ll play it and make sure everyone knows who asked for it—and you don’t have to be a jerk about it, just be loud and clear—and put the tune on. If you see that it is crashing and burning, you can always transition to another song after a minute or two just so the requester will stop bothering you. But this way, you’ll still have technically done what they wanted and if it kills the crowd’s energy, they all know it wasn’t your idea to put it on. I know, you’ll probably get sick of having people ask you for the same earwormy dance song over and over but remember this: your success as a DJ depends on how much fun the crowd is having and how much people like what you’re playing. You may have the greatest edits in the history of DJing but if the crowd wants to hear dubstep and your stuff is all hip hop, guess what? Nobody’s going to care about what a cool and creative guy you are. All they are going to remember is the crappy DJ that “didn’t play anything good.”

Look out at the crowd from the DJ booth. If nobody’s dancing after one song and they were all on the floor a minute ago, give it another song and see what happens. If still nobody goes out there, start reading body language. Are people taking a break for some reason (maybe you wore them out, man) but still seem interested in what you are playing? Are they tapping their feet, nodding their head, or inching ever closer to the dance floor? Are they talking amongst themselves, or worse, looking bored? Making some quick musical judgment calls can save a floundering gig if you’re paying attention to the audience.

While the crowd may not be the ones paying your salary, if they are happy, they can help your reputation and credibility as far as landing future gigs. Happy crowd = better rep = more gigs for you. I may not be outstanding in math but I know a good formula when I see one.

Oh, and you’re welcome for today’s tip, brought to you by the should-be-obvious queen.

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