Preparing your DJ set for a gig

In today’s world this may seem like an easy thing to do, considering the technology and accessibility of the music you need as a DJ. But is this actually the case?

Why do some people embrace the easy way of getting things done, rather than do things properly? Sure, you can get bunch of banging tracks to smash the floor and go home a hero. However, isn’t your role as a DJ to also educate people and bring original sounds to the dance floor?

As someone who is active in the music industry for over 20 years (go here to download sets and tracks for free), I have witnessed various artists in the scene coming and going. The ones that are short-lived are usually the ones putting less effort in their music related activities. If it’s about the track selection, they usually browse through someone else’s playlist and pick up the tracks. Which is actually a pretty shitty way to choose music for you set..

When performing, if they have a peak time slot, those kind of self-named DJs tend to play a ‘Bravo Hits like’ selection of tracks to get the immediate response and short-lived fame. Again, reaching for the easiest way to do the craft.

But, what value do they add to the music scene as a whole? Will their music stand the test of time? Are those sets remembered?

Are they creating anything of substance in general. besides just playing some music tracks? Are they maybe writing a blog, producing, recording podcasts, or have any other form of presence..? The answer to most, if not all, of the above questions: probably not.

Selection of music is super important for a DJ

It has always been one of the key components, but nowadays it is getting even more attention because everyone has easy access to a lot of music. I will be playing some shows here in Berlin in the coming weeks ( @ Arkaoda 03.05. and Bar 131 18.05.) and I wanted to make a blog post of how can you prepare your DJ set properly, at least in my opinion.

So, let’s get into it:

Like I mentioned before: (standard) playlists…; avoid that shit. It is pre-selected anyway and contains other people’s taste in music. Rather, go through:

  1. Your own selection of music and see if some of the producers have new releases, collaborations etc. This is music you already know meaning you have selected this in the past for some reason. Check if there is something new.
  2. A random search. What is a random search? This is when you search for music without a plan on where do you actually want to search. Open any search engine and start typing anything related to the style, scene or artist you prefer. Go deep into the results, you will be surprised.
  3. Make you own edits. Yes, invest your time and energy in originality. Open that software, do some remixes. People will ask for the track ID and you will have additional promotion on top of everything,
  4. Pick some of the same tracks you already played in the past. Not all, but some of them are just classics or define you style in some way. You need to have a signature.
  5. Search for the artists whose live sets you liked. When listening to somebody in the club environment it is totally different then at home. tracks presented there give you possibility to see immediate reaction from the crowd on the floor and yourself. This angle can be very useful.

There is an unlimited number of ways how you can compile your DJ set, and the above are just some of the methods I use. What I do not use is: playlists, compilations, suggestions, feedback from other people etc. You do not want to use the same tools as other DJs. If you do, you will lose in the long run, as there will be no originality; you do not contribute to the progress of the subject you try to represent.

New technologies in the DJ world

Just recently I came across a new video-presentation-teaser about a digital technology in DJing: “How Tech is Changing DJing”.

There have been numerous articles and videos about the subject in the span of the last two decades and it’s just getting ever crazier as time goes… 

How Tech is Changing DJing? Well, we can ask Sven Väth or Derick May: is DJ-ing different for them nowadays than it was in the past? They both still play with vinyl. Jeff Mills is not far away from that either, incorporating also CDJ’s but still beat-matching while spinning during his sets.

Is beatmatching one of the key components of DJing?

There are many DJ’s that started using the new technologies of course, and new artists mostly use the new digital solutions only. However, why do some of the biggest names still do beatmatching? Is beatmatching one of the key components of DJing? Is it really true that by cutting that out, you miss the one essential part of the whole story? Do people on the floor feel that? Is this digital technology just a trend? Will we go back one day, like with many other things, especially in the music production world?

I am not saying we should be against the new technologies but maybe we do need to be more aware of the original qualities that have the soul, true energy and character that we love about music. Blatantly embracing all this new technology in DJing,  we are getting to the point where there is a such a demand for new stuff that various controllers, mixers etc,  are being produced beyond its limits. From any point of view that situation does not make any sense.   

In no time we then get what we are getting now, a huge amount of new, super expensive stuff that is being replaced (ideally, very rapidly) with newer and more expensive equipment.

Maybe this is a little nostalgic, but let’s remember when back in the day a couple of turntables were the only thing needed for DJing. You had to work your ass off to buy them, and then you needed practice, practice and practice a bit more until you had mastered your skills.

What skill set does a DJ need today? Where has the practice part gone? Are we losing the right crowd from the floor? For me, music, like in many other things in life, is not about how much money you put into it, but how much of yourself you are willing to sacrifice.

The value of music production today

What is the value of music production today? I do not mean that per se in terms of money, but what benefits do you as a DJ/producer have to actually make your own tracks. There is this joy of making songs, your own music, but how does all that manifest to your appearance as a musician?

A large number of producers have risen in the last decade, probably more then ever before; everybody can make music nowadays on a computer with literally zero investment. What are the chances that your music will be visible among all those releases that are appearing online on daily basis?

Releasing Your Recorded Music

As a DJ/producer you create your own tracks and after they are done, the idea is to see who will put them out. 

Today there is a possibility to release your own stuff through various channels. However, that will demand additional time and engagement from your side in order to promote, manage and distribute the content. All this is pushing you away from creating more music, away from the creative part that brings all the joy. Alternatively, you can release your production through the record label. 

Now, if you are in the position to work with already established publisher who can expose, promote and push the release, things are off course different. But many producers are releasing through small, independent labels that are run by other DJs. Again, everybody can have a record label, everthing is online, it is simple and easy… right? 

There is zillions of so called record labels out there, with maybe one out of 20 doing what they are supposed to: releasing music properly. The other 19 have the purpose of: 1. Promoting the label boss and eventually getting him or her bookings, 2. Fulfilling the dream of making money (mostly for the owner) 3. Making the label boss look like a CEO/Founder of this and that.. 4. Opening the label because it’s so easy, and the list goes on and on..  

In a time when the music you make or distribute is also available for free, how to stay motivated as an artist in the first place? Not so long ago you had all those benefits besides the pure pleasure of creating new and different stuff. Making and perfecting a number of songs had many advantages, reaching from artist exposure, financial compensation to the fact that it was actually physically released on a vinyl, and I could continue with the list..

I guess everyone should value his creative output individually, and derive his or her own motivation from it, but it will definitely be interesting to see how the things will move on from here.

Inside Berghain

Berghain has just announced it is opening a third dance floor on its hallowed grounds.  In addition to the two existing axes of the club, Panorama Bar and Berghain, “Säule”—German for “column” or “pillar”—will open on the existing ground floor of the club, directly under the Berghain dance floor.

Until then, let’s remind ourselves what makes this the most known electronic music venue in the world?

I would start with a couple of interesting facts;  Berghain is famous by its door policy more than by the music. It sounds unbelievable, but it is a fact. Whoever heard of the club, knows how difficult it can be to get in, but ask the same people to name some of the resident DJs and you will be surprised by the answers…

Bouncers in Berghain are sometimes acting like football fans in the eighties. There is no other explanation after you see a gorilla slamming people to the fence in order to be more clear how he or she can not get in.  Berlin is a city that promotes diversity among people, nations, cultures etc., however, it does seem as if the city’s main party venue is doing exactly the opposite by having door policy organized the way it does. On the other hand, if you are regular in Berlin there should not be problem to get in. But as an alternative, the city is filled with great clubs and there is always excellent parties to go to.

If you ever wondered how  a particulate club can reach such a cult status in a relative short period of time, this fact might shade some light on it: Berghain is the reincarnation of the Berlin’s Ostgut club and emerged from a male-only fetish club night called “Snax”. Thus, we can imagine the club enjoying some support from the early beginning. Even before the beginning, if we can say..

Nevertheless, it is my favorite place when going out. My preference goes more towards house music so we usually spend more time in the Panorama bar.  From my perspective, night you spend there is like having a good party plus some extra thing which you usually do not have in other places. That extra something can be the crowd, sometimes the music or the fact that you can lose yourself as much as you want and nobody gives a fuck about that. 

No doubt the place itself is more than appropriate for having a good night at the party, but worth mentioning is also the sound system which is definitely something we do not see/hear every day. Main space is set up with the famous Function One sound system that dominates the dance floor. Benedikt Koch (the man who installed the Berghain sound system) claims that system usually operates up to 20% of the full capacity. Let’s not forget this is one of the most powerful systems in the world, so could be that the guy called Benedikt knows what his is talking about…

Panorama bar is equipped with Meyer Sound System, with a set of loudspeakers in each corner of the dance floor, subwoofers and visceral bass saturates that make a perfect combination for more intimate space. 

From the nineties onwards

There is an obvious difference  between the scene nowadays and, let’s say the nineties. Clubs like Tresor (which btw. still operates, quarter of a century later) were more oriented towards the music itself. When you say “Tresor” there is not much of a doubt which sort of electronic music you associate it to. From the beginning this cub was tightly connected with Detroit and is largely responsible  for bringing the sound to Europe. 

Nowadays, we can actually see how the party crowd is changing and what is important to the people on the scene. Clubbers want something a bit more extra, just music may not be enough anymore. Maybe because of the that this place is so successful in attracting people all over the world. I would always recommend Berghain as a place to go to, no matter if you are a serious clubber or just an occasionally party goer. Rules are gone when you enter the door and this is not easy to find in other nightclubs around.

More experienced clubbers will always appreciate the atmosphere, selections of DJ’s, sound system and what is very important-privacy. All this together is something Berghain is holding on a certain level and the recipe is working for 13 years already…       

Richie Hawtin’s new Model 1 DJ Mixer

Richie Hawtin finally unveiled the Model 1 analog DJ mixer, the first product to come under his new PLAYdifferently brand.

A quick disclaimer that there is no intention to discredit the work Richie has made for the electronic music scene in the last couple of decades; Massive contributions are reflected through his dj/production work, record labels, events and other projects.  As most of my blog posts, this one is more like an opinion from a different angle, which I believe is missing in the music scene today.

What do we actually get from the product like Model 1?

I am not going too deep into the technical specifications of Model 1 DJ mixer, you can find those all over the net.

In this case we are talking about DJ mixer and not a piece of studio component, so the main focus is stage performance. The first thing that crossed my mind is: Do we, as DJs and producers need among the current models, another DJ mixer (for the price of more than 3000$)?

Model 1 is produced by Allen & Heath, so the mixer shares many features with original manufacturer’s models. It is a robust, analog based, piece of equipment, just like other Allen & Heath mixers. However, here we have some other features for which Richie thinks are something that will open up creativity of a DJ.

Here, I would like to point out something we all know about creativity versus capability of equipment: the more options you have – the less experimentation you do. Usually, creativity is left behind in this case. This is the fact and has been stated by the musicians over and over again.

However, it is yet to be seen will those extra features really be enough to push the mixer into the orbit. No question that names involved in the promotion and the image of a manufacturer, are guarantee that Model 1 will have all the attention in the beginning when entering the market.

The price

From the economical point of view,  Model 1 is a product that most of the DJs can not afford to buy. This is already a spoken fact on the Dj scene – how to expect success on the market under those conditions?

It is no doubt some well known clubs will purchase the mixer right away but is this enough to bring back the investment? According to Richie, it took around two years to develop the mixer to its fine stage.

Model 1 comparing to similar project in the past

Situation with Model 1 kind of reminded me of the revolutionary Final Scratch (later Serato).

Around the year 2000, Richie Hawtin was one of the key individuals in launching and promoting this new way of playing music. This newly developed DJ tool allowed manipulation and playback of digital audio sources using traditional vinyl and turntables. It enabled versatility of digital audio and the tactile control of vinyl turntablism. Sounds great, right? So, how come something revolutionary like Final Scratch never had the expected success? Even Richie himself is not using this technology anymore.

Is it really worth to develop some piece of equipment that will be replaced within couple of years with something “new and revolutionary”?

Personally, I would be more impressed to see people focus on the music itself; sound synthesis, compositions, etc. Let’s not forget how character of a sound is important in electronic music. However, it would be wrong to underrate the mixer right in the beginning but you do kind of wonder how often an average DJ would have a chance to use it. Even if you find it in some venues and lay your hands on this state of art, would that be enough?

How to use full potential of equipment without being able to buy it and master the craft?


Let’s not get carried away with the rise of vinyl

Sales of vinyl records is rising. Yes, it really does, so what? We are listening to this mantra for years now and what actually happened? Did the music business recover? It does not seam so.

People like vinyl and this is probably the reason why the sales increased a bit in the last decade. But, do you need vinyl to play music? No, you don’t and you will never in the future have vinyl as the only source of music. This is the main reason why things  will never go back to the previous state. It is almost unbelievable how rare it is to find this fact among all those articles around the internet.

There is a difference of course If you look at the vinyl sales chart in the last two decades comparing to situation in the seventies.

We all like to blame CDs and digital revolution for killing the vinyl record, but is it really so? Sales of records was still booming in the seventies and if we look at the chart, there is quite obvious change in the end of the same decade.

Can we really blame digital medium for the fall of vinyl?

Audio CDs and audio CD players have been commercially available since October 1982, and the MP3 came around mid nineties. How could those two formats possibly decrease the sales of vinyl records in the late seventies?

Between the early 1970s and the early 2000s, cassette was one of the two most common formats for prerecorded music, first alongside the LP record and later the compact disc (CD).

The cassette was far more practical for everyday use than vinyl record; it was recordable, cheap and came much earlier than CD. Basically, the only thing that could damage sales of vinyl in that  stage was the beloved tape. By the time the era of cassette ended it was already too late to save vinyl. 

Even if you look strictly from the electronic music point of view and somehow manage to keep the DJs still playing vinyl, it will probably not make much of a difference. Music professionals do not purchase enough medium. No matter if underground or commercial music, vinyl is a product and it’s driven by sales. Like any other product, if it can’t sell – it wont be made. Unfortunately or not, when the cassette player replaced the turntable in the households, the end of vinyl era slowly came in.

How digital format decreased the value of music

On the other hand, digitalisation completely changed perception of music in the eye of an everyday consumer. Nowadays a song or an album is something invisible, stored on the hard drive and very often free. Feeling of having a medium in the hand, enjoying the artwork, material from which the cover is made –  totally vanished. No wonder music lost its value.

If we are talking about the consumers’ perspective, a few years ago,  I experienced quite an eye opener at one of the private parties in the city. The usual mix of people you can find in Berlin; among some random crew it is just inevitable not to have some DJs, producers or label owners around. And yes, sooner or later, home made music will start to play and yes, people will provide their opinions. In this case conversation led to a very interesting direction of music piracy. On one side there were people whose income is music, on the other – just the usual party goers.

As the conversation was progressing musicians where bitching about the current situation on the music market explaining the problem of illegal download :“Yeah, if the situation is shit you just need to adapt”. Unfortunately, our dear friends, the usual party people, the ones we expect to buy our music, had a bit different opinion. If you look at the past, we always did piracy with music by recording the tapes. However, today you don’t even have to buy an empty medium. Everything is on a click of a mouse, fast, free and the amount is brutal.  So, our party people made it clear by stating “Sorry man, I’m not going back”.   

Is the situation really that bad is waiting to be seen, but you can’t deny the fact: we buy our iPhones and get our broadband internet thinking that music comes free with that, nobody thinks of paying the artist making the music.