There’s lots of people out there pretending to be DJs
, but what is it that really separates the pros, I mean the really intuitive cats that understand all of the elements, from the guys just reppin’ tables to look smooth and rugged? For starters, a DJ for any style of music must have the ability to balance rhythm and timing, while understanding the importance and responsibilities of musical taste. Then you have to factor in the crowd you are playing for, and try to somehow synchronize your set with the atmosphere in the building. Also, it is a must that you possess the awareness of when and when not to mix in a song and with what do you mix that song with? You could kill a pretty hefty atmospheric buzz by throwing on the wrong thing at the wrong time, or by blending two things together that have absolutely no business ever meeting on two turntables at the same time. There is a long list of daunting tasks involved in the art form of DJ’ing, all juggled into the form of creating a unique manipulation of sound that will in affect change the way you would normally hear a song.
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If you want to become a Hip-Hop DJ, you have to learn the fundamentals of Hip-Hop. You have to understand that it is not easy work.
It can takes years for DJs to fine-tune their abilities on the decks. However, it is not all about the music. No matter how much skill and music knowledge you have, there is always the business aspect where you have to be sharp and market yourself in a positive way to stay on top. Making sure the right people are hearing your stuff is key. The ones that will come back to see you play and tell their friends to come to the show are the people you want to promote yourself to.
Different types of DJs use different equipment. A Hip-Hop DJ as I’m sure you well know, has generally always used turntables and a collection of vinyl. However now, most DJs have done away with using their regular vinyl for live shows and switched to using digital vinyl with Serato Scratch Live. The invention of this technology was nothing short of revolutionary. It changed the modern method of how a live set is composed and played in front of an audience. With digital vinyl, you can pre-load songs onto Serato like you would with iTunes, and from there you can set up cue points, and sort your songs by BPM (Beats Per Minute) which will allow you to see the speed/tempo next to each track on the given playlist. This has made it much more convenient to compile a set rather than using standard vinyl. The program also allows the DJ to use a sound wave to see exactly what is happening on the record as he is manipulating it.
When thinking about who the best Hip-Hop Turntablist DJ out there is. It would be hard not to mention DJ Vajra at the top of the list. Hailing from the small city of Arvada, just outside Denver, Colorado where I myself currently reside. The world renown DJ has made it to the top of the Hip-Hop food chain with his uncanny ability to eloquently manipulate a record. By winning the DMC title, and bringing the legacy back to the United States of America, DJ Vajra has become a hero to many American tablists, no doubt. Big up Chirs for representing our home town and country. So what is the DMCs? What was once Tony Prince’s remix project, is now the worlds largest DJ competition. The prestigious title is handed out each year to the DJ with the best battle routine. Using all of your tricks to your advantage, and throwing them out on the table, for one short routine, DJs spend months composing a battle routine, pushing their skills to the greatest limits and most likely discovering new tricks in the process. DJs from all over the world compete in this grueling event, and having practiced for months hope to be ready in time for what is the super bowl of DJ events. If you don’t like what you hear at the DMCs, maybe you might try country or folk music.
So, what really grabs an audience and makes them one with the music you are playing? The first key ingredient to a great set, is style. It has to have something in it that nobody has heard done that way before. You can always throw down classics that people already know and have heard before, but if you do it needs to be done in a way that is creative and with your style imbedded in it. A unique style will grab people’s attention and make them want more of it. People are always craving something new. A good DJ will go the extra mile to make their set that much more diverse than the next guy. Being that there are so many up-and-coming Hip-Hop DJs out there trying to make a name for themselves, you really have to do something different to be remembered. I have heard stories of people going to a show and saying how they loved the DJ they saw, he had a really great style, but I for the life of me can’t remember the dudes name! That type of thing is bound to happen I suppose, but the true Hip-Hop heads will remember your name if your set was really as good as you thought it was.
The life of a DJ can be grueling at times, whether it is training for a battle competition or just trying to master a certain trick. It is definitely not for everyone, as it requires someone with great musical knowledge, and demands tip top levels of creativity which can increase and decrease based on the sounds that you hear. With the right traits in place, a good DJ can spark creativeness just by what he hears through the speakers. The more creative you get with a turntable, the more keys you pick up to be able to open the next door and unveil that next set of tricks. I pick up new tricks all the time from watching others or just experimenting, whether it be a beat juggling trick or a new scratch combo. If you want to learn about scratching and beat juggling, and the history of the DJ, I suggest picking up the movie documentary “Scratch” on DVD because it really is an informative piece displaying interviews with some of the most legendary DJs to ever walk the earth’s surface. They lay down all of the basic fundamental stuff about scratching and share their experiences starting out and how they broke through the surface to start playing shows for live audiences. Although, as far as information and tutorial videos go, you may be better off just taking the leap of faith and teaching yourself a few things up front like I did.
If you are trying to make a living as a DJ, maybe you should rethink that decision. The competition is fierce and if you let your guard down for a second you will be shoved aside like leftover spinach. You have to work your way from the bottom to the top with a determined attitude that you are going to be the next big thing to blow up the spot, and if you don’t have that gung ho mentality you won’t have a chance because of the fact that there are so many DJs playing shows at clubs or wherever, you need to always be self-promoting and doing every little thing you can to stay on top of your game. That way, when a golden opportunity comes by you’ll be ready for the chance to snatch it up and rock the crowd properly. If you go into a situation UN-prepared, where maybe you decide to put a set together last minute, a lot could go wrong in the process and you wouldn’t have nearly enough time to fix it. You might mess up your timing on cue points, or just straight up biff it because you didn’t practice enough. I’m sorry Allen Iverson but in the DJ business, practice is a key contributor to success, and an overall aspect of daily life.
If you enjoyed this bit on DJ’ing, stay tuned for “So You Think You Can DJ?: Part II” including exclusive interviews with professional DJs …