In March 2020, when the whole country went into lockdown, the hope was that we would return to work by the autumn. However, as we approach Christmas (at the time of writing), we are all now hoping for a return in the spring this year, a full year on from where we started.
One of the biggest challenges over 2020, apart from the lack of money of course, has been staying optimistic about the future. Like so many, with my focus on all things Covid-19, as well as my inability to work as a wedding DJ, I found my mental wellbeing was affected, especially with so much noise, mostly negative in tone, on the news and social media. For someone who thinks of himself as a person with a positive outlook, this was a strange place to be. I really found myself wobbling; knowing that I couldn’t DJ, at least for the foreseeable future, made it hard to stay motivated.
This got me thinking about why I started DJing in the first place. There are a number of reasons why anyone would want to do our job: for some it’s a case of meeting girls, often it’s just a chance to earn some extra money, but for a great many more of us, it’s always been the music!
I started to consider how I could reconnect with my passion for music. It goes without saying that I love music, not a day goes by without it in my life. But what I needed was to find a way to be really excited by the music once again; to be re-energised by digging deep and finding forgotten classics, as well as exploring all the new music coming out, which for the time being I would not have the opportunity to play to an audience.
It occurred to me that back in the 80s I had a lot of fun creating mixtapes. Maybe this could be the perfect way to rediscover my passion for music! The mixtape has transitioned over the years from our bedroom recordings on cassette tapes, through to CDs, and now into its modern form of digital playlists. Whatever the format, the principle remains the same: mixtapes are about being creative with compilations of music, either for personal use or for sharing with friends.
As DJs, it can sometimes be easier to find ourselves focusing on the safe tunes that consistently work, whilst discounting those that aren’t predictable floor fillers. Our profession makes it so easy to get stuck into the groove of listening only to music that we’re likely to play to a crowd; if a song doesn’t work for our events, we’re less inclined to listen to it in our own time, no matter how much we love it.
The downside is that there is a whole world of music that we start to tune out, even when we’re not working. For instance, over many years working as a specialist wedding DJ, I have found myself subliminally tuning out songs that feature a negative love message. So many classic Motown songs are about breakups, and, even as a wedding DJ, I don’t get to play many slow jams.
With the onset of lockdown, I had a chance to explore music for my own enjoyment again, and I took the opportunity to research the world of online playlists and crates.
My research led me to a number of places – chiefly, the DJ Vault, an online mobile DJ education resource and community that I subscribed to. Coincidently, they were partnering with Crate Hackers, another newly launched resource. DJ Vault is full of great educational content for mobile DJs, from performance through to running a successful business, whilst Crate Hackers focuses on music, with lists created by highly successful DJs.
Both are subscription and member-only communities. I did wonder if it would be sensible to invest in creating lists, as ultimately it could be some time before I get to use this research, with seemingly no end to restrictions in sight. Additionally, I was concerned that the content was largely US-centric. But I was prepared to look far and wide for inspiration and wanted to keep an open mind, taking in different perspectives when it came to programming music. Joining for a month or two would at least enable me to make an informed decision on whether to keep subscribing.
Crates and Lists
Usually, when selecting music for gigs, the best approach is to create a ‘crate’ within my DJ software, based on specific features such as genre, BPM or even occasion. The difference when creating a playlist is that you want it to be easy to share and accessible in everyday circumstances, which means your DJ software is not the best place to host the list. Instead, my research led me to consider creating lists on Spotify.
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 105, Pages 44-47.