Back in the ‘70s, I had a button that read, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” That sprang to mind recently when I was viewing some online discussion boards. As much as I write in this newsletter, in Mobile Beat and other publications, I seldom post. But I always read! As always happens, reading generates more questions for me than answers most of the time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of how far our industry has come since I started my DJ service at the local apartment co-op community hall where I lived back in the day! We’ve got not one, but TWO national DJ associations; we’ve got several major publications; we’ve got several top-notch expos and conferences to attend every year… and overall, our level of service has grown by leaps and bounds. Yet one thing is very apparent to anyone paying attention: leaders are few, followers are many.
You can’t buy talent. You CAN cultivate it!
We’re incredibly lucky to have a lot of luminaries in our industry whose knowledge we can benefit from. (I like to think of myself among them.) Yet this leads to an understandable, yet disturbing trend: these industry leaders package what they’ve developed into a product. A product that they sell you.
Now again, don’t get me wrong: often these techniques are hard-won, and took a lot of R&D, tweaking, blood, sweat, and tears to create! No doubt that whatever they’re earning, their product might be totally undervalued! The point is that when we get an entire community of people taking the same seminars, discussing the same techniques and practicing the same presentations, we get… well… a lot of “the same.” In an effort to grow, we’re churning out a homogenous DJ-bots that, to the consumer, are fairly indistinguishable from one another. Sure, all of this training makes them better at our job, but once you’ve got it down, then what? Why should a client pick one over the other?
DJ Psych 101: The brain as an idea generator…
In his famous (or infamous) research on human behavior, psychologist Dr. B.F. Skinnerlikened human beings to passengers on a train; that all that we do and think are products of conditioning and that we don’t actually produce anything original. Indeed, our own apathy and “path of least resistance” tendencies would make this a mostly true statement if it weren’t for one problematic question: if so, then what is our brain actually for?
I, for one, have always thought of the human brain as an idea generator. Sure, those ideas may be rooted in our own environment, culture, and situation, but that doesn’t mean we don’t innovate! In fact, every solution to every problem was thought up by a human being. Being able to record data saves us all a whole lot of time and trouble; we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time we run across a problem. We can crack open a book, check an online database, take a class or Google for those answers. We truly do “stand on the shoulders of giants”!
Yet in science, doctoral would-be’s need to come up with a thesis; a brand-new contribution to their field that is theirs alone. And they must defend it under a process of peer-review. In short, they learn a proverbial mountain of data, and then must add TO that mountain by creating or discovering something previously unheard of!
You be you, I’ll be me
What does this have to do with DJing, you may ask? Well, in short, it should be your “elevator speech.” What sets you apart that I can’t also hear in the elevator speech of any top-notch DJ? After all, Mark Ferrell didn’t get his “Love Story” presentation techniques at a seminar. Randy Bartlettdidn’t dream up his “1% Solution” idea at a DJ show. And Scott Faver didn’t come up with his unique games by copying what he saw in a class! While these guys certainly sat in a good many seminars and discussions like we all do and grew from them as a result, they all added that extra something; that original idea that nobody before them had put out there before.
DJs often remind me of bands; there’s a ton of them doing covers, playing the bars and working the small gigs night after night. Many are outstanding musicians! But there’s only one Maroon 5. There’s only one Rolling Stones. You say their names and instantly know what makes them different. Heck, they even play covers! Yet mostly, they do originals. They ARE originals. They’re innovators, bringing something new to the table.
So this is what I’m encouraging you, my DJ colleagues, to do! Not only stepping up your game by learning from other pros but by reaching way down into that creative idea generator in your head and pulling out something altogether unheard of that can set you apart. What might that be? I can’t tell you – that’s all about you and your show—but I can tell you what works for me: asking myself questions (usually at a gig or as a party guest):
“What could the DJ do right now that would blow my mind”?
“What did I come here for”?
“What would make this a better experience for me”?
“How does this compare to the most fun thing I’ve ever done”?
I’m sure you can think of a lot of your own questions as well. And answers! THAT is where the true gold lies. And, hey, if you hit on the right idea, maybe one day you’ll be on-stage in Las Vegas or elsewhere sharing your innovation as an “industry leader” yourself! Until next time, safe (and innovative) spinnin’!