Practice Your Craft to Become Good at It

Practice Makes Perfect

By Dave Austin, “Music Professor”

I heard an interesting story a few days ago about the famous artist, Pablo Picasso. Picasso was approached by an admirer who proffered a piece of paper and asked him to do a drawing for her. With a smile, the master quickly drew a small piece of art and handed the paper back to the fan and said, “That will be one million dollars.”

“But, it only took you thirty seconds to draw this little masterpiece.”

Picasso quickly responded, “It took me thirty years to draw that masterpiece in thirty seconds.”

Picasso, like many brilliant and creative people, worked for decades to master his craft. Even those who have prodigious talent most often don’t create masterful works until decades into their careers.

A study tracked the ages of Nobel Prize winners, great inventors, scientists, etc. and revealed that most of their notable works peaked during their late thirties – at least a full decade into their chosen careers. It seems to be a given that creativity peaks after ten or more years of work.  As an example, of 500 famous musical compositions, nearly all came after ten years or more into the composer’s careers.

Now, we’re not scientists or mathematicians, but like them, we DJs are neither born with or without creativity. It is something we discover, hone and develop by means of hard work.  How can you and I discover our personal creativity and begin to do our best work?

If I may be permitted a personal example: A few weeks ago I had a wedding in which the bride had completely changed the order of events for the reception and replaced some of them with her and her fiancé’s own unique wishes. I’ve been DJing for more than 25 years, but I must admit, this reception had me sweating.

Along with the bride’s input, I created personalized introductions and music for each member of the wedding party as well as the bride and groom. The bouquet toss was pretty standard, but for the garter toss, the groom had come up with something very special which he would not reveal to anyone – including me. The only information I had was the song he wanted played for the garter toss, and like everyone else, I was in the dark as to what was going to happen. As it turned out, he created a one-off “Indiana Jones” scenario leading up to the toss, and in so doing, pulled off a unique and entertaining event which brought laughter and cheers from everyone in attendance.

As the result of my near-obsession for having mistake-free events, a severe case of nerves and hours of preparation and practice, and after doing hundreds of weddings, I now rank this as one of my best ever!

I tell you this story because we all have a tendency to think that highly successful people show up in the morning, sit down at their desks and begin creating masterpieces at warp speed. Not!  First, there is a seed of an idea, and we begin to turn it over and over in our minds, finally putting our hands on it working out the kinks, correcting, eliminating, replacing and sometimes completely starting from scratch again. In truth, creating something wonderful is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack.  You have to go through a lot of straw and chaff before finding that shining sliver for which you’ve been searching.

“Inspiration is for amateurs.  The rest of us just show up and get to work,”  advises artist Chuck Close

Practicing your craft is the only way to become good at it. The DJ who sits around theorizing about what a great event looks like will probably never create one.  However, the DJ who practices his craft every day is learning how to do the job.

If you really want to do your best creative work, you can’t wake up in the morning and hope that you’ll feel inspired today. Set a schedule for your work, have regular work hours – even if you’re a part-time DJ.  True creativity surfaces when you practice it enough times to get those average ideas out of your way. Also, finish it.  None of the greats in our industry became great by shortcutting or skirting around the necessary work.

Stop dithering about what you should make and just make something. As you do, the ideas will begin to flow and that is the beginning of creativity.

Working DJs create on a consistent basis and, naturally, judge their own work. Some of us may experience disappointment when an event didn’t go as we’d hoped, or that we’re not getting better at our craft. Don’t become so critical of yourself that you can’t shrug off your mistakes and continue to create the thing you love.

I’ve met DJs who are super-secretive about their work and this leads me to ask, if you don’t share your work publicly, how will you ever receive any feedback to help you get better? I attended a wedding reception once and took an opportunity to approach the DJ and attempt a conversation with him. He bluntly told me he didn’t want to talk with me because he didn’t want anyone “stealing his secrets.”As it turned out, this guy didn’t have any secrets that I could discern and left the bride and groom and their families rather disappointed with his performance. There’s no greater feeling that seeing others connect with your creations and either give you reinforcement or offer helpful criticism.

Yes, sharing has disadvantages, too. There will always be critics and those who envy your creations. The DJ industry desperately needs creative and innovative people and you may be that very kind of person. But, you’ll never know unless you share.

Finding your creative genius is easy: do the work, finish what you start, get feedback, find ways to innovate and get better, show up and then do it all over again tomorrow.  Repeat for ten years, or twenty, or thirty.



  • Dave Austin began his career at age 13 at a small, hometown radio station. He went on to graduate from the University of Southern Mississippi with a Bachelor’s degree in broadcasting. Since that time, Dave has been a mobile and radio DJ, radio station Program Director, and a TV news reporter and anchorman. He has also done voiceover work for documentaries and commercials. In 1986 Dave’s longtime passion for music prompted him to start “Southern Celebrations DJs,” a multi-system mobile entertainment company serving clients in Tennessee, Northern Georgia and Northern Alabama. You can email him c/o

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