Posted on 22 December 2010.
On Wednesdays JucyAfrica looks at careers and gives advice from people in a particular field and how to succeed in that field. This week, Cape Town based Dj Odwa Noah gives aspiring D’s tips on how to start a career as a DJ.
Firstly, it is helpful to note that there are various types of DJ’s. You need to make a clear decision as to what type of DJ you intend on becoming. As with various careers, there are different branches within a field, that allows those professionals to find a niche’ to operate under, within that field. An example of this in the DJ world would be examples of DJ’s that are found in the real world: Radio, Club, Mobile & Bedroom DJ’s. All of these perform different functions in their intended scenarios. This article will be a “blanket approach” to try & cover the most basic aspects that are “uniform” across the various styles of DJ’ing.
Like with most careers out there, one has to have some form of passion for whatever you are doing. Often, this can be the deciding factor on your success or your failure and whether you have a future in this field. Being a DJ (in any form) is not exempt from this very vital characteristic. It is definitely a compulsory attribute for an individual to possess. For without passion, what is the point of doing anything if you are not passionate about it?
A friend shared this quote: “If a painter keeps painting the same painting, who will want to keep buying his works?” This quote emphasises a key factor to what it takes to be a DJ. Being a DJ is an Art. Thus, a DJ is an Artist. However, Artistry within the DJ world is a skill that has, over the years, been on the brink of extinction. This may be due to the fact that Artistry is one of the most demanding & time consuming aspects of becoming a (good) DJ. Since we have heard talk of the “instant gratification generation”, many young people pursuing the DJ career path, would rather find shortcuts to reaching what they perceive to be a destination which makes them a DJ. Having an in depth knowledge of the DJ field, the history of being a DJ, various DJ techniques, DJ equipment, the latest trends & most importantly musical taste, is all related to Artistry. A holistic “general knowledge” of the above, is crucial to becoming a DJ.
To not explore all corners of the musical universe is a disadvantage for a DJ. You can decide to focus on your genre of choice & call it a day. However, even the most successful musicians in any genre, will draw inspiration from genres outside their field of expertise / interest. Added to this knowledge of music, is having a keen ear for music. You have to develop the ability to identify music that works for whatever type of DJ style you choose. This is a skill that is only acquired through a very expensive & time consuming process which is: listening to & buying music. Any DJ should be buying a vast amount of music on a regular basis (depending on the genre of choice). This should always be done legally (via online stores or local CD stores) & not via the illegal “sharing” of music. A DJ without his own, proudly bought music collection is like a Formula 1 racing driver with no race car (or who drives a stolen car). This musical collection is what a DJ needs to formulate a unique taste & style that can one day become a foundation for a personal signature.
Being in the public eye is one of the “perks” of being a DJ. If you are lucky enough to excel and become popular one day, you will receive a vast amount of attention from supporters & critics alike. All the attention comes with both positive and negative spin-offs, which calls for a certain type of character from the person on the receiving end. It has been proven time & time again, via many successful local and international artists, that humility, respect towards others, a good work ethic, a strong will and an open approachable character, will work in your favour as a performing artist. This is no different for a DJ. However due to the advent and accessibility of the internet & social media, there has been an increase of ill-placed “self hype”, where aspirant DJ’s are already proclaiming “greatness” at the very onset, without having even broken ground in their pending careers. The inverse is also applicable. Where you find an individual that puts in the work, has all the right characteristics of becoming truly great, gets the lucky break and then falls into the trap of forgetting where they started out, which is followed by the ever popular change in personality (usually for the worse). The key is staying true to yourself and what your goals are, without a compromise to yourself. Sounds very cliché, but the bottom line is you taking full responsibility for any decisions you make while chasing your dreams.
The most common mistake made by promoters, night clubs, organisations, consumers etc., is not recognising that being a DJ is a legitimate business like any other. This surely occurs as a by-product of the DJ not recognising & practicing this to begin with. The business side to being a DJ is like running any other service orientated business, which operates around the “supply & demand” principle. Coupled with it being a business, you cannot embark on the journey without a clear draft of what direction you are taking. So you’ll need a Business Plan. Having a business plan allows you to easily recognise if you are making the right decisions or not, because you have to answer questions you may have not thought of asking yourself. This process hopefully leads to a realisation of whether your aspirations are self-sustainable or not, as a business. Without a glimmer of longevity in a business, all attempts at becoming a DJ (or anything else for that matter) may prove futile, very quickly.
There are now two paths you can follow at this point, as opposed to 5-10 years ago, where there was only one path.
Path A – Get started on your own by visiting various web sites that have information on what are the basic requirements for a DJ set-up (apart from buying music), which are needed to be able to acquire & hone your skills. This is the traditional approach, which can (if you are lucky) also include some form of mentor that is already an experienced DJ, who can give guidance and tips on the “Do’s & Don’ts” of being a DJ. Many hours are spent doing this and there is no time frame which you are operating within, or guaranteed results.
Path B –Due to the boom in the DJ industry, there have been DJ Schools popping up everywhere around the country and world. Some of these schools offering legitimate courses that form a good foundation for the novice, so they can go and expand on things on their own. Unfortunately, there have also been a large amount of “fly by night” schools, which prey on the hopes & dreams of aspirant DJ’s, without giving them anything of value & asking for exorbitant prices for “training” in return.
Both paths are valid, as they have both produced some excellent results, but “Path A”, I firmly believe, is the best way to become a DJ, as you are completely self reliant and all the results of your efforts depend solely on what you put into it. This is also a good way of learning the ropes, since you will be left to fend for yourself at the end of the day anyway.
One thing is certain. A piece of paper that says you attended a DJ Course does not make you a DJ. Owning all the best equipment, the latest Top 10 singles & being “buddies” with all the popular DJ’s also does not make you a DJ.
However, achieving a fine balance of the above mentioned basics, including a lot of hard work and focus, will definitely set you on the right track on achieving whatever goals you set out for yourself. But never stop asking questions & looking for answers when none are at hand. There is a wealth of information available out there. Pretending to know everything is not really going to help you.
So there you have it. Choose wisely. All the best in your musical endeavours!
Odwa Noah is an architects and an awesome DJ. His first compilation Rising Sons Vol 1, a soulful house CD owhich will be available at Look and Listen in January. You can follow him on Twitter here