Monday, February 11, 2013

Innovator, or Sell Out: Part 2. "Switching your style"

It is a very tricky manoever to switch up your style.  As much as people claim to have diverse tastes in music, the fact is they have a preconceived idea of what they want to hear from a DJ when they see them perform.  Sometimes a DJ brands themselves with a particular sound, and when they decide to go off the grid, people may shun them.  If someone is a huge fan of a certain house DJ or Producer, and they pay $20 to hear them play some of their favorite house tunes at a show, they will more than likely be upset if the DJ starts playing all Trance.  This type-casting is what makes so many performers fearful of switching gears.  People can be so quick to alienate their favorite DJ when all the DJ wanted to do was expand their style.

Most DJs have diverse tastes in music, but chose one sound to define them.  Think of how many multi genre artists are successful compared to the success of the artists who focus on a particular style.  I guarantee the artists with extreme A.D.D. are the ones less likely to make an impact unless they are a band with 30+ years of experience under their belt.  This isn't always true though, and showing how skilled you are across multiple areas can gain you even more respect at times, but it is a fine line.  You need to make sure you are talented across the board, and very few are that brilliant.  If Stevie Wonder started rapping, I'm sure people would think he lost his mind, even though he may have been deep into hip hop for years.  Would it really be that surprising if he was a good rapper?  He shares the same craft of poetry as a rapper, yet no one would take him seriously.

I think people just assume that if you play 10 different genres, that each one is a bit watered down.  I mean, how can you possibly have great taste in 10 different genres (sarcasm).  But that is what I think people assume.  Folks want to know that you have focused all of your time and energy into one sound, and spent years to perfect it.  I feel that having a few sounds that define you is great, so when I say multi-genre, I'm usually referring to way more than a handful.  This can be especially painful if a DJ tries to stuff 8 styles into a one hour time slot.  It is too hard for people to lose themselves to the music when they are constantly jumping from sound to sound and confusing everyone.

As a DJ, it is much easier to switch up your style than a band or producer, but if you do it too frequently, most people will just brand you as a bandwagon DJ.  If your style is just all over the place and has no structure, you probably won't be able to build a solid fan base because no one will know what you will end up playing when they go out to see you.  There are some people that like the element of surprise, and the scatter brain multi-genre DJs sometimes have a decent fan base, but very rarely do they get large.

I personally started my days as a DJ spinning all sorts of music.  I played Trip Hop, Broken Beat, Acid Jazz, Downtempo Electronica, Rare Soul/Funk, Deep House and a little Top 40 when I needed the extra cash and would whore myself out.  Even though I had built some skill and a tiny fan base, I never really had any dedicated fans because not everyone has diverse tastes, even though the genres I described really aren't that far off from each other.  I could tell that some of the people that liked a certain style of mine, may not have cared much for another.

That is one of the many reasons why I decided to change my identity and focus on one sound.  It worked extremely well and I gained a dedicated fan base of people that knew they wouldn't be let down with a sound they didn't like.  Although, over time, the sound that everyone once loved by you, could easily turn into predictability and people may not be as excited to hear you play after a while.  In these cases it makes sense why people change with the times.  It is a survival tactic.  There are many people who fall off the map completely because they stay too true to their core sound.  This is not necessarily a bad thing since everyone has what they are passionate about, but getting bitter at the changing times is an uphill battle.  There are some Drum and Bass DJs I know and respect who hold on to the genre so tough and refuse to diversify.  That is perfectly fine because they are following their heart and what drives them, but if people have moved on to other sounds, but the DJ won't expand, then eventually the DJ will just be floating in the open ocean alone on a sinking life raft.  I must specify that I never think anyone should just alienate a genre they love, but opening the doors to a second or third style may breathe new life into your name.

You hear this statement all the time: "I went to see so and so last night, but all he played was blah blah blah.  What a waste of money"  That scares the crap out of performers because they can be too afraid to branch out and lose people's interest, but on the flip side you also hear people frequently say, "I went out to see so and so last night.  I never really liked him before, but he played blah blah blah, and blew me away"

That is one reason why many DJs switch up their style, but it needs to be done at the right time.  It is hard to predict when the time is right.  If you wait too long, people may see it as a desperate attempt to stay relevant in a changing market, but if you switch too soon, people may assume you are just a trend hopper.  I have no immediate answer on when to switch up, but there are two methods that I think are the best ways when you do decide.

If you plan on switching up immediately, whether completely or just introducing new styles, you need to create a new alias.  This way people will not be shocked when you start playing a new sound.  If you do not want to change your name, then you should ease people into the new style gradually over the course of a few months by sprinkling in the new sound when you play live and release tunes or mixes.  That way it won't be a complete shock to people.  You won't look like a sell out, and you can gauge your audience and see if they are responding positively to the new sound.  If you do have a few different sounds that define you, you may want to specify what style you will be playing at each event so people know what to expect.

Musicians are constantly evolving.  Sometimes a band may completely fall off the map and just be a memory or one hit wonder.  This terrifies people into staying true to the formula that made them a success, but if you stay stagnant for too long and become predictable, you may end up losing that fan base anyhow.  If you innovate at the right time, you may lose a small percentage of fans, but if the music is good, you can open yourself up to an entirely new audience.  There are many people whose popularity has sky rocketed after switching up their style.  Some for better (Pablo Picasso), and some for much worse (Black Eyed Peas), but in the long run it is all merely a matter of opinion.

I personally am in this struggle right now.  The music world I am a part of is opening up to other styles and I want to open up as well.  I do not want to alienate my core sound and audience, but I also want to dabble in some new directions.  I plan on releasing a few different mixes of completely different styles, then gauging the reaction to each sound.  That will give me a good estimate of what people are willing to accept.

Trap music is picking up quite a bit, but it's not quite the direction I want to go in.  I don't have anything against it, but it's just not me.  At least not yet.  Maybe in time I will be as inspired by it as I was with Dubstep, but for the time being I can merely bob my head to it.  I am finding other new genres that inspire me though, that are neither Trap nor Dubstep and I am anxious to share them with everyone.  I won't stop spinning Dubstep, but I am slowly working my way towards new outlets and hopefully people will move with me.

Only time tells whether or not the directions people take will lead to success or failure, but I truly feel that if you are passionate enough about something, and stay true to yourself, you will succeed.  It may take a long time, and lots of hard work and heartache, but in the long run it will pay off.  That's what happened to me when I decided to put on a mask and start playing Dubstep full time.  I lost some fans who thought I lost my marbles, but eventually gained many new admirers who respected me.

If you are just switching styles because you know what's popular, and you are merely chasing the money, I assure you people will see through it.  I have been a DJ that plays what pays (Top 40), but I hated those gigs.  Sure the money was much more prevalent than other gigs, but I still felt empty inside and left the gig feeling low, uninspired, bored, sickened, fake and bitter.  There is nothing more soul crushing than cheapening the artform you love and going against your true passion.  I understand that we all have bills to pay, but to me personally, I see music as much more than just a job.  You should be moving towards what inspires you, not merely what will get you laid and paid.

There is much more I can talk about on this subject, and I may end up repeating myself a few times, but I'll save the next rant for part 3.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ways DJs make you think they are cooler than they really are.

So many DJs, producers or promoters lie and deceive you into thinking they are God's gift to music.  Some consider it just basic marketing, but some people intentionally twist their words or over hype their image just to stand out when they don't actually have the talent to back it up.  It is unfortunate that many amazing artists get over looked because they don't like cheapening themselves or wasting money on shady promo.  I have seen countless talented musicians with little impact on the public appeal, while some tool with no talent is turning into a star, merely because one spent more time and money on publicity.  It is all part of the game to promote yourself, and eventually you will need to beef up your look in the public's eye, but don't do it before you can deliver the goods.

My dad told me something when I got my first car, that seems so obvious now, but at the time stuck in my head.  When I first got my car I was so excited to get a new stereo, new rims and a fresh paint job.  My dad chuckled and said, "Make sure it runs first".  It hadn't even occurred to me that this car was a necessity to get back and forth to work, and without a proper oil change and maintenance, it would just be breaking down on me all the time.  I felt like a dumb ass when I realized the first thing I wanted to do was look cool, before I even knew the thing could get me around safely.

One thing DJs do to make them look like they are in high demand is blast on Facebook that they are being booked in a major city across the country, or a huge festival somewhere.  This is probably a true statement technically, but the way they word it makes a world of difference.  Saying, "I'm being booked in New York", is different than saying, "I happen to be going to New York, and I asked someone to get booked on their lineup, and they said yes, even though they've never heard of me before today.  I'm not getting paid, and I'm playing the opening slot."  DJs do it all the time.  They may have even paid to get on the lineup, or at the least, paid all the expenses to make it out to the festival, including air fare and buying a ticket.  Haven't you ever wondered how some mediocre local DJ got booked on a fat lineup in some other state?

Having lot's of facebook fans is one way to cheat too.  This is not hard to get at all.  Facebook let's you add as many people as you want.  They try to limit you, but getting to 5000 fans is not hard over the course of a couple months.  If someone has 5,000 fans, but no one is liking or commenting on their statuses, you can tell it is phony.  Twitter and Soundcloud does not have a way for you to add fans, but there are services out there that you can pay for followers and track listens.  I think it comes out to $100 for 10,000 fans. It is a shady move and eventually there will be ways to track it, and you don't want to be caught when they crack down on it.  How embarrassed will you be when over night you drop from 11,000 fans to 1,000.  It already happened to major artists when youtube cracked down on record labels, and millions of fake view counts were deleted.

Having lots of professional pics is another way they make you think they are awesome.  This is one of the easiest things to do.  How hard is it to hire a photographer?  Or at least have your buddy with a nice camera take your picture on the Golden Gate Bridge?  Seriously, I don't know why we all fall for this, but it is in our nature to assume the guy with professional pics has better music than the guy whose profile pic is from their cell phone.  Do your research and actually listen to the music before you hop on the bandwagon, or skip past someone.

Long press write ups with quotes from sources you've never heard of is another method.  Next time you are reading a bio, and it says they have been mentioned in "such and such" magazine or website, look it up and see if it is a reputable source or not.

Getting a logo made and plastering it on T-shirts, stickers, or other merchandise, then getting a website to sell it all on is not a bad idea to make extra money and get your name out, but if you don't have shit to show for yourself, you are just a fake ass.

I love it when I hear DJs say, "I played with Skrillex", when all they really did was play the opening set in the side room because they handed out fliers for the promoter.  It always makes me laugh.  It is ok to say they have played at the same party, or been booked by the same promoter, but if you don't specify your role in the party, it is obvious you are just trying to pull a fast one on everyone.

Sometimes DJs won't put a track listing on their mixes because many people are too dumb to realize they are a DJ, not a producer.  Many people have come up to me after a set, saying that my production is amazing.  I tell them I'm not really a producer and I wasn't playing my own tracks in the mix.  They look at me with dead cow eyes and a befuddled look on their face when I try to explain that not all DJs are producers, and not all producers just spin their own tracks.  Many DJs try to capitalize on that very stupidity to boost their own name and fool people into thinking they are producers.  Maybe they didn't put a track listing down because they think people will assume they are all just exclusive tracks that only they could obtain, when in reality all their music can be purchased on iTunes.

Sometimes a DJ will have an agent, a manager, or a publicist when they really don't need one yet.  This is one way they can boost their fees and make you think they are in high demand.  They try to fool promoters who don't know any better.  Some try to pull that move on me, as if I am not paying attention.

Don't let any of that shit fool you either.  Sometimes you may see a producer with an insane amount of fans, but their music may be awful to you.  Trust your instincts and your musical taste, because people can buy fans these days.  Also people/fans don't want to be left out, so they may follow someone popular just to fit in, even though they may not actually like the tunes.  I myself have instinctually added a big name on soundcloud just based on the fact they have a lot of followers.  I may have never even heard their music or name, and by the time I do listen, I may think it is horse shit.

Every tactic I mentioned here is a really good way to promote yourself and get exposure.  I don't want you to think that promoting yourself professionally means that you are being fake, because it is essential to your growth.  I am merely saying that before you do so, you need to build your skill and actually have some weight behind your name before you go about it or else you will just look like an egotistical douche bag.  There are many really good artists that are just too lazy or uninformed to work on the promo and image side of things, but it is equally as important as the quality of their music.

The importance of a nice flier.

You know that saying: "You can't judge a book by it's cover"... well, no one really pays attention to that when it comes to events.  If your flier looks like shit, you are giving people a bad first impression of your event, and first impressions really do last a lifetime so to speak.  You may know a little bit about photoshop and other image editing programs, but unless you are a semi-pro, I would leave it up to the experts.  I see way too many events that just seem amateur, and although I may not trip on it too much personally, the people that don't know as much about the music scene as others may be turned away, especially if there is a similar event on the same night that looks a bit more professionally put together.

Clear and vivid imagery is essential, and the font should be something other than a Microsoft Word preset. is where many people go to get free fonts.  Your font should also stand out from the background and not just bleed into it, making it difficult to read.  I absolutely hate seeing some of the hippie fliers with a cheap stock photo of some computer generated psychedelic crap from 1994, and you can't read a thing.

It is also a bad sign if the text is too close to the edges or too close to other words.  There also shouldn't be too much info on the flier, just the most important stuff.  I know it can be expensive to get a designer, but if you have the extra $100-$200, it will be a really good investment down the line.

If you have a reoccurring event, maybe you can have the flier designer make a general flier that can just be edited week to week.  If they send you the template, all you will really need to change is the DJ lineup and the date.  This is one way to save money if you are on a budget.  Many people are starting to add QR codes to their fliers as well.  I personally think it is ugly, but it is one way to get info to people.

Local DJ over saturation.

People tend to get sick of seeing the same person over and over on local lineups.  There seems to be those same supporting DJs on every damn lineup am I right?  They may be awesome DJs, have diverse styles, and update their music libraries frequently, but eventually people will start to be less and less excited to see them play regardless of these factors.  This can even happen if a local person is a huge name but still plays more than once a month, especially if they only play their own produced tracks.  There is so much talent in the world, and especially in the major metropolis areas, that there really isn't much of a need to over saturate every event with only a handful of the same people.  You will burn people out on you.  Don't you ever wonder why trends change so fast, and some DJs change their styles so frequently?  It is because they get to a point where they are finding themselves irrelevant and snap into survival mode.  The next time you see a local DJ and reminisce about the 12 different styles they went through in the last 4 years, go to their upcoming calendar and I'll bet you they play at least once or twice every week.  Some DJs will argue that they are just changing with the times, or they are so diverse that they get bored with one sound, and to some extent that may be true, but more than likely they noticed they weren't drawing a crowd anymore, or getting bookings.

When I get asked to play shows, I try to only play 2 times a month at most, within a 50 mile radius.  When I book others to play, I factor how often they get booked which will determine if they will actually draw a crowd or not.  Sometimes a promoter will book you to play a show, then you add 4 more shows within 2 weeks of the event.  That is kind of a dick move to the promoter because they are hoping to use your name to build their numbers.

If you are only booking yourself and your friends at your own party, other DJs may start to think you are too full of yourself to share the spot light.  I also hate it when I see weekly parties that book their resident DJs in the headliner time slot.  That should be an obvious no no, so I won't even elaborate further on that.

We are in a time where you can't really blow up as a producer unless you can also perform live, and you can not blow up as a performer unless you produce music.  So unless you are a master of both, and constantly improve and diversify your sound, no one will want to see you every single week.  Not only does it spread your name thin, but it makes it seem like you are cheap and have no value.  You will burn people out on hearing you, and sometimes you can't recover once everyone is sick of you.  Spacing out your bookings will get people more excited to actually come out to see you play, even if you are just the opening DJ.