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Inspiring to be DJ/Producer?
September 24, 2010 4:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm inspiring to be a DJ/Music Producer. But I have no clue where to start.

I'm 17, picking my career and colleges is right around the corner. I've thought about what I do in my life for sometime. Engineering has seemed like a very realistic option. I'm part of a FRC robotics team. Engineering is great. But honestly, working on our robot in the same atmosphere as actual engineers, I couldn't see myself sitting in their chairs. Also, math doesn't exactly come easy to me. So I would have great difficulty to get into such a career.

I forgot exactly when, but I remember the idea of being a DJ/Producer just sort of slapped me in the face. I imagined myself doing live sets in front of large audiences, I imagined making songs and how much fun it would be.

I would consider myself to have a decent musical background. I took piano lessons for 8 years. Once I figured out I had a knack for writing music, I picked up composition lessons for about 1 year. But the teacher was crap and I decided to stop pissing my money away. I wrote a percussion ensemble piece for the percussionists to play at my school and various other piano songs. But I've been looking for something more.

I've become a huge fan of techno. Just about all kinds of it too. Hardstyle, club, they're all great. I've researched how DJs do their thing, but I looked specifically at Deadmau5. I've looked up what kind of programs and equipment he uses on his live sets and to make music. From listening to him talk on ustream to interviews on youtube, he uses various programs such as FL studio (for quick beats he said) Reason, Komplete, and Albeton Live. So I got most of these programs and started trying to learn how to use them. Its slow right now, but it will pick up eventually :D

My biggest reason I come here with this question is because I really don't know where to start when it comes to investing in equipment. Sure I can do everything on a computer, but obviously, its not the key to everything. I bought a Yamaha NP-V80 a few months ago because I was part of a start-up band (long story short, it all went to hell) Now with my mindset put onto music production, a Midi keyboard is a very basic piece of equipment and I would be better off suited with something else. If I was to sell of my keyboard, what should I get in its place? It would be either a synth or a controller. Right?

Also, besides just a keyboard, I've been really confused on the other equipment that DJs use and how its all wired together. I get using the soundboard to mix tracks together, but anything else beyond that, I'm not sure about at all. I came across something called a monome that seemed like a very popular thing used by a lot of DJs. I would buy a kit to put it together myself. A completed one is like 500$ >.>. But would buying such a thing be worth it?

So basically, what kind of equipment should I be looking at in investing? I'm only 17. I have a job. I can probably sell my NP-V80 for 350$ or so. I got about 400$ in the bank. But I really don't want to become broke. Use your best Judgment to decide how much I should spend. I tend to lean more to buying the better thing that will last longer. Just fyi.

In the end, I would love to make it big and go on tours playing my music to people around the world. I would truly be happy if that was the way I lived my life. :P I'm still looking at a fall back career though, obviously, you never go all in when you enter the entertainment biz. I know its going to suck to get started, probably be years before any large amount of people even know who I am, but patience is a virtue.

So yea, sorry that I scatter my questions and thoughts out everywhere, but getting everything out seems important. :D

Any other advice would be useful. Thanks :D
posted by NotSoSiniSter to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
But would buying such a thing be worth it?

A Monome/Arduinome is a glorified (albeit beautiful) equivalent of a MIDI pad controller. Seriously, unless you want the really pretty box (which isn't a bad thing), just buy an MPD16 or the like. The MPD16 is less hassle to set up and less likely to break on you. The Monome needs an OSC-to-MIDI bridge and is perhaps not so great to bring outside the studio.

If you want to do scratching or get similar sorts of effects, you might look into Scratch Live or Traktor Scratch Pro, with a couple cheap decks (turntables).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:10 PM on September 24, 2010


Oh, and the MPD16 is a lot less expensive than a Monome. You can then focus your dollars on other gear.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:11 PM on September 24, 2010


I'm a little confused about the nature of your question. Are you asking a technical question, "what's a good starter toolkit for someone who is interested in being a techno DJ in clubs?" or are you asking a life question, "what should I do now, in terms of like college and training and that sort of thing, to get on the path towards becoming a DJ?"

I don't know much about what kind of stuff you need to become a DJ, but I was once on a similar path regarding a desire to work in the entertainment industry. So I'm going to address that.

If you think you might want to be a DJ, but you aren't already doing it and aren't 100% sure about it, you should go to a regular university that has good music programs - probably more focused towards the music industry and technical stuff. That way if you decide that you don't really specifically want to be a DJ, but you do want to be a recording engineer, or a teacher, or a psychologist, or whatever, you won't have to change schools. It also means that you'll get a good general university education regardless of what you choose to study.

When I was 17, I was pretty sure I wanted to be an actor. So I went to a university which specializes in performing arts. A few months in, I realized that I didn't really want to be an actor. I probably could have stayed there and moved programs, but for a lot of reasons I ended up transferring, dramatically changing majors, and starting over almost from square one.

More than a decade later, where am I? Working in film and TV. Back then, I had no idea the job I do now existed. Every day I kick myself a little for being so sure of myself at 17. There was a place for me out in the big scary/glamorous entertainment industry, but it wasn't something I could visualize clearly at that time. Which is fine, and as it should be. But you should take that into account before you pigeonhole yourself into a specific path.
posted by Sara C. at 6:35 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Something I've gotten a lot of use out of, and it's very versatile: the Korg EMX-1. It's basically a drum machine and synthesizer in one box, that can make a variety of sounds. It's brother, the ESX, has the same features but has a sampler instead of a synthesizer. You can use it in production, or as a part of your DJ set. And it's midi-enabled, so you could hook your keyboard up to it and play notes. They cost around $400-$300 bucks. You can make just about any style of music with it.
posted by hellojed at 6:44 PM on September 24, 2010


on the technical question: approx. 100% of the DJs I know are using Tracktor Scratch

on the life question: I've known many people in my life, in many different professions. I know for that many people, the attraction of the entertainment business is the seemingly social aspects of it, however, ime it's the professional musicians that are by far, the hardest working I know. They have, ironically, zero social life because their craft takes up all of their time. It's extremely competitive and if you blink, there's another person waiting to pick up the slack. I've never heard of a musician getting a second chance after blowing a gig.

I'm not saying this to discourage you, just know what (again, ime) you're in for. It is NOT a party where everybody is having fun and you get to have the most fun b/c your spinning tunes. It's a grind like no other I've ever seen or experienced. If you're up for handing you life completely and totally over to your job then you should go for it, full throttle, while you're young. But there is no balance there, it's all pretty banal and disciplined work that only a few people have the kind of fortitude for.
posted by victors at 6:51 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


You sound kind of like someone who has decided to be a professional chef, and now you're off to the store and need help making a shopping list -- Do you have a recipe? Or even know what type of cuisine you want to make? You: "No, not really, but I can really picture myself as a chef!" Do you want to be a DJ? Or a producer? Or do live performances? Because those are all different things.

Quite a few producers are gear addicts, and they end up with a lot of credit card debt. I know some people who've literally had to declare bankruptcy - don't do that. There's a lot of really expensive equipment available, and you don't really need any of it, you can make great tracks with the basics. Dropping a few hundred dollars on something new and shiny doesn't teach you anything and doesn't make you more creative, and the truth is you already have more equipment than you can even handle right now. If you have Ableton, Fruity Loops, Komplete and Reason (all paid for, right?), you're years away from exhausting their sonic possibilities. Why not focus on learning what you have before buying new stuff?
posted by AlsoMike at 7:31 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


First, so that I've said it up front and you don't miss it: Go to the best college you can get into and afford and study something useful. Audio Engineering or a similar major is great. If the school you go to has a program in it, do that. There are way more careers in music than anyone realizes. The happiest musicians I know are the ones who are not the big star on the stage.

Second, listen to Blazecock Pileon, who is right.

Third, if he doesn't chime in here, maybe send a MeFiMail to empath, who is a trance DJ and knows a lot about what you're asking about.

Fourth, feel free to drop me a line, as well. I'm not a DJ. But I am a producer and writer with a very functional home studio and I occasionally write songs with and play on tracks for a world-class DJ of the magnitude and popularity that you're aspiring to. I'm not an expert, but I work with one and I can tell you about what I've seen and worked with.

Fifth, there are basically (and I'm really simplifying it here) three completely separate aspects to being a do-it-all producer/DJ:

1) Learn to DJ - working the room, communicating with the crowd through music, mastering the genre and the stuff you play, etc.;
2) Become a great musician and songwriter - away from the decks and the synths;
3) Master the recording studio.

These are three completely different tasks, and there are very few people who have mastered one or two of them, let alone all three. And then you have to be charismatic, work well with people, be your own promoter, and make good business decisions. Remember: College, college, college.

I'm not the DJ, so I cannot speak to what you need for the first of those three things. I'll let others here do that. But rest assured that it will change drastically over the next 5 years, and again over the 5 after that. It's a music education and a business education that you really need (college, college, college). Technical knowledge is what you build on top of that.

So, on to the production and composition side of things. First, none of the tools will do you any good unless you become a great musician and songwriter. The techno and house guys I work with are the best songwriters I've ever known and they came from a music theory background and have been serious classical and jazz musicians before doing electronic music. Melody, song structure, key modulations, etc. are in their repertoire and they are absolute masters of it. And that's what separates the huge DJs from the rest: Musicianship and mastery of composition and arranging.

Second, there are several different tools that people use to make the kind of music you're interested in. So, before I tell you what I, personally, would recommend (and someone will rightfully disagree with me in this thread because everyone has their own approach), let me set the scene for you: I have spent a ton of time producing and recording in the primary studio of a DJ that I guarantee you know well and that you probably like. Its entire interface consists of a huge monitor, a wireless keyboard and wireless mouse on a desk for the Pro Tools system on the Mac, and the best studio monitors you're ever heard. That's it. No keyboard, no MPC, no Monome or even a Midi controller. Nothing but a mouse, a keyboard, a big screen and speakers.

For writing and creating original techno music, you already have everything you need. Don't buy anything else. Save money for college. I repeat: Don't buy anything else. Eventually, you'll want to get into either a Pro Tools rig or a Logic rig. But that gets really expensive, with synth plug-ins, effects, mastering, etc. I'm putting together a new studio system this weekend and it's unbelievably expensive. You have enough already. I repeat: You have enough already.

I could write about this all night, but I'm going to stop myself here.

Send me a MeFiMail and I can tell you more.

One last thing: Take care of your hearing and your body. The huge techno producers are in their mid-30s to 40s. If they went deaf before then, they wouldn't have made it. It's a long haul, so make sure you keep your body healthy, your head clear, and your ears working right.
posted by The World Famous at 7:35 PM on September 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


wow thanks for all the tips. :D My outlook on such a career has change quite a bit. So the basic vibe im getting is don't invest in anything hardware wise and focus on just being good at writing music. Also, having the strong musical theory background jumped out at me. Looks like I'm taking music theory at my highschool next year. :D
posted by NotSoSiniSter at 8:17 PM on September 24, 2010


College = DJ? While I'm not really convinced that there is a direct co=relation, a few carefree years of student-loan lifestyle is useful for art-research.
posted by ovvl at 8:46 PM on September 24, 2010


If you do decide to do college, you could major in business or music to get a background for your dream, and pick a college with a great college radio station. West Virginia Univerisity (holla) has an AMAZING student run alternative radio station that has won many awards. One of my big regrets is that I didn't DJ there. Most college stations run on student volunteers and don't require experience to get on the air, but they will train you. I know it's different than the live party DJ, but you would still pick up some skills. Awesome, like-minded people are also likely to be at the station.
posted by shortyJBot at 5:21 AM on September 25, 2010


Like The World Famous above I could go on all night so I'll try and keep this short. [On preview - Too late...]

Firstly, being a DJ and/or producer isn't a realistic long term career path - unless you're the top of the top, at best it'll be a hobby that will hopefully pay for itself over time. So you really need to focus on a day job alongside music. And it works better this way anyway, because if you have to rely on music DJing and/or production to pay your mortgage then you're less likely to take the kind of musical risks that you might like, and ultimately it's just not as fun.

OK, so that aside, where to start? Well, the best way to learn about what music works on the dancefloor is to be a DJ, so I'd concentrate on that first and move into production later. The more you listen to (and play out), the more you'll know about composing.

In terms of what it takes to be a good DJ, the most important thing is to love music, and spend a lot of time listening to a lot of it, and ultimately collect a lot of it. You've got to be on the ball in terms of not just what's in fashion this week, but what people will like next week. You've got to build up a collection of tracks that you know inside out, knowing what tracks work with what, which to drop in a set when, and how to create a whole mix out of them. You can't get this right in your bedroom studio - you have to try it out in front of a crowd, on a big sound system, to get it right. Tunes that sound great at home might sound awful out, and tunes that sound boring or repetitive at home may rock the dancefloor in ways that you wouldn't have imagined. If you already like clubbing, and dancing, and sticking your hands in the lasers, well, you've taken the most important steps to understanding what works in terms of dance music sounds.

In regards to equipment, it's really important not to geek out too much on technology. DJing and producing are about music, not gadgets. Use the minimum you can get away with. So in terms of DJing, traditionally that's been two Technics 1200s, a mixer, and a box of records. These days people tend to use either CDs or control vinyl linked to a laptop with MP3s (although there are still genres that put a lot of vinyl out). Personally, as much as I love the feel of vinyl, I'd recommend starting with CDs (using two CDJs and a mixer). The reason being that much like having a box records, having a limited number of slots in your CD wallet means you have to concentrate on building your collection of tunes, refining which are in and which are out, something that doesn't happen on a laptop with unlimited space for MP3s. As mentioned, building and maintaining your collection is a vital part of DJing.

Moving onto production, there's really no reason to spend a lot (or any) cash on kit. Grab a copy of Cubase or Logic, a midi controller keyboard (and perhaps another midi controller with knobs or the like), and go download some of the freeware VST virtual instruments and effects to use. There are some truly awesome freeware VSTs out there, and it should be more than enough to get you started.

I'm a professional (ish) promoter and DJ so anyone reading this thread feel free to message me if you want to talk about anything in more detail :)
posted by iivix at 2:05 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Late to the party, but I own a DJ company that represents 15 DJs, all of whom are making good money doing high-end events -- a different career track than clubs for sure, but potentially lucrative as well. Feel free to memail me if you want to chat.
posted by justonegirl at 6:34 PM on September 25, 2010


I'm a DJ (well, more like I used to be at this point). I've played gigs opening for some of the biggest DJs in the world (Tiesto, Paul Van Dyk, Crystal Method, etc). I've met a bunch of DJs and producers, I know a bunch of promoters and agents, I've booked headliner DJs for a party I promoted, and I was involved one of the biggest weekly parties in the country for a few years, so I know what I'm talking about.

Being a techno DJ is not a career. Don't get into it planning on doing it as a career. The vast majority of local techno DJs do it for free or for very little money. You will almost definitely not become a professional techno DJ if that is what you set out to do.

Also, the reality is that you are going to be dealing with a lot of organized crime, alcoholics, drug dealers, drug addicts and general sleaze balls. Club owners are rip off artists, promoters are disorganized and shady, etc. Getting involved as a DJ can be rewarding when you play a successful party and everything goes well, but man when you first start it's just a lot of hard work for almost no pay off. I did get to play for 3,000 people who loved everything I played and were screaming and yelling once, but man there were hundreds of shitty gigs playing for disinterested assholes that I didn't get paid for that led up to that.

I'm not saying don't do it. I'm saying keep it as a hobby, and be realistic.

However, you can be a producer without going through any of that shit, and its a shortcut to skip past the local DJ scene and go straight to the big time. Also, if you know how to produce, there are plenty of tools (notably ableton) that are basically a shortcut to DJing, so you won't need to learn how to beatmatch or scratch to get gigs if you have a couple of big remixes out.

It will probably take you 8-10 years to get good enough to have make a successful dance record. This is why most 'big name' producers are in their 30s and 40s. It takes that long to figure everything out.

You're 17 and you have music training, which puts you ahead of 90% of the beginning music producers out there, so you have a head start. If you can get some quality records out by the time you're 25 or so, you'll have a good shot at actually being a headliner, but you have to not give up when you're doing it for 2 or 3 years and your stuff still isn't good enough. I'm not exaggerating, I have friends that spent 5 or 6 years failing before they made anything good at all and started selling songs.

As soon as you turn 18, you NEED to start going to clubs, because I don't think you can understand the music on a deep level until you actually dance to it at a club with a room full of people. You don't need to go every week, and you don't need to drink or do drugs to understand it, no matter what anyone tells you (and lots of people will tell you that you do).

Don't hyper-focus on one subgenre. Go to see dubstep shows, hip-hop, drum and bass, trance, house, all of it.

Join the messageboards or facebook groups for every club that you go to. Send emails to local DJs and producers that you like. Make friends with them. Believe me, they all love to hear from people who like their stuff and most DJs will talk endlessly about the stuff they like and what they do and why. Try to find a local DJ or two or three that will reliably play your songs and give you feedback on them. And if you can write melodies and understand harmony and chords, you will be way ahead of 90% of local producers, and a lot of them will want to work with you. Believe it or not, many of them write by trial and error and don't have any clue about music theory, chords, etc, having someone who can take all their awesome synth patches and make a decent pop hook out of them is like striking gold.

If you focus on going to one club or party, it's not hard to get to know the promoters, which will let you make contact with big name DJs when they bring in headliners. Don't harass them to listen to your stuff, but it doesn't hurt to be a face or a name they recognize for when you do have something worth listening to, but don't waste big name DJs time listening to your stuff until you start getting positive feedback from local DJs.

As far as equipment -- Get a laptop with Ableton. Optionally, get an APC 40 controller and a midi keyboard. That's all you need. Everyone uses it, it's relatively simple to use and you can use it for both production and DJing. Beyond that, once you start meeting local producers, find out what they use and ask them to show you how to use it.

Once you get ableton, get a local DJ that uses it to show you how. You can pick up the basics in a few hours. Then start harassing your friends to let you play at house parties. They will mostly hate your music but that's fine, you'll still learn a lot. You'll find out what songs they like. Start downloading them and have them ready to play. Eventually they'll stop hating you and you'll have enough stuff to play at non-techno gigs, when you get offered. Knowing how to play a good techno set is important, but knowing how to play every genre of music is key to actually getting a lot of gigs and making you better with crowds, etc.

FWIW, I don't know any producers who actually went to college for it. Taking a few audio classes can be useful for a variety of things, but I wouldn't get a degree in it. Almost none of the professional producers I know have a degree in it. If you want something practical, that you can apply to a DJing career, then go with either Marketing/PR/Business (I know a lot of mediocre musicians who made careers out of it entirely because they know how to market themselves well), or Comp-Sci/Electrical Engineering, if you really want to get deep into programming synths, etc it can be useful, and obviously there are a lot of jobs out there if the DJ thing doesn't work out.

Sorry, that was a bit of a ramble:

tl;dr -- Techno DJing is not a great career, but if you want to get involved: Start going to a lot of clubs, try to avoid hanging around with sleazeballs and drug addicts (which is harder than it sounds), and get to know local producers and djs, (which is easier than it sounds).

If you have questions, feel free to memail me.
posted by empath at 11:49 AM on September 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


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