Production quality is the difference between a track that sounds hot and a track that ‘has potential’. There are so many ways a mix can sound flat and lifeless, poorly recorded or badly mixed. But if you’re someone who is failing to release your music and mixes because you’re worried they’re ‘only MP3s’ rather than WAVs, here’s some advice: get out of your own way. Here’s how you raise the quality of your productions while avoiding creative blocks.
Stagefright is a common cause of poor performance when playing live. But have you heard of studiofright? It’s when you admire your beautiful decks sitting in the corner of your room but are afraid that if you touch them, your transitions and selections won’t immediately make you sound like Richie Hawtin. Of course they wont! You probably haven’t done the 20 years of hard work required to truly own a sound yet. So if you truly want to learn to DJ well, you’d better get practicing. There’s no other way to get good than to be a beginner. Make friends with unfamiliar functions. Learn keyboard shortcuts. Listen to loads of good music. Keep your drive for DJing alive. That’s really all it takes in the long run.
Keep at it
Everyone who has succeeded has gone through the process of making loads of bad work. Sure, learning to DJ is about gathering mad hype from your promotional efforts. But in the long term, you really want to be making work that shares itself. That means being good, not just appearing to be good. So resist the urge to download the Beatport Top 20 for your next gig and start creating a unique name by creating and releasing music that you (and people like you) might want to hear.
Release lots of music
Become a music release machine. Get good at the admin side of releasing tunes. Automate as many processes as you can. Track your stats and analyze who is liking your stuff. Keep a spreadsheet and make notes of where your most reliable source of music is coming from. Use platforms like LANDR to centralize your work. Something that nobody really tells upcoming artists is that making a career in DJing is mostly about boring, behind-the-scenes work. You have to earn the right to appoint someone else to do your admin. Until you do, it’s up to you. Get good at it!
Break your rules
Artists break rules all the time. The rule that says you shouldn’t layer 50 kicks. The rule that says you need a pair of Adam A7 monitors to make techno or an MPC to make hip hop. Remember, your mind is swimming with products and images of success which have been noisily advertised in order to influence your purchasing decisions. It’s way more important to spend a few hours a day doing the task than owning all the gear. An entire era of sound was created from sampling low quality YouTube rips. Listen to Stimming or Bonobo and hear how lo-fi and basic their sound is at times. Then go and break some rules.
John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.