Keeping up with what’s hip is a big part of being a DJ. The crowd wants to hear what they know. While there is room for experimentation at some types of events, DJing is primarily about combining music that’s in vogue with music that you think should be. Tricks like harmonizing your tracks, EQ sculpting and creative crossfading are the icing on the cake, but you really should be thinking more about what music you’re playing than anything else. Here’s how to get the crowd going by changing your vibe from wannabe to ‘with it’.

Keep an eye on the charts

Make regular visits to your music providers of choice. Generally speaking, by the time the music has hit the charts, its time is up. In the past, songs stayed in the charts longer. These days, a hit song’s shelf-life is a week or two. An upcoming DJ helps songs to become popular by hearing what’s being played at hip events and by choosing their next track with ultimate discernment. If you’re in a pinch and need a crowd-pleasing set, head over to Beatport and download the Top 20. If you’re out to make a name as someone with a bit of a refined taste, dig deeper.

Stay in comms

You’ll definitely want to be on a few of your favorite labels’ mailing lists. Labels survive by the power of their reputation alone. That means that when they send out an email, the tracks they choose to push have to be the hottest and most newly available stuff they can find. Trust in this process by finding and following labels which reflect your tastes. The smaller the label, the higher the risk and rewards can be if you stumble on a real hit. The bigger the label, the more you’ll hear everyone else playing the song. Sign up to the artists’ mailing lists too. You’ll want to know when your favorite artist puts out something new. Often it’s under the radar.

Look elsewhere

There are plenty of DJs in the industry looking for a shortcut to success. If that means playing whatever comes up when you Google ‘best dance music this year’, it shall unfortunately be done. But as someone learning the art of DJing, you’ll need to find your own style. That means finding your own music. Enter the sub-culture of crate digging. This doesn’t mean you have to be a vinyl DJ and literally source old records from small retailers. It means looking for music where you might not typically find it. Your parents friends’ houses. Public domain music websites like The private Soundcloud of someone you know. And remember: just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s bad. Follow your own taste, and treat everyone else’s as a guideline only.

Listen more

Think you listen to a lot of music? Listen to more. While you do, think critically. Learn to analyze what it is about the music that you enjoy. Is it the way the groove isn’t exactly on the beat? Is is the complex quality of the vocal warping? Finding these personal preferences for music makes discovery easier. You’ll stop searching for generic stuff like ‘dance music female vocal’ and start searching for ‘marimba drum n bass’ or ‘vintage rock n roll sample house music’. Getting really specific means knowing what you’re looking for in the first place, and is the only way to discover the true gems.

Becoming a pro DJ is all about making a name for yourself and using that name to serve the needs of your music-loving community. Becoming an artist necessarily means going a little further and being a little more original than those simply in it for the ride. Be inspired!

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.