Everything that you can hear could be considered to be music. At the heart of it, DJing is about playing back tracks that people want to hear (duh), but how about learning to DJ by controlling the overall ambient sound in the room, too? Atmosphere is the name of the game, and not every set has to be back-to-back bangers. Break out of the mold by looking for alternative sound sources and expand your DJ sound palette.
During the leftfield electronica boom, artists like Shigeto started popularizing music that was interleaved with everyday sound recordings. Keys jangling, birdsong and ambient noise often interplay very well with sparse electronic beats. While you’re scrolling around for your next track, stick on a recording of ocean waves in the background for 30 seconds and see what the crowd thinks. Breaks can be so tasteful. Creating real moments allows you to connect with the audience.
We’ve all heard tracks where a monologue vocal sample plays back over the break. It’s usually someone with something wise or thought-provoking to say. Often the sample originates in the distant past, and the audio quality is clearly lo-fi. Moments like this might allow an audience to stop and take in the message. If you listen to podcasts or talks and something relevant appeals to you, consider including it in the next break between tracks. But do it sparingly and try to keep it targeted at the audience you’re serving. DJing isn’t a platform for you to air your own views on life!
Playing a live instrument with your set is arguably the best way to create extra energy. People go bananas if a DJ can also play along to the track. But you don’t have to learn an instrument to create moments. You might consider adding some intriguing, easy-to-play percussion to the music. For example, hang some wind chimes alongside the gear and run it through your delay effect. Bring a small radio and scan the dial for different noise sounds. Even a contact microphone can add to the vibe. Extreme as these suggestions may be, they create talking points and the perception of artistry in your work. And they often sound cool, too.
Software allows for serious creativity in blending music and all other audio. With a strong idea, you can make a blonde kid sound like a purple demon. And what a joy it is to have a hotline to basically every piece of music ever published and more. YouTube can be thought of in many ways, and one of them is as an audio source for your own creations. This type of open-source DJing is a matter of finding the sound that appeals to you the most and integrating it into the music you like the most. Learning the artform is as simple as that.
John Bartmann is a music producer and DJ