I’m currently directing a community theatre production of the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” here in Cleveland. As a director, it’s critical to get as close to knowing every detail of every measure of music and every scene as possible. Having that clear understanding of the script is the only way to develop concepts, solve problems and build the show scene by scene. Believe me, after researching the show and listening to the music a million times, I feel like I wrote the damn thing! The other day I was excited about trying out a new idea with the cast. It was an idea that only revealed itself from having a clear understanding of the subtext of this particular song and the meaning of the authors’ intent. The clues to unlock the mysteries of the script are right there in front of me, but the only way to discover them is to know every detail of the landscape of the piece.
Almost as soon as I thought of trying this new idea with my cast, I thought about how it’s the same with DJing. In order to develop new ideas for your DJ performances and events, a complete knowledge of your music and gear is vital. Every event you DJ and every song and piece of gear you use to do it is sort of like a case you, the DJ detective must solve. It’s a party crime scene! (That sounds like a Hip Hop song).
It’s old news that it’s important to know everything about your gear in order to get the best sound out of it and to be able to effectively troubleshoot if something goes wrong. But I’m talking more about the creative inspiration that comes from understanding the things your rig can do. Sure, you could get away with playing good tunes all night by hitting play and stop and moving your cross fader back and forth. But true inspiration can only come from a complete knowledge of the tools at hand. Knowing how and when to trigger an appropriate sound effect to punctuate a joke in the Best Man’s speech, creating a first dance mix with recorded voice-over of the bride and groom, or just being able to perform unique mixes with sound effects and loop adjustments on the fly are just a few examples of things creative and educated DJs can do. And knowing your music and gear like the back of your hand can help you avoid screen-gazing all night long so you can better engage your audience. DJ Tech Tools has a great article covering this in more detail.
So many cool (and unknown or untried) ideas are hidden deep in the “crime scene” of buttons and knobs on your mixer. It’s your job to be a DJ Detective to find them. The first step is to be the most educated DJ you can be. And that, my dear Watson, is elementary.