Last Saturday, I finally delivered the DJ set I knew I had in me. I was disappointed by the show I gave on the eve of my 29th birthday–a set beleaguered with technical difficulties, disjointed transitions, and frayed nerves. By my assessment, the seams showed big time. But last weekend at the Alchemy, I was in the zone. I attribute my success to:
1. Setting up my first four songs ahead of time. Some day soon, I’ll incorporate a laptop into my setup. Later, when I have disposable income again, I’ll invest in more up-to-date equipment. But for now, my current setup consists of two turntables and a two-disc mixer I inherited from a friend. This setup leaves me vulnerable to skipping. A way to avoid this problem is to give yourself enough time to cue every track. This can be hard to do in a live setting where the venue, its sound system, and its patrons are variables. DJs have to keep the party going. This can be difficult when someone comes up to the booth to start a conversation about your equipment, Lil Wayne, or his/her burgeoning hip-hop career. Factor in a few missed cues and skipping problems and it’s that much harder to recover. The key to a successful evening is to always be ahead of the mix instead of running behind it or flailing underneath it. This requires a cool head and quick instincts. So making sure my first four songs were on point before I started gave me ample time to prepare the rest of the set, as well as field requests and chat with folks throughout the night.
2. Working with a mix. Some DJs who use laptops work exclusively from a pre-constituted mix. Ugh, why book a DJ if s/he’s just going to push play on an iTunes mix? That said, it’s nice to have an anchor. So I burned three mix CDs and kept one of them in the mixer at all times. When I played all the songs I wanted off one mix, I switched it out with another. Now, I integrated these mixes with other records and played off the crowd, the venue, and whatever I wanted to hear at any given moment. I also shuffled the order I played the songs on each mix CD. But I always had a batch of songs at the ready and this kept me from running around and constantly switching out material.
3. Practicing with the equipment. I’m just starting out as a DJ, so I’m still getting used to working with two turntables and a mixer at once. But I’m more confident each time I do it. This goes for playing music as well as setting up my gear. My partner and I share our equipment. He’s deejayed quite a bit more than me. I had him coach me in our kitchen, but I break out the equipment and practice alone. He still helps me cart the equipment–not because it’s too heavy or intimidating, but because he’s a supportive partner. And I ask him to stand in the audience while I check my levels. But I’m really conscious about gender stereotyping around technology, so I learned what every plugin connects to and why and am learning how to cue, cut, mix, and fade between each song on my own.
4. Believing in myself. I had a good time on Saturday. I loved what I was playing. I had conviction, which I hadn’t really found during my first two sets. The audience responded by cheering, dancing, and making out (!) to my set. They got into what I was playing, in large part because I was enjoying myself so much. You get what you give. Part of this had to do with demonstrating greater fluency with the material. I’m working with the genres of soul, R&B, and hip hop in part as a challenge. I’m invested in breaking down rockist traditions of taste hierarchies and white privilege, especially those circulating (unintentionally or not) within punk, post-punk, and riot grrrl, which are genres I know a bit better. I do research as an instructor and scholar, largely so that I can learn or unlearn about things beyond my intellectual comfort zone. I listen and learn to destabilize. Why not turn that skill set toward deejaying?
Also, this is the music I need to hear and share right now.
In the future, I’d like to post my set lists here. I’m taking a class on digital production this fall, and have set this as a goal for myself. I will probably use SoundCloud or 8Tracks, but am open to suggestions. For now, fans can access last Saturday’s set list through Feminist Music Geek’s Facebook page. I’ll leave you now with a few songs that I especially loved playing. Don’t hesitate to put in your requests.