Artist Tips: Marcel Dettmann's Five Keys to Being a Good DJ
- Words: Shawn Reynaldo
- Photo: Jimmy Mould
Marcel Dettmann is an excellent DJ. At this point, it would be difficult to find pretty much anyone who would dispute that notion. After all, the veteran German spinner has long served as a resident DJ at Berghain, and this week, another of the world's most famous clubs, London's Fabric, has put Dettmann at the helm of the latest installment of its esteemed mix series. (For those odd few that remain unimpressed by these credentials, Dettmann's XLR8R podcast from last year still serves as concrete proof of his talents.) With two decades of experience under his belt, Dettmann has a wealth of knowledge to draw upon, which is why we inquired if he would be willing to share a bit of it for our 'Artist Tips' series. Often times, these articles center around artists' work in the studio, but for this edition, we asked Dettmann to focus on how to succeed in the confines of the DJ booth. His suggestions here are more philosophical than technical, but we're betting that aspiring DJs will find them plenty helpful all the same.
The first and foremost reason to start to DJ should definitely be a profound love of music and the desire to express yourself by sharing music with this particular art form. If you feel this pure and honest love and the dedication to find your own artistic voice or expression, go for it, because then you can never be disappointed.
You have to follow your gut feeling about the music you play. I believe that you can't bring anything across if you don't believe it yourself, and believing in this context means to love the music you are playing and to make it shine by playing it with passion. I truly believe that tracks can sound completely different if they get played in different situations, by different DJs with different attitudes and different intentions. The purest intention, the one of playing it for the people and for the fun of everyone in the club, is the most powerful and the most promising for a great moment and, ideally, a great set and an unforgettable night.
Have role models.
Being yourself and not trying to copy others does not mean that you can't have idols or role models who are giving you inspiration or even a direction. I am inspired by loads of people and I have been an admirer of many other musicians, bands, and artists. I believe that this is actually helpful and healthy to a certain extent. Trying to copy others might hold you back from developing your own identity as an artist, while [benefitting] from the work of colleagues and maybe even learning from their failures or mistakes seems absolutely okay to me. Music history is full of interesting characters, so having role models seems to be a very natural thing to me.
As you might know, I am kind of an old-school DJ. I like to touch music and I actually enjoy beatmatching tracks. I am not disrespecting digital DJs, as I believe that it's just a different way to express yourself, but I recommend everyone who wants to start DJing [should] at least learn the basics of this craft. Beatmatching obliges you to feel the track that is running and the one you want to play afterwards. It obliges you to feel their connection and their compatibility. It forces you to connect deeply with the music and offers loads of creative possibilities. Adjusting the velocities of the tracks and playing with volume levels, EQs, and effects is loads of fun and very inspiring as well. I also like the unpredictability of this way of mixing and even the impreciseness of certain transitions. For me, beatmatching is a technique each DJ should master, even if she or he eventually decides to DJ digitally, using a sync function to help with this part of the process.
Play regularly in a club (residency).
A residency at a club is very important for learning the DJ craft. The fact that you play regularly at a venue is absolutely crucial, no matter how small the place might be. As a DJ, you have to learn how to create magic, how to take people on a journey, and how to lead them with your set.
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