DJs: Love them or loathe them?

Categories: Hot Topic

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I heart DJs. Always have. Always will. I'm one of those people who believe that what they do requires as much skill, dexterity and creativity as any musician I've ever known. And I'm not referring solely to prodigious turntablists like Vajra and Cysko Rokwell when I say that. I'm also talking about party-rocking DJs, who, although not nearly as dexterous on decks, put just as much thought and consideration into what they do.

In both cases, it's more than just pushing buttons. It takes sharp sensibilities to rock a crowd. Trust me: Speaking as someone whose killed (and killed!) his share of dancefloors, it's not as easy as it looks. Judging from the stream of vitriolic comments on our recent Peter Black post, though, plenty of people clearly feel otherwise. Thus, today's Hot Topic: DJs - love them or loathe them? Why? Feel free to weigh in below. In the meantime, speaking of DJs, here's this (courtesy of our pal Numero Tres).


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Joshua Smith
Joshua Smith

This is kind of a pointless debate, DJs are what they are... it's just a thing that people enjoy doing and that people enjoy. But, as a long time DJ (14 years) and music producer (Not even sure, somewhere between 5 and 10 years depending on how you count it), I would say that it is far, far, far overestimating the difficulty of DJing to say that what a DJ does "requires as much skill, dexterity and creativity as any musician I've ever known." that's something that defensive DJs say when talking to musicians or people who don't respect DJs, or that's something people who don't really know what DJing is like to say. 

Just let DJing be what it is, which is aural collage art, and that's good enough. 

tanner
tanner

I go both ways with this conversation. I started playing music on guitars, piano ECT. Then I got introduced to a new form called dub step. I really got into the whole sound behind it, its massive. You can take a simple song and blow it up with massive bass lines and modulated frequencys. Now I am at a point where I have a studio and make electronic music. But you have to redefine the music so you dont sound like the last guy, and yet there will always be a mass population the will wholeheartedly disagree with it all. Blame it on the drugs, the youth, hitting buttons or spinning tables. Whatever it is there will always be the guy who hates it. And so did I. I hated the guy pushing buttons because I played a real style of music, but now that I make it my whole lifes perspective has changed. I love it! You can make any sound but you have to be wise about it and creative. So for me I incorporate the best of two worlds and its all my own! Guitar, drums, piano, and then whatever sound to tie it all in. Just like Floyd did. And I am sober and going to school to major in music and business to build a career for myself. And it all started watching bassnectar play dub step......

Jerry
Jerry

In most cases, i'd rather hear live music than a DJ. Not a loather of DJ's and admit there is a skill to it, although it hardly "requires as much skill, dexterity and creativity as any musician" most people have ever known.  Paraphrasing comedian Jim Gaffigan here, "DJ's know about IPod's, right?"  The ego some of these DJ's have is laughable. I once was told there was a cover at the Tug Boat in Steamboat Sprgs because the #5 DJ in the world was "playing".   Number 5???  In the World? Are there, like NCAA Football, both an AP and a Coaches/ESPN/USA Today poll?

Jmpmk2
Jmpmk2

I'm not interested in debating the skill it requires to spin music.  Much more interesting is debating the ethics of profiting from someone else's creation.  I get it: having the taste and diligence to get a dance floor moving is a special skill, one that I completely appreciate, but few ever consider the consequences of forking over money to aggregators instead of content creators.

This weekend I went to a wedding; the reception of which featured a DJ who plugged a laptop into a cheap Behringer mixer and spit out (likely) stolen mp3's through two god-awful Behringer powered speakers.  And despite lacking the professional means to properly perform the task of a wedding DJ, I know, for a fact, this guy made more money that particular evening than I have at 90% of shows I've ever played in semi-successful bands in town.  BUT more importantly, no one at ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC can properly collect royalties for the songs being used.  The reception venue (not the DJ) might pay for a negotiated blanket coverage, but the DJ is still making exponentially more money than the artists who created the songs, and that is unethical.

"But we're not talking about THOSE guys; we're talking about all those rad dudes at Global!"

Ok, fine.  These guys are infinitely more skilled than my previous example and manipulate the audio to a point where one might argue that it's an entirely different creation.  The problem is that it's just not.  If you're writing a novel, can you just use passages from other writers, tossing them a quarter for their troubles?  Can I make a film with my camcorder, splicing in excerpts of "Apocalypse Now" throughout the movie?  No, simply no.  Long ago, our nation decided it would protect intellectual property so we could sustain the livelihood of our essential artists, people who make our lives better through their creative output.

"But arbitrary Dubstep Artist X makes his own electronic compositions!"

Great.  Then tell him to cool it with the stock Reason synths before all the kids stop taking drugs and realize how safe and homogenous his sounds are.  Otherwise, he's safe from my wrath.

What I'm (longwindedly) trying to explain is that we're running into a dangerous time in music, where the entire recording industry is going to give up pursuing art as a viable career because tech companies, DJs, and (consequently) consumers have decided their creative output no longer holds value.  And I'm not talking about the fat and rich label executive; I'm talking about your house engineers, monitor guys, or even talented young musicians who may opt to pursue law school or an accounting degree or something.  No one ever thinks of the little people in these arguments; it always revolves around your Rick Rubins or Metallicas.  The conversation should really feature "Joe Smith", the guy who used to feed his family and make a house payment by recording music.  That guy likely doesn't have a job anymore, even though his recordings are still being played betwixt whomp beatz at Red Rocks this past weekend.

Dance music can be a lot of fun, but that's not the argument here: we're discussing ethics behind taking something that isn't yours and making money.

Q-tronix
Q-tronix

Well, you do realize, that for a majority if DJs, especially in the clubs and radio, the labels and artists and sending them their music and saying "play my music, PLEASE!!", right?DJs help to promote an artist to a listener. 

If a DJ had to pay to play a song...? Reverse payola? What world do you live in?

Aaron B. Baldwin
Aaron B. Baldwin

I understand your perspective of the "little guy", but at the core of your point of the ethics behind taking something that isn't yours and making money ie MUSIC it's not as simple as being black and white. Outside of the issue of downloading music without paying for it (in which case WHO makes the music available not just for DJ's but for any and everyone to access) the music that is purchased and them played by DJ's for the public is in and of itself on many levels beneficial to the artist. In fact outside of the most popular artist you already hear on radio and see in video, exposure through being spun at parties, events and clubs helps build an audience for more independent/underground artist.

And true once I buy a music product it doesn't mean I actually OWN it, but if I am not making money through the actual re-sale of that product the issue gets very grey when you add to that making money in conjunction with playing the music for others to hear. "the DJ is still making exponentially more money than the artists who created the songs, and that is unethical."- This is not universally true and can be a deceiving statement depending on the music/artist being played by the DJ and how much the DJ is actually making.  Again the grey area of the value and role of a DJ, in fact DJ's or elements of Djing are now actual parts and members of live bands further complicating how the role of a DJ fits into the musical making presenting argument.             

backbeatmod
backbeatmod

Strong takes, everybody. Thanks for weighing in, and for reading!

Brian Frederick
Brian Frederick

I dig the intellectual thought process behind everything you say, and agree wholeheartedly. This does, however, open up a Pandora's box of where it all stops and starts. To say that taking something that isn't yours and making money off of it is wrong, then lest we take all monetary profits from people who buy and sell real estate? Is it really fair that people can claim land as their own with nothing more behind it than a few signed papers and "legal" societal mores? 

You're right - it's a shitty time for music - for anything in any creative realm really. Journalism has gone the way of the whiny bloggers, music has gone the way of the stay-at-home suburban kids and art has gone the way of the wealthy spoon fed. (except street art, you kids keep that shit up). It is almost refreshing though to know that with the downfall, the change is inevitable.

But as for DJs - whatever - do what you do. Some in Denver spend far too much time patting themselves on the back to realize they're tools, but some don't - and some kick some serious balls right around the taint area.

And who can forget:"Good artists borrow, Great artists steal." -AW

backbeatmod
backbeatmod

Strong takes, everybody. Thanks for weighing in, and for reading!

Aaron B. Baldwin
Aaron B. Baldwin

"The agreement we make when purchasing music is completely different, as is defined by law: we don't own the right to BROADCAST the recording without compensating the artist, and that's what high-profile DJs are doing every time they perform." - The question has to be asked when this law was created who was it designed to apply to specifically or in general. Surely we can agree the law came long after the creation and use of both the turntable and vinyl, and if followed to the letter of the law define what is meant by BROADCAST.  1. cast or scattered in all directions  or  2. made public by means of radio or television. If we go by the first definition it would literally be impossible to enforce, it would have to apply to every situation where anyone is able to hear the sound of music coming from any source would it not?

I'm ALL for any artist getting paid for use and performance of their created music, but at some point there has to be a point where play, promotion and profit meet a logical crossing.       

Jmpmk2
Jmpmk2

Westword guys,

You all do some phenomenal investigative journalism for your front-page feature articles.  Given your connections to promoters, venue owners, and artists who make use of sampling, I'd love to see an in-depth piece about how they go about paying royalites when these types of music are "performed".

Very specifically, I want to know the mindset of a Club Beta, for instance, when they charge $20 at the door to see DJs who play zero original music -- DJs who fly place-to-place in first class accommodations, stay in the finest hotel rooms, and then pay out mere cents to content creators in royalties to Performance Rights Organizations like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC under negotiated blanket coverages.  How can they justify that ethically?  

How about the DJs, who aren't -- at all -- responsible for compensating P.R.O.s?  How can they justify making more money spinning these songs than the artists who actually wrote and performed them?

Anyone who's not a total curmudgeon likes to dance, but my conscience won't let me pay DJs at the expense of the recording industry.

Brian,

If someone buys a home, they own the right to do whatever he or she pleases with it.  Remodel, sell it for market value, burn it to the ground...whatever -- the language in these contracts states this very clearly.  The agreement we make when purchasing music is completely different, as is defined by law: we don't own the right to BROADCAST the recording without compensating the artist, and that's what high-profile DJs are doing every time they perform.  It was silly before the cover charges became standard procedure; and now that big names are charging $30-40 at the door, it's completely absurd -- criminal even.

Now, if you want make some Marxist argument about artificial scarcity, I'm going to need more space.  That's a much larger scale conversation.

Bree Davies
Bree Davies

This is like asking "bands: love them or hate them?" All DJs are different. I don't pick and choose what or who I like based on their chosen mode of getting music out there -- vinyl, Ableton, whatever. I don't care. However, the idea of "watching" a DJ perform on a stage has always seemed odd to me. Nothing is more boring than watching a dude with his laptop. Actually, it isn't just boring, its masturbatory. But I have no doubt paid many times to see some fool behind the decks on a stage do just that. Still, I prefer my DJs at dance parties and from that point, I don't care how you do what you do. Just play good music. And also, I should clarify that this idea of DJs on a stage being boring is strictly limited to DJs -- not electronic acts. I have seen plenty of electronic instrument-based musicians who make stage shows fucking awesome. DJs can do the same thing, if they so choose. People love to hate on Girl Talk, but that's why I like him. Well, that and because I can hear a Rihanna and Fugazi song together a the same time.

Djbedz
Djbedz

That kitten is awesome! Love, Bedz

Kimberly
Kimberly

....he's got two turntables and a microphone...

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