“Get your mixes heard! Learn to produce your own tracks!! Boost your social media presence!! Start your own label!!!”

Motivational blog posts (often from otherwise respectable sources) giving out tips on how to build your “career” in dance music seem to whirl around Facebook like tiny floating straws, grasped at by the drowning hopes of so many aspiring DJs.

I may scoff at them outwardly, but they have had a motivational effect. They motivated me to write this.

* * *

5 Magazine Issue 119 - June 2015
5 Magazine Issue 119 – June 2015

The digital age has provoked a kind of insanity in almost all of us. I’m as guilty as the next person, but lately I find myself constantly asking: “Why am I doing this?”

These are five of the giant elephants in the room which nobody ever seems to mention:

 

#1: Know Your Place.

Not all good DJs make good producers, and vice versa. And that’s OK.

Honestly, it’s fine. Not all poets can sing and not all sculptors can dance.

We are all constantly told that in order to “get anywhere” in music, we need to be all things to all men. This means we are all constantly distracted, diluting our strengths with our weaknesses.

Before the digital age, underground dance music had a thriving ecosystem of people with different skillsets. Unfortunately somewhere down the line the ecosystem became structured into a hierarchy.

Which leads me on to…

 

#2: If You’re Trying To Be A Star, You’re Missing the Point.

[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″] At some point down the line we were sold the lie that “just going out dancing” is somehow less important than what the DJ is doing. [/quote]

I’m not talking to aspiring pop stars here: if that’s your goal then good luck to you.

The underground scene I fell in love with was a direct reaction against the bloated, lazy “Superstar DJ” world of mainstream European dance music.

I’m not entirely sure when this happened, but at some point down the line we were sold the lie that “just going out dancing” is somehow less important than what the DJ is doing.

Honestly, from my early days of clubbing, I remember very few of the DJs. I remember some of the music. But mostly I remember those wonderful people I shared the floor with, magically transforming sound into a physical expression of pure joy. They were (and always will be) the most important people in underground music. You are not important. At all.

will sumsuchAuthor Will Sumsuch.

 

#3: Music Comes First. Always.

Mirroring what’s happened to the world economy, music’s middle class has taken a severe beating lately.

Unless you made it to the top before the crash, you are probably not going to make a good living from it.

That said, this should be one of the richest and most interesting periods in history for musical experimentation. Free from any real commercial pressures, fascinating, challenging, original music should be flowing forth from every continent.

But it isn’t, not really. Tech and social media companies have sold us the lie that we can make it work commercially. If we just post more Tweets, play whatever genre Resident Advisor tells us is trendy this week, and produce as much music as is humanly possible, then we might just have a chance…



Slow down. Make music, then live with it for a while. Experiment with it. Play it to your friends. Does it stand up against your favorite tracks? Would you buy it?

Before you add to all the digital noise clogging up the internet, remember one universal truth. If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re almost certainly part of the problem.

 

#4: Take Advice. Learn Some Real Skills.

Unfortunately there seems to be more and more music being released commercially which fails to grasp even the most fundamental basics of music theory.

Here’s a thought: if you’re tone deaf, stop making music until you’ve trained your ears.

Technology can’t help you here. Learn an instrument. Think about it; you wouldn’t hire a profoundly color blind person to redecorate your home, would you? Sure you can break the rules later – that’s often where true originality comes from. But you need to understand them first.

 

#5: Learn To Love the Process.

Write from the heart. Play from the heart.

Your emotions, spirit, your natural attractions and repulsions to sound are the only truly unique things you can add to the world of music. Music is your teacher. Learn from it. Listen when it speaks to you.

A lifetime’s love affair with music and the journey it will take you on is as spiritually rewarding as any other pilgrimage. Don’t let anyone distract you or fool you into thinking there’s more to it, a reward or a goal beyond your own soul’s fulfillment. There just isn’t.

 

  • Love this. Great thoughts. So sick of the constant churn of music for no other reason than to fulfill a release schedule or for someone to get DJ gigs. That kind of pressure has made me resentful of literally everything. I just want to listen and play and enjoy music. Fuck the grind.

  • Kev Obrien

    “Write from the heart. Play from the heart.

    Your emotions, spirit, your natural attractions and repulsions to sound are the only truly unique things you can add to the world of music. Music is your teacher. Learn from it. Listen when it speaks to you.”

    Couldn’t have said it any better myself. The only times I ever made music or mixes, or the like which weren’t deeply connected to and told a story of my personal life, is when things were getting too demanding with my former label. Suddenly I had releases topping radio charts all over the world, a weekly radio show, in people expected us to play ours and our label’s hits, both on air and at gigs, and I learned the hard way how easy it is to “sell out” in this industry, once you taste the ‘possibilities ‘ that these major labels are bringing to the table. It ruined my spirit for music, so I walked away entirely for a few years. Success to some is the ego boost of taking countless airport photos, feeling validated.

    Walking away from the majority’s vision of success is one way to discover that being that guy is the exact antithesis of what success means to me now.