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Don't Call Me A DJ in 2014

PANTyRAiD's MartyParty on why mixing is outdated, the EDM artist is the future, and the 70/30 formula rules.
December 28, 2013, 1:41am

DJ/producer/purple lover MartyParty (PANTyRAiD) has heard a lot of misinformation thrown around during his travels, and now he's here to set the record straight in his monthly column, where he explains the inner workings of electronic music from his perspective. It's Everything You Wanted to Know About EDM, but were afraid to ask.

As an EDM producer, I cringe with frustration when I am called a DJ. Personally, I am not a DJ. I dont play records. I don't "spin" anything. I don't use CDs. Most of the time I don't even wear headphones! I am a musician. I compose original music on my computer and in my live show I play compositions that are all mine. When I play shows, I literally "mix" my creations together, sometimes three or four of them at a time using software on a laptop.

Yet I'm still referred to as a DJ.

So who, exactly, is a DJ? And who is a producer? It's a heated topic that causes tension in the industry trenches and on your Facebook feeds. There used to be relatively few producers (people who make electronic music) compared to the number of DJs (people who play mostly other people's music). But in the last few years, it's not enough to just DJ. Software has made DJing easy to do and commonplace—everywhere from your local bar to the laundromat has one. And EDM is the new pop music—it's on the radio, in TV commercials and movie trailers, and headlining the mainstages at festivals (even former rock-oriented festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza). The DJ—once faceless behind "the booth" or tucked in the corner—is now the centerpiece of the mainstage. They're recognizable. They're celebrities.

In order to survive in the new landscape, DJs have had to BECOME producers—that is, creating and releasing their own music—to actually gain a fanbase. It is no longer enough to simply play other people's music; you have to be an artist in your own right. At the same time, producers have had to become performers. The money is on the road playing for masses of fans. You can't just be in your bedroom in sweatpants making beats all the time; you have to learn to be on stage (with the help of massive LED walls and speaker stacks, of course).

Mixing music has changed radically. Technology has removed most of the "art form." Beatmatching is no longer a magic skill—everyone can do it at the press of a button. And in my opinion, vinyl and CDs are dead—it's all about digital files, bits of information that fly around the internet, making them readily available to anyone. From the minute you post a new digital audio file, it is emailed, torrented, posted, uploaded, and downloaded. The greatest and most relevant tracks of any given genre of music are easy to get for free via Google search. Nothing is sacred on the internet, not even your masterpiece that took weeks to produce. For the DJs looking to get the edge on their competition, it's all about "unreleased" digital files—that is, files that are not on the internet yet.

And not just any file—to make faces melt, you need high-quality audio files, which are larger and way harder to come by as a download. Producers own the highest possible quality audio files because they made the song, and they can make a super high-quality version to play.

NOTE: When I play my songs I play 80-90 MB WAV or AIFF versions. I try and stay away from any MP3 compressed file under 320kbps if possible.

I'm not knocking the art of DJing. I love watching and listening to a great DJ who has perfected his or her own magical way of maneuvering through a music collection in a fresh way. But in 2013, I believe you have to produce original music to be relevant. You have to craft your own sound and take ownership of that sound—you need to make your own hits. The future is now. And I believe the future is the EDM artist, rather than the DJ.

I believe the goal of an EDM artist should be to play sets of relevant, original music. EDM may stand for "electronic dance music" but it's a genre-bending term. Whereas before, it was all about staying true to one genre—playing only dubstep or deep house, for instance—now it's about having a "sound" all your own. The generation of kids that have grown up with EDM are starting to make it clear that they want to hear artists with their own sound. They want to connect with the people on stage, not just be blasted with the Beatport Top 40 over and over again. This is most evident in my own career: when I dont play my own music in my sets, I get a lot of negative comments and typically fans are let down. They want to hear the MartyParty sound, rather than the big-room hits played by every DJ at every festival—hits which are widely available online.

We should expect EDM artists to perform mostly their original productions the way we expect bands to perform their own songs when they go on tour. If you're just playing the Top 40 EDM tracks, isn't that the equivalent of Queens of the Stone Age headlining and only playing Beatles or Nirvana covers?

The current competitive nature of the EDM industry has pressured artists into playing the hits—usually as loudly as possible. Why not? It's easier and way more reliable than playing unproven, experimental music, which leaves you vulnerable on stage. What if people don't like tracks they don't know? A lack of confidence keeps artists from playing even their own tracks, even their own hits! Fans walk away asking why they didn't hear the artist's music and the overall quality suffers. We lose creativity, we lose experimentation, and we lose art.

The business of EDM has, like all other businesses, become a game of numbers. Who has the biggest LED wall? Who has the loudest tracks? Who sells the most tickets? And these numbers are affecting what music and what performers appear on the biggest stages and what music gets into the most ears. The real question is: where is it going next?

I currently see the 70/30 rule as the most successful ratio for delivering a consistently successful set on tour. That means 70% original tracks, 30% other tunes that fit your "sound." The ultimate set is when that 30% consists of unreleased, unknown gems from very unknown producers—which typically come via the traditional DJ route of friends of friends, affiliations, or email pools. To me, it's the perfect look for 2014. Try it out and see.