How to get your music in video games becomes more important all the time as games continue to overtake film and TV as the biggest entertainment venue. It provides one of the best ways to sell your music and get it out to listeners. Find some help to do so below.
Presuming you’ve already got solid recordings of great music, you want to get these tracks into the empty hands which need them most.
If you’re a hardcore gamer, yourself, you might know of some game projects in the works which might match the music you’ve made. Game devs can be very approachable, though they’re all extremely busy.
Go ahead and send your music to them directly, but be humble, friendly, professional, and brief. To them, time is worth more than gold. Make your email subject “Music for X-Project” where ‘x-project’ should be the title of their game.
Eric Versluis for DiscMakers.com suggests the following template: ““Hey, I know you’re slammed, but I’m a big fan of XYZ game and know that you have a new one coming out in six months. I would love for you to take this new song into consideration. I think it would be perfect for the game.”
If you aren’t a big gamer, you can join one of a few websites where game developers work together to get resources for their projects.
Catering specifically to musicians and game devs, IndieGameMusic.com is currently free to join and works to bring your sounds to the independent producers of video games all over the world.
Painting with a broader stroke is LikeMindedd.com, where artists of all sorts congregate to put their talents to work or to find talents with which to work.
These sites and others can find ears for your music in the video game world. Use them.
But how should you prepare your tracks before you send them out?
We presumed earlier your fantastic track has a solid recording. To be clear, that means mixed, produced and mastered.
Tag the song with metadata. That’s the information that your media player shows you when you play a track: track title, artist name, album name (?), your contact information, who owns the master and publishing information. Don’t make anyone track that data down. Editing the metadata isn’t hard, but see next week for a how-to on that, too.
To send your music, don’t attach files to email, don’t use WeTransfer, and don’t use DropBox. Each can end up problematic. Box.com isn’t bad, and Soundcloud can work, too. You want to allow streaming and downloads without links which can expire over time.
Link to a maximum of three songs and include an instrumental version of each.
Music fans, music critics and independent musicians everywhere seem unimpressed with the 2018 Grammy Awards. Here’s what we can learn from them.
Lessons from the 2018 Grammy Awards include notes on blending genres and how seriously to take awards in general.
First, it’s important to consider that a great many people think the 2018 Grammys were a joke. Many others think they’ve been a joke for years. Artists who don’t seem to fit the general character of the Grammys probably don’t take the award very seriously, themselves, and depending on who you ask, this can mean millions of people.
Just look at USA Today’s recent article, in which they call the 2018 ceremonies an “out-of-touch embarrassment.” They stop just short of calling the awards racist, but correctly point out that hip hop has an awful history at the Grammys:
“Just a handful of rap records have won [a Grammy] award over their 60-year history. Outkast last did so last in 2004 with their dual-release of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, and Lauryn Hill took the same crown in 1998, for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”
The Grammy Awards also leave out every music act only available via streaming. As Chance the Rapper has noted, that’s a ton of disregarded music.
So Lesson One, for many artists, will be that the Grammy Awards — and maybe awards in general — don’t measure greatness in music at all. After all, if awards can fail to respect so many well-regarded creative people, does it make sense to respect such awards?
While accolades and trophies can help musicians achieve their dreams, sometimes, ultimately musicians and their fans benefit from judging music on its own merits, not by how many blue ribbons it has won.
Moving on, though, we can still learn by looking at which artists do win Grammys by asking what they did differently to get them.
In the case of Outkast and Lauryn Hill, these hip hop heroes blended their music with elements from other genres. From one perspective, this is watering down pure hip hop, which can seem wrong because hip hop deserves recognition on its own merit. While that’s true, from another perspective, adding elements from other genres gives the Grammy judges more to, well, judge.
USA Today notes, “Both, you could argue, could be classified as different genres. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below soared off its monumental pop hits, ‘Hey Ya’ and ‘Roses,’ and Hill blended rap, neo-soul and R&B to create an almost entirely new sound of its era.”
So Lesson Two is this: judges like it when you cross genres with a song or two.
There’s much more instrumentation in “Hey Ya” by Outkast than there is in, say, “Rap God” by Eminem, which serves judges poetry on a back beat with a single synth for a melody line. That doesn’t mean Outkast’s award-winning single is the better track, of course. It just means it’s more likely to win awards (see Lesson One).
But hip hop isn’t the only genre to have difficulty getting awards. The only EDM artist to win a Grammy has been Daft Punk, and they did it by following Lesson Two.
And guess what they blended their music with, mainly? Hip hop styles from Pharrell Williams.
This is the third in a series of predictions for the new year — see previous two weeks for the rest of the list.
Music trends in 2018 include K-pop
Korean pop bands (or K-pop) like BTS, pictured above, continue to make headway in American culture. No music executives exclaim surprise, either, considering the scene’s impeccable branding, knack for grooming musicians as characters, and flair for dramatic, plot-driven music videos.
Affinity Magazine notes: “Based on the success of bands like BTS, Shinee, EXO, Seventeen, etc. it’s safe to say that K-Pop will still be influential and successful. Furthermore, the band BTS made their U.S. TV debut at the 2017 American Music Awards performing DNA and also became the first Korean act to crack Spotify’s Global Top 50. On Feb. 9, the Winter Olympics start in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which can be something to give more exposure to K-Pop, as well.”
A tidal surge of synthwave
Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre, Michael Oldfield… These aren’t the rising stars of 1980 — these are the major influences of the 21st century. (Just ask UK MondoTunes artist Vaughty, who’s been making waves with his own popular brand of synth since the year Mondo began).
PremiumBeat.com writes, “Epic orchestral music continues to grow in popularity, but the synthwave soundtrack to Stranger Things has seen an even greater boost, as synthwave sound has increased 494 percent … Synthwave continues to dominate — likely based on the incredible score to Blade Runner 2049.”
Music trends in 2018 point to reggaetón
As mentioned in last week’s list, Latin artists will spearhead this year’s pop sound. The five most-watched videos of 2017 on Vevo were all by Latin artists: Luis Fonsi, Shakira, J.Balvin, Maluma and CNCO, and Camila Cabello. However, the engine behind these artists is not so much elritmo Latino as it is reggaetón.
The Independent UK says of this, “The underlying reggaetón beat has ingrained itself into modern pop music, so I’m sure there will be plenty more mammoth hits over the course of this year.”
Artists looking to get ahead of the curve might try blending rap and hip-hop with traditional roots or reggae music. This mix forms the sound which began in the early ’90s in Puerto Rico. No español required (but it helps!).
Music trends in 2018 are shifting somewhat dramatically from those in 2017. Read on below to see what music gurus expect. (This is the second in a series of predictions for the new year — see last week for the rest of the list).
Music trends in 2018 suggest that women will lead R&B.
According to Time.com, “R&B is finding a new direction, thanks to the visionary women pushing the genre forward. From SZA’s Grammy-nominated debut to the soulful, politically minded sound of Solange, there’s a whole new soundscape emerging from this mix of personalities with distinct musical—and emotional—perspectives. This alt-R&B is female-first, lyrically vulnerable and delivered with precision; it’s a fresh genre pioneered by artists settling into their new seats at the table.”
2018 is the Year of the Latin Artist.
If you happen to be making Latin music in virtually any genre or subgenre, you’re in a good spot this year.
Rolling Stone says of this: “Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s ‘Despacito’ dominated 2017, spending 16 weeks at Number One, teaching the industry a big lesson: ‘All-Spanish records can work,’ says Tom Poleman, chief programmer for iHeartMedia. As a result, major labels are investing heavily in Latin music. ‘The Latin population in the U.S. keeps growing,’ says Fonsi, who expects the genre will compete with hip-hop, rock and country. And just as Justin Bieber scored a hit by appearing on the ‘Despacito’ remix, more artists are gunning to work with Latin peers (Beyoncé and Logic already have). ‘Before, we would seek general-market artists,’ says Horacio Rodriguez, vice president of marketing at Universal Music Latino. ‘Now, we’re getting calls from them.'”
Music trends for 2018 say artists might want to bet on YouTube early.
Spotify reigns supreme, but nothing lasts forever. The innovative music-streaming giant still owns itself and hasn’t branched out much from its original vision.
YouTube, on the other hand, belongs to Google, one of the most important global technology leaders overall. In March, Google is expected to launch a YouTube music-streaming service.
The company, with 1 billion hours of daily streams, is planning a music-streaming service that could launch by March.
“If it does blend video and audio in one service, interchangeably, why would you use Spotify?” says music industry guru Jim McDermott.
Lyor Cohen, YouTube’s head of music, says, “I want to show the industry that we’re capable of finding those most likely to subscribe and [lead] them to a subscription model.”
Music trends in 2018 will shift somewhat dramatically from those in 2017. Read on below to see what music gurus expect for coming months.
The return of the boy band!
Music trends in 2018 will include a cadre of new boy bands.
One Direction’s break-up in 2016 left a gap in the industry. That gap is about to be filled by Simon Cowell’s new assemblage, PrettyMuch.
Rolling Stone compares their singing and dancing to an “updated Boyz II Men.” This makes sense because Boyz II Men have been very active of late, even dropping a new full-length record in August of last year which was very well received.
Atlantic Records’ Why Dont’ We also join the boy bandwagon for 2018 with five official EPs over the last year and 2m Instagram followers.
Steve Greenberg, who discovered both the Jonas Brothers and Hanson, says, “There’s always space for a new boy band.”
And speaking of boy bands, expect a triumphant return from Justin Timberlake, too.
Big shifts in EDM.
In case you haven’t noticed, dubstep has left the building.
Commenting on music trends in 2018, Corey Burmeister of Discogs.com told EDMSauce.com, “Did the EDM bubble burst yet? I foresee a shift away from glow-sticks and light shows back to a real passion for music and culture. Artists won’t stop using the sync button but both analog and digital sales will continue to swell.”
Matt Fulkerson, also of Discogs, says “Dance music is always a bit cyclical, and there seems to be a shift happening at the current time. A hallmark of 90s dance music was melody, harmony, and rhythm, which are classic and fundamental pieces found in all forms of music. I think in 2018, electronic music will start to get more emotional and melodic, straying from the more minimal mainstreams that have been commonplace the past few years. Marrying old technologies with current methods is the centerpiece for engaging music, and electronic music in 2018 should be no different.”
IndieMono co-founder Carlos expects EDM to blend with other genres altogether: “Hip-Hop and EDM will converge in the most mainstream thing we have ever heard. And this would lead the charts together with new Asian (Chinese, Korean and Indian mainly) electronic vibes.”
Billboard stops charting free music.
Music trends in 2018 also lead to Billboard charting free and paid music differently.
When you hear a track has gone to No. 1 (yaaay!) you’re really hearing that Billboard has charted the track at No. 1.
Last year’s hip hop artists dominated the Billboard charts, leading some music masterminds to suggest a new Renaissance for the category. Many hip hop artists provide their music as free-to-stream.
However, some label executives complained to Billboard of unfairness because free-to-stream music gets listened to far more than paid music.
Starting in 2018, therefore, Billboard will chart free music separately, with bought-and-paid-for music forming their official chart.
This is expected to knock hip hop out of the limelight, and could mean good things for rock musicians because rock fans typically buy more music.
In 2017, four big music releases surprised listeners around the world for a variety of reasons. Read on to hear some remarks about what they teach us about the art of music making.
18 March 2017, Drake drops “More Life” on the OVO-Sound label.
Why it’s surprising: “More Life” plays out over nearly an hour and a half, bringing it closer to the length of an amateur EDM record than that of a typical mainstream hip-hop release.
What we can learn from it: You can still make long records in the 21st century.
2016 spent a ton of time telling musicians to give up making albums and to stick to single releases. This continues to be standard advice, owing to the growing market of music streamed directly from the Internet.
Then along comes Drake with a collection of 22 tracks he doesn’t even call an album, but rather, a “playlist,” and how does the music community react? With plenty of well-deserved enthusiasm, that’s how.
Thrillist.com calls it “the best Drake project since ‘Take Care’ because it gives Aubrey Graham space to explore his obsessions. While the tough-guy paranoia of ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’ remains, the icy musical claustrophobia of Views is mostly gone, replaced with a nimble commitment to teasing out disparate global influences. Songs like ‘Passionfruit,’ ‘Madiba Riddim,’ and ‘Blem’ pulsate with real heat, while winning guest spots from artists like Sampha, Young Thug, 2 Chainz, and Kanye West make the long run-time feel earned. Sometimes more really is better.”
Rolling Stone calls “More Life” Drake’s “finest longform collection in years, cheerfully indulgent at 22 tracks and 82 minutes, a masterful tour of all the grooves in his head, from U.K. grime (‘No Long Talk’) to Caribbean dancehall (‘Blem’) to South African house (‘Get It Together’) to Earth, Wind & Fire (‘Glow’). Yet the more expansive he gets, the more himself he sounds – and the further he roams around the globe, the deeper he taps into the heart of Drakeness.”
Labor Day 2017, LCD Soundsystem releases “American Dream” on DFA/Columbia
Why it’s surprising: It’s the first new LCD Soundsystem record in seven years. And oh, yeah — the band broke up after the last one.
What we can learn from it: It’s good to reform your band if there’s still music in it.
Additionally, their breakup coincided with the release of their rock-umentary, “Shut Up and Play the Hits,” which now becomes less definitive with the introduction of “American Dream.”
These facts must have figured big in the group’s decision to reform for the recording of another full-length album.
So why did they feel compelled to do it? As music journalist Dan Jackson puts it, “The songs are very, very good. Like on the previous three LCD records, Murphy’s meticulous production means that each track, like the pleading ‘oh baby’ or the sprawling ‘how do you sleep?,’ hits like a carefully plated dish served up by a weary master chef called out of retirement. If you can deal with the middle-aged malaise and occasionally too self-aware couplet, this lengthy record is a rewarding feast. You’ll eat whatever this guy cooks up.”
April 28th, 2017, Mary J. Blige delivers “Strength of a Woman” on Island
Why it’s surprising: Mary J. Blige returns to that undeniable ’90s groove which originally made her a star
What we can learn from it: Don’t feel bad sticking to your winning formula, even if your style has antiquated roots
Mary J. Blige took plenty of risks while experimenting on her 2014 record, “The London Sessions.” The gambles paid off. Fans and critics alike loved the record.
But that album alienated some of her most avid, longtime listeners who wanted to hear more of what she’s delivered in the past. Maybe for that reason, but probably just because she felt like it, Blige went back to her old-school sound for SoaW.
Pitchfork says of this, “Strength of a Woman’s classicism is, in some ways, a relief despite the success of The London Sessions’ more modern tracks; in an era of young R&B acts that bury their vocals in hazy, gossamer production to the detriment of cohesion, it’s refreshing to hear Blige sticking with what she knows. Mary will never not be Mary, and through the deep-dive into self-empowerment and, as ever, self-discovery, that is this album, she understands her voice is her most effective tool—and her emotion its understudy.”
5 May 2017, Slowdive produce ‘Slowdive’ on the Dead Oceans label
Why it’s surprising: Slowdive haven’t put out a record in 22 years, let alone a self-titled LP
What we can learn from it: You may not have your style figured out for 30 years
The shoegazey sound of Slowdive began in 1989, a pretty darned long time ago in music terms. They pumped out three well-received, popular mainstream albums in the early nineties. Then they took a sleep akin to Rip Van Winkle’s.
When they woke up in 2016, they still felt warmth in their instruments. They picked them up and began recording their most recent material in 22 frickin’ years. When they’d done, they looked at the new body of work and apparently felt like the songs described the band so well that the collection deserved the honor of being a self-titled album — finally.
And does it deserve that honor?
Pitchfork noted, “The beauty of their crystalline sound is almost hard to believe, every note in its perfect place.”
Thrillist described it thus, “these eight new tracks are simultaneously expansive and the sonic pathfinders’ most direct material to date. Birthed at the band’s talismanic Oxfordshire haunt The Courtyard – ‘It felt like home,’ enthuses guitarist Christian Savill – their diamantine melodies were mixed to a suitably hypnotic sheen at Los Angeles’ famed Sunset Sound facility by Chris Coady (perhaps best known for his work with Beach House, one of countless contemporary acts to have followed in Slowdive’s wake). ‘It’s poppier than I thought it was going to be,’ notes Halstead, who was the primary architect of 1995‘s previous full-length transmission Pygmalion. This time out the group dynamic was all-important. ‘When you’re in a band and you do three records, there’s a continuous flow and a development. For us, that flow re-started with us playing live again and that has continued into the record.'”
That’s all for this week, but stay tuned for another great year at the MondoBlog! Happy New Year, creative music geniuses!
How to make a great cover tune depends on the aim of the artist, but we can point out some simple dos and don’ts to aid the DIY musician of the 21st century. Let’s get to it.
How to make a great cover tune:
DO: Make a great cover tune by changing its genre
By far the easiest way to please an audience with a cover tune is by taking it out of its original music category and rendering it in another one.
Is it a country song? Play it metal. Is it a metal song? Rap it. Is it a rap song? Write it for blues. Look what Johnny Cash did to “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails. Unstoppable.
Everyone loves to hear an old favorite in a whole new way.
DON’T: Cover songs you can’t improve on in any appreciable way
Too many artists cover songs just because they love them.
An “homage” to one of your favorites is OK as a one-off at a live performance, but don’t make people sit through your five-minute treatment of “Hey, Jude” by the Beatles on your next EP.
You’re not going to make it better. You’re just going to make your audience wish they were listening to the Beatles.
DO: Make a great cover tune by changing its tempo
The next best thing to playing a song in a different genre is playing it uptempo or downtempo from its original time signature.
The mood of some songs can be entirely reversed this way, especially if the lyrics are highly symbolic rather than overt. Imagine “House of the Rising Sun” as a polka number. That could happen, ha ha. Imagine the upbeat “Christmas at Ground Zero” by Weird Al Yankovic as a crawling gothic dirge.
But you don’t need to totally upend the song. Much goodness can be derived from just a little added pep or solemnity.
DON’T: Cover songs by playing as close to the original as you’re able
It’s a common misunderstanding among independent musicians that one goal of the cover tune is to prove to your audience that you can do it, too.
You can’t. You cannot do what another artist did the way they did it.
And even if you could, doing something someone has already done is pointless. It is not a goal of the cover tune.
Cover music to do it your way, or don’t do it at all.
(Unless you’re getting paid as a cover band at a bar or nightclub. That’s different.)
DO: Make a great cover tune by simplifying it
You know what nobody has the huevos to do onstage, anymore? Nobody gives the singer a song to sing a cappella while the group takes five. If you’ve got a front person with a fantastic set of pipes, give them three minutes approx. 75% into your set to belt out an amazing rendition of a popular song.
You wanna see a crowd pay utter attention? You give them a brave vocalist singing their heart out for the audience with no backing. That’s entertainment.
Barring this (because, let’s face it, a good singer is worth their weight in gold) consider covering a track acoustic, or clean-channel only, or without percussion.
Maybe you can play it using only piano. Or accompanied only by harmonica.
The point is, simplifying a great song can make a marvelous cover tune. Try it.
DON’T: Add a bunch of extra effects, instruments, and choir vocals to a good song and expect it to be better
The opposite of the above, many well-meaning creative musicians overthink songs by adding and adding and adding elements. The idea here seems akin to the American Christmas tree concept: chuck glitter, gold, lights and tinsel onto the poor evergreen until you can’t see any needles at all.
The problem with trying this in music is that every recorded take adds tiny little imperfections to the overall result (unless you’re godlike musicians, in which case you wouldn’t be reading this).
In the end, you get sonic soup. The hapless engineer has to bury tons of takes in the mix “to give a general impression of the sound” (but really because these tracks can’t be saved and I don’t think they’re worth going back to record again).
The result is a mishmash that sounds somewhere between an orchestra of players with the flu and a Pro Tools 12 installation possessed by the devil.
Follow the KISS rule. Keep It Simple…
That’s it for this week’s DIY MondoBlog! Stay tuned for next week’s episode for more tips, tricks, and general indie music blather. And HAPPY HOLIDAYS from all of us to all of you!
Studio recording tricks are to audio engineers what secret ingredients are to chefs. They make the difference between a first-year rookie and a seasoned professional. Here are three simple tips every music producer should know.
Instant pop screen / pop filter
The trick everyone knows (you do know, don’t you?) is how to make a pop screen for recording vocals out of a nylon stocking and a wire hanger. A pop screen, or pop filter, diffuses all the impact from sharp consonant sounds like ‘puh,’ ‘kuh,’ ‘tuh‘ and ‘sss.’ Sounds like those cause mic inputs to peak, making sharp, loud pops emit from speakers if played back. Basically, they can’t happen and need to be edited out using audio manipulation software — unless you have a pop screen.
Pop screens are available at any pro music store, and they look like this:
But you don’t need to buy one. Just fashion a frame out of a wire clothes hanger and stretch a nylon stocking over it. Attach it to your microphone stand between your vocalist and the microphone. Viola! Instant pop screen.
Change the acoustics of any room
If you record music at home, you’ve noticed it’s hard to get recordings crisp and clear without echoes, feedback, and other sonic artifacts cluttering up your recordings. That’s because of acoustics.
Every room has different acoustics and treats sound waves differently. Acoustics are why every concrete parking structure echoes very well (especially without cars to buffer the sound waves) and why a trained ear can always tell when something was recorded in a bathroom (lots of tile).
Sound bounces off hard, flat surfaces very well, and this makes for messy, unmanageable recordings. The idea, then, is to alter rooms you’ll be recording in so sound that doesn’t go into the microphone dissipates when it hits a surface like walls, ceiling or floor.
You can do this lots of ways. One simple way is to tack up some carpet scraps. Don’t put it flush against the wall. Let it hang and be uneven on the surface. Or you can make dampening panels like the guys at AcousticsFREQ did, shown above. That’s a useful strategy because the frames can be taken down when you want your living room back and replaced when you want a music studio again.
Other sound-dampening weapons include pillows, cushions, mattresses, and any and all kinds of foam. Place these between the microphone and any surfaces which may reflect sound to turn virtually any room into a semi-legit sound studio.
Make a crowd sound like a crowd
Ever need to record what sounds like a group of people shouting or singing along to the music, but it still sounds like one or two people overlayed again and again and again across twenty tracks? That’s because even if your best vocalist records himself or herself performing the bit at the top of their vocal range, the bottom of their range, and maybe even with a few faked international accents, it’s still going to sound like your vocalist. Singing voices are like fingerprints and easily identifiable.
The trick here is dissonance. Noise. You need to fill in all the vocal ranges produced by a couple hundred people singing or shouting at once. But it’s not easy to grab ten strangers off the street and teach them a part you need them to perform in the studio.
The solution is to record the worst singer you know.
Tone-deaf persons have a remarkable talent that goes somewhat unappreciated: they sing with naturally randomized variance. All these haphazard micro-notes they accidentally hit (or miss, as it were) fill in the little gaps otherwise taken up with the kaleidoscope of different voices produced by a crowd. Often, the harder they try, the tighter their scattershot vocal attempts will focus around the melody of the song while still doing the job. In other words, they’ll be singing exactly the way you want them to. It’s their moment.
So call up that buddy who lip syncs “Happy Birthday” and the national anthem and tell him you need him in your studio right away.
Christmas songs with no copyright are everywhere. This makes them excellent cover projects for artists while listeners create an exaggerated demand for them. We’ve done the research for you, so get cracking!
Christmas songs with no copyright abound because they are traditional, which means they’re very old. Play with their lyrics and melodies all you like, and you can still sell and distribute your versions online worldwide. (Traditional Hanukkah selections also provided below).
“Joy to the World,” 1719
“Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” 1739
“O Come All Ye Faithful,” 1751
“Silent Night,” 1818
“The First Noel,” 1823
“O Christmas Tree,” 1824
“We Three Kings of Orient Are,” 1857
“Deck the Halls,” 1862
“O Little Town of Bethlehem,” 1868
“Away in a Manger,” 1885
“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” 1849
“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” 1833
“O Holy Night,” 1847
“Good Christian Men Rejoice,” 1328
“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks,” circa 1700
“The Holly and the Ivy,” circa 1814
“Angels From the Realms of Glory,” 1815
“I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In,” 1833
“Once in Royal David’s City,” 1848
“Good King Wenceslas,” 1853
“Angels We Have Heard On High,” 1862
Hanukkah songs with no copyright may also be found in the public domain for the same reason: tradition! Musicians don’t have to be Jewish, themselves, to enjoy rendering their own versions of these classic sing-along selections.
Glen Parry is an expert mobile DJ and editor-in-chief at Audio Mastered. I reached out to him for crucial pointers on how to make life easier when you’re a spin doctor on the go. Here’s what he had to say.
Besides simply renting DJ equipment, what’s the bare-bones minimum a paid DJ will need?
It’s actually not a lot of gear. I recommend new DJs to purchase following pieces of equipment:
The other gear you can rent. As your brand grows you can use the money earned at your gigs to slowly start accumulating the other gear. This includes the speakers, stands, cables, lights, FXs, etc.
Most people will already have access to a laptop, so the biggest start up expense is going to be the controller and headphones. It’s possible to get the gear you need for $200 (assuming you already have a laptop) — totally possible for a high school student.
Have you seen DJs perform with less?
Technically, yes. You’ll sometimes see DJs playing without a laptop. It’s quite possible for DJs to mix only with CDJs. However, I wouldn’t recommend beginner DJs going this route. For one thing, CDJs are far more expensive. They’re also most technically involved and require some chops to use.
Start with a controller/laptop setup and upgrade when you’re ready.
What useless gear do you often see brought onstage by DJs?
The most common piece of useless gear I see has to do with headphones. I’ll often see new DJs mixing with an old pair of headphones they bought for listening to music. While you can get away with it, you’re far better off investing in a pair of DJ headphones. The main characteristics you want to look for are:
Pivoting ear cups
Everyday headphones aren’t going to have the level of sound isolation you need to hear your tracks over the noise. You’ll struggle to hear where to set your cue points or to sync your incoming track. DJing can be stressful when you’re just starting – don’t make it harder with cheap headphones.
Additionally, DJ headphones get beaten up very quickly. If you have a set of headphones with replaceable parts (such as cables, or the headband) it’s going to prevent you from buying an entirely new set when the cable snaps.
Necessities aside, what’s your favorite add-on for making a DJ’s life easier?
I personally like the laptop stand. While it’s not absolutely necessary, it gets the laptop up and out of the way. You can position your laptop where you can easily see the screen and you’re not running the risk of bumping it or pulling any connections out during the gig.
Also, having the right gear bags will go a long way in terms of keeping you organized. There are times when you’ll be setting your gear up while another DJ is still performing. This involves crawling on the floor behind the DJ booth trying to get your gear ready to go.
If your gear is organized in cases and bags you’ll have a much easier time setting up under pressure. Not to mention the additional protection cases and bags provide.
Besides a light show, what bonus gear do audiences react to best?
I’d also pick up a smoke machine. While almost cliché, the smoke machine adds another dynamic to your set. They’re easy to use and relatively cheap.
Mobile DJs struggle with what factors most?
The struggles evolve over time. For those just starting out the hardest part is building your brand. It’s getting the first couple of gigs – If you don’t have any contacts in the industry or friends who already DJ, nailing your first gig is a struggle.
The solution is to develop basic marketing skills. Create an artist page on Facebook where you can point any interested customers. Have a few sets recorded from your practice sessions at home as well as a few quality pictures.
Once you have an artist page you can start placing adds where you think people will be looking. A few easy places: Craigslist and community bulletin boards. It’s also a good idea to let your friends know via social media that you’re available. You’ll be surprised at how many of your gigs will be booked through word of mouth.
Getting the gear organized can also be a struggle for new DJs. There are logistical challenges you’ll need to work through when you’re renting the gear. What size/type of speaker will you need? Do you want a subwoofer? Will they interface with your gear? Where are the power outlets at the venue? Do they have a table for you to set your gear on?
Furthermore, setting your price can also be a struggle at the start. I highly recommend pricing everything out beforehand so you know what you’re getting into. This is also a great time to make sure your gear is compatible with what is available to rent. The staff where you’ll be renting from will be invaluable here. Let them know that you are just starting out so they can make sure you have everything you’ll need.
What’s the commonest mistake you see DJs making in 2017?
Not playing to the crowd. Every crowd is going to be unique. Just because you killed it with a song on your last set doesn’t mean you’ll get the same reaction for the next one. Being able to play for the crowd is one of the hidden skills DJs need to develop.
Unfortunately, I see way too many DJs only playing tracks they like while the energy in the crowd dive bombs.
Pay attention to how to crowd reacts for each song and use that to inform your track selection.
The people in the crowd are usually your next customers. Impress them and you’ll always have an endless supply of gigs.
Do you see any changes in contemporary DJ-ing around the corner?
This usually involves a physical instrument, or using STEMs in Ableton Live. It’s starting to become more and more of an expectation that you are a Producer as well as a DJ. While this isn’t as crucial for mobile DJs, if you have dreams of taking DJing to the next level having some musical talent is going to go a long way.
In terms of mobile DJs – the barrier to entry is getting lower and lower. Modern DJ equipment is very intuitive and user-friendly. It’s now easier than ever to get up and running. I expect as the equipment is further improved, the creative opportunities for skilled DJs will only increase.
How does a DJ stay fresh and relevant without playing the EDM top-40?
This is where your hard work outside of the set is going to pay off. Your limits to staying fresh are determined by your commitment to digging and searching for unique music. As I mentioned before, each crowd is going to be slightly different. It’s your job to push the boundaries and serve up interesting tracks that aren’t common but are still palatable for that particular crowd.
The best way is to be constantly absorbing as much music from as many genres as you can. It’s only by listening to different genres that you can have those creative moments of “this track will fit perfectly in that set!”
Listen to podcast shows from DJs, listen to other DJ sets on YouTube, immerse yourself as much as possible in new music sources.
You’re probably getting into DJing because you have great taste in music. Use your love of music to put together creative sets that will be fresh and relevant.
Today, there’s a big push against the just-press-play mentality of the aughts. What can a DJ do onstage to entertain audiences?
Finding the balance between DJing and crowd interaction can be difficult. Additionally, Each DJ is also going to have their own personal preferences. I’ve been to shows where the DJ was interacting with the crowd for every track, while other DJs only speak once or twice.
I recommend not being shy of the mic. Use it to amp up the crowd before a big drop, or to let them know that something is coming. Let them know you’re there and paying attention.
I also recommend not always hiding behind your decks. Feel free to move around behind, or even in front, of the DJ booth. Show the crowd that you’re enjoying the music and let them feed off your energy. It’s your job to set the tone so if you feel the need to jump up on the booth, do it.
Do you think DJs have a hard time getting paid what they’re worth? What would you suggest as a fundamental guideline for what mobile DJs should charge?
I find that most people are willing to pay to have a great DJ. A DJ is usually the centerpiece of the party so people are fine with paying what they’re worth.
Don’t spend too much time worrying about what you’re charging for your first few gigs. Make sure you’ve priced out all the rental equipment you’ll need and then tag on between $100-200 when you’re first starting out. You may even consider lowering your fee for the first few shows and consider it an investment in your brand.
If you’re not getting any gigs, lower your fee.
Once you’re experienced you can crank up your fee. This usually happens when the gigs start rolling in and you have your marketing machined tuned and running. How much you can raise your fee is going to depend on the market in your area. If you’re in a larger market and you’ve built yourself a good brand, you can make a decent chunk of change for each gig.
Talk about some impressive moves or innovations you’ve seen from pros onstage or off. Anything stand out?
Anytime a DJ is able to play a musical instrument during their set I’m impressed. The crowd also always reacts positively.
It doesn’t really matter what the instrument is. I’ve seen Griz jump up on the booth and blast out the melodies on his sax and Odesza playing percussion on their drum pads. Each time the crowd goes nuts.
What annoys you most as a mobile DJ?
Showing up to a venue only to find out they are no-where close to being prepared for you. Talk through your requirements in detail with your client and make no assumptions.
If you don’t have your own table make sure they have one set up for you.
Make sure you’ll have somewhere to plug in your gear.
Make sure they have a space where you can fit everything.
Do they want a light show, smoke show?
It will only take one nightmare gig for you to appreciate asking all the questions before you arrive.
What excites you most in the modern scene?
I’m excited about the overall popularity of electronic music. There’s never been a better time to become a DJ. The sheer volume of different music makes the entire scene a playground for creativity. The number of genres keeps evolving and producers are always pushing boundaries. DJs have been headlining at huge festivals and the electronic music festivals are growing bigger each year. Everything about being a DJ is on the up-and-up.
What advice can you offer DJs thinking they might not cut it as mobile pros?
It’s not as hard as you may think. While it may seem daunting when you first start, each aspect of becoming a mobile DJ is within reach. Start out small – buy the basic gear and start practicing at home.
Next, try DJing at a few of your friend’s parties. Rent a cheap PA system and set up in a room. You won’t need huge speakers in smaller rooms so it will be much more affordable.
Once you start feeling more confident start putting your name out there. Start slowly building a branch piece by piece. You may take a look at established DJs and think that it’s an impossible mountain to climb, but if you take it one step at a time you’ll eventually get there.
Just take it one step at a time.
Another word of advice: practice!
You must be practicing at home during your downtime. The more you practice, the more shows you will get in the long run. Your technical skills will increase and offer you more flexibility during your sets. Again, this is a time thing. Put in the time and you will be rewarded down the road.
What question do you wish amateur DJs asked you more?
I think a lot of amateur DJs could be benefiting from learning a little more marketing. Better marketing practices will lead to bigger clients. This is where you can start charging a higher fee.
Sometimes a simple website and a little social media marketing can go a long way. By increasing your engagement on social media (releasing recordings of your sets, releasing pictures, etc.) you can pull in much more clients and appear much more professional.