Almost every respected Hip Hop and House producer DJs. Why? Because it makes you a better producer. DJing forces you to learn how to mix tracks together from different records, which is the core of sample based production. If you can DJ well, odds are you can produce well too.
A Bit of DJ History
In 1974 Technics Released their first DJ turntable the SL 1200. This turntable quickly became popular with DJ’s due to its high torque. When hip hop came around in the early 70’s it was this turntable that would allow DJ’s to create technics such as scratching and beat juggling. These two techniques in particular, would lay the foundation for hip hop production. The two DJ’s of greatest influence we have to thank for this are Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash.
These two DJ’s and many others would throw block parties in the Bronx in New York. At these block parties DJ’s would play many different genre’s of music and blend them together. This is where hip hop would develop its signature sound. After years of experimentation with spinning records, MC’s, or Master of Ceremonies, would begin to rap over the beats. DJ’s soon began to pick records that would work well with an MC rhyming over the beat. This would lead to new DJ techniques, such as the backspin technique, also known as the quick mix theory, and scratching. When the first Hip Hop records were created, they were created from the foundation of DJs at block parties. From beats to techniques, the first Hip Hop records were directly influenced by DJs.
In this post I will explain the importance of DJing, and how it carries over to producing.
DJing Teaches You Song Structure
By learning how to count beats, bars, and phrases to drop the beat on the “-one”, you learn the fundamentals of song structure. When you begin making beats, it will be natural for you to make beats with a hook/chorus and verse. Making beats with odd time signatures is an easier task when you DJ as well. You will be playing so many records with odd time signatures, that you become comfortable with them.
Another aspect of song structure you learn by DJing is how to create hooks by punching pharses into your beats. A phrase is short musical or vocal hook, could be anything from a one word vocal, to a complete instrumental loop. This is learned by mixing tracks together. By learning how to do this, it will transition over to your production, effectively making your production more interesting.
DJing Teaches You Music Theory
The amount of records listened to while DJing is incredible. By hearing different records from all different genres, naturally accustoms oneself to music theory. If we break it down, every song has a different rhythm, scale, harmony, and timbre to name a few elements of music theory, then it is up to you as the DJ on how to mix each track according to each of the elements. A decent DJ will know how to mix two songs together that differ strongly in music elements and create a functional track.
DJing Gives You Musical Ideas
Regardless of what genre of music you DJ, you are going to hear many variations of production techniques. By hearing different genres of music and the techniques, you will get inspiration that leads to musical ideas. This is essential to your growth as a producer.
For example, Afrika Bambaataa would often spin 70’s electro records at block parties in the 70’s. When Africa would begin to produce, he would incorporate many of the elements of 70’s electronic music into his production. The most notable example of this is his hit track planet rock. This track sounds Hip Hop, but you can tell that it grabbed a large influence from electro music.
DJing Teaches You How To Layer Samples
When you are mixing different tracks together, you are essentially layering samples together. The better you are a mixing two tracks together, the better you are going to be at layering samples. This is also how many producers have coincidentally produced tracks, simply layering tracks as they DJ. If you know how to mix two tracks together, layering two samples on top of each other should come naturally.
Production and DJing go hand in hand. The more practice DJing, the easier your music producing will be. Above are some of the ways Djing can help you become a better producer. I urge all producers to learn how to DJ, even if you use a downloadable software, it is worth learning this versatile art.