Pyramind’s Director of Marketing Jeff Straw (aka DJ F) gives us 10 tips for DJing with an instrumentalist (or vice versa). He performs a groovy organic house / broken beat set utilizing both his tenor saxophone, as well as CDJs controlling Serato – before digging into some helpful rules he’s learned throughout his musical career.
The first tip he has for instrumentalists is to come prepared with your own gear. You know your needs, and you can make the performance better by being prepared. Jeff brings an Audio-Technica ATM350 clip-on mic for his sax. These mics are perfect for horn players – they do a great job reducing ambient noise and feedback. He also brings his own pedalboard full of effects to help him make his tone blend in with the rest of the music.
The next big piece of advice Jeff has for instrumentalists is to know when not to play. It’s not about showing off your playing – it’s about the performance as a whole. In general, instrumentalists should try not to bury the song with their playing – and definitely don’t bury the vocals!
The third tip for instrumentalists is to mix up your effects. This gives you more control over the impact of your performance. Switching up your effects allows you to liven up your sound, without necessarily changing what you play.
It’s also important for instrumentalists to have a way to mute themselves as they figure out what key to play in. You might not know what key the DJ is going to play in, and if they do any major key changes you need to be able to adjust your playing.
The next piece of advice Jeff has for instrumentalists accompanying DJs is to think in repetitive patterns. Since dance music is very loop-based, you will be successful if you find a riff or lick that will work and stick with it. Breakdowns are good sections for soloing, but in general the audience likes to know what to expect.
It’s also important for instrumentalists to know the DJ’s style as well. You can always check out their soundcloud ahead of time to help you know what’s appropriate to play.
Next, Jeff goes into some tips for DJs playing with instrumentalists. The first piece of advice is to help your accompanying player set levels. As a DJ, whatever you can do to make the instrumentalist comfortable is a nice gesture. It can be hard to set levels without getting in the way of the DJ or other gear.
Another big tip for DJs is to not be redundant with instruments. Example: If you’re playing with a guitarist, don’t play a lot of guitar heavy tracks. This leaves the instrumentalist with nowhere to go, and can lessen their purpose in the performance. This goes hand in hand with the next tip from Jeff – don’t be too vocal heavy. If you play a bunch of tracks with vocals throughout – it can be hard for the instrumentalist to play without getting in the way of the vocals and hurting the overall performance.
He also stresses the importance of engaging master tempo. When engaged, this keeps the pitch of a song intact even as the song speeds up / slows down. This is a must for performing with instrumentalists – as it enables them to find your key and stay in key. If you don’t engage master tempo, and you pitch a song up to beatmatch – you can potentially be in quarter tones and it prohibits them from finding the tonal center of the track easily.
Lucky for you, Jeff includes a bonus 11th tip – communicate with each other. This is especially useful for directing the performance – if you know a breakdown is coming up and you want the instrumentalist to get out of the way, you can let them know. Similarly, if you want help building a section up, you can communicate that to the player. Communication can go a long way and really help strengthen the performance.
Through the tip Jeff uses the following gear: Pioneer DJM-S9 Serato enabled mixer, 2 Pioneer CDJ Nexus 2000s, Serato DJ Software, Selmer Super Action 80 tenor, Audio-Technica ATM350 mic, TC Electronics Mic Mechanic, Electro-Harmoix POG octave pedal, Behringer Tube Ultragain and a Boss DD-5 Delay.
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