As music and technology have developed hand in hand, so have the little niches that we naturally find ourselves slotting into. And as our skills develop, these niches rapidly become our comfort zones, places where we can thrive and excel. And for a while this is awesome, as our output in this zone is epic, and the praise we receive from our peers is high. It’s high five heaven.
But after an amount of time (years and perhaps decades), the comfort zone becomes a comfortable rut, one that sees us sticking to the same well trodden paths with little in the way of originality or evolution. We are safe in the repetition of what we know, but with increasing regularity fail to hit the same highs and rushes that we once did. A spiralling and potentially terminal cycle of boredom sets in, and our love for this thing soon diminishes.
So this once cushy comfort zone becomes a prison, essentially solitary confinement with no apparent hope for parole. I’ve seen it so many times where DJs have come bored into a coma with their output and rashly bung their whole setup onto eBay, only to massively regret the decision later, especially when it doesn’t fetch a figure in line with the emotional attachment.
SO WHAT DO YOU DO?
You could definitely quit. Selling up and moving on is an option — maybe you could buy a camera or some fishing gear to fill your spare time. Perrish the thought, but you could even spend time with your friends and family instead of that quest for the perfect beat or the perfect drop.
And although all of these things are good things to do, I’m pretty confident in stating that you will regret offloading your stuff in a fit of pique. Ideally you should just take a break to recharge your batteries — indeed it is possible to read some books, paint some pictures, and hang with your kids as well as being a superstar producer or DJ. But a better option is to try something else, ideally something that challenges you or outright drags you kicking and screaming from your comfort zone.
FROM MODEL 1 to PT01
We count Damien Sirkis, purveyor of Rekord Buddy, as part of our family. This gives us the right to mercilessly mock, rib, and abuse him as we see fit. And we do, especially as he has one of the worst cases of gear acquisition syndrome we’ve ever seen. His setup as a decidedly Deep House favoured DJ was already vast and immaculate, but then the glorious Rane MP2015 hit the scene. And while we all craved one for ourselves (in fact two other members of the team have them), Didier’s GAS took hold in a huge way.
And then Richie Hawtin decided to playDifferently and make the MODEL 1, and it wasn’t long before the MP2015 became the most expensive and beautiful webcam stand in the world. And it didn’t take any baiting from us either. Well not much… it’s not like needed much pushing down that route. My personal goal is to get him to turn the Model 1 into a doorstop and replace it with the £5.7K STPVX Phoenix.
So imagine my surprise when I saw his posts on social media about getting a Numark PT01 Scratch and a Jesse Dean fader. The irony hadn’t escaped me that after shelling out many thousands on the crème de la crème of DJ mixers, he didn’t even have a mixer he could scratch on. And as it turns out, that’s exactly wants to do — the purchase of the PT01 Scratch is so that he can learn, thus throwing himself right into the deep end of no skills and super budget gear. He’s absolutely waving goodbye to his comfort zone for a while.
In Didier’s case, the reason is simple — he’s an accomplished guy, and simply seeks the challenge. He never wants to stop learning, something that I can fully relate to. Speaking of which…
OLD MAN SEEKS NEW CHALLENGES
At the end of 2015, after 12+ years of writing about DJ gear, I decided to have a bit of a break, a year long reduced activity kind of break. I’d made a few realisations about myself, the main one being that I had become bored with having to come up with insight into the latest news and finding something fresh to say. The slew of increasing hyperbole and same-shit-just-different-controller reviews had become tedious, with blank screens staring back at me with increasing regularity. Essentially the challenge had gone, making me bored and belligerent. And I am notoriously the world’s worst bored person — when there is no longer a challenge, there is no longer a me. I absolutely must keep learning all the time or what’s the point?
I’d also realised that after so many years of testing just about every possible old and new paradigm of “two turntables and a mixer”, I had little desire to stick with conventional playing of one track to another and back again. Hell, I’ve been doing that on and off since 1983, and it just doesn’t hold the joy it used to. Sure, my scratch skills have developed this year, but that’s not enough.
So in 2016/17, I’ve been pondering how to get the challenge back into what I do. There are definitely some interesting business opportunities ahead that will seem me very much challenged and making myself very vulnerable. But the main change as far as DJing goes is to do something different with music, and I’m looking at completely changing the way I play the original tunes I used to play in the 80s. I want to break original house music up into its constituent parts and do different things that just weren’t possible back in the day. And I want to do it without a turntable or scratch mixer in sight. The challenges for me are many:
Not playing tracks from beginning to end
Using small parts of tracks and having many layers on the go at one time
Not using my hands on a platter
Having to prepare music rather than just throw on whatever I lay my hands on
Some of you will protest that I can do these things and still use turntables and punish the fader. But that’s just chickening out, and staying within my comfortable rut. I need to be yanked out of it to grow.
Being thrown in the deep end of a sustained hack attack in 2015 is the reason why I’m so clued up on WordPress security, and have a site that’s blisteringly fast with Pagespeed A ratings across the board. I had no choice but to leave my comfort zone, and in doing so learned so much. The same will be true of working in entirely new ways with music.
A huge part of the challenge is planning, something that I suck hard at full stop. It’s a full 180° on how I normally work, and it’ll be scary as hell for me. But I have a vision of the sound I want to create, and the only way to do it is to start over with a blank canvas.
WHY YOU SHOULD LEAVE YOUR SAFE SPACE
You’ll stop being bored
As previously mentioned, a great many DJs simply get bored with doing the same thing ad infinitum. There’s only so many ways of spinning the same number of tunes week in week out. And they say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. So instead of quitting, do it differently.
You’ll get new skills
Comforts zones are by nature limiting. You learn everything there is to know about a particular style or skill, and feel safe in the knowledge that you utterly nail it every time you play. But wouldn’t it be cool if you incorporated the occasional technique or track that’s outside of your norm?
And I don’t think it’s a reach to say that with new skills, you’ll be a better DJ, something that might open all sorts of doors for you.
You’ll become more open minded
Comfort zones often come with blinkers, ones that are all too often worn online. Some even build outright walls around their safe place too — a self-built prison that doesn’t allow for even the merest glimpse into the outside world. And within this prison, a side effect of boredom grows, and that’s bitterness towards those outside of their walls. And it shows in the attitudes of too many people, who will happily hate without ever having tried to take even a few pigeon steps in the next man’s shoes.
Instead of a 10 minute blend, how about slamming a track in? Or maybe instead of just turning down the low EQ to scratch, you investigate what the other two EQ knobs that you never touch actually do? And where is it written down that I can’t do a Hip Hop mix in Ableton Live and perform it only on a Push?
Who are these people saying that you have to play genres of music in a fixed way on fixed types of gear anyway? Where is this big book of DJ laws? Some of the greatest things in the world happened by mistake or by simple experimentation. Instead of “you can’t”, people need to ask “what if”? Get back into your comfort zone with your bullshit made up rule book. We don’t want that negativity round here.
Parents will relate to the bizarre phenomenon of kids who insist that they don’t like particular foods without ever having tried them. They fight, sulk, cry, and ultimately go without the dessert they think they’re still going to get because of this bizarre behaviour, only to discover that later in life they’ve been depriving themselves of the best culinary experiences for their whole lives for no good reason. I see this in DJing too.
You don’t have to like the new things that you try, but it’s important to at least try to grow before deciding that you wish to stay in your comfort zone.
TIME TO BREAK FREE
I’m sure that many of you will be reading this and no way relating to it at all. Your safe space is warm and cosy, without any need to look over the walls to see what everyone else is doing. But my advice is to poke your nose over that wall and at least see what else is out there.
Personally I’ve stayed within my comfort zone for far too long, mainly because my livelihood has depended on it. And I could wring every last ounce of joy out of my safe space, but I’m convinced that there’s a better place waiting, perhaps a bigger comfort zone that’s just a natural expansion of my current one.
So for now, I’m demolishing the walls and aim to make everywhere a comfort zone. I’ll make a damned fool of myself, have periods of frustration, and will ask questions of people who would assume I already know this stuff. But I’ll definitely come out the other side a better person, with more experience, and more to offer. And then I’ll probably do it all over again.
And so should you. Or are you afraid of something? Buckaw…
OVER TO YOU
Does any of this ring true for you? Do you stand in front of your gear with a sinking feeling? If so, what do you plan to do about it?
Alternatively have you been here before but dragged yourself out of it? If so, what did you do?