Why do all the best DJs play “uncool” music?

DJs need to be open-minded when listening to different types of music. You risk beating yourself up if you avoid different genres and focus solely on one. You can also miss out on gigs and limit the originality of your programming. Unfortunately, many DJs do just that.

It’s not a DJ thing though; it’s a people thing, and it all depends on how we treated music when we were kids. We tend to cling to the music we receive as children, whether it comes from our families, television or radio. Our taste in music is heavily influenced by our peers and the social group at school during our teenage years. Music is an important aspect of our identity, and we strongly defend our musical preferences while mocking those who “just don’t get it.”

We might like the current hit from a genre we “despise” that’s all over the radio, but we’re afraid to admit it to ourselves, let alone anyone else. DJs need to break out of this kind of siege mentality.

DJs become DJs long before we think of ourselves as such. We’re always on the hunt for the newest and most exciting songs, regardless of genre, and we can’t wait to share our discoveries with our friends. We are the ones who make the playlists and are the ones who are asked to turn on our iPhones during parties. Things can go downhill when we start seeing ourselves as DJs.

The problem

When you first start DJing, you see professional DJs blasting through four-hour club sets and want a piece of that action. These DJs become your idols and you want to know what music they play so you can emulate them. This is understandable, but it’s easy to get caught up in only listening to and playing one or two “safe” genres of music.

Sure, you’re still on the hunt for good music, but you’ve developed tunnel vision, focusing on trendy musicians and narrow subgenres. You’re missing the bigger picture: DJing is about playing great music, not looking cool. You get a sense of where these DJs are right now when you review these four-hour shows, and you miss the fact that it’s almost certainly a love of a wide range of music that has led them to recognition and prosperity -paid musical judges you love.

There is a plethora of recordings to choose from in various music genres. Expand your musical horizons and you might discover a groove you wouldn’t have found otherwise.
By expanding your musical horizons and taking risks on genres you might otherwise overlook, you can become a better and more knowledgeable DJ. For starters, you broaden your appeal and as a result, you can secure more gigs and meet more people. If you find that your usual songs aren’t quite quenching the thirst of the dance floor, you give yourself more creative opportunities to mix things up in your sets. You begin to develop as a more well-rounded DJ.

The DJ in the top photo, Motor City Drum Ensemble, is an example of a DJ with impeccable, well-rounded taste. You’ll be listening to disco one second and acid house the next in his sets. This ability does not come naturally to him; he’s spent years sifting through genre after genre, and he’s been rewarded with gem after gem.

You have to become a musicologist, not a critic, to find these treasure recordings. Listening to many different kinds of music is just as important as listening to good music. It’s also beneficial to listen to music that makes you uncomfortable because that’s when your tastes begin to broaden.