Learning from DJing. Yes really.

Written by Jon Kennard on 31 October 2017

Before my career in L&D, or digital publishing, depending on which way you look at it, I was a DJ. I still am - I just don’t do it as much. Kind of difficult to be a parent, and almost 40, if you’re out til 3am at least one night every weekend. It’s doable, but the hairs will grey quicker, and your children will wonder why you’re always snapping at them.

Every self-help book I get sent these days, every article I read online, contains one or both of these two pieces of advice for productivity and wellbeing: get eight hours sleep every night, and have a cold shower every morning. I’m sure as hell not doing the latter.

So, I still do a few gigs, mostly playing from USB sticks, often from CDs, occasionally even from vinyl (which has been enjoying quite a renaissance over the last few years - but remains too heavy for someone with a chronic back problem). DJing has taught me a lot and continues to do so, and some of it even relates to my work:

  • Customer service, soft skills and task management - You get all sorts of people asking for all sorts of music. Some need to have their requests satisfied, some just want to have a chat, a few need their vexation diffusing.
  • Technology and innovation - What equipment do most venues have these days? What are the emerging technologies and who's adapting these and how widely? What new creative ways can I accomplish what I need to using technology? And more immediately... what if only one of the record decks isn’t working? What if there are no needles? What if the whole system needs to be earthed?
  • Resilience - Michelle Obama famously said that becoming president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are. The same can be said of being drunk. Weather your dissenters and distractions, and focus.
  • Agility and adaptability - This track that someone asked you to play isn’t working. What do you do? The dance floor is full, how do you keep it full? The dance floor is empty, how do you make it full?
  • Bonus bullet point: The service test - As many people are credited with saying, you can tell a lot about people by the way they treat waiters/bartenders. DJing at the level that I do, you are part of the service staff. No-one takes kindly to a sentence that starts with a verb. 

A few weeks ago, I played at The Passenger Shed, an events space in what used to be an old train shed at Bristol’s Temple Meads station. The event was a showcase of the city’s cocktail bars. I was providing the music - all six hours of it. For those unfamiliar with the normal length of a DJ set, that’s about three times the usual.

Around hour four I found myself thinking of the work of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi and his research into the idea of ‘flow’ and I recalled how a previous regular gig I used to do a few years before was a five hour stint and I never felt fully immersed and ‘into’ it until about three hours in. That's flow.

The stand up comedian Richard Herring has also talked before about how, towards the end of an extensive tour, his last few gigs feel like they are an out of body experience, how he can see himself from above, as a vessel for a subconscious performance.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is getting to that state of flow feels brilliant, but that it often takes time. And that I still need more evidence for the benefits of a cold shower.


About the author

Jon Kennard is editor of TJ and has been DJing for 20 years.

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