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How To Make It As A Superstar DJ

How To Make It As A Superstar DJ

by Trevor Konsko
08.20.2010

It is an unfortunate reality of the music industry that great talent may never reach the limelight. Yet how does a computer geek from Niagara Falls propel himself into the number 6 spot on DJ Mag's top 100 in a few years?

Joel Zimmerman, better known as Deadmau5, experienced this meteoric rise during his young career on the scene. Producing chart-topping tracks like “The Reward is Cheese,” collaborating with Kaskade on “Move for Me” and hitting stages like Coachella (minor stuff, right?) has put the Canadian at the top of the game. For talent on the rise, understanding his path(s) to success may be the edge needed to turn raw talent into music greatness.

Thinking about the dance music industry (or any industry for that matter) purely through a musician's eyes underestimates its size and depth. There are techies making software, advertisers marketing that software, artists designing album covers, club managers booking artists, writers blabbering about all this (hello!), etc. From this angle, the industry suddenly becomes much bigger, offering more opportunities to make connections.

One such connection is technology. Way back when, before “Faxing Berlin” was minted into history by the likes of Pete Tong, Joel Zimmerman was the computer guy working at a local radio station. Unlike his co-workers, he understood the importance computers would play into music production in the coming years. For him, the PC was the future.

He was right. In fact, this apparently unrelated talent called "programming" got Zimmerman a job at Image-Line, the makers of the popular studio software “Fruity Loops.” You can even hear a sample of some of his music made in the program. Chalk that one up as a good connection.


Image Is Everything

Politician, runway model, CEO or electro house superstar: image is everything. Well, maybe not everything, but its really important. Audiences flock to a recognizable image and name. Match that with talent and you're on your way.

Sometimes these things come out of pure chance. One day Zimmerman was replacing a broken part in his computer when he found nothing other than a dead mouse inside. This inspired him to use Deadmau5 as a screen name and subsequently became the alias we know and love (or hate?).

Name is only half the battle. After contacting a local movie prop manufacturer, Deadmau5 got himself a giant mouse head mask to wear during live performances. With flashing lights and bright colors, the mask is now the icon of his “brand” and affirmation of his presence at shows.


Play All Your Cards

By building on connections and related talents, bringing together image and recognition on a live stage for a memorable experience can turn new-comers to diehard fans. The difference between a DJ and a true performer is about the entire production. Zimmerman explains:

“It’s a technological orgy up there and I try and keep it more my music than anyone else’s. If people come out to see Deadmau5 I want them to hear Deadmau5 music.”

A Deadmau5 show is an onslaught of visual/audio bombardment. Even if you aren't a loyal follower, you will certainly remember what just happened to your brain, and maybe even tell your friends. Make it exclusively your music and the good memories will pop up anytime fans hear your work.


30 Seconds of Fame

The bass is kicking, vocals soaring and suddenly you feel that an epic build as the tempo slowly grows into a floor-killing beatdrop...! Silence. Anyone who's shopped at Beatport or iTunes knows the agonizing effect of hearing an excellent track preview only for it to end right as the song reaches its peak.

This strategy has certainly gained popularity, and it must work well. Take a listen on Beatport's front page and you can find more than a few songs with previews following the same pattern. It has the dual effect of showing off the best part of the production without giving away the “spoiler”, enticing the listener to click "buy."

Of course it might also be a way to hide the boring parts of the track, though that's not how Deadmau5 manages to consistently soar to the top of charts. At the end of the day, its all about talent, recognizing what your audience likes, and just making great music. Even all the tips and tactics listed here can't make up for simply bad music. However, they can help get that unknown talent into the spotlight.

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