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The DJ Anti-Profile: How not to write a DJ bio

August 19, 2010

Well, I remember—back in the days when raves were promoted primarily by flyers printed on actual paper and distributed to record shops that had bricks-and-mortar storefronts you could go and visit—that a “DJ profile” used to just mean someone’s name and their affiliations to rave collectives…and, later, to record labels. Sure, those DJs that were big enough to have an agent probably already had a paragraph or two about them written down somewhere, but they circulated in a smaller, closed circuit of “professionals” behind the scenes. About 15 years later (for me, at least), even beginning DJs have a carefully-crafted “bio” to email to anyone, to bundle into their press kit, and to post on their blog, personal website, MySpace Music profile, Facebook fanpage, Soundcloud user page, Resident Advisor DJ page, and so on. The move of event promotion from paper flyers (where text space is expensive) to the internet (where space is cheap, but attention is hard to keep) has vastly expanded the amount of information we expect to have available for a DJ: a few well-targeted web searches about any particular DJ will provide you with a discography (including collaborations and remixes), DJ-charts (where a DJ lists his/her “top ten” records of the moment), several versions of the DJ’s biography, images of him/her, DJ-mixes/podcasts, videos of the DJ performing live, and—if s/he is doing well—a few interviews. These changed expectations mean that DJs launching their careers now are under enormous pressure to generate “media presence” at levels that DJs of the 80s and 90s never even imagined. In particular, the “biographic” aspect of the DJ profile has become an important element of career-building and marketing; and, like any other type of marketing, there are certain narratives (story lines, themes, events) that “sell” well.

In other words, there are clichés and standard formulas for writing a DJ profile, and the sheer number of DJ profiles available today makes these clichés obvious. Certainly, anyone who goes out to Electronic Dance Music (EDM) events (and, therefore, is active in the online communities that list these events) has probably read hundreds if not thousands of DJ bios already, and can probably name a few of these formulas without effort. When I polled friends and acquaintances who were involved in EDM scenes, here’s the short list I got (including a few of my own):

“DJ X…”

  • “…started playing records when s/he was 10 years old.”
  • “…benefited from his/her parent(s)’s vast eclectic record collection and so started from a very young age.”
  • “…is the child of professional musicians.”
  • “…is a classically trained pianist.” (i.e., took piano lessons at age 9-11)
  • “…is not just a whiz behind the decks, but also a classically-trained trombonist and has a doctorate in quantum physics.” (extra points if these things have nothing to do with the kind of music s/he makes)
  • “…has always had a keen interest in music.” (no shit!)
  • “…started playing at local parties.” Or, for bonus points: “…Originally hailing from Quietville, X soon found the club scene of nearby Trendycity irresistable, and so relocated at age 19 to try his hand behind the decks.” (i.e., a combination of “authentic” small-scene origins and trendy big-city prestige: “I’m not fake and snobby like these scenesters here, but I proved myself on their turf.”)
  • “…developed his/her encyclopedic knowledge of electronic music by working in the local recordshop.”
  • “…has shared the decks with such techno luminaries as SuperstarDJ1, RetiredButRespectedVeteran2, and FlavorOfTheMonth3.” (i.e., s/he played 6 hours earlier/later and never met any of them)
  • “…has influences ranging from Kraftwerk to Miles Davis, via George Clinton, Joy Division, and classic sixties beat pop” (especially when there’s absolutely no evidence of these sounds in his/her fairly straight-up minimal techno)
  • “…is deeply steeped in the legacy of Chicago house and/or Detroit techno and/or New York garage.”
  • “…is known for spinning eclectic sets,” or “…is not limited to any genre, combining deep house, pounding techno, dubstep, disco, and baile funk.” (+1 point for every genre named that never actually appears in any of his/her mixes)
  • “…is completely self-taught, not having even the benefit of observing/consulting other DJs. So pure is her/his talent on the decks.”
  • “…always whips the crowd into a frenzy,” or some variation on this theme. This is, after all, what counts as the “bottom line” for promoters who are looking to book a DJ; the biographical information might help sell the event, but the promoter wants a guarantee that the DJ will create the sort of excitement that drives up drink sales and builds the club’s reputation.
  • “…has released the banging tune Y, with support from Ritchie Hawtin, DJ Hell, William Orbit and others” (where tune Y probably isn’t all that well known, and “support” is vague and ill-defined.)

Read altogether like this, these clichés are ripe for parody. In fact, let me improvise a spoof profile in five minutes:

DJ Glittersnizz has been rocking the decks since he was barely toilet-trained, when he rifled through his parents’ vast and eclectic record collection and started experimenting with the controls on their old walnut-veneered record player. He grew up in a profoundly musical household, his parents being professional musicians who put him into classical piano and jazz guitar lessons from the moment he had enough motor control in his hands to hold a guitar pick. He is nonetheless a completely self-taught DJ, buying all the necessary gear with money saved up from a part-time job as a dishwasher and learning by bringing a new piece of musical technology home, plugging it in, and pushing all the buttons until something happened. The first record he bought was a now-out-of-print EP of Parliament Funkadelic covering Kraftwerk’s “Calculator.”

He began playing in local bars and clubs in his hometown of  Nowheresville, getting his first break when the DJ called in sick at a local pub where he washed dishes. He soon blew up in Nowheresville and began playing in TrendyStateCapital, after he was discovered by Well-ConnectedScenester of the BigCityPartyPromoter crew. He was taken under the wing of EstablishedVeteranDJ1, who took him on tour to Ibiza, Berlin, Tokyo, Santiago, Miami, and some secret techno resort that common tourists don’t know about. He has since enjoyed immense success, blowing up dancefloors across the globe (OK, OK, mostly around TrendyStateCapital) to sold-out crowds. He has shared the decks with the likes of SuperStarDJ1, EstablishedVeteranDJ2, and HotForTheNextMonth3, all of whom played at his afterparties in the swank uptown loft that his parents are TOTALLY not paying for, he swears. He is also a prolific and respected producer, having released two albums and 10 EPs since he got up this morning. His most recent mega-hit track, “My Snizz is Glittery,” has been charted by every single fucking DJ listed on Resident Advisor and Discogs combined, with support from all the leading DJs signed to any label that ever mattered—plus his grandma.

Glittersnizz’s musical style reflects his eclectic influences—from high-modernist integral serialism to jazz-funk fusion to Armenian epic poetry to 80s hair metal—all distilled down to pure, crystalline minimal techno. He’s not limited to minimal techno, instead combining disco, dubstep, clickpop, glitch, and progressive house to create a new sound that the entire staff of Pitchfork has been trying to name for the last year (the senior what-is-this-electronica-crap editor suggested “jigglestep” and then resigned in shame).

There you go. That took a bit more than five minutes because I got carried away. Easy, eh? There’s this interesting collision between the 19th-century Romantic “natural genius” narrative and the 20th-century American Dream “I earned this all through hard work” narrative, which produces odd contrasts and contradictions. A greater challenge, however, is to write a DJ bio that is the opposite of these clichés. I’m not thinking of replacing the positive hyperbole with negative hyperbole—that would be far too easy and much too boring—but instead produce a biography that is unremarkable, banal, modest, ambivalent, and even a bit realistic. Here’s what I came up with:

DJ Meh never really had a particular interest in music, and is only really getting into DJing because his other friends have been doing it and he’s beginning to feel left out. He comes from a middle-class, suburban home, where he shuffled his way through the educational system without any major incidents and moved on to the nearest state university to pursue a degree in economics (with a minor in psychology). His parents supported him through school, so he was able to buy cassettes and CDs when he liked (never vinyl records, though) and he could occasionally indulge in musical whims: he bought a used Roland 606 from a pawn shop during a moment when he was fascinated by sampling technology and, not knowing its market value, sold it back to the pawn shop for $20 when he got bored with it. The same thing happened to a guitar, an ill-fated hamster, a Dungeons & Dragons gaming set, and a screenprinting kit. Despite his financial security, he did have a part-time job during high school at a chain fast-food restaurant, where the only music-related thing he learned is that you shouldn’t call banda music “mariachi” music, especially in the presence of those Latino guys that were always working the fryers.

Meh used the funds from his lucrative consulting job to buy all the top-of-the-line gear on a whim, which he may or may not be using in a month. Too impatient to learn through trial-and-error and observation, he purchased several “How to DJ” instructional videos and has hired a local wedding/event DJ to teach him how to mix records. His musical influences have mostly been top-40 chart-pop, not-so-indie rock, and whatever hip-hop and r’n’b that iTunes recommends to him. His musical style is a generic mix of house and tech-house, mostly chosen from whatever tracks show up on DJ-charts, whatever Beatport suggests when he logs in, and any tracks that his DJ friends mention more than once.

DJ Meh feels quite good about his infrequent gigs over the past few months, which some people in attendance have described as “surprisingly decent.” Some guy from a downtown event promoter has expressed interest in booking him as an opening DJ, and there is some hope that he might even get booked out of town. He hasn’t played with any internationally-known DJs (or nationally-known, for that matter), but he once picked up Richie Hawtin from the airport for a gig, and he had very polite things to say about the mix-CD that DJ Meh insisted on playing the whole drive into town. Other DJs have said that Meh is “a very nice guy” and “vaguely memorable.” He has enjoyed moderate success with his first track, “Sigh, Shrug, and Continue,” which has garnered support from a handful of B-list DJs—although maybe they were just providing support to increase their own profile in the industry.

DJ Meh doesn’t really know what he’s up to next. He’s been digging this DJ thing alright, but it doesn’t feel all that important to him.

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42 Comments leave one →
  1. August 19, 2010 19:10

    note: special thanks to my friends as well as a few users on MetaFilter, all of whom contributed to the list of clichés in this post.
    UPDATE: Not all of the blogs / sites that link to this article use the pingback system, so I’m including below a list of sites that have linked to this article but do not appear in the pingback list.

  2. Dina permalink
    August 20, 2010 10:46

    This is excellent, and should be required reading for all label owners, artist management, and the like.

    But, I will say, I drove DJ Meh once to the airport and he LOVED my gabber remix of George Michael’s Careless Whisper.

    • August 20, 2010 10:52

      much like the Shackleton dubstep remix of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Games (oh god, I can just imagine it).

  3. August 26, 2010 08:34

    This made me cackle and snort more than 3 times. : D

    Thanks for the read…I’m now starting off my morning with a smile.

  4. Matt Tharp permalink
    August 26, 2010 10:37

    Very pleasant read… I propose we all carry on flogging the ‘minimal’ wave by putting a mere ‘.’ And at some point some nitwit can start his/her bio with:

    I did ‘.’ for a long time, and I now credit myself for the resurrection of the disgusting post-early to mid 2000’s minimal house nightmare! I have no influences nor any experiences to regurgitate, for I am ‘.’

    Good luck to the winner of this prize…

    I’m just gonna start mine with:

    I’m alright, had a lot on, ducked and dived for a bit, pulled a few strings, danced in me own garden didn’t I? I play other peoples records, and make my music sound like all the music I’ve liked(avoiding any plagiaristic tendencies of course…) You make like me, you may not, but living in our current demographic we ain’t got a lot of time, nor money to worry about it… I’ll just keep on keeping on…

    Bit self indulgent maybe? Who knows?!

  5. DJ Waspkiller permalink
    August 26, 2010 11:39

    Lol. So true!!!!!!

    V funny and couldn’t agree more. There is so much promo guff.

    It’s the same with blogs these days – just post a link to the music, no-one is the slightest bit interested in the sub Lester Bangs prose!! Hate reading sub-NME/Pitchfork rubbish that is trying to be amusing. Just because you can self-publish doesn’t mean anyone else wants to read the badly written shite. At least with trad media there was a filter, ‘journalists’ had to earn the right to communicate their thoughts. These days the democracy of the net has filled it with middle class idiots who feel their ‘voice’ (sic) should be heard (though who have strangely failed to get proper jobs pursuing their ‘craft’).

    Music is there to be listened to. Period. It doesn’t require artist names or track titles – they’re pointless, anachronistic terms. Give me a file name made of numbers any day, way more underground. The sooner that happens then we won’t be bombarded with shit, or forced to read other people’s interpretations of said shit.

  6. kate permalink
    August 26, 2010 13:56

    Writing a dj bio is a bitch.. Luis, can you write mine?
    (I’m only half kidding…..)

    xx
    Kate

    • August 26, 2010 14:13

      Aw Kate, you know I would! When I get back into Chicago, I could totally call you, take some notes, and craft something glowing yet non-clichéd…

      (p.s. Berlin is awesome)

      • Kate permalink
        August 27, 2010 00:05

        Great Berlin is awesome! El Barco + bio when you return 🙂
        xx

  7. Andrew permalink
    August 26, 2010 14:15

    No DJ bio ought exceed one paragraph.

  8. August 26, 2010 16:52

    Here is my bio that I`ve made a while ago after seeing all these cliche ones mentioned here:

    While on the run from the KGB after escaping communist Poland, Arek Triple SL (Arek3xSL) has been part of North America’s underground for several years. Hiding out in clubs under the cover of the fog machine and in venues disguised by creative lighting and elaborate decor, Arek slowly infiltrated the music scene. With a music style as dynamic as his drinking skills, partygoers will never know what to expect from trance to techno and goa, house to breaks, the only thing we can guarantee is that you will be shaking your ass until he leaves the decks.. possibly back into hiding like the Polish outlaw he is.. or more likely, to wherever he keeps his beer.

  9. August 26, 2010 19:52

    Nice one. Nails hit all squarely on the head. Wrote about this a couple of years back over here:

    http://www.johnkuan.com/5-overused-points-you-should-never-include-in-your-dj-musician-bio/

    The hairs on the back of my neck are standing from the DJ Meh + Glittersnizz examples.

  10. Koko permalink
    August 26, 2010 22:12

    Freakin’ brilliant. Same goes for punk. I remember in high school everyone who was in a band or even just went to shows claimed that their parents had this extensive record collection, were on first term basis with every member of the Sex Pistols and, well you get the point…
    Why? Who knows!
    I love it. Thanks for this article.
    xoxo
    koko

  11. August 26, 2010 22:41

    This is funny. Irregardless, it does a great disservice to those DJs out there who are working very hard at taking themselves too serious.

  12. August 27, 2010 01:18

    Winced as I felt a touch of recognition there, thankfully only a touch and only on a couple of points! Nicely observed.

  13. August 27, 2010 01:26

    wow, this is great article, i was just looking around on how to write my bio for promotional use. Thanks alot mate…

  14. August 27, 2010 01:40

    Thanks everyone for the lovely comments! As a lot of you have already noticed, the exaggerated parody sits on top of a rather conventional “DJ bio” form. In fact, you could probably use the two examples above to distill the standard form of a DJ bio (whether good or bad):

    – The “How I got into this music” paragraph
    * optional details on childhood/adolescence
    * optional musical training credentials
    – The “My career so far” paragraph
    * include clubs and residencies where you first started playing
    * note any “breakthrough” gigs or releases
    * optionally mention famous DJs that you’ve worked with or played with (but be careful not to sound like a desperate douchebag)
    – The “What I sound like” paragraph
    * describe your musical influences and style
    * describe how you interact with a crowd
    * if you produce, list your best-known release and your most recent release.
    * clarify whether you do live sets, DJ sets, or both

  15. August 27, 2010 09:53

    Nuff said! Made my day :))

  16. gary permalink
    August 27, 2010 13:22

    Totally agree. I feel like some DJs would jerk off to themselves in a mirror if they loved themselves any more.

    Here’s mine:

    “Those 1200s sure were expensive, but that’s the price you pay for loving house music. I mean, do you know how many drinks a full setup can buy? Bring on the “free hooch for the DJ after his set” gigs!”

  17. Learco Fermi permalink
    August 27, 2010 13:48

    there’s only one rule when it comes to trying to get a gig :

    It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know……

    ——-DJ LORDSIE———

  18. August 27, 2010 17:40

    A DJ bio isn’t complete unless it includes the phrase “strength to strength”

  19. August 27, 2010 18:32

    ow wow , lol i am with you on this one …. but suddenly i seem to realize i kinda have a couple of things mentioned in the “NO NO ” section……. ummm can i ask you to check it and tell me if its something that is OK or do i just fit in that DO NOT DO mold !!! really i hate those snobby , eye brow plucking , 1000 dollars outfit DJs who call them selves ” I AM THE SHIT” and yet have no clue what being a dj is….. please check it out on http://thedjlist.com/djs/HADY_BASHA/ and send me an email seven_35@hotmail.com …… i am someone who believes its all about the ppl , its all about music.

    • Why Not permalink
      August 27, 2010 18:41

      well yeah you did mention a couple of “no no” as you call it , but read the whole thing, you seem humble , s0 it was ok to read, felt like was reading a real bio and not someones cocky rants , i think the issue in this article is those who write it in a arrogant way to make seem the crossed the wall of China barefoot on their tippy toes, i can speak for my self , it is ok in my book, dont know about the rest of the guys….cheers and good luck with your DJ-ing

  20. Jen permalink
    August 30, 2010 05:06

    good post..great share, great article..love to read it

  21. September 3, 2010 18:48

    Really enjoyed reading this. Thank you!

  22. October 11, 2010 07:48

    Really nice post and something that I do complain so much about since I HATE bio’s in general. They do are absurd and stupid, rarely I see one that makes something nice to read. Anyway, they only point I’m totally agreeing with you is the inspiration (eg. “…has influences ranging from Kraftwerk to Miles Davis, via George Clinton, (…)”). If you make music, you’re not going to get your inspiration from people that make music like you do. You’ll want to get it elsewhere, sometimes at the right opposite in order to get a feeling or a tone that is *not* in the music you usually make, to transpose new ideas. Of course, the end product will not sound like Miles but I got inspired by was him. Of course, a lot of people just say that because they to sound cool and yeah, the music sometimes is so crappy that you know this guy was filling his bio with something “intelligent”. Shame!

    • October 11, 2010 10:07

      Merci pour le commentaire, Pheek! Yes, one can draw influence from a lot of different sources that are not necessarily similar to one’s own work. I think what I was trying to describe was more the performance of eclecticism as a form of sophistication—un éclecticisme forcé pour faire croire qu’on est intelligent. In any case, there are plenty of other things to complain about in DJ bios, but they are also an unavoidable part of the techno “business.”

      • October 12, 2010 08:36

        Oui j’avais bien pigé ton intention mais je voulais rectifier le tir pour les gens qui ne pourraient comprendre. Je pensais bon aussi de partager le point de vue d’un artiste fortement inspiré par Miles Davis 🙂

  23. A_Greek permalink
    October 22, 2010 00:49

    Hi my name is Zeus. I started listening to Electronic Music while residing on a humble Greek Island when I was 16 months old. Life somehow brought me to Trance Music while I was supposedly doing my Graduate Studies in Chicago. It was that period that I flerted with the idea of becomming a DJ myself, but luckily I met all you techno-freaks. Through you guys I realized how sacred it is to spin in front of an eclectic crowd. All these years of being a proffesional spectator a big realization was that it takes many years and hard work to “get the crowd properly crazy”. Hopefully one day I will have the guts to fulfill a much wanted desire to perform on the decks.

    Zeus

    ps Love your blogs Luis.

    • October 22, 2010 00:55

      hehe, eufxaristó, Z! With a name like Zeus, you don’t even have to write a DJ Bio for yourself. The name says everything!

  24. November 4, 2010 09:48

    i take my kids for piano lessons because i want them to learn about playing the piano ..

  25. Oshen permalink
    January 29, 2012 18:32

    Armenian epic poetry.. I would include something like that just to trip people up haha

  26. March 14, 2012 10:29

    I run an artist management, booking agency, and a record label. It’s my job to get these bios and other related EPK materials for the artists to get them promoted.
    I absolutely HATE bios! Honestly as a professional, I don’t care. It makes no difference to me If you’ve been in a state facility for the past 20 years and only heard EDM for the first time last week.
    If you send me or give me access to a demo, especially your own produced tracks, even if you mail me a cassette tape and a vhs because that’s all you have and you can draw people to come see you and I can work with you I’m interested.
    The bio is for “FANS” and “POTENTIAL FANS” nobody else (and half the time the ans don’t care).
    We in the industry want to hear and see what you have. people want good new sounds to keep them dancing and a show of some kind to entertain them. If you can set up 20 pcs of equipment and play off your Ipod but make it look like your doing a hundred things and entertaining the masses, who keep coming back and make it work for you….GREAT! That’s what disco dj’s did back in the day. played one record after the next but entertained the crowd. Musical background? HA that’s a laugh most of the original dj’s knew how to drink, liked to dance, knew what music was good to keep everyone going, and wanted to get laid. There were NO bios.

  27. Sunfell permalink
    April 8, 2014 17:23

    Reblogged this on Learning Digital Music and commented:
    How NOT to write a DJ bio! I laughed my cans off.

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