Why I Share All My Sets

DJing is not a competition.

At least, not for me. I know that as I get more experienced, I may get more DJ gigs, but I’m always happy to attend a dance event, whether I DJ or not. I love DJing, of course, but I also love listening to how other DJs choose and organize their music – and I love spending time on the floor dancing, of course.

The reason I started this blog, and the reason I share my full sets, is because I believe that swing DJs are in this together. We are part of a tiny sub-community that needs to educate its members, not keep secrets. (Especially due to the fairly obvious male-heavy gender imbalance among swing DJs who get booked for events.) I am always trying to improve, but not to be better than anybody else. My goal is to be better than the DJ I was last week – and that’s it.

I believe looking at other DJs’ sets is part of learning how to DJ — I think it provides a good model for new DJs who are still learning how to structure a set, what a good tempo flow is, and what kinds of songs might go together best. It can also be a great place to look for song ideas for new DJs who aren’t sure where to look for music. (Hint: Ella Fitzgerald. No, more Ella Fitzgerald.)

However, I don’t think anyone can learn how to DJ just by looking at sample sets on the Internet. As with so many skills, the best way to learn is to try! I’m still very much in the middle of this process – building my library with a combination of songs I find on Spotify, songs I hear other DJs play at dance events, songs I download for free from jazz-on-line.com, and songs I buy using the iTunes giftcards that are pretty much the only thing I ask for as gifts these days. I regularly reach out to event organizers and ask if I can DJ at their event. Sometimes the answer is “no,” but it’s always exciting when the answer is “send us a sample set, and let’s talk about it!” And every time I DJ, I put myself into the moment, one hundred percent, and focus on building the best set I can.

Another reason I share sets is to benefit the dancers I play for. I get people all the time who come up and ask me, “What was that song you just played?” By making my set lists an open resource, I hope that dancers will be able to find out where the music they like comes from, and hopefully gain a deeper appreciation for our incredible heritage as modern Lindy Hoppers. Without the groundbreaking work of so many jazz artists, especially those who were and are people of color, we would be lacking the musical foundation for our dance, and that’s critical to remember.

Finally, my sets are uncopyrighted. (Inspired by Leo.) I don’t own the rights to the music I use or the way I arrange songs. I don’t care if people copy my set lists and pass them off as their own. (Although that is remarkably poor form.) You can take one of my sets, put in a bunch of Frank Sinatra or Big Bad Voodoo Daddy or electroswing or whatever, and tell everyone it was a set I played. I don’t care. The people who hear me DJ live and who read this blog know what my sets are actually like, and those are the people whose opinions I care about.

If you’re a DJ, and you choose not to share your sets, I think that’s fine. It’s quite possible that, if I ever become a “big name” in the swing DJ world, I will find some reason to stop sharing my sets. But for now, as a small time DJ, I find I’m pretty happy sharing my ideas freely, and the opportunity to think through my sets and summarize the rationale behind them is making me a better DJ.

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