A Practical Interview With a Prominent DJ (1st in a Series): Ill Cosby
by Dave Segal
on Tue, Aug 21, 2012 at 3:53 PM
Earlier this year, The Stranger was thinking about running a feature called DJ Survival Guide. I interviewed several Seattle disc jockeys for the piece and accumulated thousands of words of wisdom re: the selecting, mixing, and playing of music for other people’s pleasure. Alas, the thing never achieved publication. So I’m going to post those interviews on Line Out, because there’s enough solid advice there to help a lot of aspiring jocks… and because the replies are inherently interesting, especially if you spend a lot of time hunched over decks and record bins.
The first Q&A involves the dearly departed (for Washington DC, *sniff*) Ill Cosby, honcho of the Car Crash Set label and a DJ/producer of exceptional skill—and a fairly regular presence in the comments section of this blog. Onward.
The Stranger: How many hours a week do you practice? Ill Cosby: My prep time, outside of listening to music, is typically about 4-6 hours a week. Sorting through music I've heard during the past week, organizing files, transferring them from computer to computer. I don't practice these days—yikes!
What's your DJing format of choice? Serato and turntables at the moment. I started many years ago playing records, so stepping up to Serato was an easy move for me. It retains the technical feel of vinyl, but it gives you the ability to play a number of wildly different sets at any time.
What's your recommended gear? Technics 1200/1210 series turntables still reign supreme. I use Shure M44-7 needles because they stay in the groove really well and, since I now use Serato, I don't have to worry about record wear. Serato has been great because it's stable, easy to use, and has a pretty wide user base among DJs.
Where are the best places to obtain music? Boomkat and Bleep are great online retailers who only stock interesting and engaging music and weed out the boring and terrible stuff. Easy Street Queen Anne, to me, has the best stock of 12"s from cutting-edge acts that are updated really regularly—even for imports. The best place to get music is from friends who make good music.
What are the most effective methods of procuring gigs? Believe it or not, asking. There are a lot of niche genre DJ nights in Seattle and going to them, supporting them, and talking about them is the best thing you can do as someone who wants to become involved further. The circles are small enough in Seattle for this to make a major difference.
I should mention a few tips on how to act once you do have a gig: be courteous, be on time, tip the bar staff, and don't play a peak-hour electro-house set at 9 pm.
What's the most efficient way to fill a dancefloor (with dancers, to be specific)? Recognition goes a long way. Play a song that people know or that has elements of a song that people know. This doesn't mean a DJ should play top-40 remixes—people in Seattle are smarter than that and there is no need to really, really dumb it down.
Is beatmatching absolutely essential? Not at all. DJAO, Baltic Room, Dec. 8, 2010: an unforgettable set that lived and breathed without the necessity of beatmatching (or gravity). Beatmatching is good DJ practice, but selection should always be above technique.
How do you deal with requests? Listen to all requests, play them if they fit, and don't play them if they don't.
How effective do you think flyering is? Not very much. It hasn't worked well this century.
What are the most beneficial ways to promote gigs? Actual IRL person-to-person conversation. The internet is great, but no one should depend on a Facebook invite attracting every likely attendee. If a show is going to be great, tell another person with words that come out of your mouth and into their ears. It means more.
If you have an overarching philosophy about DJing, please discuss it. A good DJ set should always tell a story through the music. When I hear a good set, I feel like I'm taking a ride with the DJ and feeling the theme they are trying to convey. In the context of DJing, songs without a journey are like words without a sentence.