Steve Lawler: "Being an A&R is the best route to becoming a great DJ" - Comment - Mixmag

Steve Lawler: "Being an A&R is the best route to becoming a great DJ"

The VIVa boss says there's more to a DJ than just playing the Top 10 tech-house tunes

  • Words: Steve Lawler | Illustration: James Clapham
  • 21 July 2017

The last few years it seems to have become an accepted fact that to become a successful DJ, you need to make a big record. I have seen how its worked for some people, but I think the success can often be short-lived, mainly because making a great record doesn’t mean you’re going to be a great DJ. The real art of DJing is a craft. Beat-matching might not be necessary in this day and age, but even people who say that they ‘don’t sync’ mix by looking at the tempo display (at Panoramabar they have tape over the tempo display, forcing DJs to mix by ear – love that!). But DJing is a lot more than just mixing: it’s track selection, track placement, layering, and reading a room. Unfortunately many DJs – even if they’re playing an opening slot in a club – seem to think that their job is to play the Top 10 tech house chart. But not only is that just following others, it means they’re not doing the single most important job of a DJ: being an A&R.

If you’re DJing properly, then you’re doing the role of A&R already, as you’re being a tastemaker and directing people towards a certain sound. I get sent more music than ever now, and as a result it means I also get sent a lot more shit – which means it really needs to be filtered. I spend at least two to three full days a week going through them and searching for new music, both promos and demos, and that’s where the role of a good A&R comes in.

A&R is like a ghost in the works: unless you’re involved in music, you don’t really know it exists. All the people who are on dancefloors around the world or buying music – they don’t always realise that at some point someone’s selecting that music and carefully putting together a release. A&Rs are always there in the background and are one of the most important cogs in the machine.

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