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I have been watching the Olympics over the last few days. Last night team USA beat team Canada in Hockey, and that was fun to watch. But the Olympian who inspires me the most this year is a young man named Shawn White. You may have heard of him, the “Flying Tomato”, although he doesn’t like to be called that anymore.
Here he is, in the finals for the Half-Pipe Snow Board competition. He draws the last boarder position, which was probably good for the rest of the field, because after his first run he was stomping all the competition. He had the Gold medal won, and didn’t even have to make a second trip down the pipe, yet he did. I found his conversations with his coach interesting. Shawn asked if he should just go right down the center and do nothing, or should he do his planned routine.
His coach tells him he needs to go for it. Shawn hadn’t pulled out his new trick yet: The McDouble with a Twist. (I am sure the corporate burger chain loves that name.) And he nails it as the last trick in the pipe! Then he receives an even higher score than his Gold Medal run by several points. Wow!
Now watching Shawn go down the mountain, it is obvious that he has heads and tails above his competition. He flies at least 5 feet higher on the top of the tube. His tricks are tighter, and he puts them together seamlessly. But you can be sure he doesn’t just get up to the top of the run and say this is what I am going to do.
The crucial part of this story is the invisible part, which enabled Shawn to do The McDouble with a Twist in the first place. He practiced. A 9-letter word that probably sounds like a 4-letter word to some DJs. Shawn practiced for several months, in a secluded place with his coach. And he did the same trick over and over and over and…well, you get the point.
I had the honor of speaking at the Mobile Beat conference this year. I did a seminar called the 12 Steps to Outstanding Performances. Step 6 was “Practice Makes Near Perfect”. I say ‘near perfect’ because it would be very difficult to practice every scenario you might encounter in a live performance. But you can come close.
And one of the reasons I am covering this topic now is that many of us have slowed down, so we aren’t working every weekend. To be honest, we might be a bit rusty. Preparing for the busy season should be a lot like preparing for the Olympics. There isn’t nearly as much time to practice once things do get busy, but right now I practice 2-4 times a week. And over the last year I have begun exercises so that I can physically be ready also. Not least, we owe it to our clients to be ready for their day – haven’t they put in an Olympic effort to create that day as well?
When I first started getting into this mode of practice, I could only think of one thing to practice and that was beat mixing. Since then I have added many practice areas like microphone use, cake cutting ceremony, garter and bouquet toss. I practice breathing and form. I practice the dances I will teach people all year long. It always amazes me that I forget the stroll if I don’t do it for a month or two. I practice every piece of interaction I perform. I practice setting up and tearing down my gear in different configurations. That may sound silly but go to a place you have never played before, 2 hours from home, and you will be ready.
I am not sure I have enough word space to cover every aspect of practice that I use. So I will cover one in a bit more detail, the most important one – microphone use. It kills me going to DJ conventions and seeing how poor a lot of the speakers are at using that tool. So set yourself up in a space with one speaker and your mic. I also practice using a stand because I don’t always free-hold the mic. Here is the key thing; break out your video camera. Half your time should be working on stuff, and the other half reviewing the footage of what you practiced. The camera doesn’t lie. Do just that for 6 months and your shows will change for sure.
Now when I start rolling the tape I always start of with breathing exercises, moving into lip and mouth loosening drills. From there I move into annunciation of all the letters and vowels. One of my favorite drills is tongue twisters. After that I work with reading the newspaper backwards. This is a copy-reading drill. Our brains skip words when reading sometimes. Reading backwards helps you read every word of copy. And finally, I practice with copy that I either have used before or will use again soon.
For a great book about practice I would suggest “Mastery” by George Leonard. He has become one of the few higher black belt aikido masters worldwide. This book goes a great deal into the ‘why’ of practice. Practice is simply the driving force that will catapult us from one level to the next.
Still not convinced of the need for practice, or its’ benefits? To that I have to ask, did Shawn have to learn a new trick and master it before the Olympics? He was good enough to win the Gold without the new trick. But Shawn has the responsibility to push the envelope. By setting the bar higher he forces others in the same sport to reach higher. Those of us that have higher talent when it comes to the DJ world must push our performances to unheard of levels forcing others to either catch us, or fold. We can only achieve that like Shawn did, through practice. Good Luck and Great Shows!
Dean Carlson can be reached at