Martin Garrix is 19 years old. He's got 3.5 million Instagram followers, YouTube video views upwards of 25 million, and his 2015 was pretty fly, from playing at some of the biggest dance music festivals on the planet (Exit Festival in Serbia, Ultra in Croatia, Sziget in Budapest) to DJing at the most lucrative clubs in the Med.
Being an international superstar DJ and producer seems, well, pretty sweet. You may even play around with mixing tracks now and then yourself. But while the rise of the DJ as an artist and the ascension of electronic dance music seems to be everywhere (Calvin Harris, Avicii, David Guetta, Tiesto), the competition is fierce (Steve Aoki, Kaskade, Armin Van Buuren).
Going from playing around with software or plugins in your basement to flying around the world to perform for over 50,000 people takes a bucket load of hard work.
We caught up with the Dutch superstar before his Isle of MTV performance in Malta last week to get to the bottom of what it takes to become a DJ.
1. Work Hard
At eight years old, Garrix first saw Tiesto playing on television at the Olympic Games in Athens and was hooked, immediately saving up money for his first DJ setup. Nobody can criticize eight year old Garrix for not being determined, and that sense of work ethic hasn't changed. “I think in the end it’s all about how much time and effort and how much work you put into something," said Garrix. "So my number one advice would be to spend as much time as you can in the studio working on trying to get better, trying to improve your sound, trying to find your own sound.”
2. Find Your Own Sound
Dance music has stealthily infiltrated pop culture, but with so much competition, you've got to make something new and refreshing to stand out. "The problem right now is there are so many DJs – and producers and DJs – that it’s very hard to stand out because everything sounds so alike," noted Garrix. "It’s important to stand out and be different because that’s how you get noticed. Finding your own sound is key."
3. Know Your Tools
Choosing the best DJ software can be a complicated business, but you've got to be able to produce as well as just mix tracks. "I’m a DJ when I’m on stage mixing the songs but what brings us to the charts is when we’re in the studio actually producing the music and that’s something completely different than DJing," said Garrix. The difference is worth noting: While producers create original new music in a studio using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), a DJ takes already-created music and mixes them together.
One reason dance music may have broken into the mainstream? Collaborations with pop singers, says Garrix. "A lot of pop singers went in the studio with people like Calvin Harris, Avicii, David Guetta, and combined the two sounds and I think that’s definitely one of the reasons why electronic music is right now getting so big," said Garrix. "'Animals' for example was an instrumental song and the radio started playing it, which was even for the label and for the entire team and for me [surprising that] they accepted something different [on the radio]."
5. Get Excited
“I do get nervous when my intro gets started, every show," Garrix admitted. "When the people come in and the intro gets started and you feel the energy and excitement, that’s when I get excited but also very nervous.”