Behind the Decks: DJ/Producer Shawn Jackson Shares Invaluable Insights on his Music Journey
Producer, DJ, and Multi Label Owner Shawn Jackson has pushed his style of Deeptech and Tech House nearly 3 decades, with over 200 chart topping releases and has been supported by some of the biggest names in the business. Emerging as a distinguished Producer, leaving his own mark on the ever-evolving landscape of the genre with his passion and boundless creativity. He invites listeners to immerse themselves in a sonic experience where hard-hitting beats, powerful melodies, and electrifying energy converge.
Shawn is an electrifying force in the world of Electronic music, continuing to release hard-hitting music that aims to reach new milestones, his dynamic productions and signature style are proof to his artistic prowess and indisputable talents. In this behind-the-decks interview, we explore Shawn’s background and creative process, his experience as a DJ and the processes behind his energetic live shows.
Hi Shawn! How are you?
I’m doing great! Thank you for having me.
As a seasoned DJ, can you share some of the most memorable moments you’ve had behind the decks? Any particular gigs or sets that stand out in your mind?
Over the years, one specific moment truly stands out; it was my main floor set at New York City’s legendary Limelight.
Mixing is a fundamental skill for DJs. What are some of your top tips for achieving smooth and seamless transitions between tracks?
That’s simple. Know your track selection and plan your set based on time and audience. For short sets, you want to hit them right from the start and keep the energy high. For long sets, continue to progressively elevate the energy level consistently.
Every DJ has their own style and approach to building a set, can you walk us through your process of selecting and arranging tracks to create a cohesive and engaging journey for the audience?
I construct my sets based on taking the audience on a journey right from the intro. I want to grab everyone’s attention the moment I get behind the decks, and we all know a good intro provides that. I play tracks I enjoy which are not necessarily the well-known hot tracks of the moment. Heavy percussion, deep rolling basslines and standout hooks which keep the vibe steady.
How do you read and connect with the crowd during your sets? Are there any specific techniques or cues you rely on to gauge the energy and respond accordingly?
I engage with the crowd, make lots of eye contact and movement – I even dance a bit, and for a big guy it gets noticed. I make eye contact and point to people, clap and thank them over and over throughout the set. I am not one to get on the mic and amp up the crowd. I do that with my track selection and programming. I’ve also been known to toss out a bunch of free merchandise from my apparel line.
As mixing in key is a popular technique in DJing, how important do you think it is to mix harmonically, and how do you personally incorporate it into your sets?
I personally understand the benefit and why it’s important, however I do not take that into account in my sets – just not for me.
In today’s digital age, DJs have access to a vast library of music. How do you stay organized and ensure that you have the right tracks at your fingertips during performances?
The ease-of-use tools out there right now are amazing. I personally use Rekordbox to analyze my music. I don’t really use it to make many edits or cue points, but rather make sure they are ready to use in my performance. I create folders based on genre and the time in which I would play it in my set (opening, transition, peak time and closing). There aren’t any tracks in my folders that I do not know or have not played previously.
What are some essential technical skills that every DJ should master, especially when it comes to beatmatching and controlling the crowd’s energy?
Know your music, be comfortable with your selections and never force something to work. Understand all facets of the track from start to finish, know the break and what track will mesh with it upon the drop.
Can you share any behind-the-scenes insights into your preparation for gigs? How do you familiarize yourself with the venue, sound system, and crowd demographics to deliver an exceptional performance?
My team essentially goes through every detail to ensure it all meets the contract as it relates to sound and equipment. They test everything using my own music and then fully assess the setup. Once all of that is approved, I will run through sections of my set to ensure the levels match my ears and I’m comfortable behind the decks with a clear line of sight to the audience.
What are your thoughts on the use of effects and creative mixing techniques? How do you strike a balance between adding your personal touch and maintaining the integrity of the original tracks?
I have no opinion on those who use a ton of effects in their sets, or those who simply match beats and play tracks in their entirety. I see both sides and personally enjoy artists like James Hype and Carl Cox who use outboard gear to enhance their performances. I also enjoy Sasha and Digwee’s sets, which essentially use no additional equipment. I use very few effects in my sets, which primarily consist of some delay and looping (I’m simple). I like to keep the integrity of the original work for the crowd to hear.
Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring DJs who are looking to improve their skills behind the decks and make a lasting impact with their performances?
I would say knowing your music, knowing your audience and being comfortable behind the decks will create consistency and quality. You have to understand that people pay good money to attend shows, and they deserve the very best you have to offer every single time you perform. Look at it as not only a passion but also as a business.
We thank Shawn Jackson for his time and insights as we explore his rich experience as a seasoned DJ, accomplished Producer, and Multi Label Owner. With an impressive career spanning nearly three decades, Shawn’s contribution to Electronic music is surely significant. This interview shed a light onto his perspective on his journey, his approach to DJing, the art of curating engaging sets, and the techniques that underpin his captivating live performances. Make sure to follow him across social media to remain updated on his latest releases and projects, as he certainly shows no signs of slowing down.
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