Today, I’m going to rant a lil bit about the “DJ” industry. I put that in quotes because it’s evolved so much since I started 14 years ago. Damn, I’m getting old! I can’t believe I’ve been playing music for more than half my life. Yikes!
Anyway, where do I begin?
I’ll (try to) be brief as I go back and cover (1) how I started, (2) my musical journey to where I am now, and (3) my thoughts on how technology is helping and fcuk’n up the industry at the same time!
So, my dad (DJ Ekstasis) was one of, if not the first, known Caribbean DJs in the Washington, DC area. Every once in a while one of his geriatric-ass counterparts older friends/acquaintances tells me that I can’t play music like he used to. I want to say thank God, because I wouldn’t get hired…lol! Lemme stop being silly, especially since he may be reading this. He was definitely the first DJ I ever emulated. What can I say? Dude had serious mixing skills and could read a crowd well. I have a feeling if he reads that, I’ll never hear the end of it, but it’s a true story! Anyway, I digress …
Naturally, I’d want to be a DJ too right? Nope! I actually had no interest in that shit at all. That said though, I was always into music: In elementary and middle school I was on the drum line of the marching band, began studying music, and I played pan.
You’re probably asking yourself “what the fcuk does this have to do with the story?” A lot! (Well in my opinion). Understanding structure, syncopation, timing, and a lot of the other elements of music play a major role in how I DJ.
Anyway, back when cassettes were still in heavy rotation, I remember asking my dad to show me how to record a tape. All I wanted to do was put some songs that I liked on a tape that I could listen to on my Walkman. Somehow I impressed the old man because I remember him being excited enough to make my mother listen to it! Looking back at it, I was all over the place bpm-wise, but my cutting must’ve overshadowed that because he started making me come and help out at kid-friendly events he was hired to play for.
Fast forward to high school …
I started getting hired to play for just about every single one of my friends’ birthday parties. I was a house party god…or so I thought! It was really probably because I was the only DJ in my circle of friends…and I only charged $50, lol!
And you want to know what that money went to? Not clothes or shoes for sure! It went into buying more records and eventually CDs. I used to honestly look forward to going to a record store and spending all of my money on new music! That said, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t appreciative of the wav/mp3. Sucks for record stores, but not for my pockets!
Getting back on track, as I hit 16 I started getting hired for bigger events, weddings, and at some clubs. You know what that means: a lot more money and a lot more music. I was also old enough to go out and listen to other professional DJs. I think this period was when I evolved the most. It’s when I started scratching more, mixing faster, remixing on the spot, and opening my musical palette to more genres.
On to the college years…
I’m now “legal,” so I’m mainly playing in clubs! This is where I really learn how build a vibe from scratch. Why? Because typically, I’m playing early-warm when nobody or a few people are at the club. And typically when the club started getting packed is when I’d get the infamous tap on the shoulder to let the more experienced headliner play.
Honestly, I didn’t like it at first! Later though, I realized that it’s part of the learning process that every real DJ NEEDS to go through in order to really excel in any true capacity. In addition, I learned that my role in the musical “formula” for the night was actually very vital: if I built a good vibe, the night flowed well! On the flip-side, if I didn’t build a good vibe, that experienced headliner would have to put in the work for the both of us and try to salvage the night.
I also had to learn how to be a businessman! All fun and games aside, playing music is definitely a business. As with any business, I had to be professional and treat my craft like I’d treat any 9 to 5. I also discovered that even though I wanted more exposure, I couldn’t do it by devaluing myself or undercutting other DJs. Lemme say that again for the DJs trying to get more exposure who may be reading this…I also discovered that even though I wanted more exposure, I couldn’t do it by devaluing myself or undercutting other DJs! I could copy and paste that how many ever times I need to get the point across…which provides a perfect segue into how technology is helping and fcuk’n up the industry at the same time…
In my book, technology is supposed to make the professionals in an industry more effective and efficient. It’s not supposed to make anyone off the street who can afford it, a professional in the industry.
Let’s pick a field. Hmmmmmmmm…Let’s go with medicine. There was a time when doctors consulting on the same patient had to wait for medical records to be mailed to them if the patient didn’t walk with them. Now, there are databases available that provide immediate access to those records. That technology helps doctors get information and treat patients in a more efficient manner. Access to it doesn’t instantly turn them into doctors! They still had to go to Med School, do a residency somewhere, and whatever else doctors have to do to be great (or at least legit).
It seems like in the DJ industry, the concept of the application of new technology works a lil differently. Let’s face it: anyone who can afford a mixer and Serato (a computer program that allows users to substitute their music and/or turntables/CDJs with a laptop) is a DJ an iPod now! I’m not trying to be mean, but I consider a lot of folks iPods ‘cause they’re just that – music players, not actual DJs. Fairly affordable technology has inspired and empowered the average music lover to play music and I actually have no problem when they decide to play out their fantasy AT HOME. It’s when they start trying to play in clubs that issues arise.
Why, you ask? Because most of those same iPods don’t get what it really takes to be a DJ. If you take away the advanced technology and give them 2 records, 2 turntables, a mixer and some headphones, the majority of them would buckle and not know what to do. They get caught up in seeing what they think is fame (in some capacity) and envy it!
So what do they do? In an attempt to be a part of the show, they undercut hard working DJs! They also try to showcase their “talent” by scratching like if they have chickenpox, playing prime-time hits before prime-time, and a heap of other DJing faux pas. They’ve completely overlooked the art in the artform!
They probably couldn’t even fathom that if most real DJs never got another paid gig in life they would be content playing music for themselves in their basement (or wherever they have their equipment set up). It’s sad if you ask me!
Again I digress…
As much as I was against it in the beginning, I absolutely love Serato. I’ll be honest: my huge hesitation was from (1) not quite understanding its capabilities and (2) being terrified to have to convert all of my music to a digital format. After completely converting though, I’ve found a lot of value in it. I rediscovered music that I’d forgotten I had, organized my music in a better way, and the best part is that travelling with my music isn’t a hassle anymore. That said, if there was no more Serato tomorrow, I’d be able to survive. If you consider yourself a DJ, could you?
As much as I love how technology has changed the game, I miss the old days. I miss spending hours in record stores. I also miss when even the thought of being a DJ was too expensive for the average person to realistically aspire to. I never thought about it ’til now, but it helped weed out most of the bullshitters out there! Those were the days!
If it comes across like I’m seriously hating on other DJs and the technology that has afforded them the opportunity to place those two letters in front of an alias, then you’ve clearly missed the point of this post. Either go back and re-read from the beginning or simply stop reading all together and close this page.
If you’re actually a DJ, you probably shook your head up and down at parts of this post and actually started thinking back to the good ole days. Shit, you’re probably disappointed I left certain things out – Sorry.
If you’re an iPod, you’re probably in denial and think you’re a DJ – So sad.
If you’re new to the DJ game and you’re not getting ahead of yourself, but rather laying a proper foundation for becoming a good DJ – Awesome! Trust me, you’re clearly an exception. Continue doing what you’re doing to master your craft! Remember not to undercut other DJs or yourself in the process…and don’t let the bullshit that these iPods are doing out in these clubs fcuk up your flow.
Funny thing is after reading this post, you’ll probably think I’m the cockiest so-called DJ in these streets. But guess what? I’m really not! Ask around … I’d be the first to tell you that I’m not a big DJ at all. I just love playing music and I love how it affects people. That said, I am definitely very critical of other DJs & you iPods out there. And I think with good reason. I believe when you’re passionate about something and someone else devalues it and tries to exploit it because they think it’s cool, you’re allowed to bust their chops…hard!
Anyway, this post is already longer than I thought it would be, so I’ll leave the promoters alone for now. But don’t worry, I’ll write something for you guys soon! That’s right, you guys play a MAJOR role in why iPods are heavy in these streets.
That’s all for now…