Sitting here this morning over coffee, I was thinking back to yesterday’s gig with Monk-One on the roof of the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn. It’s a beautiful space, with a beautiful view of the Manhattan skyline and you can see Brooklyn for miles the other way. The sound system is good, the equipment new, plus there is a custom DJ booth. The weather yesterday was spectacular, and as the sun set, we were playing and sharing music we love surrounded by friends, people who we didn’t know that liked the sounds, and others who came in to check out the vibe on a whim. By all means, it was a perfect day. But what people do not understand, is that it’s not always glamorous to be a DJ. Let’s take a look at what goes into putting together a DJ night and or nights, and the subsequent effects of the DJ life .
Number one: we just don’t show up with a record bag ready to go and fly off into the sunset with records playing without a care. There is preparation. What people don’t see is what goes on behind the scenes when we aren’t DJing. The countless hours going through records and putting them into different bags before gigs. The lifetime of research about records, because every day we should be learning about music, getting new music, and looking for records to stay fresh with our nights. So if I have 5 gigs a week, all different, that’s not just five days a week of the same work. There is a constant rotation of records, buying new records, practicing and putting two records together for the perfect mix, and hitting up my regular record dealers and shops (plus online + Discogs) for more material. That is a lot of work in that, and it takes time. DJing is fun, but again, not always easy. It is a job and just like any job it has it’s ups and downs. Number two: Records cost money. Rare records cost even more money. Not having the same records as everyone else (although some crossover is inevitable, dope records are dope records, like minded DJs gravitate to the same records) is something I think we all strive for. That being said, trying to get unique records on your budget (whatever that is) is not always easy. But the key is to stay in your lane and make it work for you. Number three: Dealing with the public can be difficult sometimes. You are hired by a club or venue as you. If you’re hired to be a jukebox, then usually the club will say that, aka “play all the current hits”. If that’s a path you choose, then Godspeed because you’re bombarded even more by people with requests, and useless chatter while you’re mixing. Speaking of the public and requests, I stopped taking them. I got tired of being treated like a butler or someone’s personal mp3 player. I’m not the bartender, so stop talking to me like I OWE you something. I don’t care if it’s your birthday or your boy can rip a dope freestyle, or that you’re leaving and you want to hear a song real quick. I got hired to stay in my lane and play what I play, so if you don’t dig the vibe, there are 20 bars close that will let you take your horse to Old Town Road. Dig? If the owner wanted you here, he would have called you up. So no requests, no hard feelings. Most people don’t pay attention enough to feel a vibe of the night. Here’s a recent request while I was playing dance hall reggae. “Can you play Bruce Springsteen?” I just looked up and said ‘no” politely. When asked why, I said: “Are you even paying attention to the music?” If you want to hear your song so bad, go outside, fire up youtube and blast fucking “Thunder Road” all night. Plus, I don’t come to your job on Monday morning and stand over you asking you to produce a banana out of thin air, which is really the equivalent of you asking me some irrelevant request.
Here’s reason Number four: I don’t have a manager and book my own gigs. That is not an easy feat (but my choice). I give props to dudes like Skeme Richards who do the same, but on a much higher level, able to book consistent international gigs and domestic gigs flawlessly. I’m sure he will tell you it’s not easy either, and it didn’t come over night. Dealing with club owners, and even trying to get paid sometimes is very difficult. Waiting on checks, especially from corporate companies, even when you have payment upon completion of set on your invoice, is rampant. Also, I’m my own promotion, social media, and graphic design team. That takes time as well. Plus I write for my site 5 to 6 days a week. All promotion, all takes 2 to 3 hours a day. Number five: travel. No matter how you travel to DJ: plane, boat, train, car, it takes a toll on you. Driving two and a half hours to a gig to hurry up and wait sometimes sucks. But hopefully, however you structured your payment with the club makes it worth it by the end of the night. That mileage also isn’t on your car, it’s on your body too. Ask a DJ what kind of shoes they wear. You wanna look fly? At some point after 7 hours straight of DJing a pair of Vans may look good on you, but your feet will be crying (even with the new cushy inserts). There is also a psychological toll DJing can take on you. That will be for another feature, but it is very real. I’d be happy to talk with anyone via DM who struggles with the psychological side of it and the emotional hardships it can sometimes take. I’ve been there. The work hours for DJing are tough, too. I am thrilled when I get offered a day / early gig sometimes. I’m home early and with even time to do something else some times. But we all know most gigs are late nights, weekends, etc. If you have a family, it puts a strain on it. Especially if the money or gigs are not always there all the time. Late nights, sometimes with very little sleep, can take a lot out of you. We all have a life (some have families), so this job can take its toll on you and those around you. This all goes into the daily grind BEFORE and AFTER a gig. Keep that in mind. I love DJing and love what I do, but it’s a hustle and the hustle is very real. If you have never been in the game it is easy to say that being a DJ is glamorous. I will admit at times it is, and I’ve done some gigs that were honestly some of the best times of by life. However, for every sunset gig like this:
There is a scenario like this: