The Accidental DJ
I’m often asked how I became a DJ. My short answer is, “Accidentally”. The long answer goes as follows.
A lifetime ago, in the days before smart phones and Facebook, I was practicing drums at a rehearsal/event space in St. Louis, MO. One of the owners of the space asked me if I wanted to DJ an event they had coming up. Even though I told him I was a producer/musician and not a DJ, he still offered me a couple hundred bucks to come out and do it anyway. The owner was really lax about the whole thing. “Yeah, just bring along some vinyl, CDs or whatever it is that you use. We have a DJ booth, two turntables, two CD decks and a mixer already set up. Just come and play whatever you want. There’s no pressure to make people dance because it’s a daytime swap meet. I’ll pay you in cash when it’s done.” It was too sweet of a deal to pass up, so at that moment I instantly became a professional DJ. It would be my first DJ gig ever. I kept in mind that being called a professional doesn’t mean that you’re good, it just means you get paid to do what you do. If I ended up sucking, no matter how bad it got, I was still getting paid.
The day of the gig, I lugged out both a crate of vinyl and a briefcase full of CDs. The DJ booth towered over the event space floor, giving me a place to hide if things went terribly wrong and booing ensued. I looked around the room and saw people of various ages, ethnic backgrounds and genders. Most notably, I saw a few children, so I was conscious about keeping my set clean.
As far as genre, I went across the board. Started with some James Brown then went into a bit of jungle pressure (since the genres are related), mixed in and out of some downtempo electronica and 90s Hip-Hop, and threw in a few house music tracks. In the middle of my set, a man came up to the DJ booth and lifted his son up so that his son could give me a shrink wrapped brownie. They both smiled at me and the man said, “We just wanted to say thank you. We love the music you are playing.” My first tip as a DJ was sweet…literally.
With just that one gig, suddenly people were coming up to me at bars and on the street saying, “So I hear you’re a DJ now”. A week later, a friend offered me my first DJ residency on a weekly Monday night. He described it as, “A little bit of cash and an open bar tab. You can be getting paid while you’re learning to DJ. I like your tracks, but your mixing skills suck, by the way. Work on it. See you Monday.” Becoming a DJ seemed to be as simple as just saying I was a DJ and showing up.
Getting paid gigs seemed to be effortless, so I actually started to practice and put some effort into being a DJ since the money seemed to be getting better and more consistent. I did all things DJ. I got a DJ job at a mobile DJ company doing weddings, private events and social clubs on the weekends. I had my own radio show at Washington University, and did small club gigs throughout the weekdays. I read DJ magazines and DJ books. I watched documentaries about DJs. I hung out with DJs and shared gigs with DJs. I invested in mixers and CD turntables and vinyl turntables and amps and speakers and downloaded an insane amount of music, as well as bought more CDs and vinyl. Time seemed to fly by and suddenly I was making a living as a DJ and teaching other people to DJ. The end (well, not really but that’s where I’m going to stop for now).