The modern Club DJ as producer, entertainer and artist – are they really any good and if so, is their final product worthy of your attention?

 

As many of you may or may not know, I came up through the music ranks the long route, starting out as a college radio DJ on (WNEU) and altering my career path that lead me to become a full time radio and Club DJ in Boston.It certainly not what I thought I’d end up doing. Inn fact when I graduated with my BS in Civil Engineering from Northeastern University, I immediately secured a job and stated working within a week of graduation. The fact was, somewhere along the way, I got bitten by the club-jock bug, which brought me some extra cash that when lumped into my side job, selling stereo equipment out of my car, really helped me to pay off my school loans while still attending college. It also provided me with a platform to reach people through the music I played, further allowing me to have a direct impact on the music community especially as it pertained to the clubs, cross-over radio, retail and artist development.

Not even 11 months after graduating and working in the capacity of an employed Civil Engineer I decided to roll the dice and leave, what I was being told was my promising career as an engineer constructing tall apartment buildings and skyscrapers, to pursue a career as a Club Disc Jockey, doing what I loved and was very passionate about.I worked multiple radio jobs and became the resident DJ at a local club called the Townhouse on Boylston Street in Boston, located above the Bull and Finch Club (the location of TV sitcom Cheers). Things were going really well as I grew rapidly in no time and became a top DJ and driving force in the music industry in New England and the Northeast when it came to dance music.  The ability to break records by asserting my influence in exposure and sales and providing the labels and artists with an entry point  t  get a foothold and begin their careers in a positive fashion. From there I played in and visited clubs all around the globe and finally took the next step jumping into mixing and production of music which was what I needed as the career path.

I said all this because I can honestly tell you that I was one of the original trail blazers for the what you see today with DJs in the clubs, taking that next step to achieve a higher level of proficiency and fame by mixing and advancing to production of their music while making themselves into artists. I can therefore recognize real talent when I see it and know it only takes a few talented guest vocalists and featured artists on their tracks to turn a DJ into a modern star.The dance market has grown to a point where DJs sell millions of recordings and downloads while being paid astronomical fees ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands od  dollars and more in some instances just to perform their music sets. They are spinning the music they produce as artists mixing in the current hot songs of the day into their sets to keep the audiences excited and deliver an evening of high energy EDM (Electronic Dance Music).   It creates a bonanza for club owners and club-goers alike who continue to bask in the moment and keep coming back for more.

DJs also participate in major events and festivals, where it’s not uncommon for crowds in excess of 300,000 and more  to attend and congregate shoulder to shoulder. They are looking  to be electrified by the backdrop of music against a tapestry of lights, visuals and music drops all happening with an audience under the influence of the drug dujour, in this case, Molly. This is not unlike some of the activities of the 60’s and 70’s where Sex, Drugs & Rock “N” Roll were the order of the day. While it’s not always a safe scene, it’s hard to be too judgmental when we had Woodstock and followers of the Grateful Dead (Dead Heads) who were often times so stoned on their drugs and bad acid they could only twirl to the music incapable of dancing and unable to actually move in a straight direction.

“Are the DJs today worth your time and investment in their music and the product they deliver?” Are they really capable musically of entertaining your ears or merely a bunch of wild reckless young men and woman who place posing for the cameras and throwing cakes in the faces of their audiences above talent, while using bubbles, smoke machines, strobe-lights and go-go dancers in cages set as back drop for the evening in an effort to distract patrons from the fact they are incapable of delivering a credible show or  are they just hiding behind all this due to a lack of real talent?

Having lived through this journey and the highs and lows of it, I feel that there are some very good examples of talented DJ Producer/ Artists along with  some horrible ones out there as well! For the most part the ones that are now receiving the greatest attention really do deserve what they are getting, but the contrast and disparity between the greats and the posers is an ever widening gap. If you listen to the music of some great DJ Producers such as Calvin Harris, Daft Punk, Fatboy Slim, Skrillex, Armin Van Buuren, Avicii, Afro Jack, the Chemical Brothers, DeadMau5, Swedish House Mafia, Paul Oakenfold and Zedd, all have achieved some remarkable quality work in creating new and exciting sounds that came from the underground. They had the benefit of purposefully staying away from the main stream to allow themsleves to be cultivated naturally and reach a fever pitch with their core audiences before being slowly integrated into the mainstream of music and exposed to a new and eager audience that had not heard these sounds or this music ever before.

These DJs are not just delivering grooves the crowds can dance too but delivering a message using tribal love influences that date back centuries to engage dancers into gyrating and   are showing off their charms and moves in hopeful anticipation that  they can leave with a partner of choice on their arm after the music stops and   the real rhythm about to begin back in their rooms! Not all DJs are of the top caliber but the ones that I have mentioned here have sold hundreds of millions of recordings, combined for multi billion streams of their music to eager audiences who are poised and ready to scoop it up. It is not by accident that they know what makes people move physically and emotionally and that my friends is the magic potion that they rely on every time. Let’s take a look at few of the best aforementioned DJs and see what they have done to impact their profession and in the process have  lined their pockets quite handsomely.

One of the best of the day is surely Scottish DJ, Calvin Harris,Taylor Swift’s EX, whose works have earned him the right to charge $250K and more for his services in a 3-4 hour evening set spinning records. This comes only because he has had so many successes with his solo efforts featuring Ellie Goulding as well as his masterful compositions working with the Kylie Minogue and Rhianna. Additionally because his compositions have melody, energy, strong lyrical content and wonderful production to round out a hit in the most magnificent way.   Harris at 34, holds the record for the most top 10 songs from one studio album on the UK Singles Chart with nine top 10 entries which surpassed Michael Jackson and that is an impressive fete. His works have sold countless millions worldwide and he’s achieved many top ten records making him the highest paid DJ for the past 3 consecutive years!

Also on this list of unique and colorful characters is American Producer/DJ, Skrillex, Sonny John Moore, whose carved his own niche in electronic dance music changing the face of the dance scene by using his skills to help him crossover to the  Top Forty with his  mega sales. His album Scary Monsters won a Grammy in 2011 in the Electronic Dance Music category for him and he brought Dub-step to throngs of fans helping it to cross over to the mainstream where his reward was millions of sales and 8 Grammys which is far and away the most won by an electronic recording artist. This is not a fluke my friends it is talent.

And who can forget the great music that carried us through all of last year brought to us by French DJ Producers, Daft Punk, who have been making hits and music for decades but through an association with Nile Rogers and Pharrell Williams were able to climb the charts, yet again, to give us with one of the most played, memorable and biggest selling records of the year with “Get Lucky”.

So to sum this up, yes, there is definitely some great music that you can purchase coming from the Club DJs of today, but be selective in what you purchase as some come up with a hit by luck and do the same thing over and over leaving you wondering why they released an album, when one long single of their entire repertoire may have been all they really needed. My advice to you is remain open minded when it comes to music. Sometimes what others tell you is good but not always what you will feel when when you listen for yourselves.Try listening to all areas of music always exploring, but don’t believe the hype and hoopla you hear from others who are in the tank as many songs are not more then a hyped perception. PR agents are paid to make you think that it must be good just because they said so and you are NOT capable of deciding what’s good for yourself!

As always, make sure you love the music and respect artists who create it!

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  • Mark Tarone

    Great piece John – particularly enjoy seeing your background and career trajectory. I realize your article is in no way meant to be exhaustive. That said, Diplo is a name worth noting. I suspect you’re familiar with him (big resume). I produced / promoted some shows headlined by him in the past. Great musical talent and good person although he does love to stir the pot – often with outlandish statements that are sometime inappropriate.