I recently read a piece on CNN.com about good friend of mine, DJ Robbie Wilde aka “The Deaf DJ”. I beamed with pride as this internationally distributed news site discussed his overcoming of his hearing impairment as a young man, the recent partnership with technology giant HP, and his burgeoning DJ career. For me, a friend and fellow DJ, this was a moment of triumph not only for Robbie, but for our entire DJ culture as a whole. It emphatically stated that, after all our years of toiling away tucked in darkened DJ booths, our profession was finally having our moment in the light. I was ecstatic!
Until…….I began to read the comment section…..
Time after time, commenters were choosing not to applaud or celebrate the story of inspiration detailed in the piece. Instead, many chose to dismiss the validity of Robbie’s hearing impairment AND, with others, chose to belittle DJing itself as a whole. Entries like, “This isn't exactly Beethoven. This culture of making DJ's out like they are Yo Yo Ma is ridiculous” or “To think that it is considered "talented" to spin records for a drug-crazed audience..” really threw me for a loop. “Is this what they really think about us?”, I pondered aloud to no one in particular though my dog looked like she wanted to offer her take on the inquiry. Did the general public only see us as “that douchebag dude playing the pre-recorded music…” and nothing more?
Truth told, I probably trolled that comment section far longer than I needed to. As a DJ and lover of overall DJ culture as a child, I just couldn’t fathom how others refused to see, or at least acknowledge, the beauty of the genuine art of manipulating sounds on two platters to create a seamless audio narrative…..track after track. I know that may sound artsy & self-indulgent to the outsider, but anyone who knows or appreciates DJ culture will appreciate exactly what I mean. An ideal “live DJ set”, when executed skillfully, can contain as many subtle story arcs as any Hollywood flick. How could anyone not see the apparent art in that?
Comments like the ones I read began to make me realize that, in many ways, I’d been operating inside a bubble. Most of my friends and colleagues are either fellow DJs or recording artists, engineers, producers, etc. Basically, others who also operate inside this same ‘bubble’ or similar variations thereof. We think and speak highly of our respective “hobbies” that have morphed into professional careers. We understand that it is not “just music” and it never, ever was. We know all too well the disapproving glances given by parents, friends, and others when it became apparent that these “hobbies” of ours were beginning to take on a larger role than the pursuit of the 9-5 zombie walk that most of the general population aspires down to.
If you detected venom in that last passage, you would be correct. Us creative types, especially us “all they do is press play” cats are tired of seeing our career paths and passions minimized. Yes, we, like many others, stood at the proverbial career crossroad and pondered that major life decision: Left (follow my degree and parental advice) or Right (follow my talent and my heart). We…….well, let me speak for myself, I, am tired of seeing that ridiculed. I mean, let’s keep it funky: How many people who sat in their little cubicle criticizing Robbie have done ANYTHING in their careers that would make a Fortune 500 company like HP want to put their face on a billboard or personal story in a national TV ad? We all know the answer to that….
Regarding DJing itself, on an even more personal level, let me take it back even further and explain why I would like to see people view this art differently. In many instances, the entrance into to the profession was about more than the music. To that point, I’ll quickly share a bit of my own story.
Truth told, DJing probably saved my life. When crack came to my city as a youngster, it hit many around the town hard. To many kids around my age at the time, it also became the primary employment provider for those who wanted new Jordans or walking around money. Why bag groceries at the local Harris Teeter all week when you could peddle dime bags or rocks for a few hours for triple the amount of the bag boy check? I was one of those kids attempting to navigate adolescence with that perilous temptation as a backdrop.
Difference with me: I was also the son of a DJ. My dad collected 45s & LPs at a rate that would make “diggers” of today sick. He literally had everything. Access to these sounds and interest in learning to do what he was doing with them provided just enough of a diversion that kept me away from the ills that circulated just outside our door.
You see, back then, pre-laptop, you couldn’t become a DJ in a day. It required time and commitment. On the real, it is one of the most lonely endeavors one could take on back then because itdemanded that an individual spend copious amounts of time alone in a room with nothing but the music and the decks. The beginning of a real DJ’s career is never sexy. It is an extremely singular, solitary walk. I thank God to this day that is was because the time required to get ‘decent’ provided zero time for the streets.
Instead, I DJed every party from then (6th grade) through the end of college. I sold mixtapes for the newest kicks instead of selling crack. At every turn, when life threw a pathway to the ills that plagued most inner-city kids back, DJing always made sure I didn’t have moments to spare for them.
Now, let’s fast forward to present day. The PROFESSION of DJing has done more for me than I could have POSSIBLY imagined back then: youngest Program Director of a commercial radio in Virginia history (age of 18), College Grad (financed solely by funds generated by playing EVERY party under the sun), globally-traveled, festival rocking jock that constantly has to find new marks to hit because he’s far beyond the dreams he had when he started.
I am also a brand ambassador for such industry leading brands such as Ortofon, Sony, and Native Instruments. Additionally, I am a distance student at Harvard Extension School with a concentration in Environmental Management. I have toured the globe as DJ / music director for The Voice’s Christina Milan & played the Red Square to 100k people during the G-8 summit. Point being: I, as well as many of those you see in the booths of clubs around the country are more than ““that douchebag dude playing the pre-recorded music…”. We are people that at worst want to play the songs the crowd wants to hear. No harm in that, right?
Sure, it’s not Beethoven and DJing is not brain surgery……but…..think how different my, Robbie’s, and many other Djs around the world story would be had be not picked up this “hobby”.
Show your DJ a little love, people. More often than not, there’s a lot more to see than apparent from afar.
And you don’t stop,
ICONIK 360 DIGITAL
Pirated Pop Records
Copyright 2013 Iconik 360 Digtial, LLC., Pirated Pop Records, and EFX Professional All rights reserved.
*NOTE* You can also find this post on Huffingtonpost.