DJing is a full-time job

By Jonathan Shakesprere

Want to become the next Deadmau5? Dream of making your own “Robot Rock”? Although it’s not… Want to become the next Deadmau5? Dream of making your own “Robot Rock”? Although it’s not easy to be a DJ in local clubs, with the right mindset it’s far from impossible.

Three successful Pittsburgh DJs — DJ Allbe, DJ B Tips and DJ Nugget — stressed the importance of being an avid listener before aspiring DJs start on their own paths. Becoming a star won’t happen overnight, they said, but with an earnest artistic interest, the status and the lifestyle will follow.

A smart first step is going out and supporting local artists and actively noticing their specific use of genre and presentation, said Isaac Goldszer — who, as DJ B Tips, entertains crowds in the Rex Theater, Shadow Lounge and other venues.

“Support what’s already going on,” Goldszer said. “Cutups and Keeb$ [LazerCrunk] at the Brillobox are bringing out a consistent crowd every Thursday … and they’re not going to be ignored for their efforts.”

Paul Matthews, aka DJ Allbe, said the influences of one’s environment and how a taste in music develops play important roles in stylistic growth.

“A few friends shared some great DJ mixes with me that I listened to all the time,” Matthews said. “I was curious about DJing and eventually just decided to give it a try. It was so much fun that I just started mixing all the time, trying to put together different styles and genres and just experiment with it.

When DJs do attain prominence, they must not forget their roots in the process, Adam Kulik — known in Pittsburgh as DJ Nugget — said.

“Every weekend I would tape the DJs do their live mix shows on Friday and Saturday nights, then listen to them in my Walkman on my way to school all week,” Kulik said.

As far as technology is concerned, the higher the sound quality, the better.

“Get your music straight: high-quality audio — 128 kbps-320 kbps — is a must,” Goldszer said.

In the same vein, Matthews instructed beginners to “Buy your own music! If going the mp3 route, always make sure it’s 320 kbps … It will make you consciously decide whether or not each song you buy will be one that you could see yourself playing for a crowd.”

But Kulik also acknowledged the difficulty — despite lower prices for the necessary software and equipment — in creating a marketable product. But whatever tools one starts out with, Kulik said, “Take as many gigs as possible when you start. It doesn’t matter if you just want to be a club DJ. Nothing prepares you better for the club than having real world experience playing different events.”

All three DJs characterize their encounters with venues as hit or miss, citing the strength of their relationships with promoters and establishment owners as the definitive factor in how and where you perform. This calls attention to the underlying skill any prospective DJ must have in spades: the ability to market yourself and handle the business aspect of the profession.

“Make sure you’re ready to commit to this lifestyle. It’s not as glamorous as it may look sometimes, and it’s not for everyone,” Matthews said.

Goldszer said DJs must forge a strong connection between the private and public aspects of making a mark in a growing culture. After all, “to be a DJ means you have to be a businessman as well.”

Ultimately, juggling work and play defines a DJ’s lifestyle. You must know when to listen to new music, beatmatch or work with your turntables and when to finish that paper due the next day or work an overtime shift.

“I work a 9-to-5 job and go to classes at night, so some weeks I’m lucky just to get a chance to touch my turntables, let alone prepare to play a gig. But I listen to music several hours a day, and I know what makes me want to dance,” Matthews said.

Despite such daily constraints, the DJs said satisfaction rests in that one moment when the crowd cheers and chants your name — that one night when everything just seems to click.

“Being able to read your crowd is one of the most important aspects of DJing. That combined with having a true love for music is what sets DJs apart,” Kulik said.

On the attraction of this lifestyle — this “culture” and network of relationships — Goldszer added: “Personal connections are the reason why I DJ: If people are not dancing, then something must be wrong.”

Leave a comment.