DT Think Piece…Will You Make It??
Do you think you have what it takes to make it as a DJ/Artist in the modern musical landscape?
I have to cast my mind back a bit – when people used to promote themselves with actual mixtapes, given to other humans by hand – to think of my own initial list of goals and the concerns intrinsically linked to hopefully one day achieving them.
It got me thinking about whether our current generation of DJs have the same goals and desires? The same concerns? Or whether the saturation of the scene, coupled with the constant glare of social medias beady eye, has a whole heap of new worries in the dance?
When I was in my mid 20s I told myself that I wanted to ‘make it’ by the time I was 30. If I’m honest, I don’t quite know how I defined ‘make it’ at the time, but I know I wanted to make music and have it played on the radio. I wanted to play at Ministry of Sound and I wanted a regular paying residency. I wanted to ‘make it’ enough that it was my profession and not a hobby, so I could leave my job in the city behind.
Fast forward to a new decade and I was intrigued to speak to the future of the scene and give them a platform beyond their own social media accounts and dig a little deeper into how their minds tick. With so much chat about mental health, whether chasing the dream and trying to ‘make it’ is actually good for your mental wellbeing?
Initially, I spoke to Taylor Shipley who hasn’t even hit her teens yet, but has already DJed in Ayia Napa. With someone so young, it’s understandable that her parents are keeping a very watchful eye over what is only a hobby whilst she is still at school. Taylor has a very grounded approach to DJing at this stage saying “I would really like to just enjoy the journey and see where it takes me. I am not setting a time/age on this because I have still so much to learn.”
For any young person, the pressures of social media can be huge and I enquired how Taylor was handling it all “I actually never realised how popular DJing was until I saw it all on social media but I get a lot of messages from girls who are my age saying that they want to be a DJ.” This was an interesting point, due to the fact that established DJs will have their socials full of other DJs and artists humble bragging and showing you clips of tunes you may never hear again. For DJs on the up, it may not appear that there is DJ saturation?
I managed to catch up with Manchester’s Reeta, who has been putting in a lot of hard work over the past year or so to have a steady stream of gigs. Is saturation as much of an issue in Manchester “I am a confident believer that there is always room for new talent.” So far, so positive, so I went on to enquire about any anxieties she has about the scene “I do believe that the conduct of some in the industry is not always respectful or kind and that can become a trigger for anxiety and other mental health issues.” Are we actually doing enough to nurture and support the next wave of talent? Taylor Shipley added, “There is a lot going on around mental health and I just feel that so much more could be done to help.”
Can the established DJs do more to coach or mentor without charging the earth? Should there be a prominent industry body that provides advice and support via a text line that could be manned by a network of experienced industry folk? Do you think that they should just be left to make it up as you go, as you possibly did?
I asked Reeta about her concerns away from the glare of social media “The gender imbalance is a major concern and the amount of people cashing in on up and coming DJs and their ambitions is also cause for concern.” She certainly has valid points on both fronts, however, both issues have been that way for decades. The gender balance is getting better, but there’s still a long way to go. As for unscrupulous folk looking to make a quick buck off some hungry DJ looking for their next opportunity, is there really a way to combat this? Is it a rite of passage for a DJ to be ripped off at some point early in their journey? It certainly shouldn’t be the case, but it appears that’s the current ‘norm’.
I caught up with Danny Lambert, who may technically be old enough to be Taylor’s Dad, but he has been applying himself to the trade slowly but surely over the years and he’s finally seeing the fruits of his labour. I asked him if being a little older meant he had less worries about his path as a DJ? “Being new to the game and not producing, I always worry the venues want a bigger name or an Instagram model instead of a straight up DJ.” Image and showing your best self appears to weigh heavy on some shoulders, Danny went on to add “I think how everything is more about image and what you look like on social media compared to the music you play.”
Scott Diaz was told the other year by some short-sighted and damn right rude promoter that his ”Image doesn’t fit” that he was “overweight” and “The way Scott looks doesn’t fit with the people attending our parties.” What message is that sending out to people full stop, let alone young impressionable DJs looking at what they may need to do to progress??
Social media has a lot to answer for, but it’s not all evil. Thinking back to my opening paragraph and those mixtapes, it’s certainly a lot easier to share those mixes now and to reach people you never even dreamt of. Ryan Willmott, who is 19 and from Essex, has been reaching far flung climes with a local radio show that he secured with the ease of connecting via social media “I like being able to build a community and talk to people I have met at events and it’s great for networking and being able to keep people up to date.”
The obvious ease of networking via social media is one benefit but Reeta added “The accessibility of helpful tools such as podcasts and articles that are insightful definitely help”, Taylor also mentioned that she had a chance occurrence via Instagram, where she ended up lending her decks to a fellow DJ, Ben Rainey, who has gone on to be a family friend and mentor to Taylor. Those random moments didn’t really happen pre-socials.
Before we wrapped things up I asked everyone what they felt could be done to improve the scene for these DJs along with the rest of the budding DJs and artists out there? Ryan focused on the dancefloor saying “I think stripping some of the events back to being focused on the music rather than the size of the stage or the amount of confetti cannons.” Reeta identified that it’s paramount to know your own limits “recognising when it’s time to take a break is important” Taylor added “I love the fact that people are starting to open up and talk about things which are going on in their lives. It’s ok not to be ok.” An extremely valid point and one that could serve to empower more DJs that are having a strenuous time. Let’s not sugar coat this, it’s tough out there and much like any industry, only a very small percentage will ‘make it’ irrespective of your talent.
Buckle up, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride, but with determination, mental health strategies, less social media usage and if you’re lucky, a helpful mentor or coach, then you just might MAKE IT.
Taylor Shipley has set up a crowdfunder and is trying to raise money for two amazing charities, Andy’s Man Club and One For The Lads who work tirelessly to support men with mental health issues. CLICK HERE TO DONATE