Earlier this year, we were thinking about running a feature called DJ Survival Guide. I interviewed several Seattle disc jockeys for the piece and accumulated thousands of words of wisdom re: the selecting, mixing, and playing of music for other people’s pleasure, but the thing never achieved publication. So I’m going to post those interviews on Line Out, because there’s enough solid advice to help a lot of aspiring jocks… and because the replies are interesting in and of themselves. This week’s installment is with DJ Supreme La Rock (Danny Clavesilla), who was instrumental in bringing to life—with assistance from Light in the Attic Records—the Wheedle’s Groove compilation and thence documentary, which drew much-deserved attention to Seattle’s rich ’60s and ’70s soul scene. Formerly half of Sharpshooters with DJ Sureshot and now a member of the Bumsquad and Core DJs crews, Supreme is a versatile and highly skilled selector who owns enough records to give a forklift a hernia. Listen to him at supremelarock.podomatic.com and read his blog here.
The Stranger: How many hours a week do you practice/prepare?
I feel that I'm constantly preparing and practicing. DJing is 24-hour job in my book. It's not just the 2 to 4 hours you see me playing at an event... I'm always getting and looking for new music or digitizing my own stuff or working on edits and remixes.
What’s your DJing format of choice and why?
I use both vinyl and digital (Serato). Digital is the standard of today, but I come from the era where DJs used records and I still do use 45s and 12"s. It keeps me on my toes so I don't get too lazy or dumb down my skills relying on digital computer-based programs.
What are your recommendations for headphones, needles, turntables, CDJs, DJ-oriented software programs?
There's equipment that is industry standard; however that doesn't necessarily make it the best. The best to me is Technics brand 1200 turntables. I use Shure M447 needles; they do not cue burn your records and they don't skip easily. I have a custom-made stick headphone by DUO Audio. I use Serato for my software and I do not use CDs at all. The absolute best mixer is the E&S DJR400. However, Rane 62 and Pioneer DJM-800 are also decent.
Where are the best places to obtain music, both in brick-and-mortar shops and online?
There's a ton of great places online to buy new music, such as Rush Hour, Earcave, Beatport, blogs, etc. I also, still go out digging for records in thrift shops, any record stores that are left standing, garage sales, etc.
What are the most effective methods for procuring gigs? In a hyper-competitive field, how do you set yourself apart from other DJs?
There's no better way of getting gigs than word of mouth and your reputation. You can also blow smoke up the promoter’s ass and sniff lines with 'em, but I have a life and don't have time for that or do it. I have a website, a blog, two Facebook pages, podcasts, Soundcloud, YouTube clips. MySpace (still!), and Twitter. Combined, I have a reach of over 30 thousand people—something a smart promoter would also look at when booking a DJ.
This is indeed a hyper-competitive field that is filled with sharks, undercutters, liars, fakes, and snakes. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for. If you’re proud to promote a night with a no-name, inexperienced DJ, so be it, but when it turns out to be a disaster and your venue is shutting down, don't sit back wondering why. I can count five venues that shut down this past week.
With the introduction of digital software, EVERYONE is a DJ, or at least believes they are. I remember having records and equipment and practicing for over five years before even having the balls to call myself a DJ. I didn't even do it then—it was other people calling me one!
Software DJ programs have led to a decline in the nightlife scene in recent years. People pay money to go out to a club to have fun. Why would you as a venue or promoter hire any ol' Joe Blow to DJ?! Today’s criterion for securing a gig seems to be whichever DJ will do it the cheapest. Most club managers and promoters treat DJs no different than the valet parker.
Anyone can go out and buy a computer software program, call themselves a DJ and seem to get booked somewhere. It's really pathetic. Imagine if you went to Kmart and bought a set of knifes and got hired as a chef in a restaurant the following week! It's the same thing. They almost fail to check or ask for any past history or your résumé like they would for any other position.
The bottom line is you need to start somewhere and it's fine to want to be a DJ, but it's not fine to think you're one after four weeks of acquiring the software and you shouldn't be out playing in a professional environment. It's an insult to the paying customers.
What sets me apart from any competition is easy. Google my name and google theirs. My history speaks for itself and can never be taken away from me. I'm passionate about my craft as I was the day I started. I care not only about DJing itself, but about the entire nightlife scene as a whole and making sure everyone is happy. When you come to hear me play, I want you to forget about everything and fall into a world of happiness. That is MY job—to create moods...
What have you found to be the most efficient ways to fill the dance floor (with dancers, to be specific ;)?
Believe it or not, the actual sound system has a lot to do with this. If your system is too loud, distorted or muffled, it makes for an unpleasant setting. Dialing in the perfect sound system with proper music selection and timing is key. If you can master this, your dance floor will be filled until closing time.
Is beat-matching absolutely essential for a DJ?
Yes, without question. Anyone with rhythm doesn't want a train wreck to interrupt their groove. A bad off-beat mix can really harsh your mellow and we don't want that happening.
How do you deal with requests?
Requests are pretty awful for a few different reasons. One is, they are usually for the most popular song out at the moment. So, do you think it really isn't going to be played at some point throughout the night? Second is, it is usually a totally different music format of what's being played that night, so it probably won't fit in or get played. It's like going to Pizza Hut and trying to order Chinese food. I usually just say “yes” to people to shut them up and get them out of my face.
DJs are not jukeboxes. We've spent all week long or longer searching and preparing great new tunes to play for you that you can't hear elsewhere or wouldn't know about if it weren’t for us, so you should try to enjoy and appreciate the music. If you don't like it you can always leave and go somewhere else. I've never understood why people would want to stand in a long line and pay $20 to get in and request the song they've heard every hour on the hour on the radio, seen the video on TV and played it in their car on the way to the club. Give it a rest already... If you want to hear it that bad, go back out to your car or play it on the way home.
How effective do you think flyering is?
I think flyering has lost its flair and is not as effective as Facebook, Twitter and, best of all, word of mouth.
What have you found to be the most beneficial ways to promote your gigs?
Well, I'm a DJ, not a promoter. It's not up to me to promote my gigs. That is a promoter’s job. My job is to play the music, but with that being said, I always let my friends and fans know where I'll be playing. I post upcoming dates on my blog and I always tweet and Facebook the day of the event where I'll be playing that evening.
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