Back in the early ’90s my roommate and I spent hours in my apartment near Balboa Park watching and listening as our British friend Eugene (a.k.a. Skinnyribz) did things to records we had never heard before. I loved house music, and my interest in deejaying arose from going to raves and hearing incredible deejays. I remember thinking, I think I could do that. So I did.
From Eugene and Our Friend Nate and Bert (DJ Paluka), I learned everything I know about the fundamentals of mixing records. Because I was among the party people, I fell in with the company of high-caliber deejays. All of my early professional experiences involved opening up for renowned deejays such as Garth and Thomas of San Francisco’s now-defunct Wicked Crew and local Mark E. Quark.
As a rookie I was happy to play for free and get exposure. I eventually worked my way up to getting out-of-town gigs, all expenses paid. About ten years ago, before I dared call myself a deejay, I took a trip to Salt Lake City to play a rave held in a laser-tag venue. In the early-morning hours after, about ten of us party people arrived at the 19-year-old party promoter’s house — just as the entire family descended the front steps to go to church. I made $300 for that job.
Now that I’m more established, I expect compensation, and the amount varies depending on the event. My monthly gig at the Blue Lotus Lounge (on Washington Street) pulls me anywhere from $50 to $250, depending on the bar tab. And if I promote and bring a crowd that spends, I get paid.
The fact that I’m a female in a (typically) man’s world compels me to offer a few tips on how a girl deejay can hold her own on the decks.
Make Friends with the Boys and Their Toys
San Diego is home to only a handful of girl deejays, most prominently DJ Miss Lisa and the women who contribute to the Lady Lush collective. Most of the time you will find a guy behind the decks. So make friends with the guys; they’ll teach you stuff. When I was first learning, Eugene taught me a trick that involved starting with one track, throwing the cross-fader to a new track for one beat, jumping back and forth between the two songs, and then slapping it right in the middle of the mix. The sound of it had this frenzied anticipatory quality and taught me the importance of having a signature deejay trick. A valuable technique Nate taught me was to always regulate pitch control using the slider, even for small adjustments in speed, instead of running my fingers along the edge of the deck to slow down the tempo or pushing the record to speed it up. He educated me on how to adjust the speed by eye and ear, trusting my instincts on where I think the pitch control should be.
Don’t Date Your Colleagues
Establish good relationships with your fellow deejays, but don’t overdo it. You will have a harder time earning their respect if you sleep with all of them (or, sadly, even one of them). Alcohol and clubbing go hand in hand, and too many drinks can lead to “inadvertent dating”…so try to avoid hooking up with your fellow deejays. That usually goes for groupies, too. Also, for me, more than two or three drinks and the connections in my brain required for spinning records start to misfire. Train wrecking can ensue.
Again, think about how you want to be perceived. There will be a lot of eyes on you, and you want to dress accordingly. If you’re deejaying a pimp ’n’ ho party, by all means, wear hoochie clothes, but on a regular basis it’s best to rock your signature style (if that is hoochie, more power to you). Consider the type of party or venue you’re playing and your mood. In this industry, looking and feeling good are crucial.
Put on a Show
Some female deejays put on a show. One local, very successful female deejay blends dominatrix/club girl attire, brings her go-go dancers, and mixes popular nightclub music all over San Diego and the world. She has worked damn hard to develop her image. For me it’s all about the music — and I’d describe my music as a little more underground — so when I’m playing out somewhere I tend to keep my attire simple and subtle. I wear something I feel good in that reflects who I am, like a hot pair of jeans and a tank top. And I have been known to sport a lucky deejay hat.
Keep It Real
The more you embrace who you are and let it come through in your music, the better you will play. The fact that you’re a girl will attract attention to your music, but then you have to prove yourself. Playing what you like — what makes you want to dance — will help you develop your “deejay identity” and set you apart from other deejays.
Don’t Sell Out
No, I do not have the latest remix of “SexyBack” (not that I think that song and J.T. aren’t hot, it’s just not what I play). I do not have Fergie or Rhianna in my record bag either. One of my pet peeves is people who request songs or entire genres. I work hard to create a mood. So I politely explain to whoever is asking, “I don’t take requests.”
Practice. Try arranging a set if you feel nervous before a gig. Run through it beforehand if you have the chance. You can always veer from it, but you’ll have something in your back pocket if you feel lost. If you’re good, other deejays and promoters in the club will ask for your demo CD so they can hire you or pass it along to someone who will want to hire you. Carry a recent demo.