Dee Jay Silver's top 5 tips for DJs
Years before he turned the world on its ear with his unique blend of "country party rock," DJ, remixer and producer Dee Jay Silver checked out a show by DJ Z-Trip in Springfield, Missouri, that blew his mind. "It was one of those 'greatest-show-of-all-time' moments," Silver recalls. "I just knew that I had to talk to him and pick his brain. Not like, 'How can I be like you?' More like, 'How can I be successful at what I'm doing?'
Z-Trip's advice was simple yet profound: "He said, 'I'm an '80s guy. What are you?' Silver says. "I told him, 'I'm a redneck.' And he just looked at me and said, 'Well, I don’t know what you’re going to do with that, but I can’t wait to see it. Stick to who you are.’ That turned out to be the best thing anybody could have told me."
In the years since that Missouri show, Silver has become country music's hottest DJ, touring with Brad Paisley, Jason Aldean and the Rascal Flatts, not to mention hosting his own radio show and playing high-profile corporate events and festivals. "The size of the gigs have changed, but my attitude is still the same," Silver says. “I’m always trying to grow. If I hear a guy play a song better than me, then I’m gonna work to be better than him. Like I always say: The toughest dude in the world is always gonna be somebody you never heard of before, and that’s the dude you've got to learn from.”
On the following pages, Silver dispenses his own top five tips for DJs.
“Just like it is with anything, you have to put the time in. Even on nights when you’re not working, it helps to have your turntable set up in your house so you can try to come up with some mixes. Work on anything you can that will make you better or set yourself apart from all the other DJs out there.
“Right now, we gig three or four nights a week. Even on my off-nights, I have a set of turntables ready to go in my studio. If I hear a song and it makes me think of another song, I’ll do an edit or a remix of it. I’ll always look to find an original way of playing something. My ultimate goal is to always do what nobody else ever thought of.”
Do your homework
“Keep up with what’s going on. Stay familiar with all the new music. On the other hand, don’t forget the old music. A good DJ knows how to mix it up and turn it all into something new.
“I go on iTunes and check out the best-selling songs. Let’s say I’m playing Orlando – that means I’ll do my homework and check out the top tracks that the radio stations in Orlando are playing. I want to stay current for that crowd. I’ll do the same if I’m playing Calgary, if I’m playing Atlanta or wherever. Every city is a little different, and they have certain songs at any given time that mean something unique to that location.
“With older songs, I try to remember that music is about memories and feelings. When you play a song for people, you’re trying to provoke a response from them. If you play Southern California, throw on an old Sublime song. It’s perfect for that market; it’ll connect big-time. Again, do your homework, consider the people in each place, and give ‘em something that’ll stir up those memories.”
Don't forget to hustle
“Nobody’s going to give you anything unless you earn it. You’ve got to get up every day and work harder than anybody – your agent, your manager, whoever's in your circle. You’ve got to keep your brand fresh and get yourself out there in every way you can.
“The Kentucky Derby, NASCAR races, clubs in Vegas – these places might not think of booking you at first, so you have to give them a reason. Present them with new ideas and let 'em see what you can do. If you get the hustle on, one day they’ll go, ‘Yeah, Dee Jay Silver – let’s give him a shot.’
“Don’t be complacent. There’s always somebody better than you, no matter who you are. I tell everybody, ‘I’m not the best DJ in the world, but you’ll never find anybody who works harder than I do.’ I’ve seen DJs who think they’ve made it; they kind of coast and they forget what brought them to where they are. The minute you do that, you can bet somebody else is gaining on you.”
Keep your ears open
“You’re never too good to pay no mind to what the guys are doing. And the truth is, it’s really about learning and getting better. You have to try to stay open-minded and be ready to learn – from anybody. It can be a superstar or some guy just starting out working the local shows. Keep your ears open at all times.
“I was at a club in Vegas the other night, and somebody played Rage Against The Machine. I was like, ‘Oh, my God. I forgot about that. OK, that’s going in library.’ So that was me keeping an open mind and having somebody else turn my head around a bit. I don’t care who it is, whether it’s somebody making $100,000 a night or some guy pulling in $100 dollars a gig. If he’s doing something interesting, I want to know about it. My ears are open.”
Believe in yourself
“Know who you are and don’t be afraid to take chances. No matter how many times you hear ‘no,’ you have to stay true to your heart and your instincts. One day that ‘no’ will be a ‘yes.’
“Being a DJ in country music, if I quit every time I heard ‘no,’ I’d be digging ditches somewhere in South Texas, without a doubt. I’ve been playing Vegas for the past few years, the biggest places. At first, the people would tell me, ‘We know you’re going to play country. So just get in and out of it, OK?’ Nowadays I don’t hear that – I play the big places, and they hire me just to play country.
“It’s all because I know who I am, and I stayed true to myself. At the end of the day, that’s all you’ve got, but that's plenty."