Rambling semi-coherent post about DJs, college radio, and self-promotion

So… another acquaintance of mine has gone and declared themselves a DJ, apparently thinking that standing around twiddling knobs will make their non-DJing music career succeed where sitting on their ass twiddling their thumbs didn’t.

Just one problem with that: wouldn’t getting off your ass and playing gigs and touring with your own music promote said own music better than standing around spinning other people’s music?

I’ve known said individual for I think 4 years. They’ve done 2x 15 minute live “shows” in that time [within very controlled environments where all their friends were there and there was no risk of not being warmly received, ie, they’ve never even tried to play to/win over new audiences] and released 1 EP.

In that time I have released 2 official EPs, 2 albums, 3 or 4 singles/unofficial EPs, and I think 10 hours of experimental noise releases. And I’ve done it at a fraction of what that one EP has cost this new DJ. I’ve also done 5 shows and 1 open mic appearance, 1 of those performances involved a distinctly hostile crowd, and another 3 of them indifferent ones.

By the way, this is not to pat myself on the back. I consider myself rather lazy in my output and promotions for reasons I’ll kinda touch on later… I know other friends who do shows about twice a month and put out a couple EPs a year or who’ve had entire bands get formed, release 3 EPs and a couple singles, do 20 shows around town, and then break up and go on to form other new bands in that 4 year time.

Now, I know what the obvious retort is: but maQLu, you DJ! Where do you get off implying DJing is a bullshit way to promote your music?

Yeah, I do DJ… sorta…

I DJ on college radio, which is very different than club DJing. I’m not knocking club DJing, in fact I’d say doing it well is much harder than doing college radio, but even awesome club DJing isn’t a great avenue to promoting your music. Deadmau5 is a rare exception, but even there, I believe his main activity was always pushing his own music. Dude used to release a single every week and promote the Hell out of it in a bunch of online forums etc. Oh, and his stuff was great if you’re into EDM. Don’t underestimate that part.

Aside from the “your stuff must be great” part, playing live is the way to get it out there and get it heard. Not DJing.

DJing because you love DJing and you want to be a DJ is a whole ‘nother ball o’ wax, of course. It reminds me of a recent comment Adam Carolla was making where he was asking the guy editing his movie “well, what do you want to eventually do?” because he’s so used to everyone in Hollywood always having their eye on some other prize. And he was shocked and pleased to hear the editor say that no, editing is what he loves to do. Really. He has no interest in becoming an actor or a director, he just wants to edit, and that’s what he does and he’s great at it. DJing is the same: too many people DJing because they think it’ll get them a leg up on their dream of being a pop star or a rock star or a record producer or whatever. Never works out that way.

And how many times have I seen someone brag about how they’re a hot shit DJ one week because they got some minor little gig at it, then they come ask me for help getting more gigs because despite apparently being the greatest DJ in the history of the world they don’t even know enough about the field to understand that college radio DJing is a whole other world from club DJing, then they get pissed off that I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to the question of who they talk to to get more DJ gigs like they think I know and won’t tell them but really it’s that I have no clue about that world and don’t really give a fuck. Then the next thing is whining about how the next maQLu show [LOL… see below about that…] I need to have them open it with a DJ set even though that wouldn’t fit with the sort of live rock show I’d be looking to book for maQLu. Then the next week there’s a series of whiny Facebook posts about how come no one’s booking them to DJ, hey, I’m available to DJ, who wants to book me, etc…. Then crickets. Then a couple months later complaints about how they can’t seem to get ahead either on their music project or as a DJ and how come being such a hot shit DJ hasn’t done anything for their band?

Big mystery…

Meanwhile, the real DJs—the ones who actually want to DJ just like Carolla’s editor actually wants to edit—quietly go about booking one show, kicking ass, getting a callback from that club, making nice with other people who actually are involved in the club scene, getting another gig, etc., and all I hear from them are event invites. Just like the bands that actually want to go somewhere make their way by playing live again and again. Just like stand up comics who actually want to succeed work at their craft, create their own events, make their podcasts, hit the open mics, and slowly build by doing.

But anyway…

The Vampire’s Ball is not intended to promote my own music, and in fact it predates the first maQLu release by 8 years.

You know whose music I do promote on The Vampire’s Ball? Izzy Stradlin’s. Johnny Thunders’. Combichrist’s. Kill City Kids’. Tyranahorse’s. Louise Burns’. iVardensphere’s. Etc. etc. etc.

Because that’s who I play on The Vampire’s Ball [plus a roster of about 175+ other artists]. And I don’t give a rat’s ass about honouring requests, as certain people have learned the hard way [especially when they request their own band’s shit! C’mon, people… Jesus… if Izzy himself tweeted at me asking me to “play something off of 117º” I would tell him to go to—OK, bad example, I would totally make an exception to my “no requests” rule for Izzy, along with a small handful of my other favourite cute LA/NYC sleaze/glam rock types. Of course, that’s less than 50 guys, none of those guys listen to my show, and to the best of my knowledge only 3 of them even vaguely know that I exist. And they probably wouldn’t request their own shit anyway, they’d want me to play some old New York Dolls or Hanoi Rocks or something like that.]

Anyway… point is, I almost never promote maQLu on The Vampire’s Ball.

And I do my Mind of maQLu Radio podcast, which now has 14 episodes with an average of 8-10 songs per. Only once have I put one of mine in, and it was my cover of “[I’m Not Your] Steppin’ Stone,” so that barely counts. We’ll call it less than 1% my shit.

Here’s the back story on The Vampire’s Ball, which I don’t think I’ve ever told here: a friend of mine suggested I should start hanging around CiTR in 2001 because “those people are as obsessed with weird music as you are.”

I started out doing reviews for Discorder and for the Arts Report.

I then decided I liked the vibe and maybe it would be fun to do a show. I’d always made myself these weird eclectic mixtapes to listen to in my Walkman, purely for my own amusement, so that was the rough idea for the show when it debuted in June of 2002.

Now, I got a little lazy and I think at some point I was slanting different shows in different directions, so one week it would be more industrial/electronic, another week more Euro metal, another week more rockabilly and the like, and I forget what the other week was, would have to dig into my old show playlist notes [which would involve opening the door to the clutter closet and probably getting crushed when its contents flooded out]. So it wasn’t as eclectic within any one given show as it is now, but overall it was still fairly eclectic.

The show went on hiatus in 2006 as I was taking a bunch of night classes and was still feeling like shit after getting run down from a job I quit in September of 2005 that involved lots of physical strain.

By 2008 I was at BCIT doing New Media Design and was fucking miserable, the worst I’d ever been in my life. Like, probably should have been seeing a shrink kinda bad vibes.

I distinctly remember my mother dragging me to Victoria for a day trip to get out and have fun that October, and as I stared out at the choppy grey sea under the dark grey sky, I remember thinking, “fuck it. My life sucks now, gotta figure out how to re-engineer it to be better, and I’d rather be poor and doing stuff I like than be making good money dealing with clients I hate doing shitty design work that means nothing to me.”

And I began to formulate a plan. I knew I had to get back into doing music stuff even if it went nowhere.

I’d still been doing stuff for Discorder off and on over my hiatus, and I liked that. And I missed doing my show.

So I decided to bring back The Vampire’s Ball and emailed our then-program co-ordinator, Bryce Dunn. He greenlighted me to go back whenever I was ready to start again; unfortunately I felt the need to wait until April 2009 when my BCIT program would be over [long story short, there was a psycho in my class who did shit like wearing sunglasses in the classroom that were hooked up to a hidden camera in her bag and then posting the pics on Facebook. She was obsessed with me, and based on her having shown up on another classmate’s doorstep at 11pm and forcing her way in to insist on “hanging out” I figured it was too much of a security risk to start the show prior to graduating when I could cut all ties to anyone who could tell that cunt where to find me one night a week in the middle of the night…]

I also started doing a little volunteering here and there at different festivals, made new music friends, planning to get my ass into an audio engineering program [eventually chose Nimbus] etc.

And started working on things that later became the seeds of the first maQLu EP, blood, but that didn’t come out till April 2010.

The show started out as all industrial—unlike its first incarnation which was eclectic—because that’s what I was mostly listening to at the time. [When your life sucks, Boyd Rice belting out “Do you want total war?” is actually quite soothing…]

And then as I maneuvered my life out of the seventh layer of Hell and got in a better frame of mind, I got sick of industrial and returned the show to its eclectic roots… I’ve told that story before about 50 times so we’ll skip it.

Anyhoo, point is, The Vampire’s Ball was never really about self-promotion. It’s become even less so these days: usually when I sit down on Wednesday afternoon to program the show [it’s done as a series of iTunes playlists on my iPod. Yeah, I know that’s cheating… but it works just fine for college radio DJing] the starting point is some song that stuck out in my head from the last few days’ listening that I’m excited about, and I build off it from there [usually this core song falls somewhere in the middle of the show].

So, it’s coming from a point of “I love this, I want people to hear it.” Which is a very old-school alternative rock radio way to do things, the way it’s been in college radio for 40 years and with a little luck the way it will continue, though I have noticed a distinct shift in attitudes and tastes in certain of the newer kids who seem to be much more PC-cowed, more about “inclusiveness” and other such horseshit, more clueless about what is and is not music worth listening to, and more overtly narcissistic in that it’s about them and them being seen to be doing cool things and them getting some bullshit participation trophy at an awards night tacked on to the end of the already too fucking long AGM every year because apparently a thing isn’t worth doing unless you can get a piece of paper patting you on the back for doing it and some disaffected applause from your peers waiting for their turn to get the same retarded piece of paper because that’s how they’ll know their mommy was telling the truth when she told them how perfectly special their snowflakes are… seriously, what the fuck is wrong with kids these days?… we don’t need more anti-bullying campaigns, we need more bullies tossing these little narcissists head-first into locker room toilets until they realize the world ain’t about them and respect needs to be earned by doing something unique and useful… also, there seems to be a thought that doing a college radio show makes them cool, but actually, the way it’s always been was that a certain segment of people who were already “cool” decided it would be fun to do a college radio show, having the show in and of itself is meaningless, just like if you stick Slash’s guitar on a dweeb he doesn’t become Slash, just a dweeb holding Slash’s guitar… but that’s another rant for another time.

For example, in tonight’s show there’s a couple of those core songs. I just picked up [a year behind the eight ball!] The Vampire Bats’ The Cemetery EP, and I love it. So, one of those starting point songs is their “Vivienne Westwood.” Another later on in the show is Walking Papers’ “Two Tickets and a Room,” which I can listen to on repeat and not get sick of. And Reverend Horton Heat’s “Indigo Friends” came up on random play from my iTunes this week; I hadn’t heard it in ages and forgot how much I love that song. So, these 3 formed the foundation of the show and the rest was filling out songs that link between them and out to the ends of the show.

Mind of maQLu Radio takes this concept and removes all restrictions. For example, CiTR more or less focusses on independent and less well-known artists, so I can’t really throw in the Stones or Aerosmith on The Vampire’s Ball [maybe an obscure B-side once a year on Keith Richards’ birthday, but I don’t even push it that far], but on Mind of maQLu Radio I don’t have that restriction. The process is to take a song that’s stuck in my head, listen to it until it reminds me of another, and build that way until I have about 30-45 minutes and it feels like a logical progression.

Sometimes the songs interact or rebut each other, eg. there will be a mix posted later this month where as I was listening to Junksista’s fun and raunchy little club number “Likeyourshoes” [chorus: “I like, I like, I like, I like your shoes, I like, I like you. Wanna fuck?”] it occurred to me the best thing to chase it with was Johnny Thunders’ “Well… there’s a little bit of whore in every little girl!”

Anyway, I throw in shit that may offend or piss off certain people [like the occasional Nickelback tune]. As the intro says, “aural stream of consciousness.” No holds barred. And usually the sum of the parts ends up making a statement of sorts from the interaction of the various songs, not necessarily any grand social commentary, but not just beat-matched background noise either.

I post them up on Mixcloud for fun, but honestly I don’t care whether anyone listens. It’s nice if people do, but they’re done primarily for my own fun, and shared as an afterthought.

And I suppose also as a bit of explanation, in the sense that things are quiet on the release front right now as I finish the next album, which is starting to move away from the old industrial/noise shit I used to make, so I guess I figure by publishing these mixes, it gives people a sense of what’s going on in my head, where I’m coming from, etc.

Plus, like The Vampire’s Ball, it’s got an element of “OMG I love this, now you listen to it too!” If you don’t like it, don’t listen. I don’t give a shit: I’d rather do exactly what I want and have five people listen to it that get it than have a million listeners where I had to compromise and aim to please those listeners. [Same attitude that I have with maQLu, BTW.]

But anyway, the navel-gazing aspect of it is why I’d never think I could translate that to DJing a party or in a club. It would be a very particular audience that would appreciate my DJing style as opposed to the usual twats wanting to bob to a relentless 4/4 beat while getting sloshed and maybe getting some ass.

Yeah, I know that sounds elitist. It’s actually more about being a loner and sticking to a singular vision, though.

I’m perfectly happy making my mixes on my own just like I’m perfectly happy making my music on my own and don’t particularly care if I play live. If asked, I’ll pull something together, and every so often I get on a kick where I think, well, I ought to be playing live, and so I make motions about playing open mics etc. In some ways, playing live is a bit like going to the dentist’s: often necessary but usually something I’m glad to have gotten over with.

I’m lucky—and always a little surprised—that whenever I release something and ship it out to college radio, it charts in at least a few markets. And it happens based on the product alone, believe me when I say I’m far too lazy to contact DJs and ask them to play my stuff.

Let the work stand or fall on its own.

DJing will do nothing to prop it up or promote it.

If you’re DJing for the love of DJing, that’s cool, just don’t fool yourself into thinking it’ll do anything for your music, especially in a world where everyone claims to be a DJ and anyone can put out a record.

We’re in the signal to noise Wild West, the only way to be heard is to make the signal as awesome as it possibly can be. And only do something if you really believe in it and would do it anyway even if no one paid any attention.

BTW: I hope my friend is DJing because they love DJing and not for any delusion of it being a shortcut to becoming a star, but unfortunately I suspect it’s the latter. Which is a shame and a massive waste of time.