I recently had the opportunity to speak with DJ Z, co-owner of DJBooth.net. It is an online magazine that features a melting pot of some of the best mainstream and independent artists. As a loyal and regular visitor to the site for years now, I've seen how it has consistently grown and progressed, yet always made sure to provide an abundance of music for every kind of music lover. Showcasing talent from every place you'd think of looking, and even the ones you wouldn't. As we are a media that focuses on highlighting independent artistry this interview proved to be highly informative to those artists that don't quite have their media kits together, or for anyone looking for a few new artists to add to their playlist.
For some that are not familiar with DJBooth, could you tell us how you began and all that you are now?
About 7 years ago I met my business partner Dave Macli. Dave had started DJBooth.net in Brooklyn. When it began it was really focused on DJ's. So turntable, mixers, and headphone reviews. DJ playlists. It was a really DJ-centric site. After we met and exchanged ideas and concepts the site really started to grow. We started to expand and not just focus on the DJ culture and turn it into a full scale online music magazine. The key really is back in the day people viewed DJ's as pace makers, but today you don't actually have to be a professional DJ to be a viewed pace maker. Someone who listens to music and tells their friends about it. Or who tweets about it or facebooks it. Someone who likes people to know they are up on what's hot and whats not. Their basically doing the same thing as what a DJ would do. They're promoting what they believe to be music that would either move a crowd in that type of atmosphere or move a crowd in a more heartfelt atmosphere. So the idea really is if you visit DJBooth you are a pace maker, you are going to share with our community. What you like, what you don't like leaving feedback and ratings on features and reviews. That's basically the cliffnotes version.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - Victory Lap
Well it's evident that you have a long history with music, so how long exactly have you been apart of it? DJing and everything.
This year it will be 10 years. I was a DJ in college. I went to Illinois State University. I worked on the college radio station WZND for 4 years. I was a DJ, a show host, a program director, and a music director. I worked in the Chicago radio market after college at 9 FM, as a morning show producer and I have been behind DJBooth since 2005. So 10 years deep in this business. Some days you hate it, some days you love it.
I'm glad that you have experience in music. A lot of times people get into the music industry without doing their research, without knowing the history or fundamentals. So seeing as you're a DJ, you have a good ear. It's not a biased ear, it's an all around good ear for music.
Thank you, I feel like I do. I hope I do. When we first started, I was basically responsible for all of the content. Every single song, every album review. Anything you could read or enjoy was from just my personal taste. As we've grown fortunately we've been able to expand our team. We have 2 full time editors and a part time editor. And the conglomerate of folks who are behind the scenes. Interns and music staff members have really helped to extend the caliber of artists that we're able to showcase. I'm from Chicago, I know Midwest music the best, I grew up on East coast hip hop. With that said, there's wonderful music to be made in traditional markets like Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Houston. But also nontraditional markets like Pacific Northwest, Portland, the Seattle scene is amazing. Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee have really talented cats. So for us, being able to grow our team has allowed me to expand my ear and learn that in one market something might be hot and I might not like it, but I can at least have an appreciation for why that region likes it so much.
Rapsody - ABC
I didn't know that you had such a wide range of artists from so many different areas. For the blog, we've picked a few of our features from your Independent list. So with that, when you're looking for new music what do you look for in an artist?
That's a good question. To start, the artist has to be organized. The artist has to present themselves to me in a fashion where I believe that they are serious about their career and it's a profession to them, and its not just a hobby. That's not to say I can't take you seriously if you are only able to do music part time because you have to have another job to pay your bills. What I mean is, if you don't have a professionally written bio, if you don't have professionally taken promo photos. If you don't do your homework and when you send records to blogs and websites you don't know about them or who you're addressing in the email. These are very simple preparatory steps that any artist should take if they want to be taken seriously. The beauty of it is it really doesn't cost must, all it takes is time and attention. So, lead up to the submission to put yourself in a position to succeed is what I look for the most. If you have all your ducks in a row, and you're prepared, by the time you present your material to me I'm going to be that much more apt to take the time to listen to it. That's what seperates us from a lot of other sites and blogs. No disrespect to anybody else, but we really do listen to everything. We go out of our way to feature content and artist who no one else has featured. And we don't need anyone else to cosign them or say that they're hot or that they want to work with them. If we like what we hear, it's a done deal. That simple.
You actually did answer my next question with the last question. I was about to ask how imperative is education for self-branding and proper media pitching. So you did a great job answering both.
(laughs) How about that, I answered your next question before you even asked it.
Emilio Rojas - Classic
So now, even though you find great music, what are a few pet peeves when dealing with the site and new artists?
I'd say the first pet peeve would probably be there is an unfair assumption that people who run websites don't eat or sleep or have a social life. That we're parked in our room in front of our computers for hours on end. You know, literally I get texts and calls 24 hours a day. The idea that I would somehow be awake and be interested in listening to a record at 3,4, or 5 in the morning is absurd. Really, only in the music industry, or specifically within the hip hop genre do people forget about etiquette, approach, and professionalism. When you call someone out on it, instead of embracing the feedback that you're getting and learning your lesson and trying to improve upon the next opportunity, most of the time artists take it personally. They assume you don't like them. They assume you'll never support their music again. They assume that you have beef, and they get real sensitive. I would just tell anyone across the board; if you're thinking about getting into the music industry you can't be sensitive. You have to be able to take and receive criticism as long as its constructive. And if you're in the industry and you find yourself overly emotional and have a lack of understanding about how things work, talk to people. Ask questions, be a sponge, learn, better yourself. Never feel like you know everything, because if you ever get to that point chances are you're never going to make it.
Now I would like to know your favorite artists. Mainstream, independent or both.
Throughout this article, I've posted videos from the unique and talented artists from across the country DJ Z mentions.
¡MAYDAY! - Death March
Where do you hope to see DJBooth go?
Good question, we've already expanded so much in the last few years that I think right now instead of trying to expand we want to refine and perfect everything we do. For example we've been integrating our brand name into a variety of live shows and events. And for the past few years we've been fortunate enough to take part in A3C, which is a yearly hip hop festival in Atlanta. We'll be there this year as well in October. We'll have Tech N9ne, one of the more successful independent artists ever as our headliner. The past few years, we've been down in Austin in March for South by Southwest(SXSW), that has been an amazing experience. We've also been apart of CMJ in New York. So being able to allow our fans and hip hop and R&B, and music fans in general to appreciate what we do. To be able to bring that to a live place where you don't have to be on your phone or computer is definitely key so they can get that same experience but offline. That and further expanding the technology we've integrated into the site. Obviously we've been able to do what not a lot of sites do in that we sell projects, we stream projects. We can offer two different types of versions for the same projects. A dual release, with a free version and a premium version so that artists can both sell their work and give it away in the same place. We're just expanding on the technology that we've built and that we've grown so that we can offer artists that we've worked with, especially independent people, more opportunity, more options. So that they can see success and we can profit as a result.
Sean Boog - Sean Boogie Nights
With everything that you have done and everything you plan to do, are there any projects you're looking forward to specifically?
Two projects actually that I'd like to mention here. The first is something that we've been working on for a few months, it's called Reproduced. We work with artists, they give us an accapella version of a single they released, and along with some producers notes and the BPM count we provide that to hand selected producers who completely reproduce the song. Different from the remix where they're taking basic foundation of the original production, in this case they're stripping that and making a brand new record. We compile several of them and release an EP. We've already done 2, with Torae, the other with Tech N9ne. I'll even let the cat out of the bag here, the next artist up in the Reproduced series is Freeway. So for us to work with these artists, and then have the opportunity to also work with these artists is incredible. Then, number two we ran a series called the DJBooth Freestyle Series for about two and a half years. We released 250 exclusive freestyle, and we did so well before they blew up. We were working with Freddy Gibbs, Machine Gun Kelly, Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T., and YelaWolf way before they got their deals or they blew up. So we're going to bring the series back with a few twists, hoping we can continue to highlight some of the future's talent that we were able to highlight in the past. So yeah, Reproduced and DJBooth's Freestyle Series returns.
Yonas - Pumped Up Kicks
I appreciate DJ Z doing this interview and providing Urbane with this abundance of great information and music that we may share with you. I encourage young artists to take full advantage of the words and advice provided and look out for the future projects mentioned from www.DJBooth.net
Keeping A Close Eye -UMG, Trice S.