Why I’m (mostly) done complaining about celebrity DJs

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When it was recently announced that Jon Gosselin (former reality TV star personality and Ed Hardy poster boy) had attached the title of DJ to his name, I felt the eye-twitching, mouth-frothing, fist-shaking signs of one doozy of a rant brewing. I was all set for one hell of a tirade. My fury was fueled by such insightful and deep wisdom like DJing “is not easy, you have to know what you’re doing, you have to keep the flow” or expressing those universal challenges like DJing weddings and the bride’s guests “start taking pictures of me and it’s not good, it’s an uncomfortable situation.”

Yes, I was getting ready to spew forth an anti-celebrity DJ rant the likes of which even DJ Sneak would tell me to lay off. As I was translating anger, frustration, and dissapointment into words, I realized a very important aspect of the whole celebrity DJ debacle that immediately calmed my rage: douche begets douche.

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Douche begets douche

In reality, the majority of people that are actual fans of celebrity DJs are either douches or just don’t know any better (or worse, both). I understand that curiosity may drive some people to personally witness one of these train wrecks of humanity from time to time, but rubbernecking aside, anyone who is a serious fan may want to earnestly examine their life goals. The sad reality is that the majority of people who continually support these fallen celebrities are really just hoping that some of the 15 minutes will rub off on them so they can get attention as well.

That being said, the celebrity DJ phenomenon has been mostly confined to its own sad, sad little world. Douche clubs book douche DJs and attract douche people. This system works to our advantage as it helps to centralize the douche community away from anywhere that matters (except for an occasional misstep in judgement, *ahem* Paris Hilton in Ibiza). At the very least, these celebrity DJ bookings let me know without hesitation which clubs and events to forever stay away from, which can be a great time and effort saver. The drawback, however, is that it can also occasionally encourage douches that wouldn’t normally take part in DJ culture to start exploring outside their own douche-majority bubble and infect a douche-minority environment. Dance music culture has enough of our own douches without adding any more.

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Ok, they aren’t all bad

Though I stand by what I’ve said in the past about how the celebrity DJ devalues and mocks our culture (and not in a fun and relevant Will Ferrell kind of way), I do acknowledge that not all celebrity DJs are bad or devalue dance music culture. People like Elijah Wood and Rony Seikaly have, so far, proven to be decent role models. I give Elijah credit for maintaining a low-key profile on the matter and actually demonstrating skill, respect, and for using vinyl instead of jumping on any sync-button-look-at-me-I’m-a-superstar-DJ-so-pay-attention-to-me bandwagon. Rony, former center for the Miami Heat, has been quoted more than once with some actual insightful comments that only come from a genuine passion for the music. One of my favorites being, “EDM isn’t house music. EDM is an offshoot of radio pop that’s done with computers. The essence of house music is organic. It’s a sexier sound. It’s not classic, it’s not noisy. It’s smooth, it’s sexy, it’s groovy. It doesn’t have fake energy like EDM.”

While I am by no means advocating the idea of celebrity DJs, as long as they help keep the douches together in their little bubbles, I don’t care much about what they do. Ultimately, celebrity DJs are like glitter and herpes (glerpes), we aren’t going to ever get rid of them so we just have to kind of ignore them when they pop up. But yes, they are just as annoying all the same.

TL;DR: Not all celebrity DJs are bad and the ones that are douches are pretty much staying in their own douche bubbles, for now. They are like glittered herpes: hungry for attention, annoying, and not going away so just ignore them.

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The bifurcation of DJ/producer pay and a case for unionizing

There has been a lot of writing (including our own) about the ‘clowns’ of the industry and the damage they cause to the dance music scene by way of their shenanigans, ghostwriting, overpriced ticket sales, lack of respect, lack of general talent, so on and so forth. However, there is a bigger problem that these so called celebrity DJs and producers are facilitating: the bifurcation of pay amongst dance music artists. There is an ever expanding gap between the DJs that get paid tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars per gig and those that are lucky to get offered a gig for anything more than “good exposure”. A gap that will only get worse as corporate entities become more and more involved with dance music.

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The problem

Advances in technology and automation as well as the ever dwindling price of gear and music have created a level of access that has made it easier than ever for anyone and everyone to call themselves a DJ. Combine this with the pop culture spotlight that is increasingly shining down on our once intimate world and we have the homogenization and saturation of DJs and producers that plagues us today. A plague that has no comparison to any other genre of music, and this includes the 80’s and 90’s when everyone picked up the guitar and called themselves a rock musician or stood in front of a microphone and called themselves a rapper.

The end result of this saturation and homogenization is a detrimental bifurcation of pay,  causing the middle class DJ to disappear, which is on par with what is happening to the rest of the American population. Many argue that it is simply a case of “the cream rising to the top”, but for those that factor in corporate involvement, investments, marketing, saturation, access, ghostwriting, celebrity DJs, and a multitude of other factors, know that it is very rarely the case that someone rises to the top of the financial ladder just because their music is the best liked. When it comes to the big money in the music industry, many hits are more a product of marketing success, investments, and heavy exposure/repetition campaigning than a result of something being simply the best liked.

On one end of the spectrum an elite few find support by way of investment and promotion that gets them heard by the masses. On the other end, a flooding of entry level DJs who want a shot at the new celebrity status that has been bestowed upon the namesake flood the market and are willing to work for very little pay, or for that all time favorite perk offered by seasoned promoters and club owners, good exposure. Naturally this is a better financial move on the promoter’s end, but this reduces the opportunity for all DJs as there is now a flood of local or regional talent that is satisfactory enough, at least until the headliner comes on, and ultimately removes any need or desire to pay for the expenses and fees that come from more seasoned talent that may or may not be from the region. It also puts the promoter into a position to move on to the next freeDJ as soon as the first one starts asking for more than just good exposure, which is bound to happen.

This is just one area where a union could come in handy, to not only protect the DJ but the longevity and quality of the dance music scene as well. Further, if the union was able to develop into something that even remotely resembled the Screen Actors Guild, (the longest running and most successful entertainment union) DJs that didn’t make millions of dollars throughout their career could feasibly have access to emergency funds, medical insurance, retirement options, and a wealth of other benefits and protections.

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How it could work

There is no question it would take a tremendous amount of work, organization, and coordination. There is no question that there would be a tremendous amount of push back from venues and promoters. But, with some support from a few of the major players it could actually be quite achievable. We would first need the support of promoters like Pasquale Rotella (Insomniac) and headlining performers like Joel Zimmerman (Deadmau5) to support the union. I call them out specifically because on more than one occasion they have either expressed their love of the scene or their hatred of the garbage it has produced, I’ll let you figure out who said what.

Once a few of the larger venues and artists joined it would naturally start to trickle down to the smaller ones.  Venues would still have the option to use non-union talent, but would’t have access to the headliners and DJs that were in the union unless they could show that they met a booking quota of union talent. Benefits wouldn’t be one-sided, the union could help mediate contract disputes by either party, impose sanctions or fines to violations, and in general, help raise the bar in terms of performance quality.

Aside from membership dues, a certain amount of live show experience could be required to join the union. This wouldn’t prevent anyone starting out from getting gigs, but rather help screen and filter out those that aren’t serious about taking the DJ path as a career, this would ultimately help alleviate the over-saturation in the market. By following much of the system set up by SAG, we could help protect the talent and help relieve some of the saturation that has caused way too many cases of seasoned and talented DJs being asked to play for exposure.

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Why it will probably never happen

As realistic as unionizing may be in theory, in practice it will likely never happen. The two biggest proponents being greed and ego. Venues and promoters are often short-sighted when money is involved. In part because what is popular can change nearly instantly or they work from event to event and they want to keep the revenue flowing, and in part because they want the maximum profit immediately and don’t want to give up those free, exchange for cover and drink tickets, or $50 DJ slots.

Despite much of the unity and togetherness that is promoted within the consumer-side of the scene, the industry-side is rife with competition. DJs are generally not in the habit of helping one another out, unless they clearly see a greater benefit. Despite all the benefits that they would receive from being unionized, it is not unreasonable to think that when something like a call to strike occurred that there would be too many DJs that saw it as their chance to stand out or make a quick buck, rendering any strike meaningless.

Just keep this in mind: unionization has a proven track record for entertainers like TV and film actors, shouldn’t we have the same protections and benefits?

Let’s be honest, illegally downloading music makes you a jerk and a commie

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I recently had a discussion with someone who was in the process of scanning books so that people could have “free access to any and all books”. He viewed himself as a champion of the people; offering up his valuable time and effort in an act of a selflessness in order to be a provider of free knowledge. I was a bit surprised when he got offended and denied my assertion that he was ultimately stealing and that he was more thief than champion, especially in the eyes of the authors. The outright denial of his thievery, though took me aback, made me realize that his viewpoint is not uncommon.

Rather than beat a dead horse and speculate on the effects piracy has on various industries, let’s instead focus on the rarely discussed truth of what is really going on when you illegally download media. Let us get honest, shall we?

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You are a jerk and thief

When it comes to illegal downloads, it is easy to forget that you are stealing. Especially since there is no physical object that is taken from the possession of another physical or perceived individual. People come up with lots of arguments to justify their actions: it’s just a copy, it’s not hurting anyone, it’s not like I’m taking a purse from an old lady, I’m helping expose the artist to people, I shouldn’t have to pay for music because I’m a DJ, I’m sticking it to the corporations and big businesses that are ruining the <insert industry here>, blah blah blah. Bottom line, you are taking something that is meant to be for sale and not paying for it. No matter what argument or justification you come up with, you my friend, are a thief.

You are a jerk because you are robbing the creator of the media and essentially saying, “your stuff is worth having but I’m not going to pay you for it because my desire to have it for free is more important than your desire to make money from your labor”. Despite how you feel about whatever corporations or middlemen that have their hands in the process from creation to distribution or in the overall economic pie, you are in fact taking money away from the creator of the media. Even if it is a paltry sum from that $0.99 song you just stole. As for all you DJs that are getting paid gigs and playing illegally downloaded music, you are thieves, jerks, and a-holes.

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You are a jerk and communist

If you take the work/labor of another person and distribute it to the masses (effectively creating common ownership) you are taking part in communism. This is exactly what is happening when you download and distribute digital material. Not only are you a commie but likely a hypocritical one at that, as I highly doubt that you are sharing with the masses the compensation of your labor, your birthday money from grand-ma-ma, or for that matter, the computer you downloaded the media onto in the first place.

Doesn’t it seem like a bit of a jerk move to be like, “I know you wanted to make money from this but I’m overriding your desire to feed your kids with the compensation of your work and deciding that my desire to make it available for free to other people is more important”? I’d like to see how people would react if someone took their paycheck and distributed the money to the masses because they thought they should be working for free. But I guess that is harder than clicking a button, so it must be more wrong.

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The truth of the matter

Even if everyone suddenly decided to be honest with themselves about what they are doing, I’m not confident that much would change. We live in a world where the new generations are increasingly demanding that things be given to them for free, yet that they be compensated for their own efforts. Companies and artists are continuously struggling to find new avenues of compensation for their labor (resurgence of physical media a la vinyl production, advertising revenues, ridiculous pricing for live performance, etc) but so far most efforts only seem to further screw the artists, and the fans for that matter. You may be getting that song for free but you are ultimately paying for it somewhere.