The Reality of Being a Radio Deejay with DJ Apprentice
iHeart radio personality, local deejay and aspiring all-around artist, DJ Apprentice has been undergoing many personal changes! From hobby to job to full-fledged career, being on-air changed Apprentice's life and journey. Being behind the mic and through your car stereo took up all his time for years and now he finds himself creating a work/life balance where he can make a sound and brand for himself.
So what's the difference between the deejay on the radio and the deejay at the club? What advice would a radio deejay give a local artist? And where's DJ Apprentice headed to next? He shares all this and more in the conversation below.
How did you fall into the position of being a radio DJ?
I fell into it by accident actually. There’s just a crazy story between D-Wayne and I. I met him when I was thirteen. He used to work for this production company called Paradise Productions and they used to deejay a lot of my dad’s parties. I’ve always wanted to deejay ever since I was eleven. I told a promoter that I wanted to learn how to deejay and at that time, he was not only doing parties but clubs, too. He invited me to this place and it’s a club. I’m thirteen years old and my dad is dropping me off at a club. D-Wayne was the deejay at that time and was showing me how to deejay vinyl.
Fast forward, I graduate high school and I use my brothers fake I.D. to get into clubs here in Tucson. I see D-Wayne there and he asked me if I was still deejaying (I was). I had just gotten new turntables at that time and I ended up deejaying for the station for a couple years.
Man, that hunger when I was younger was crazy. You know when you’re just so hungry for something? Some guy ended up quitting at the station and I was asked to come on. I had never been on the mic. I’ve never been the mic guy. It was cool, though! I never expected that to happen.
Is this something you always wanted to do? I know you said you always wanted to be a deejay but you saying you weren’t a mic guy...
No, it’s not something I wanted to do - be on air. I liked deejaying and turntablism but I appreciate what it did to me for sure. It helped me grow as a deejay. I feel like every deejay should learn how to be on the mic. Especially with the culture of Hip Hop. It’s good, it helped me for sure.
I’ve always wanted to deejay but today’s deejay is different than what I grew up wanting to be. Not only do you have to know how to cut records but you have to know how to create music. That’s something that I’ve been wanting to do for a couple years that I’m getting into now. I’ve always wanted to do that or create a solid artist of myself instead of an on-air personality.
What industry would you say you’re in? Radio or music?
I would consider it the music industry, today, because radio used to be just radio but now it’s considered a multi-media company. It’s radio, social media, advertising… it’s just the whole music industry, which is crazy. A lot of people don’t understand it. I try to explain that to people here locally. I like helping other artists out but some don’t understand how the music industry is or the radio industry is. If I could do all I wanted then I would but there’s a lot of limitations.
So you fell in love with deejaying but getting on the mic wasn’t something you initially wanted to do. Did becoming a radio deejay (with the business side of it, the restrictions, having to be on-air personality) diminish your passion for deejaying itself?
You know what, it probably did because it became a job. It was a hobby that became a job that then turned into a career. Even today I still lack a lot of skills that I want to have but I never created the time for because I was so busy with radio. Radio isn’t just being on-air, it’s also about making money on-air. It’s a business. Although it’s radio, it’s still a business. There’s a whole other side to radio where they’re trying to sell stuff (advertising). That’s another thing that comes into mind, you become a salesperson. You have to be able to sell yourself. That creates a whole other world for radio personality. If you’re trying to deejay and do radio, you have to be able to balance it and I never knew how to balance it until recently, like in the last year and a half. I was just always on the go and wouldn’t stop to see what I actually want to do throughout the day. I feel like it did push me back from creating a solid, talented all-around deejay.
What would you say are some things that you lack?
I would just say creating. Becoming a creator. I’m a commercial deejay pretty much. A lot of people confuse me as a commercial, on-air radio deejay that only knows how to play certain music but I play all of this stuff in my gigs when I’m at a bar or a club. You get put in a category as a deejay but when they actually hear me they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t know Apprentice could do this.” So being a creator, creating music and technically-wise. You’ve heard dope scratchers and that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I could scratch but nothing crazy like that. It just takes practice. Even promoting myself, I feel like I’m barely starting to do that. I need to become more of an artist.
What are some things that have caught you off guard about the music/radio industry?
A lot of things that surprise me are the behind-the-scenes stuff that people don’t see. Like we mentioned, it’s not just radio it’s a business. A lot of people don’t see that. It’s cool that you have a name for yourself but how is that going to benefit the company that you’re working for? How is that going to benefit the people that are hiring you? There’s a lot of things like that that come into play. And with radio, there’s a whole other world where there’s statistics and it breaks down numbers for every song. There’s a lot of stuff that comes with that and why songs are repetitive on the radio. Even though they’re repetitive for some of us, they’re the most charted songs that people love. So it’s crazy. That’s what catches me off guard sometimes.
You once brought up to me that it’s hard to stay confident in the industry. Why is that?
Oh yeah, it is. I think it’s hard to stay confident because there’s so much that people expect from you and when you don’t come through you feel like you failed. Not only locally but like I said, I want to become a full, all-around deejay but sometimes when you just keep doing it you wonder if you’re ever going to make it. Doubt brings negative results. Ever since I started thinking positive a lot of stuff has changed. It was hard to stay confident. You have to believe in yourself before anyone else can. It’s crazy how true that is. It is hard to stay confident when you’re in the industry just because there’s so much competition and it can be hard to keep up.
I feel like you’ve been making a lot of (personal) changes as of recently.
Yeah, that’s true. I have been. I think I just realized that I’m at that point in my life where I don’t feel like I’ve wasted a lot of time but at the same time I feel I have. When you’re not confident with what you do (which was me) and you get “negative” results you start wondering, “Well, if it keeps going like that, why do I keep doing it?” I started changing my mentality. Even though there might only be five people at my gig, I’m still going to play like there’s five hundred people. When you’re an artist in general and no one is going to your gigs or no one is showing you love, you get unconfident. A lot of people let that drag. I would let that drag for a couple weeks and then I’d snapback but now I just keep going. Even though something doesn’t work out, just keep trying. Like the law of attraction. It just clicked! As I mentioned earlier, I started thinking positive. I love Tucson, this is where I’m from and I’m pretty sure I’m always going to be here but I start wondering what moves I gotta make. I really want to finish school, really want to create music and be more confident with my product.
So change of mentality, change of routine, new experiences - where’s your head at right now?
My head is everywhere right now! I want to work on myself in creating a sound and as a deejay/producer. I always like helping other people especially in the music industry, so I want to create something where I can help people network or get their music somewhere else to get heard. There’s a lot of talented guys here but I know the industry so I know what it takes. Not to “make it” necessarily but I’m saying these ideas from my experiences can help someone who’s trying to do it.
I definitely want to do something else besides deejaying. But I love radio too so I want to be able to create a brand and help change radio in Tucson. I feel like it still has a lot of potential. So, I want to keep doing what I can with radio and I want to finish school that way I can be prepared for whatever I want to do in two to three years.
Since you know some business aspects of the industry, what advice would you give local artists?
I would just tell them to keep doing music and be themselves. There’s so many sub-genres in music right now it’s becoming trendy. There’s trends and I feel there’s a lot of people biting those trends. There’s a lot of talent here though. Tucson’s actually one of the few places that I’ve gone to where artists actually create a name for themselves. I think the culture here is so cool because a lot of artists don’t care about making it big, they just care about creating their music. That’s cool. That’s where it begins. You have to create that buzz locally first before you could create it anywhere else. A lot of artists think they shouldn’t say they’re from Tucson and it’s discouraging. It shouldn’t matter. People that really love your music will listen to it either way.