The further we go down the digital rabbit-hole, the more autonomy seemingly opens up to us, and with this there has been a surge of bedroom dJs and producers surfacing into the ether, often armed with just a laptop.
You could say there are two types of people making music these days: one group are anonymous bedroom DJs, producers, composers and performers: they who are trying to get their music ‘out there’ and exposed in a music biz that has been revolutionised by downloads and internet streaming; and they are happy if that exposure gets them gigs and some recognition. They’re also into music emotionally, it’s their ‘life blood’ and they use it as a form of music therapy. On the other side of the spectrum are those who want to make a living out of music and are determined to succeed commercially (somehow in the music business) – whether this means diluting their offering to get radio-friendly airplay or creating a more mainstream pop recognition. They love their music too.
“You are pouring your heart and soul out and if it turns out being bad it can be really self-destructive”
Before the boom of ‘bedroom DJs’, to make it in the industry you would have to work for one of the big major music companies such as EMI or Sony. But with the advent of downloads and music as a non-physical product, the music business has been turned on its head. Before, a lot of the money made in the music industry was from record sales, but now because you can access music so easily and freely on the internet; for instance with the music sharing platforms like Soundcloud and Bandcamp – rather than creating music to sell and make money, you create supposedly free content music so people will hear your music and book you for gigs. It’s all about live acts. There are people who can be terrible DJs but make really good music, and they often get really expensive bookings because they have produced some great tunes (often bookers will assume they are really good because of it).
To succeed as a bedroom DJ the difference is you have to do it all yourself, it’s all freelance. You don’t pay someone (an agent, publicist, producer etc) a huge chunk of your wages to do everything for you, you go and perform, you’ve got to be your own manager, be your own agent – all that stuff you have to do off your own back. Basically the pie is still the same size, but everyone gets a smaller slice of the same pie, so it spreads between a lot more people. The technology to create and mix music is so easy to get now, it’s so cheap – anyone can go online and get a copy of Logic or other music-making software and start working on your songs. Before when you had a lot more bands, you needed a huge budget, record deal, you needed all of this stuff before you can actually start creating music. Whereas now, you can sit there and if you have a spare ten minutes open up the thing and start working on a track for a bit. To make it in the music industry (pre the technology revolution) it had to be your life, but now you can do it as a hobby and still create good quality content.
“Went from living in a shared student house to a mansion in LA all within a year”.
It’s not all fun and games in the bedroom however. Neurofunk and Drum and Bass DJ/ producer Matt Howell (https://soundcloud.com/mynd/the-green-moon), described his experience of being a DJ in the South West and the difficulties that comes with it:
“The uncertainty is the same as any form of a kind of artistry really – you are your worst critic. You are pouring your heart and soul out and if it turns out being bad it can be really self-destructive. If it works well on the other hand it can be the best thing ever. It’s when you have creative block and you see it as being everything about you – how well you do reflects on yourself. Its emotional.”
So how can you transform being a bedroom DJ into stardom and make it as a career? Matt gave me a good example of how one of his best friends Rob Talbert aka ‘Dodge & Fuski’ (https://soundcloud.com/dodgeandfuski) became ‘really really big very quickly’ and went from living in a shared student house to a mansion in LA all within a year.
‘We were having a party and Ed Solo came round ‘cos he was trying to bang my mate Sally’. He ended up talking to Dodge about music who then played a few of his tunes to him and proceeded to get signed to Ed Solo’s record label. Dodge’s first track released (Pornstep, Sludge Records) went straight to Number 1 on all the Dubstep charts. And then from that, other people heard it and everything exploded. He’s very professional, he showed me how if you fucking work hard you can actually make a career out of it, but you have to be pretty cut throat and businesslike about it. It has to be treated like a job, a music business. You aren’t just doing it for fun and you need to give yourself working hours. Knowing what your doing is one thing, but it’s literally hard graft and should be something practice-based for the entire time your in the office.’
“Financially it’s not quite enough to justify the time put in.”
Dodge now charges two and half grand for each hour he plays and runs Dispatch Records, the same label as Skrillex. Matt describes it as ‘very good bad music. He realised cheesy music is where the money’s at. You want the Radio 1 stuff to make a living out of it.’
For someone trying to make it big, there is no point working on music that there’s no market for. A classic example of this is Chase and Status, who were once the best dark underground Drum and Bass artists around – who dedicated eight years to the scene. Then they realised actually they wouldn’t mind making some money from it. They’d done the underground thing and proved they have musical integrity, but when some guy is offering ten grand to make a pop tune who’s going to say no? Or what they might have been thinking… ‘show me the money, I’ve had enough of living with my mum…’
From bedroom DJ to Soundcloud sensation with over thirty-eight thousands followers in the last four years, I spoke with instrumental hip hop, funk and soul producer Vanilla, on what being a successful producer meant to him and why he’d rather remain anonymous behind a pseudonym. (https://soundcloud.com/vanilla)
‘I love making and releasing music, but for me it pretty much ends there – I’m not really interested in social networking or bombarding people with updates or attaching my image to the music. To be honest, I find this sort of thing really distracting – I’m not saying it’s wrong and I know lots of people have great success with these methods but it’s just not for me personally. I’m lucky in that I don’t need to do a huge amount of self-promotion for something to usually get some traction as through years of doing it I’ve been fortunate enough to build a really strong fan base. So having that sort of expectation on your work is a great motivator to try and do the best stuff you can, and although it doesn’t always hit the mark, I think the best is definitely yet to come.’
“I’ve probably released well under 1% of the things I’ve started”.
It was a general love of music that made Hugo thirsty to create his signature sound, and listening to albums particularly, combined with an introduction to sequencing software like Cubase and Garageband – where he was able discover the potential possibilities of ‘home producing’ to realise his own projects. A lot of his inspiration came from other hip hop producers, and particularly those who are prolific samplers, such as J Dilla, Madlib, Onra and Nujabes.
‘I’m not particularly current with my tastes but I heard ‘Breakfast AT ePiffanies’ by Flatbush Zombies recently which has great energy and some great sampling too.’
In Vanilla’s eyes, the most important thing right now is to focus on producing music professionally which has resulted in helping him on the first steps to setting himself up as a freelance composer.
‘I love doing what I do but unfortunately financially it’s not quite enough to justify the time put in which is why I’m starting to branch out from the “bedroom producer” role.’
To achieve this it seems one needs to be able to combine great musical ideas with great production, but also to bring something new and fresh to the table through whatever means it might be. As Vanilla says:
‘For me personally, the hardest thing is definitely finishing things; I’ve probably released well under 1% of the things I’ve started. The problem is I can’t sit on an idea or a sample too long before wanting to try something else, so the project files really start to stack up after a while.’
In this tech-savvy time with easy-access media-files, streaming, downloading and social media, it is possible to break out of the bedroom and head for the clouds. However, as with all success stories, it boils down to personal grit and determination (especially networking) as well as luck and opportunity to make it big.