What being a DJ taught me about life

In 2009, I decided I wanted to be a DJ.

Fresh off the plane from a backpacking trip to Europe (with a stop over in Ibiza), I’d replaced the electric guitar and a year of singing lessons with Pete Tong, Bob Sinclair and David Guetta.

Like, David Guetta before he was cool. Ya know?

I didn’t actually think I would be a DJ. I’d been allergic to playing guitar in front of crowds during high school, so much so that I gave it up, mostly to avoid the stress.

But on a night out on the town, soon after landing home, I noticed an old school friend spinning tunes at a popular bar. At that exact moment, I made a decision. If this idiot could do it, I said to myself, then so could I.

So I asked him how he got started and he gave me a phone number.

After working my way into the right crowds, I learnt quickly.

Becoming a DJ is something many think about, but don’t have the heart to pursue. Stacks of young guys with too much money and late thirties corporates rediscovering their creative side go one step further, and buy expensive set ups to play on at home. 6 months later they’re on Gumtree. I bought one.

With a bit of luck, I managed to skip the practice in your bedroom forever period and started playing gigs a tidy 6 months later. Some years later, after playing in some of the city’s most popular pubs, clubs and bars, I decided to hang up the headphones and move on.

I was happy with what I had achieved. The biggest surprise to me, however, was how much I ended up discovering about myself and life, rather than about playing music.

“Trance, progressive and house. What do you like?” I said.

“I like all that too, but these days it’s all top 40 and dance remixes.”

“Really? You like Rihanna that much?”

“Yep”, he replied. “When you see how much happiness and joy it brings to people on the dance floor when they hear the first bars of a song you’ve mixed in, you’ll love the mainstream stuff too. Probably even more.”

I happened to join a crew full of amazing people who loved what they do. As well as playing the music they wanted, they were also working DJs who got paid to play at the busiest venues in town.

As I learned to beat match in this guy’s garage shortly after calling that phone number, he let me in one of life’s greatest lessons – one that took me another half a decade to fully realise was true:

Once you move from living for yourself to living to make other people’s lives better, everything changes.

When you start DJing, you’re playing for yourself. You play your favourite tunes, enjoy the feeling of being the coolest person in the room, and get paid three times as much as bar stuff. Great gig.

And your only gig at that venue.

The turning point from bedroom jockey to in-demand DJ is the ability to read the crowd and feel the energy. Then, you throw down exactly what is going to make their experience even better. Out there, in the crowd, are people having a series of special moments.

When you see the joy that feeling the flow of the music, connecting to it deeply and using your energy to guide a room from moment to moment, you start to love more than just your own music.

You start loving Rihanna.