Current Dynamics of the Artist–DJ Relationship: Both Sides Weigh In

BY: BRITTANY GRAHAM

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"Its kinda wack that a lot of artists don't know they need to bring their own DJ to a show," said Billie Knight, on-air radio personality and disc jockey for Power 98 FM. "Most artists typically just use the house DJ or whoever's there. Unfortunately, when something goes wrong with their CD – it skips or whatever – then it falls back on me, the DJ," Knight continued.

It's 7 p.m. on a Wednesday night and Knight is scheduled to DJ the kickoff show for West Coast rapper the Game'sR.E.D. album tour, in less than 24 hours, but tonight a more pressing issue is weighing in on his mind.

His previous statement, which refers to a lack of knowledge about the historical and professional nature of the artist-DJ relationship on the part of the artist, perhaps hits the nail on the head with the reason why he believes so many underground artists are dissatisfied with current artist-DJ relationships.

"The relationship's not there," said Knight. "Back in the day, the artist would be at the club with a record like, ‘yo, can you put my record on?' I don't know when the last time an artist came up to me in the club and asked me to do that."

Knight also believes that many artists are ignorant of proper submission formats.

"The proper format is MP3," said Knight. "Send an instrumental, a clean version, a dirty version, and an eight-bar version. Eight-bars are good because it starts off eight bars into the song, which is good for mixing."

DJ Impact, a disc jockey for more than 15 years and current Sirius XM Shade 45 DJ, shares some of Knight's sentiments regarding pivotal misunderstandings between artists and DJs.

"A lot of artists [think] a DJ's job is to get out, find new artists and break their music, when really it's not," said Impact. "A DJ's job is to entertain the crowds that he's hired to entertain."

Furthermore, Impact said that a severe lack of professionalism and inappropriate timing are some of the biggest downfalls of aspiring artists.

"If you're going to send an email, send a somewhat intelligent email," Impact said. "Don't just say, ‘this is the hottest shit ever, you need to play this.'"

Moreover, Impact said that the worst cases of un-professionalism are typically found on social networks.

"A lot of DJ's Twitter pet-peeve is when they're having a conversation with a friend and then some idiot artist hits reply all," said Impact. "That's like you and your friend sitting down and having a conversation during dinner, and then I run up and stick a CD in your face."

Impact also warns artists about looking needy by not taking the time to personalize their tweets.

"A lot of artists do a copy and paste thing; they'll send the same message to every DJ," said Impact.

Unfortunately, some artists aren't convinced that a lack of knowledge on their part is where the attention should be concentrated.

C-Nice, a local Long Beach rapper and Cal State Fullerton graduate, doesn't believe that DJs put forth enough effort to help upcoming artists. Consequently, he brings up the subject of DJs charging money to host the mix tapes that underground artists hope will build "street buzz."

"I don't think that DJs should charge artists to promote them; artists should charge the DJs," said C-Nice. "If DJs compete for that hot new record, then how is giving them money to host a mix tape taking them to the next level?"

DJ Impact disagrees. "If I have to provide my vocal talent to make your CD interesting – or you want to introduce your music to my fan base – then why wouldn't I charge for that?" said Impact. "There are certain DJs where it makes sense to pay because they have a name for themselves and hosting your mix tape adds value."

DJ Mikey Swift – a resident of Las Vegas, works at some of the most popular clubs on the strip such as Rehab, Studio 54, LAX and Pure and thinks the issue lies with artists not knowing the proper channels.

"In Vegas, we have thousands of people coming in from all over the world," said Swift. "It's just not the place to [experiment on the crowds and throw in songs nobody knows]."

According to Swift, DJs nowadays have access to their own databases and record pools such as Direct Music Service, DJ City and MP3 Pool where they obtain new music.

"Since these companies do nothing but serve us, I think artists would have better luck if they went through them as opposed to approaching DJs directly," said Swift.

He also mentions that party-goers also play a huge role in whether new records get broken.

"Crowds are creatures of habit; they wanna hear everything they hear on the radio," said Swift. "It's not that the music is bad, it's just that nobody knows it."

Despite their varying stances on the issue, all of the DJs agree on one thing: personal interaction is essential to building a good relationship.

"It's all about how I'm approached personally," said Swift. "Sometimes with texting and writing, you can't really tell somebody's intentions like you can face-to-face. I'm much more receptive to something like that."