Am I Too Old to DJ?

Our resident agony aunt Charlie Leigh Gamble is here to answer your queries on music, life and existential crises. This month, our question comes from a more mature reader who’s worried about getting too old for the world of dance music.

DJ Derek: still rocking the party at the age of 70

Dear Charlie

I’m 36 years old and I’m beginning to wonder whether I’m getting too old to dream of becoming famous. I produce tech house but my main love is DJing. I’ve had a bit of success in smaller clubs but I still dream of really making it and rocking massive crowds. Is there a cutoff point at which you should realise you’re probably never going to become a world famous producer and superstar DJ? Shall I get the slippers out and retire gracefully?

Grey-haired DJ, Glasgow

 

Charlie replies…

When people ask me how they can become successful in dance music, the first thing I tell them is to forget about DJing. Unless you specifically want to be a turntablist, focus on being a producer and an artist first. There was a time when DJs were respected in their own right. Now everyone has a cracked copy of Traktor and 10,000 paid-for Facebook fans, those days are long gone.

Meanwhile, famous producers who can’t DJ for shit are raking in thousands of dollars a show just because their name brings in the crowds. Making a name for yourself as a producer and artist is the quickest way to gain respect and credibility and ultimately build demand for yourself as a performer. Once you’re well known as an artist, the DJ bookings will follow.

But there’s a deeper question here. First and foremost you need to ask yourself why you’re making music. If it’s just in search of fame, what exactly is your definition of ‘fame’?

I could give a brief lecture about making music for the love of music itself, but let’s be real. Who doesn’t like the idea of groupies, messy weekends and jetting around the world? But there’s a time for everything, and – coming from someone who’s been there, done that and got the T-shirt – I can honestly say I get more enjoyment and self-gratification these days when I’m not trying to impress others.

What’s this got to do with those first grey hairs? Unfortunately for those of us approaching the big three zero, the dance music scene is attracting an ever-younger crowd. At least it seems that way to me with my 30s fast approaching… With crowds getting younger, and us getting older, it’s all too easy to end up the oldest swinger in town. When I think fame, I think sex, drugs, rock & roll; the champagne lifestyle. And if that definition lines up with yours, I would ask how comfortable you’re going to be when you’re a 40-something ‘Superstar DJ’ performing at a sold out gig to a fanbase that’s half your age? Beyond that, will you have the energy to sustain the plane rides, the hotel rooms and the endless hangovers?

Of course, if the idea still appeals to you, then go for it. But ‘fame’ is a tricky beast to tame. The history of popular music is littered with the rotting carcasses of those who couldn’t hack it. I think a healthier approach is probably one in which at some point you simply throw your hands up in the air and say: “I’M GETTING TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT!”

(There are, naturally, exceptions to every rule; the rare few who manage to sustain both career and dignity. I can think of several DJs that are dinosaurs in my eyes but are still totally rocking it today. Yet, ironically, I’m 26 and I’ve hung up the headphones for the quiet life in the studio.)

Ultimately it all comes down to what you’re trying to achieve. If you only care about the cash and the ego trip, by all means keep chasing that fame until the day you die. But what about the creative release that’s only obtainable when you’re pouring your heart and soul into a sequencer in a language spoken in MIDI and waveforms? To me that feeling offers a high greater than standing in front of a crowd of thousands.

And isn’t that the whole point? If you really are making music and DJing simply because you love it, that seems to me like the kind of dream you should never, ever give up on. For anything or anyone. Least of all for fears of getting old.

 

 

If you’re looking for advice, brutal honesty, or a little devil on your shoulder to nudge you down a path of troublemaking, debauchery and bad decisions, Charlie is your girl. Send her your dilemmas via the Contact page.

Photo: Bearfreshener

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  • Words: Charlie Leigh Gamble. Photo: bearfreshener.com
  • Date: 1st November 2012
  • sweet_zero Wrote:

    Ha ha! I can’t even sustain the plan rides already and I’m just 23! Dunno how some of the guys do it. Not sure if you can really have everything . ie Proper ‘studio time’ alongside ‘DJ / performance time’ and – hey is it unreasomable to ask for – ME TIME too?!

  • Mike Wrote:

    Great read!

  • Stu Wrote:

    I’m (trying to) start up and i’m just in my 30′s!

    I think you’re right about becoming a producer first, anyone can learn to mix in a few hours but it takes a lift-time to master.

  • Jay Wrote:

    The travel is what kills you. The playing in front of clubs/festivals and the like is the easy part. It’s the travel that will eat you alive from the inside out. Airports become a grey, unimaginative cess pool of hideousness. Getting from A to B to C, then back to A via JFK, YYZ, SYO and all that comes in between is the hard part. Not knowing what time zone you’re in and having sometimes no sleep before you hop on your next red-eye flight to Club Insertnamehere, Whereversville, The World is what what will make or break you.

    I for one wouldn’t give it up for the world if I could sustain enough gigs to do it. Alas I cannot. There was a time in the late 1990s when I was younger and probably could have made a lot better go of it myself and got a taste of it.

    If stability is something you’re accustomed to and cherish, stay out of music. You won’t be able to keep a stable girlfriend/boyfriend (unless they’re really trusting) and you won’t know how much money you’re going to pull in each month. When you look around your recording studio and see the same amount of kit as you’ve had significant others (or more things relating to music than worldly possessions), that might be a sign of where you should go. If by some grace of a force unknown you’re able to manage to hold down a relationship in all of that, keep them. Hold them tight.

    The music is the easy part. The unpredictability of the rest of it all is what will mess with your head 365 days a year. You really need to love what you do! ;)

  • John Wrote:

    Really good article – I agree with the senitment entirely.

    Oh, and an interesting perspective from Jay. Sometimes fame ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, eh?

  • Joao Dasilva Arruda Wrote:

    Hi Charlie

    I am not sure what to say here.

    I am pushing 50 yes 1/2 century. I am married, I dont do drugs, rarely drink, dont smoke, am a fitness fanatic. The strongest thing I do large Redbulls or TNT.

    I market myself as the world’s first non-profit electronic music producer and DJ. I donate all of the profits of my businesses to my charity in Brazil helping to feed, house, cloth, and provide mental and physical health care for Brazilian children.

    My biggest goal is the elimination of child exploitation and child prostitution. This is a huge problem in Brazil. Which is where my family lives. I also spend time in Australia and my mother and father are American.

    My wife is 20 years younger than me and very Brazilian. Passionate, a little emotional, and slightly crazy, but totally loyal and committed unlike Brazilian men.

    Music offers such a unique opportunity to reach so many people to stand up to this modern form of oppression and slavery. Since the youth are driving EMD culture it seems that we need to reach them to rise up and fight against the powers that be about these issues like the hippies did in the sixties, and punk did in the late 70′s with crass comercialism. I believe EMD could be doing the same thing if someone in the industry took a position of leadership and morality.

    I like the music and a few more years of travel to bring about awareness of human trafficking, child slavery, child prostitution, and the global arms trade would be worth it I think especially given the the fact that I love the music.

    Does anyone have any thoughts

  • David Felton Wrote:

    My thoughts? Good for you Joao – sounds like a fantastic thing you’ve got going on there and a hugely worthwhile cause for your profits. Keep up the good – and inspirational – work. Dave @ Attack