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.
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
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.