For the past two years DJs have become the tastemakers in the music industry. From David Guetta to Diplo, all eyes are on who’s behind the turntables. One up-and-coming DJ/producer who should be on your radar is DJ Charlie White.
I first crossed paths with him last year when I saw FreeSol live twice in a month. One-fifth of the Memphis-based band, Charlie added so much energy to the performance it made me wonder why more bands don’t utilize DJs efficiently. Recently I had the honor of interviewing Charlie to find out more about the life of a touring DJ and how his education and experiences have shaped his career. Here’s part 1 of 3.
Part 1: Life of a Touring DJ
How has the rise of the DJ affected how you focus on your career and market yourself?
I think it’s opening up more doors for different markets. You are now exposed to such a variety of different people that you really have to be versatile with your music selection and knowledge of different areas. Getting booked outside the city you are based out of is important. It opens up the ability to gather what other people want in different regions. What may be hot in one part of the country, may not necessarily work in another. I really enjoy traveling as a DJ. I think it’s one of the most helpful tools for getting better.
How did you make the transition from party DJ to professional touring DJ? What have other touring DJs taught you over the years?
When I first started out DJing, I was living in Charlottesville, Virginia. I was DJing for my older brother’s friends. They would have the classic high school/college house parties. Looking back, those were really fun [laughs]. I used to carry crates of records to these things. 14-15 years old, with a few crates! I made my way to Memphis, TN for college. I started DJing fraternity parties and step shows at the colleges around Memphis. My first out of state gig was MTV Spring Break. I went down there with Skewby. Once I started performing with FreeSol, that’s when I really became accustom to the touring lifestyle. DJing in a band is different than any other form of DJing. That’s really when the music instrumentation of turntables plays it’s role. Other touring DJ’s have taught me what to expect for different events. The best part about hitting the road is that you see some of the same people on a regular basis. You build friendships with DJs in other cities and that is more valuable than anything.
Is there a difference between party rocking college shows and party rocking music festivals?
There definitely is a difference. One cool part about college shows is that it is primarily of one age group. A festival could be up in the air. I remember performing at Lollapalooza a few years back and looking out into the crowd. You saw every age group. Another great part about college shows is knowing that these student’s are having a great time after a hard week of school. You can see it in their faces. They are ready to let loose, drink, and go crazy! It’ s a fun atmosphere. The festivals are fun because of the size of crowds you get.
What have you learned from performing with and opening for artists like Justin Timberlake, Chiddy Bang, and ZZ Top?
Those artists are all extremely different. Each crowd has been different. When you start to DJ for other audiences out of your comfort zone, you have to research and make sure your music library is stacked with everything. An important goal for DJing is to take risks. A song may not work well with a specific audience unless you incorporate it in a clever and creative way. Being creative in the way you blend songs together.
This past May you placed 2nd in the Red Bull Thre3style event in Charlotte. What’s the toughest part about doing DJ battles?
DJ Battles are changing. Technical skills were the dominant deciding factor in previous years. In the DMC battles it’s just a 6 minute routine. Now, the majority of battles are party-rock events. You play to the crowd. Technical skills are icing on the cake. Those are things that add to your performance. When I’m signed up for a competition, I try to train myself. I used a stopwatch and timed my 15 minute Thre3style set. It was important to have backup set ideas in case a DJ played all your music before you went on. That is probably the toughest part. Not knowing what order of the lineup I was going to be picked.
Do you think more people will start viewing turntables as instruments now?
I don’t really know. I hope so. With the advancement of technology in DJing, the equipment is doing more for you than ever. I see that there is a group of people that appreciate scratching, beat juggling, and DJing more than others. DJ’s have always appreciated other DJ’s for what they are doing. In the general population, some people really understand and get it while others are more apathetic to what is really going on up there on stage.
What are your DJ essentials? Any specific program, turntable, headphones, etc. you can’t work without?
I’m most comfortable with a pair of Technic 1200 turntables, a Rane 57 mixer, and Serato. I love Ableton and what it can do. I currently use Ableton for a majority of my pre-production edits and studio work. The Ableton controllers are also crazy! I’ve used just about every headphone out. I go through headphones fairly often. I like the recent additions to Rane mixers. For my production, I use the Native Instruments Maschine. Every beat that was on “The Last Crate” was created in Maschine.
Come back to GRAE New York tomorrow for On the Record with DJ Charlie White, Part 2: An Education.