As I am sure many of you know, DJ AM passed away this week. This article is not about his death, which has been covered in length elsewhere, but instead about his value to DJing and the under-appreciated value of a big name DJs to all of us.
Many of you from around the world may only know about DJ AM because of his misfortunes or celebrity associations, so you’re probably wondering why we are writing about him. Well, Adam Goldstein (his real name) was a great DJ and totally dedicated to elevating his game technically and artistically. An early adopter of the Serato Scratch system, he was instrumental in making it “cool” to bring a laptop into the club and in breaking down the stigmas around digital DJing in the mega-clubs of the states. Thanks in part to his skills on the decks and exposure in the press most DJs in the states are now using computers in clubs.
Artistically, AM’s sets where composed of pop songs, but his fluid deconstruction of them was creative and terribly difficult to execute. A hip-hop DJ for many years, he was devoted to the turntable craft, but fully embraced technology when it became available and did much to make it better. A special mode in Serato Scratch (where the names of tracks are hidden to protect them from trainspotters) was even named after him.
I first met Adam in 2004 while DJing a club, where I was banging away on my Oxygen 8 controller, and he came up to compliment me on a job well done. He proudly showed me the Technics tatoo on his wrist as a way of saying, “hey, I love the craft of DJing too.”
MORE THAN A NAME
Sometimes we take for granted that there will always be people at the top of each field and that pop icons, music stars and high-profile DJs are easily created and replaceable by someone else. While there may be a long line of people trying to over take their positions, it takes much more than just circumstances to get to the top of anything — especially DJing. To achieve a “superstar status” and command $50,000 per gig is not a lucky press-related accident, but requires hard work, dedication and some real-world value. (Want to get there? This ongoing series can help.) Promoters are not stupid, and will not pay more money for a DJ than they can make back in exposure, ticket sales or both. Therefore the fame, skills, reputation and profile that a popular DJ creates not only benefit himself but also a huge group of people around him, whose businesses, jobs and lives are positively impacted by that DJ’s success.
A popular DJ’s value can go way beyond his or her nightly rate and is invaluable to the exposure they provide to the industry, fellow DJs and our work in general. Even though he may not have invented the style, It was DJ AM’s talent and fame that helped make mash-up DJing a household name in the US market, creating a lucrative market for similar DJs around the world. His hard work and insane dedication to technical execution set a high bar for younger DJs trying to move up the ranks, which elevated the game musically.
The value of most artists at the top of their game cannot be conjured up out of thin air or easily replaced by the next person in line. It can only be created through hard work, dedication and a love for the craft. When someone like that is lost, everyone — including the craft — loses too.