DJ Cams on Playing Corporate Gigs and Making DJing a Profession
For a music lover like the Bay Area's DJ Cams, a passion for track selection doesn't stop when he leaves the club. Lately, the soon-to-be father has been pondering the song that will be playing in the delivery room as his newborn child enters the world: "My wife's request, and I love it, is Guns N Roses' 'Welcome to the Jungle.'" Citing inspirations like Sasha and Digweed and the late DJ A.M., the full-time DJ uses his versatility and party rockin' experience to land a myriad of gigs, from corporate events at Facebook to festivals in Croatia. We spoke with DJ Cams about playing different events, playing the cello, and making DJing his profession. He plays Friday at Raymond Vineyards in Napa for their Mardi Gras bash and Saturday at Bruno's in the Mission.
Give us a brief history of how you got into DJing.
I've always been obsessed with music, recording mix tapes off the radio as early as middle school. But it was during my college years in New York in the late '90s and early '00s that I really became fascinated by following all these big DJs and studying how they moved the crowd, from hip-hop guys like Stretch Armstrong and Funkmaster Flex to house legends like Sasha and Digweed. I started messing around with a set of old Technics 1200 turntables back then, but really got serious in 2004 when I started following the late, great DJ A.M. Watching him made me really want to be a professional DJ.
You grew up playing the cello and were a classically trained musician. How did that segue into DJing?
I played the cello for over 10 years and that classical background was a huge asset in crossing over to DJing. Basic DJ principles like beat matching, changing tempo, EQ'ing, song structure, and practicing all the time were easier to understand and develop.
Do you still utilize any of those skills today?
Constantly. Though I've been a professional DJ for nearly 10 years, you never stop practicing and trying to push your own boundaries. In making original music, remixing, and even making basic edits, I'm always considering song structure, music keys, tempos, etc. The really important DJ skill of reading and playing to a crowd is something they don't teach in orchestra, though.
When did you start your #Freelife series? What has been your favorite edit so far?
I inadvertently started the series last year with one song -- a nu-disco/indie dance remake of Justin Timberlake and Clipse's "Like I Love You." The track thankfully got such a great response that I was inspired to do more. I love feel-good songs that can work in multiple settings, as well as bridging the gap between different musical genres and decades, and for me that's what this series is about. I'm finishing a classic Will Smith remake right now that might be my favorite.
As someone that makes their living as a DJ, what is the most challenging aspect?
The toughest part is probably balancing the business side with the creative side. Although I do get some help managing bookings, meetings, paperwork, etc., from some great agencies, the majority is done on my own and it can take up a lot of time, time that you want to be spending working on new material and honing your craft. But I'm so thankful I get to do what I love for a living, and so the long hours of work never get old.
What has been the most crucial factor as to how you got where you are today?
Practice, hard work, networking, being a good and reliable person, having respect for my craft and those that paved the way for me, and staying humble.
You also do a ton of private events, weddings, and corporate gigs. Do you think the music tastes for those have changed a lot in the past couple of years? Maybe more EDM requests?
As EDM has risen in popularity in the US over the past few years, I have seen more EDM requests because, as is always the case with pop music, if it's in the iTunes top 50, a lot of people will want to hear it. A lot of newer DJs today though forget that years ago it was up to the DJ to break records in the club and expose people to new sounds, beyond what was currently popular. Anyone can play what's currently on the iTunes top list, but what really sets a good DJ apart is being creative and giving the crowd what it wants to hear but in a way it hasn't necessarily heard before. For me this is crucial regardless of whether I'm at a club or a private event. It makes for a much more exciting, engaging experience.
Who is your favorite local DJ to play with?
I always love performing with my friend and music partner Chris Clouse. Chris has an extensive musical background as well which makes performance and studio time a blast. We do everything from DJ sets on four turntables to integrating live vocals, guitar, violin, bass, drums, and other instruments in our shows. Our show in Croatia last year performing alongside Kaskade and David Gray was definitely a highlight.