Liquid Todd Confers on the DJ SceneApril 9, 2013 By: Steve Lewis
Over the last ten years we have seen an exponential rise in DJ fees and opportunities. The club explosions in Las Vegas and big city markets coupled with the rise of the EDM genre have made being a DJ a real big deal.
Liquid Todd is a Sirius XM Satellite Radio DJ. Sirius along with Pandora and Spotify have revolutionized the way music is disseminated to the public. It came just in the nick of time as revenue streams from CD or record sales have fallen prey to computer downloading.
Serious DJ's like Todd expose the masses to music they may not have heard from traditional radio or the nightlife scene. Todd's exposure as one of the premier radio personalities in North American makes him the sort of celebrity name that clubs can market. He frequently supports mega names like Paul Oakenfold. He is someone that clubs take notice of not only for his DJ talents but as a media outlet.
Nightclub & Bar caught up with Liquid Todd to find out about his take on the music scene.
Nightclub & Bar (NCB): You have been DJing while. Tell us about your career.
Todd: I have been doing this for a while. I started a radio show and started playing in clubs when I was in Boston (1992-97). I used to throw what I considered to be fairly large raves (4,000 people was my biggest). Today a couple thousand people would be considered a small gathering! It took a long time for dance music to push into the mainstream and there were many false starts along the way. There is a lot more money involved in today's EDM scene and that has changed the game quite a bit. The huge amount of money being made by promoters, artists and labels is a mixed blessing. However, one thing remains the same: the fastest way to the top of the heap is to write a great new song.
NCB: When did you understand that EDM was going big? Is it a genre or just a spin off and do labels like that mean anything?
Todd: I always thought EDM was going to be big. From the beginning when I was playing to a few hundred people in Boston clubs and playing house and techno records on Saturday nights at WFNX. It just took everyone else a while to catch up with me. As far as labels go I really don't have much use for 'em. Genres are just for marketing. They don't mean anything to most people. If you like a song do you really care which iTunes category it falls into? A great song is a great song. If you are limiting yourself to one style or genre of music you are really missing out on some amazing tracks.
NCB: A lot of your touring is with Paul Oakenfold who you described as "one of the biggest DJs in the world and a real swell fella too." How are DJ tours changing?
Todd: This business changes continuously and the pace of change - not just in EDM but in the world around us - seems to be accelerating. I really enjoyed touring with Paul Oakenfold for a few years and we still play together on occasion. We did the whole tour bus thing and it was really a great time and I also learned a lot. Oakenfold is a true professional and a great performer.
NCB: DJ prices are a constant topic as fees climb into six figures resulting in some casino clubs spending millions on DJs. How did we get here and are we near the peak?
Todd: I sincerely doubt anybody is spending $1 million a week on DJs. Everyone always thinks everybody else is making so much more money than they really are. Casinos pay superstar DJs very handsomely but there's no way they are shelling out that much dough. The math just doesn't add up and one thing casinos are very good at is numbers. I'm not saying superstar DJs don't get paid - but they don't get paid nearly as much as you think.
NCB: How does a mid-level DJ develop into one that is highly sought after?
Todd: That's a really good question. If you figure it out will you let me know? Seriously, though it's like I said earlier, the fastest way to the top of the big festival lineups is to write a really great song and get it on SiriusXM's BPM channel. As long as you keep releasing hits you'll keep getting booked.
NCB: What advice do you have for young DJs?
Todd: Don't try to write a hit song. Write songs that YOU love. If you have a hit inside of you it will emerge. If you are in this to make money there are much easier ways to do it. It's not about having the best gear - it's about knowing how to use what you have. Know your music inside and out and if you have a bad night on the decks don't bother trying to blame the equipment, nobody cares - just do better next time. Be thoughtful about your actions and respectful to others and don't start believing your own PR. Taking yourself too seriously is a mistake. This is about music, dancing and having a good time, right? Right!
NCB: Where is DJ technology going?
Todd: I think it's as complicated as it should be. I hope so anyway. I'd like for DJ technology to move in a simpler, streamlined, classic direction because I'm tired of looking at thousands of knobs, dials, buttons, sliders and switches - not to mention space shuttle-ready displays. Software is becoming as important as hardware. Maybe we'll see DJ software with huge see-through touch screens and real-time audience participation features. Maybe smartphones will communicate with the DJ software, the lights and the sound in ways we can't even imagine yet. How cool would it be to actually see the music waveforms in the air? Maybe the technology in our phones - and eventually even in our clothing - will be part of the light show. The possibilities are very exciting. But for me it’s always going to be about the music first. When a DJ plays the exact right track at just the right time…when he or she has the feel of a room and what song will kill it at that exact moment in time…that is absolutely magical. And, as anyone who has ever been present for one of those moments will tell you, when that kind of magic happens…nobody on the dance floor cares about the tech. Not one bit.
NCB: What adjustments did radio make to thrive?
Liquid Todd: Well as long as there are cars that require people to drive them radio will do just fine which is why those damn self-driving cars that Google and Honda have invented are starting to worry people like me...a little. When you can watch the Real Housewives of the Lunar Colony on your way to work, then the Buggles will have finally been proven prophetic. But, if I can get a little enthusiastic (and promotional) about where I work a little, I think what really makes SiriusXM Radio special, and also gives us a huge advantage over services like Spotify and Pandora, is that we DO have real DJs. Good ones too. Having a DJ who knows the music inside and out go on the air and say "you gotta hear this new track, I LOVE this song!" Well…no computer algorithm is ever gonna be able to replicate that energy.
NCB: You take Sirius into boombox. What is the dynamic that allows such creative innovations?
Todd: The Boombox channel was something that I proposed shortly after I started working at Sirius. It ran 24/7 for almost four years playing breaks, remixes, electro and mashups, and I still think it’s one of the best things I've ever done in radio. The Boombox channel got axed in the merger between Sirius and XM but now I host a show playing much the same kind of music on the Alt Nation channel. ("Boombox Radio," Saturdays, 10pm-Mid EST on channel 36). I think if you want to do something cool on the radio you have to come up with a great idea, present it effectively and be as tenacious as a honey badger about getting it on the air. You really have to keep pushing - politely of course - until management gives you the green light - just to get you off their backs. I joke (a little) but you really do have to be passionate about what you want to do and totally committed to the project. You also have to be prepared to hang in there for a while. It will definitely take a few months or longer. Even if they like your idea it's still going to take a while to get everyone to sign off on it and do all the other things that must be done to get it going.