Country music and DJ culture may seem like unlikely bedfellows, but Dee Jay Silver has figured how to tuck them in nice and cozy. In 2013, he became the first DJ signed to a major country-music label and the first DJ to play the Academy of Country Music Awards. Additionally, he has toured with artists such as Jason Aldean and Eric Church, and is currently accompanying Rascal Flatts during their Hard Rock residency while also playing gigs at Rehab and Body English, where you can catch him April 3-4.
How long have you been a DJ?
I’ve been DJing professionally for about 20 years. I started in college, just making a little extra cash … doing frat houses and little local college clubs. Quarter-draft-on-Monday-night kind of parties. Anything I could do just to play. When they told me I was going to make $20,000 a year as a high school teacher, I just decided to do this instead.
How has the job changed over the years?
When Pioneer came out with the CDJs and Serato came out, DJ bookings tripled, because it didn’t cost so much money to fly out—you didn’t have to check 15 crates of records, they weren’t losing your music. Now you can carry two records or CDs in your backpack. We can even play off of flash drives, so you can walk in with [your music library] in your pocket.
What’s the difference between working the Rehab pool and Body English?
Rehab is all about people having a good time and drinking. It’s more of a laid-back party than Body English, where everybody’s crazy at all times. Down there [at the pool], it’s about the experience of just being there, laying out in the sun, hot girls, good-looking people and drinking. [At Body English], you turn it up a little bit, for sure.
Do you have a go-to track guaranteed to get—or keep—the party going?
I just look at the crowd. I never come in with a set. The worst thing a DJ can ever do is walk in with a set. I play what a crowd wants to hear, or I try to, anyway. It’s supposed to be their party, about them having a good time. It’s not all about me.
My style, as long as I’ve been playing, has always been Top 40 with country, rock, house and hip-hop all mixed together so there’s not too much of anything. There’s nothing worse than going to a club and the guy plays the same type of music all night long. Makes me want to stick my head in the wall.
Where do you find new music?
I spend a lot of time on iTunes and Soundcloud. A lot of my friends will send me music before it comes out —“Try this, see what you think.” The DJ community is pretty small, and we’ll get together. I was in South Padre Island [Texas] last night, and we just all sat around and shared music for two hours.
Was there an artist or album that inspired your love of music?
I was completely into gangsta rap. If it weren’t for gangsta rap, I’d probably be a doctor right now, because half my brain is full of gangsta rap lyrics: NWA, Ice Cube, all of it. The first show I ever went to was House of Pain, Beastie Boys, Cypress Hill and Rage Against the Machine.
Is that why you mix genres—country, rock, hip-hop—when you play?
A DJ plays what they know, they push the music that they know and try to play it in a different way. I know country and I know rock and I know what you have to play to keep a crowd going, but also I don’t want to sound like the guy who went to iTunes and downloaded a Pitbull track last night. You want to play it a different way where people kind of take note that it may be the same song, but it has a fresh sound to it.
I play country music for people who don’t like country music; I’m trying to make the fan base younger and broader. People need to understand that country music isn’t music for ugly people losing their dogs and hitting on their sister. It’s good-time music, good-looking people, beer-drinking … they just gotta get that stigma off of that a little bit. You’re not out there playing lonely Merle Haggard all night; you’re playing Luke Bryan and mixing it with Pitbull and Bruno Mars.
Any advice for the aspiring DJ?
Just practice, practice, practice and don’t take no for an answer. Be who you are. If people don’t like you, they’re not your audience. Don’t worry about it. Whatever show you do, do the best show you can do—whether it’s five people or 5,000.