How one DJ followed his dreams and ended up on tour with Justin Bieber
With the right gear, anyone can be a "DJ", but to become a famous, recognizable DJ takes a lot more hard work, dedication and countless hours.
That's where DJ Tay James comes in. Realizing his dream of becoming a DJ at a young age, he worked tirelessly to reach his goal. Things really took off when James started working with Justin Bieber in 2009, and ever since then, his career has continued to skyrocket.
AOL.com had the chance to sit down with James and chat about his creative process, beginnings, and more. Check out the full interview below!
#OnOurRadar is a feature that showcases creative minds and up-and-coming talents. To see more of past interviews, click here.
Growing up, how did you first discover your love of music?
My father used to make mixes back in the day -- he had a bunch of tapes. He would take records and put them together on tapes, like his form of a mixtape, and give them out to friends. This is something I used to see as a kid. Put two and two together, I've always loved music. I've always loved to dance. Music was always involved in my life. I remember my first vinyl record was Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's "Crossroads." It was the first actual record that I got, and "Soul Sister." I told my dad that I wanted to be a DJ. He was just like, "Alright cool, get your own equipment." My parents didn't really take it seriously. As a kid you just do your own thing, you try to find your own way, go to yard sales, try to buy records there. For Christmas, I remember I got a starter pack that came with two turntables, a mixer, everything you needed. I loved it ever since.
Back when I was 12, DJ Scribble was huge. He was like the biggest DJ in TV. He was doing MTV Spring Break. He was the host. He was the DJ. He ran the game shows. He was so interactive. I was like, "This is what I want to do." He was controlling the crowd by music, and that's something I was attracted to. I stopped playing basketball, and I did everything I had to do as a DJ. I started interning. I started carrying other DJ's records, sneaking into the clubs before I was of age to hear other DJ's mixes. I used to listen to DJs on the radio, record their mixes. I would go to sleep listening to DJs on the radio. I wouldn't go out. I would listen to DJs on the radio and just try to really get engulfed in the game. I started DJing professionally by 16 or 17, went to college and supported myself through college through DJing. I got a business degree. Then, I graduated. I told myself, I was going to give myself a year. If nothing happens with DJing, I would go back and get my Masters degree. I got on with Justin [Bieber] two months later.
A lot of researching goes into DJing behind that scene that people don't see. Can you talk about exploring different genres and what that process was like for you?
Before the computer, you literally had to go digging for records and collect them. You had to go to record stores, or know someone who had the song on record. You really had to go search for these records. Then, when CDJs or when the CD player turntable came out, it made it a lot easier. Now, you can just burn songs on the CD and play it or download some music. As technology increased, it made it easier to find music. Now, we all have the same music. Now, it's all about how do you play it? What makes you different from the next person? And how you play the music. That's what a good DJ prides himself on, his identity within the music.
How do you develop that sound or identity through the music?
I love it. What I like to do is take old school styles of mixing, and mix it with some new stuff. I don't mix like any other DJ I know. That's because I learned from some of the best DJs in the game that still don't use computers to this day. I learned from DJs that still use records. I've also been able to travel the world and experience other music, other DJs, and other genres. I'm able to make my own mix out of it. I'm able to take other music, other cultures, other genres and mix it together and make my own mixtape. My last mixtape I put out, Volume 6, has all types of music on there all mixed together. That's what it's supposed to be.
What has it been like for you over the years to see the career of a DJ develop?
I'm happy I've been able to stay ahead of the curve. It's just like any other job or any other sport. Consider basketball -- basketball and DJing are like the same kind of thing. The preparation it takes for a basketball player or an athlete, it's the same thing it takes for a DJ. It's constant. It's always up and down. Trends are always changing. There are new basketball moves every day. There's a new basketball player coming in every day. It's the same thing with DJing. I'm happy that the idea I've been able to create has been working for me. I'm a good DJ, I know that. So, I just try to create, and try to make new stuff. I try to do new mixes that nobody has ever heard of. I was in the club the other day, and I did Britney Spears' "Hit Me Baby" a cappella over Jeremih's "Don't Tell 'Em", two different types of genres smashed together. That's what I like to do.
Talk to me a little bit about your relationship with Justin Bieber. It's been like 7 years since you've been on tour with him?
Yes, almost 7.
So, how did that first come about and what has it been like being on the road for him for that time?
I got hooked up with him through a mutual friend. He was actually Usher's assistant, and he reached out to a good friend of mine. They needed a DJ that was young who could travel by himself. I think he had a DJ before me for one tour that was like 14, and he couldn't travel by himself. I graduated from school and literally got called. My first show was my audition. If I did well, I would continue. If I didn't do well, then I wouldn't know. Our first show, we killed it. We got chased by fans back to our dressing room. Me and him just clicked right away from when we first met, and we've been boys ever since.
What has life been like touring with him?
Man, it's been one roller coaster ride. It's been great. I love it. I love the whole experience. I love traveling. The only thing that's bad is missing your family, but at the same time I know what I'm doing. I know why I'm here, and I have to be here. I have to be working this hard. If I'm not working this hard, then I'm not doing that much. That's been my motto. Just go hard with it. It's going to stop, it's going to slow down eventually, right? I'm not going to be a DJ for the rest of my life. Well, I will be a DJ for the rest of my life, but I don't want my main source of living as DJing. I'm trying to be able to help change the world somehow. I just want to be involved in music, whether that's A&Ring or producing, whatever I can do there, mentoring, teaching, I'm all about that.
Do you have to do different sets based on the country you're in?
The biggest thing with DJing is that it's about timing, and it's about crowd control. You have to be able to read your crowd. I like to get to a gig and sit there about 30-45 minutes before I go on, just to see what the vibe of the room is, the DJs playing before me, just to catch a vibe, understand what's going on and within five or ten minutes I can get it, I can understand. That's why I'm able to perform, I can understand. That's why I'm able to perform and go to so many different places. If I have to play house for 2 hours, EDM for 2 hours, I can do that. I gotta play hip-hop all night, I can do that to. You need me to mix it all night, I can do that as well. It's just really being able to read the crowd. What I like to do is look at a group of people already partying at a table or on the dance floor dancing, and if they keep on dancing, then I'm doing well. If one or two stop dancing, then it's a problem. You gotta focus on a group. That's what I like to do. I like to keep my mind focused. Not everyone wants to hear the same thing. I just worry about the majority.
When you were opening for Justin Bieber, what was that like?
First off, you know everyone's waiting to see him. You know that. So, when I was opening up for him I had 15 minutes before he got on the stage. I like to just keep the energy going. They're excited, they've been waiting, so let's get everybody up out their seats. You know, get the blood flowing, and get everybody jump, jump, jumping. I was definitely nervous at first, but once you get through the first song, the first-time opening, it's regular after that. You just want to keep the crowd hype because everybody wants to see the greatest show on Earth, right? That was my job. He wanted me to do that.
Talk about your collaboration with Diamond Supply, how did that come about?
The name itself is such a huge name, and I wanted to make it bigger than just me. I wanted it to be about all DJs, just not about myself. Part of that is rebranding. I rebranded the website. The website's now about three DJs: me, Mo Beatz and Bonics. We all have three different careers and all doing pretty much the same thing, which is pretty dope. The Diamond Supply line is me and my boy, Nick, who owns Diamond. We wanted to do an apparel line for DJs, since DJing is like the new thing. We wanted to give clothes, t-shirts, hoodies, backpacks, just DJ-influenced apparel. That's how it came about. Justin wore one hat already onstage, so he's showing me a lot of love. Everybody's showing me a lot of love towards the brand, so I can't wait to see what happens.
Was fashion always a big part of your life?
Fashion is amazing. I love fashion. The thing is, as you start traveling, you start wearing different cultures and what they wear. I remember when I went to London, I was just like, "Man, these guys are so next level." London, Japan, they're so next level in fashion. It makes you just want to do more research and buy more clothes online. Fashion is always huge, but music is always first. But they go hand in hand, though. I feel like music, fashion, sports, all of it's pretty much the same game. It's the same stuff.
Why do you say that?
What it is, it's the arts. All the arts. An artist, a rapper, a basketball player, it's all the same, it's a person that did what they wanted to do. They didn't really conform. My parents told me, back in the day, "We didn't send you to school to be a DJ." Then, they saw me on TV with Justin and was just like, "Keep on DJing! Keep on DJing!" It's part of life. I'm happy that I made this decision.
What's one piece of advice that you'd wish you received before you became a DJ?
As for as DJing for an artist, I didn't think traveling was going to be that tough. When you're DJing for an artist this level, or when you're self-employed, there are a few things you gotta worry about. You've got to worry about saving money. You've got to worry about paying your taxes. You've got to worry about staying healthy. You've got to worry about your family. There are so many different things, not just one. I remember when I did my first tour -- I was still living at my parents' house. Things didn't really make sense to me. I felt like I gotta get more, I gotta do more. I gotta start saving money differently. I wasn't in the best shape, so I started working out more. It's little things I wish I would have known before, but after my first time touring, I learned everything I needed to do.
What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
Live your dreams. Always live your dreams. Do what you want to do. You can do whatever you want to do. There's no glass ceiling for anybody. You can do whatever you want to do. You don't have to do what people tell you. If you want to be Superman, go ahead and be Superman. That's literally my advice to everybody. If I were to listen to everyone that doubted me, then I wouldn't be a DJ. I did my own thing.
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