Not My First Rodeo :: DJ Interview Series :: Mike Lewis

We're not old, just experienced! And, like fine wines... we keep getting better ;)

This is the first in a series of posts comprised of Q&A with long time music lovers and DJs. We've all had to find balance over the years, but music will always be a priority! 

DJ Mike Lewis

Mike is a multi-genre DJ that gets people moving all across the Bay Area. In addition to a full time job and THREE daughters, he somehow manages to play out weekly. With almost 20 years of slangin tracks under his belt, I wanted to find out what keeps him going....

When did you get interested in music?
My interest in music originates from car rides.  My family moved across the country when I was 9 years old and we had several road trips back and forth.  The DJ was my dad.  He loves Motown, MJ, Classical and the best from the 60's, 70's and 80's.  And, he would create several mix tapes (actual tapes for our tape deck!) for our time on the road.

When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
By the time I was a Senior in High School, the word got around in my family that I was really into music.  When I was in High School, hip hop was emerging and I was on top of all the great artists that came out during the late 80's and early 90's.  A couple of close family members were graduating from college at the time and they asked me to DJ their commencement party.  So, I used a combination of CD and tape players to make the party rock.  That following summer, I met a "real DJ" while playing basketball.  We became friends, I bought a mixer and he showed me the basics of turntable-ism and rocking my first parties (well, they were actually strip clubs in Portland, OR).

What do you usually start with when preparing for a set?
The answer to this question ultimately depends on the venue and who hired me because I will want to keep both in mind as I prepare.  My preparation work usually kicks off with building new playlists or adding to playlists in my iTunes (my preferred way of staying organized).  I've got tons of them, probably in the hundreds, for all sorts of occasions and past clients/gigs.  Because you don't need to reinvent the wheel for each and every DJ gig, I recycle as much as possible.  

Beyond creating playlists before a gig, I will be ready to select songs on the fly that feel right. My goal is to have the music project the right vibe and energy for the situation.  For instance, early party music is setting up what comes later.  And, once you have the dance floor moving it's your duty as the DJ to keep turning it up until they turn on the lights and kick everybody out!

Do you believe in the possibility of "reading an audience" – and how do you put it into practice?
My short answer is "yes", you can read an audience.  However, I believe that the best DJs have a plan before each gig and execute on it.    
With that said, you can easily read all the non-verbal and verbal signals you get.  Examples of non-verbal appreciation are toe tapping, head nodding, lip syncing, etc. in the crowd.  Verbal examples are easy to appreciate when you hear exclamations like, "oooooh, this is my jam", "YES", or "what's the name of this track/artist?". Putting together a plan for your DJ set is a bit of an art or skill.  In general, you want to think about when it will be the right time for the party to be all the way up (i.e., crescendo) and build your set towards that point when your hottest song is going to drop.  To get there, you will need to build the energy and appeal to as many heads as you can along the way.  
Lastly, don't take any issue with the person who asks you to play the hottest song out at the moment just as you begin your DJ set.  Just keep them at bay and assure them that you will drop the song when the moment is right.  What's the point of wasting your best song when the room isn't there yet?

What's the record you've played the most over the years?
It's hard to say exactly.  But, I would guess it's a Tribe Called Quest, Too Short or a Masters at Work record.

What's your favorite place to play and why?
I'm a really lucky DJ in that I've been able to play parties in all sorts of genres.  My favorite place to play is always at the party where I was hired!  Of parties where I've been hired to play through a promoter, my favorite parties have been daytime parties held in San Francisco and LA on Sundays or holiday weekends.
I also hold in high regards all of the weddings that I get to play at.  It's such a big deal to my clients and their families, so I take pride in making sure they all have a fun and memorable time.
With that said, I currently love to play THE MOST at a monthly event that I both promote and DJ at in San Francisco on second Saturdays called #LIFESTYLE.  I basically play hip hop party shit with classics, RnB, a little pop and dancehall.

Do you still buy vinyl today?
Yes, but my music budget is mostly spent on digital these days.  When I travel or come across a stack of records in a small shop or on the street, I have to stop and look.  Inevitably, the time spent results in a purchase of some rare vinyl gem (or a few) that I want for my personal stacks.

How do you incorporate music into your day to day life that is now also filled with family, day jobs, etc.?
Music is life!  I live it while commuting, relaxing at home, and in the wee hours of the morning as I prepare for my next gig. 

Thanks, Mike! More old school fools coming up soon....