Updated: Aug 28, 2019
As cliché as this sounds, I’ve always had a love for music. My life’s soundtrack has been an eclectic mix of sounds; from my mother’s favorite house music mixes, to my dad’s tamborazo music, and my older sister’s reggaeton and dancehall. Seeing the power music has to change the energy of a person, or even an entire room, has fascinated me from an early age. Music gives you the ability to time travel back into a memory or into a future fantasy. With all this in mind, however, I would have never pictured myself becoming a DJ.
I never considered myself a creative person. I wasn’t very good at drawing, I couldn’t sing a note to save my life, and learning an instrument never piqued my interest. I was good at school and my teachers loved me. I was on track to be someone who would go on to graduate college, become president of some respectable student organization and change the world with my academic research. That’s exactly what I did- I went to college, earning my degree in Applied Psychology, Gender & Women's Studies, and Social Justice. I volunteered with amazing non-profits, and aligned myself to graduate with honors and continue on to law school. Everything felt right, until suddenly it didn’t. 3 months before college graduation, my motivation to do anything disappeared completely. I’d go days without properly feeding myself and getting out of bed- I was completely depressed. On my graduation day, a day that should have been the happiest day of my life, I walked across the stage and shook the chancellor’s hand with complete hopelessness in my eyes. Not enough people discuss the post-graduate depression that so many college graduates experience.
When you’re depressed, people always say that you should do things you love. I had been going to a music studio and learning about music production, which I loved, so I dove into that. Making beats was (and it still kind of is) really difficult for me. It’s a meticulous process that requires focus and patience. You have to make sure that every snare, kick, and hi-hat is in the right place at the right time. Once I learned the software and my beats started sounding better, I started to feel really good about myself. It was the first time I ever felt creative. Taking an idea that existed in my head and executing it on a virtual blank canvas, known as FL Studio, was extremely satisfying. The whole process made me realize what had been missing from my life- music. I loved music, it had been there for me the entire time. For the first time ever, I could actually picture myself waking up everyday and working on something I love.
Around August 2018, I saw a post on Twitter from a non-profit organization called Babes Only, seeking project managers. I looked into the organization and saw the work they do empowering women and providing a platform of creative agency for women. The organization is run by an extremely talented DJ, Evie the Cool. I was so excited! Here was this woman balancing all of her passions and still giving back to the community. I quickly reached out and later that month I helped Evie with a Babes Only event. I am proud to say that I have been working with her ever since. Evie would go on to become a mentor and she was the first to encourage me to seriously pursue music. Watching her DJ our events and seeing the way she commands a room was nothing short of empowering! People have always said they like my playlists and I had the technical skill from producing, so I decided to venture into DJing.
For Christmas, I asked for a Pioneer DDJ-SB3 mixing controller. My family thought I was joking when I said I wanted to start DJing and they even tried to talk me out of it. My mom and I argued about it constantly, she said it wasn’t a real job and asked me why did I go to college if I was just going to do music anyways. I understood where she was coming from; my parents didn’t go to college and she felt like I was throwing away her American dream. Nevertheless, she bought me the mixing controller for Christmas. I felt like a kid opening my present and seeing my new toy. I told Evie that I got a mixer and she was the one who provided me with my first music gig, DJing for one of our events. I was so nervous that I practiced for weeks, YouTubing techniques and asking all of my DJ friends for advice. My first set didn’t go perfectly, but my friends loved it and I was incredibly proud of myself.
January 23rd, 2019 was my first ever DJ set. I’ve only been DJing for a little under a year but these past few months have been life changing. I’ve DJ’d spaces and bars I never knew existed, performed at my first festival for the My House Music Festival in Pilsen, and met tons of great people along the way. DJing has certainly had its challenges. I wasn’t prepared for the vulnerability I would face while wondering if people like my music. With time, my anxieties have calmed (although mental health is a spectrum and some days are easier than others) and I’ve worked really hard to shake the feeling of imposter syndrome. A year and a half ago, I felt hopeless and unmotivated, but music (and therapy, of course) completely changed the trajectory of my story. In some ways I owe my life to music, because it saved me. Finding something to immerse myself in and feel confident while doing it have given me a new purpose in life. I have never felt more like myself.
A big goal of mine is to DJ internationally. As a Sagittarius, I truly come alive when I’m travelling. Being able to travel to different parts of the world and share my music, while learning new music, would be a dream come true. I would also love to get deeper into curating and creative project management over the coming years. Overall, I want to continue defying the odds of being a woman of color in many of these spaces. I still play events where I’m the only woman on the lineup. Earlier I said I never pictured myself becoming a DJ and that’s because I never saw any DJ’s who looked like me. Opportunities like those are not made accessible to marginalized communities and I want to change that. I want to be an example to girls and women that making waves in the music and creative industry is possible!
Quick tips for those interested in becoming a DJ:
-Find a DJ you like and let them know you’re interested in learning – Mentors make an otherwise grueling process much easier. Evie was able to connect me with her network and provide sound guidance through this journey.
-Download Serato DJ Lite and start practicing – the software is free and Serato has made it possible for you to practice some basics with only your keyboard. YouTube is a great place to start for tutorials.
-Believe in yourself – Your existence to any space matters. At times, we get trapped in our head thinking of all of the things we could or should be doing, that we forget about the unique magic that we bring to spaces. Figure out what your magic is and let that ground you in moments of fear.
Lived and written by Ashley De la Torre
August 21, 2019
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