Last night a DJ made my life

Our Making a Living project is trying to find out how young people cope with making a living across Europe. As part of this, we’re encouraging you to interview your friends, family and others you know about how they cope. These will feed into our research and help us design scenarios on young people’s relationship with work for the festival.

Maxime Hofman went onto the streets of Amsterdam and met a university graduate who became a DJ. Here’s the interview she carried out with her:

Could you first tell me something about yourself?

I’m 26 years old. I have been living in Amsterdam for 9 years, and I finished a bachelor in Spanish Language and Culture. Now I’m doing something totally different, because I’m a booker at a booking agency. People come to me to book DJs. Besides that I’m spinning records myself, with my DJ group. And then I turn myself in My DJ group. We’ve become very successful. We’re booked every weekend.

Two years ago me and my friends just said: let’s do this. Everybody has always got these ideas, like ‘let’s start a band, or let’s start a video-blog on cooking’. But if you don’t want it to stay ‘just an idea’, you really have to make it happen. That’s what we did.

How did you end up taking that step?

To actually realize this idea? It suddenly went very fast, due to external factors. We were a group of 10 girls, and some of us worked at influential magazines and PR agencies. So joined together we had a very large network. And everyone found our concept super interesting, because it did not yet exist.

At the beginning we did not have any spinning skills, but there were 10 girls in sexy dresses on stage, so that was a guarantee for a good party. We were also very abundant, we were always dancing around the stage. After we decided to just do it, we were on stage within two weeks. We couldn’t spin at all, but the party was great.

From then on we have really learned to spin, by practicing and performing often. That also made other DJs respect us more. Because when you start, you’re actually stealing their gigs. That’s how they see that. That’s how I see it now with other new DJs.

Sometimes I think, you are just a bunch of hipsters stealing our gigs. I understand very well why they thought the same about us. But now we are valued for our choice of records and they think we’re pretty cool. By now we can spin and it looks good.

Are you happy with the way your idea turned out?

I’m very happy. My DJ group is the only reason I am still in Amsterdam and not in Mexico. Boyfriends always know they’re second place. So I am very happy and the girls have become very good friends, because you see each other very often.

Why did you choose to also work at a booking agency?

As DJs we do not make much money. We have to divide it between the four of us. It really is more like pocket money. I used to work in bars. I graduated in 2010 and in 2011 we started the DJ group. After graduation, I went on a trip around the world, and when I came back we started the DJ group and I worked in bars. And in the meantime I did internships, because I knew I had to do something more that what I was doing.

Were those internships in your field of study?

No not at all, because during the last year of my studies I already knew I did not want to work in that field. I am very glad to have learned Spanish, but I only finished it so I would not have a student debt. Because if you graduate, the government turns your loan into a gift.

After graduation I did an internship for a music festival, at a marketing position, because I knew I wanted to work in the music industry. I’ve learned a lot, and especially got to know a lot of people in the field. The director of the festival for example, helped me get further into the industry later on.

After the internship I worked in a bar again, while trying to apply for jobs in the music business. But it did not work. Often I came pretty close, but every time I just didn’t make it.

Now I am happy about that, because those marketing jobs wouldn’t have been right for me. In the end my former boss arranged an internship at another festival for me. I did the artist-handling, and got to talk to bookers. I found it way more fun than marketing. Right after the internship I got hired by the booking company I now work for.

So you’ve chosen not work in the field of your studies, because you wanted to do something you liked, instead of something you were qualified for?

Exactly. I have finished university to prove to myself that I could do it. In high school I was very lazy. I used my parent’s divorce to go to a lower ranked high school. So I’ve studied purely to prove that I can finish a scientific education, but I did not enjoy it very much.

Looking back, I did not even learn that much. I don’t even remember what I’ve learned, except for speaking Spanish. But that’s because I got to go to Mexico for six months, not because I’ve studied Spanish in Amsterdam. It doesn’t make sense at all. I knew pretty quickly that it was not what I wanted.

What does work mean to you?

Work is not purely to make money, because I earn the minimum wage, but I’m doing something I really love. I’m excited to go to work every morning. I earn more now, but it also brings along some restriction.

Because when I worked in a bar, I was free to plan my own time. But because I love this work so much, I don’t feel restricted. I like to go to work and have some more financial freedom. I can actually go on a trip, when I have to use-up my leave. So work gives me the freedom to do the things I love.

How did you cope emotionally with the transition from graduating in Spanish, to working just to provide in your livelihood, to working a job you love?

I was actually always very happy working at a bar. Until I realized that people around me got real jobs. And I knew people in their 40s who were still working at bars. I didn’t want that to happen to me. It was time to do something with my abilities. It was an emotional urge to do something. And it was especially frustrating when I did not succeed for a whole year. That really makes you doubt yourself.

There is so much competition, especially in business I wanted to enter. You just had to be lucky, and that was tough. But when I look back now it really was for the better. I am where I should be now.

Did you have support during that period? For example, from friends, family, your network or organizations?

No, not at all. I had made sure to have very low life expenses, and I got government subsidies for rent and healthcare. That’s how I also saved up some money. I could make a trip around the world. I just kept my life expenses very low. I do not care much for material things. I buy lots of secondhand clothes.

Sometimes I talk to friends who spend a few hundred dollars in a clothing store. I always wonder why they don’t go and do something fun, instead of getting something that shrinks after putting it in the laundry.

Did you use your network and friends to get where you are now?

Yes, I sure did. It is all thanks to my former boss actually. He was my reference, and he’s a very good name to have as a reference. Because he was the director of this famous festival, he has his own agency, and he has worked with a famous booking agency.

He’s a spider in the web and everyone likes him very much. He is very good at his job, so it pays off when he says something good about you. I am very grateful for that. You need references in the music business. If you do not know anyone, you won’t get anywhere. In general it currently is more difficult to find jobs, due to the crisis.

You have addressed the situation creatively.

Yes. And many of my friends also try to. I know a lot of graphic designers, but they are unemployed. It sucks. They are all doing internships. So there is a surplus of young graphic designers and artists working for free in order to build their portfolio. But they can’t use it to find a paid job, because there are none.

Because employers can find people who want to do it for free. I have no idea how that could be fixed. It’s actually quite a sad situation now that I think about it.

You have addressed the situation very practically in order to get where you wanted. Did you do any training, or did you teach yourself all your new skills?

I did not have training, only internships. I worked hard, used my network, and taught myself how to spin records. Nobody else will do it for you. But this is the only way I know of. I never think about asking for support. I just do it.

I was independent at quite a young age. I never got pocket money. When my parents divorced, it was difficult for my mother to cope financially, so I started working at the age of 14. If you want something, you have to work for it.

What would you do if you wouldn’t earn money anymore for what you’re doing?

Well, I would have to have some cash. I think I would continue working at my current job for fewer days, and work at a bar on the side. My job comes with so many benefits. For example, I get to go to a festival in Barcelona this summer, to expand our network. Besides, I’m always on the guest list for parties.

Those assets are super cool. I’m not sure if I still want to be in the party scene in ten years. I might want to do something completely different then. But for now it really suits me. But if my DJ group would stop, I would leave the Netherlands. It has been my dream to go back to Mexico and be a DJ there.But it’s too much fun with my DJ group now, it keeps me from emigrating. So once that is over I’m gone.

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