How I Became a DJ, Made An Album, and Had a Record Release Party in About Ten Days
I was standing in The Lash, a club in Downtown Los Angeles watching a man clearly high on crystal meth dancing sweatily to a song titled “Don’t Touch My Stuff”. I had written the song. The singer, my friend Austin Riva, was a few feet away from me. He was watching the dancer have a religious experience. We looked at each other for a moment and had to internally control our laughter.
A couple of weeks earlier I had launched an art project in Los Angeles where I had flyers posted around the city that read “Sam Pocker Loves You”. I also bought placement on 26 billboards with this phrase. I’d been thinking for a long time about a slogan similar to the “Dan Smith Teaches You How To Play Guitar” flyers that were ubiquitous in New York for many years. I wanted my flyer to have a positive and non-commercial message. They were to exist as a form of reminder advertising for my work while conveying a message that made the viewer feel good. I felt that was about as simple of a message as I could convey.
Shortly after the launch of the “Sam Pocker Loves You” campaign I thought about making some kind of YouTube video about the campaign and perhaps needing a song for the soundtrack. I was interested in doing something like the “Evaculation” song which had been a meme for a few minutes. In that song a man’s voice was sampled from a news broadcast and turned into a dance track.
Using Fiverr I hired a producer and asked my friend Ellen to say the phrase “Sam Pocker Loves You” into her phone. I had no idea she had just had surgery and was waking up from anesthesia at the time I sent the text, so her vocal is especially deep and breathy (which is perfect for this kind of music).
In about three hours from the moment I’d originally had the idea I had a fully-produced song and music video. I compiled stock footage from YouTube of DJs performing in nightclubs and synced it with my $50 Fiverr song.
On Facebook I asked what DJ name I should use as a pseudonym and Austin replied “DJ Moneypussy”. Having no expectations or real attachment to the work I blindly went ahead with using that name. I made a cover for the single on Canva (a very easy to use design website with lots of templates) and I was finished.
I posted it everywhere, wrote about it on my blog, and went on with my life. I was impressed that all you really needed for an EDM track was three words and $50. I recalled the Chris Rock comedy routine about how people will dance to practically anything in a club as long as it has a good beat.
A few days later I found myself in New York City, heartbroken over yet another woman I liked who I thought liked me and who it turned out didn’t like me. I was sitting in a van with the artist Paul Kostabi. As we were talking I explained to him that I was clearly blind to this woman’s problems because of my own loneliness. I mentioned that earlier that day I had opened her backpack and it was full of cash and prescriptions.
Paul’s eyes lit up. “Cash and Pills”, he said. There was a brief pause. Then we both said at the same time “great song title.” I wrote it down. We drove up to Paul’s studio in Piermont, New York where his stepdaughter’s band Cults were working on some new songs. As the producer was doing some editing the band came and sat with us in the living room. One of the band members took a piece of food off of another one’s plate and the phrase “Don’t Touch My Stuff!” was uttered. Paul and I looked at each other again, another great song title. I wrote it down.
I returned to Los Angeles thoroughly heartbroken. As I wrote about on my blog I was practically sobbing for a couple of days without pause. When I finally got out of bed and started unpacking from my trip I found the note I’d scribbled about “Cash and Pills” as a song title.
With my life in complete shambles and not knowing what to do with myself I set forth hiring a voiceover artist and the same producer to make another dance track. “Cash and Pills” was finished in about a day at a cost of $60. I uploaded it to soundcloud and hired another Fiverr artist to make a very simple video using visualizations of the sound waves for $10.
I went to sleep.
Somewhere in the middle of the night my friend Grace from the band Skin Town sent me a text. Her band was playing a show in a few days and they wanted me to open with a DJ set. My assumption was that they’d seen this new work with electronic music and thought it would be a good fit. She offered to pay me and said that Kanye West’s manager would be there (two things which I was skeptical about).
Having not received any promotional materials from Grace yet, I hastily threw together my own flyer with no information other than the date (because this was all I had been given).
Even though I had a pile of work I was avoiding, being morbidly depressed, and completely broke I agreed. I asked her how long the set would be and she said around thirty minutes. “Cash and Pills” and “Sam Pocker Loves You” added up to about seven minutes. I would need around twenty-three more minutes of material on a tight budget.
I remembered the note about “Don’t Touch My Stuff” and asked Austin to say the phrase into his phone a few times.
Searching YouTube for “How to make EDM songs” I quickly picked up the basics. I bought a $40 pack of EDM loops from Loopmasters (using a coupon that brought it down to $31).
A combination of YouTube tutorials and consulting with a friend who’s a professional touring keyboard player helped me figure out how to use the sampler built into Garageband.
It took about a day but I figured out how to make “Don’t Touch My Stuff”. I didn’t bother with a video and made another single cover using Canva.
Paul and I had been discussing the title “Smash That Like Button” for a while. I’d written (but not recorded) a song with this title for our punk band The Pregnant Vegans second album. I asked another friend (the actress Annitsa Sprynczynatyk) to record that phrase. She sent it over and I turned it into a song in about twenty minutes.
I follow someone named Ally on Instagram and she’d had a post about “Ally lost her vape again” which I’d written down as a song idea. I was talking to Austin about how a good dance song should always have a verb in the title. I renamed it “Hit That Vape” and asked my friend (the artist Megan Geckler) to record that phrase. This one took about ten minutes to record as I was getting better at slicing up the takes in Adobe Audition and then sampling them in Garageband.
My depression had been getting worse and was quite severe. I’d tried to see a therapist but there was some issue with my insurance. In the meantime I’d started listening to a video with daily affirmations. It’s the sort of thing that a younger version of myself would have mocked me for ruthlessly. A man on the recording says a phrase like “I am successful” and then you’re supposed to repeat it back aloud. The recording suggests that you do this every morning for twenty one days.
So there I was laying in bed, motionless, my whole body feeling like every drop of energy had been drained from it and that I had nothing to live for. I was repeating the phrases when all of a sudden I caught one that said “I like taking action.” Another perfect dance anthem title. I finished the affirmation and texted another friend and asked her to record it. She sent it right back.
I got out of bed and made the song in a few minutes. It sounds downright tribal in it’s energy. My nerves were raw and it was early in the morning and the song title was just perfect. It got 145 plays in it’s first day on soundcloud (more than any of the others).
Later that day in another depression fueled haze I was looking at Instagram stories from another woman who had rejected me in the past. Again, I was so lonely and so desperate for affection I’d missed an obvious red flag. This person who I’d seen as a potential good match worked in retail. Not that there’s anything wrong with working in retail but that’s obviously a huge polar opposite to my lifestyle. It’s literally the embodiment of everything I don’t want to be. “She works in retail” I thought… and then it hit me. It’s possibly the greatest dance track title I’ve ever heard. It summarizes at least fifty percent (if not more) of the target demographic for EDM, it’s got multiple meanings, and it’s never been done before. People won’t know what to make of it. It’s perfect.
Having tapped out people that I immediately knew I could ask for help I went on Facebook and asked openly for help. Five friends recorded various versions (and one friend used text-to-speech software to create even more voices). I learned how to map sounds to different keys on the keyboard so that instead of each key triggering a sample in a different pitch, the entire keyboard could be used to trigger different samples (since I now had so many to work with).
Around this time my insurance had finally figured out how to get me to a therapist. I walked into her office feeling despondent. About thirty minutes in she said “I can’t help you.” With the exception of the therapist I’d seen a year ago who started telling me her problems, this was now the third therapist in a row who had told me the same thing.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of being so depressed and crying out for help and then having a therapist tell you that there was nothing they can do for you but I can assure you it’s pretty awful. The third time it happens it makes it really hard to not want to kill yourself but somehow you move on.
I decided to make a new flyer. It read “Need a friend to talk to? Call Sam Pocker” followed by a phone number. In reality the question mark should have been a period. The flyers went up everywhere, I got two calls. The first from someone who was just curious what the flyer was about, the other from an aspiring entrepreneur who quickly knocked off the campaign with his own name and number although he had no idea how he was going to make money from it or why I had done it in the first place.
The DJ gig for Grace was two days away. I still needed another song. I stared out my window at the palm trees swaying in the breeze in front of the movie studio across the street. I got a text from a friend about the BTS concert they had taken their daughter to. Korean music was popular. Maybe we should have a Korean song for this set? I found a Korean voiceover artist and had him translate the therapist’s screed “I Can’t Help You” into Korean. He then recorded multiple takes and I cut them up. I loaded them into the sampler and away I went making it into a song that at least you could dance to as opposed to simply sobbing over.
All of the tracks were compiled into an album and I titled it “Lit Fuse” after one of Paul’s paintings. I hastily made an album cover with Canva and sent it off to all the online retailers for a release just before Fourth of July when people might be looking for new party songs.
I watched a YouTube video on how to DJ. A program called Djay pro was free on my laptop and I upgraded to all the bells and whistles that I had no idea how to use for $20.
The next night Austin picked me up and drove me to the venue. I was wearing a $6 pair of LED glasses I’d picked up from eBay and a $3 LED necktie I’d bought from Wish. For $9 I was better dressed than anyone else we’d see that evening.
We arrived at the club and were the only ones there. Over time people showed up, the man presented as Kanye West’s manager was clearly not, no money changed hands, and the “celebrities [who will show up later]” failed to materialize as expected.
After one song Grace said to me “OK, you can play one more song and then our friend is going on after you.” I turned to her calmly, gave her a death glare, and said “You told me I had a half hour, and I am going to play for a half hour.” She walked away never to be seen again.
On the dance floor were three men, all of whom were clearly high on drugs. I played “She Works In Retail” and within seconds they were hooked on my songs. The second track “I Like Taking Action” had forced an unexpected religious experience on them. Then came Austin’s song “Don’t Touch My Stuff” and they all just completely lost it.
They kind of ran out of energy after that, but I played the rest of the tracks to a fairly empty room regardless.
On our way out the door someone gave me a high five.
“Nobody would have ever known that was your first DJ gig”, said Austin.
We got into the car and laughed hysterically before driving off into the night.