DJ Silly Syl, spends her days charming business prospects and selling design software, cooking dank fried egg breakfast sammies, scouring for new music on the internet, and dominating the decks in San Francisco nightclubs. Check out her work on SoundCloud and follow her journey on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Don’t be afraid to say, “Hi!”
Hey, there! My name is Sylvia, and I’m here to share a story about adversity, discovering your passions, and juggling two worlds.
I grew up in Worcester, MA raised by a single immigrant mother. Life wasn’t exactly easy growing up, but I really didn’t know it. My mom worked tirelessly to ensure that there was always food on the table and presents under the tree at Christmas. I played in band, sang in choir, danced ballet, and played on athletic teams.
We never had money for any of these activities, but my mom is the type of woman who made things happen for me because she wanted me to have a fulfilling life. I’m so grateful for that quality in her. My mother taught me that money was never an obstacle to achieving my dreams.
Fast forward to age 18. I’m graduating from a prestigious private school in Worcester, and it’s time for college. My mom and I didn’t know how to play the college application game, and although I had a stellar GPA, a diverse spread of extracurriculars and awards, I didn’t receive enough scholarship money to attend the few colleges that accepted me.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) pulled through with the most financial aid, but I was a creative soul with hopes of majoring in English at Wesleyan or Brown. I didn’t really like math and science, so I was dumbfounded with what sort of major to choose.
The first few days of New Student Orientation were bittersweet; I was excited to be making new friends and experiencing college life, but WPI was not the school I dreamt of.
I dove into athletics and Greek life, however, and by the end of the first semester I couldn’t imagine transferring and losing the fulfilling life I had built for myself at WPI. With the help of my academic and sorority advisors, I walked across the commencement stage in 2014 earning a double major in Management and Professional Writing.
“I began to tap into my passion.”
During my last two years at WPI, I began to tap into my passion for music. I began to realize that my knowledge of music was so vast; I was constantly digging for new music on the internet every day, crafting playlists to match my moods. I had been building my iTunes library since I got my first computer at age 13 and it was filled with everything from Britney Spears to System of a Down.
This passion was living on every day in the background of my life, unbeknownst to me. I was questioning what my true calling was as I sat in the school computer lab editing album artwork for my latest mix!
Here’s a sentiment that has rung so true for me: What’s an activity or pursuit of yours that just makes the time fly by? Do you find yourself in a rabbit hole on the internet reading about one subject in particular and all of a sudden 3 hours have flown by? Do you spend time crafting political-statement magazine collages and realize that it’s now 2 AM and you should probably be elbow-deep in your second REM cycle?.
You may be experiencing Flow or discovering the activities that can lead you to experience Flow. Pay attention to this feeling, because it will show you just how productive you can be when your heart’s invested. Now, I knew that making playlists on 8tracks.com was not going to generate income for me, but I delved deeper into my love for music, which eventually led me to take up DJing.
“Those nights really put my passion to the test.”
I entered grown up life after graduation, stumbling along trying to find a promising job and an apartment in Boston. I went through a good job that I hated, and bad jobs that I hated even more. I reached out to a company called DJs of Boston, so I could learn what it was like to DJ in public venues and maybe even make a name for myself. The company’s founder, Taylor, took me under his wing and brought me along to a few of his gigs.
A few months into my time with the company, one of the other DJs in the group had to take a step back to deal with family issues. At this time, I had squeezed out the last of my savings and was jobless. Life supported me. Taylor offered me that DJ’s weekly residency at a downtown sports bar in Boston, meaning I’d be playing there every Friday night for 4 hours. I’d be making $200 per week, which was enough to cover rent and…that was about it.
This residency taught me so much about the business of DJing. There were one-off nights where the venue was packed and people hugged me, telling me I was the best DJ they’ve ever experienced. There were some nights where nobody showed up to the bar, and I got sent home early without full pay. Those nights really put my passion to the test. If playing to an empty floor a few nights a month was enough to discourage me, this clearly wasn’t the career for me.
I loved DJing in Boston, but I wanted more. I wanted to play more than just Top 40. I wanted to DJ at LGBTQ events. I wanted to play alongside my favorite Soundcloud producers. I knew that if I wanted music to be a more serious part of my life, I had to move out to California.
“Life supports you.”
I can’t tell you how many people I reached out to, trying to find a job. By summer 2015, I was working at a fast-casual sandwich shop through a job posting I found on Craigslist, and I was burning out. I had a big disagreement with my manager, and I ended up quitting, with nothing but DJing to fall back on. Why is it so hard for a bright young lady with TWO Bachelor of Science degrees to find a promising job?
I remember sitting outside the shop on the phone with my mom on the day I decided to quit, bawling my eyes out. What was I going to do? How would I pay rent next month? After living off government assistance for my entire life, the thing I wanted most was to be able to support myself financially 100%, and life was making that pretty damn hard.
I felt that I had worked so hard in college, had all the right internships, gained new skills from my extracurriculars. Was it all futile?
I felt defeated and exhausted, but dealing with life’s hardships was nothing new for me. I always came out the other side in the past. My mom always tells me time and time again, “Life supports you.” Her unwavering faith in me really made it possible to hold on to my positive spirit.
“A volatile and unpredictable field.”
My circumstances took a complete 180 the following month. I had applied to a program called LaunchSource that places college grads in sales roles at tech startups. I went through the interview day and they accepted me! I couldn’t believe it. Now I just had to ace an interview with one of their partner companies and hope to be placed.
I wasn’t hired by the first company I interviewed with, but my mentors at LaunchSource stuck by me until a second company came around. The second company has a remote set-up, meaning people work from home across the country. Including California.
Upon accepting my job offer, I asked if it would be possible for me to move to San Francisco. The Sales VP said that wouldn’t be a problem; I’d just have to complete my onboarding in Boston with the two other reps that were hired.
Now two years later, I’m an Account Executive at this same company, and I’m living in Oakland, California. I had no idea during college, but sales turned out to be a perfect career fit for me. I’m good with people, relatable to folks from many walks of life, comfortable with technology, and organized. After getting off a good phone call with a sales prospect, I feel a rush of adrenaline and satisfaction.
I’m very active on social media, largely focusing on DJing. My DJing persona is a bit more candid than my professional persona, so I try to keep them separate online. For this reason, a lot of my Instagram followers, in particular, think that I’m a full-time DJ, and that’s simply not the case. I have rent, bills, student loans, and other expenses that need the income provided by a 9–5.
DJing is a volatile and unpredictable field. Gigs can be canceled last minute for a multitude of reasons. A promoter may not pay you on time. You don’t receive insurance. Most DJs supplement income from events in other ways: producing for other musicians, teaching classes, working as brand ambassadors or funneling product sponsorships.
“I’m still discovering myself and my passions.”
I love DJing, but I know for a fact that my end-goal isn’t to be the next A-Trakor DJ Mustard. I’m a creative soul with many talents — I love to sing, dance, act, make people laugh. I’m still discovering myself and my passions.
Right now, I’m pretty happy with my work in sales (and the reliable income) with DJing as a creatively-fulfilling side hustle. There are plenty of artists I look up to who live in their parents’ basement and crank out incredible original music. For those people who know exactly what they want to do with their lives, this makes total sense and I respect it.
It’s difficult to juggle these 2 worlds sometimes. If I didn’t work this day-job, I would have more time to improve my DJing skills and conduct more outbound outreach to fill up my gig schedule. However, I’d lack the funds to pay off my Guitar Center credit card and student loans. I certainly wouldn’t be able to afford rent in the Bay Area without my 9–5.
“I’ve never been the type with a 5-year plan.”
I’m content with my circumstances now though because I’m still figuring out what I truly want to make of my life. I’m learning so much in my sales role by day, and I have a creative and social outlet by night that allows me to become a bit more unhinged. Flexing different parts of my brain contributes to my well-roundedness as a person, and that provides me with a lot of satisfaction today.
This month, I have the opportunity to open up for 2 of my favorite electronic producers, and I’m so stoked to play for a crowd that’s solely there for the musical experience, not just the booze. Although I’m not sure of where I’ll end up in my life, I know that I need to keep moving forward and seizing the opportunities presented to me as I continue to put myself out there in the music world.
I’ve never been the type of person with a 5-year plan. I can’t map out my end goal and the micro-steps to achieve it because I’m constantly evolving. I’ve found success in simply continuing to move upward, not sideways. Pushing for promotions at my day-job, finding higher quality and better-paying DJing gigs.
It’s sort of how The Hum operates. This community of contributors and entrepreneurs can’t necessarily hammer down which industry they belong to or where they want to be in 10 years.
And that’s okay because we are all continuing to progress in our fields, taking steps forward every day. Immersing ourselves in these experiences shape us to be better professionals and, more importantly, better human beings.
We cannot thank Sylvia enough for sharing her story with The Hum. Be sure to give her a listen. You won’t be disappointed.