In the juggernauts of the soca music industry, DJ Private Ryan(Ryan Alexander) is one of the elite. His international success is undeniable. He is probably one of the most well-known soca DJS globally and he has achieved what some DJs can only aspire to. His podcasts are heard in private homes and cars, at BBQs and private parties, in mas camps, people exercise to it in the gyms and on their outside workouts. And his mixes are not restricted to soca. He has produced bashment, hip hop, dance, pop and afrobeats. DJ Private Ryan is branded as the world’s most versatile DJ. And this DJ travels for his craft; across the Caribbean, across the US, across Europe, across the world.
Can’t say I knew much about the man behind the music though. When I have seen him play, he never says much on the mic. I have loaaadddsss of questions floating around in my brain before the interview. I catch up with DJ Private Ryan in the hotel lounge area the day after Carnival Monday. And you know what? I’m surprised as he is incredibly approachable, down to earth and lets me ask anything. He says ‘What do you want to know about me? Ask away.’ What follows is part one of the interview with the man known as DJ Private Ryan .
Just how did you get into the DJ business? I have been DJing since 8 or 9 years old because I was fascinated by turn tables, music and putting things together. My father had this vast record collection that I would play around with. So I was always inclined in that way. In high school, I would play at a lot of the school parties and I would put together mix tapes. At that time I couldn’t afford equipment. So I would piece together things I heard off the radio at first to make it sound seamless. Then I saved my money and bought my own equipment. That was the beginning of me practicing and learning to play music. Fast forward to college, I did the parties around Florida as I attended Florida International University. I thought that there was a disconnect between those who lived away and those at home in Trinidad with the music. Now at that time social media and accessibility of anything Caribbean wasn’t so readily available. You would have to depend on hearing it in a party or when people returned from Trinidad carnival. I thought that there must be a way for people to listen to something and know the music. Which was how the podcast was born. At that time, nobody in the Caribbean circuit was doing anything of its kind; like make a mix, post it online, download for free, share it with your friends and just let it run. And that was the seed.
Friends used to spread it to their friends, friends from different countries. I used it as a marketing tool not just for my music but for my ability to play. That way when people say ‘Yo I like Private Ryan’ it’s because I became part of their everyday routine.’ By doing that, I got this natural organic fan base that is based on the fact that people really liked my content. It’s not about how you look or what you post. I studied marketing so I learned to use a lot of concepts in terms of what I do. I like to be different. I not only made a lot of mixes but I branded them, I gave them their own identities and personalities. So Soca Brainwash, Post Carnival Relief, Soca Starter and Summer Bunny mixes are all made differently. I would make sure that the energies in them are all different, they all have an identifiable sound. I don’t necessarily make mixes for parties. I make mixes for people to enjoy. People just happen to play them at parties.
How often do you make your podcasts? Well I used to make them more often as I had more time. The travelling schedule has me very busy. I actually have to schedule time whenever I am in Trinidad or when I am on the go and I have access to the equipment. Every mix that I have done has been done live DJing. There has been no production software used. I literally stand up, record the mix and then release.
How did you make the jump from podcasts to being booked by the bigger promoters and artists? Everything is a progression. It starts out with someone hearing your stuff or seeing you live. Then there is the phase of who is this guy? Then they do their research, they find ‘Oh I listen to him, I like him’. So the promoters are more likely to book you as they know that people will pay to hear you play. The power lies in your marketability. It’s not just about playing music. It’s about your brand and the brand solidifies your place as a headliner. Different aspects, whether it be carnival or non-carnival parties, people are coming to you as your brand. They want to hear how you mix music as opposed to someone who has the same music.
How did the name Private Ryan come about? It was given to me by a guy called Hyper Hoppa in Trinidad. He gave me the name because he called me the number one recruit. He said ‘Everyone is trying to get you for their parties, you are the number one recruit. You are Private Ryan’. That was around the time when the movie Private Ryan was still fresh. I kept the name and built my brand around it.
What makes a good DJ? Do you have to be very outgoing, very technical? Please the crowd? Please the crowd most definitely yes. You can’t play for yourself. And the DJ personality… it’s relative because there are different styles of DJing for various crowds. There are people who will be inclined to certain styles. For example there are some people who like DJs that don’t talk because they like music and there are people who like DJs who are entertaining. Both may be good DJs, they are just good DJs in a different context. And just because you’re not outgoing doesn’t mean that you’re not extremely talented. There are introverted DJs who are really talented and technical.
Where would you put yourself in terms of the outgoing and the introverted? I could be both. I don’t speak as much on the microphone but I do work with people who are very powerful. I am more known for my musical ability behind the decks as opposed to in front of it. But when necessary, especially for my own event Soca Brainwash, I am the host, so I will come in front to do my thing. But I do acknowledge that because I don’t talk very much there is a sense of mystery about me.
Is there a favourite genre of yours? That’s a hard question as I really am a fan of all types of music. If I had to pick, it would be soca because it is happy music. But I love everything else.
What’s the most difficult genre to play? Country. [Laughter]. Most definitely country. I, I, [laughter] I don’t want to do it but if I have to I will. It is not the easiest but you know… it’s not the easiest [laughter]
Do you have some set songs in your mind you always have to put on? Because there are times I am in a fete and I think ‘Oh lord I hear this song twice already.’ Now the thing is, especially with carnivals in particular, because it is soca, and because carnival is seasonal in some respect, in 2016, a lot of the party goers and masqueraders want to hear 2016 music. So what happens in a three or four hour party some of the popular songs may have played twice. Because DJs are trying to give you the 2016 experience as next year will be the 2017 experience. The fault is sometimes especially with the sequencing of DJs; opening DJs, DJs who are prime time and those who close. There are three different arts to that. The opening DJ doesn’t have to play the 2016 stuff. They could get people warmed up by playing older music. I think a good event or party should have this sequence where the DJs understand their role and they know how to keep people’s interest so they do not have to repeat songs.
There are a few ways around repetition. DJs should try to get to an event early to know what the previous DJs play. With Serato (digital Djing software) you are able to scroll through a DJs history. Even if you get there late, (it happens) but I would always want to know what has been playing in at least the last 45 minutes. From that I say alright I know where I have to go. Third, there is anticipation. To be honest, whenever I show up at an event I anticipate that a lot of the new music has been played. It is not all the time (but I have been victim of it), if a DJ realises that I am coming on next, they literally try to play all the hits before I come on. So it’s about adapting to it and knowing that ‘alright I know how I can dig my way out of it’. There is no way you can play everything. Music is music and there is so much music, you can find a way. Whether it be just in soca or the multi-genre events. You can find a way to play and not repeats songs and still move a crowd.
How do you maintain that easy going approachable attitude? There are some DJs who have not reached your level of success but have been labelled as very arrogant and egotistical. I guess how I was raised and I never let it get to my head. I mean it is that serious but it really is not. [Laughter] People are people. And people remember you not only for your talent but for how you treat them and interact with them. You don’t really want to be that person whose legacy is you are the biggest A*****e in the world. Promoters will not want to book you and people won’t hear you play.
It has been said that you are predictable, so people know that if you play a certain song, based on your mixes, you will probably play a specific song afterwards. Well the thing is…
Stayed tuned for Part Two of Ilovecarnivall’s interview with DJ Private Ryan
All images used with the consent of DJ Private Ryan. Many thanks to Bim for some of the images.